I agreed with that last night. As the Irish Management Institute Survey showed, Irish business firms have an amazing attitude to the personnel function. Perhaps we have not a tradition; perhaps, as I said last night, we have to go over the cliff into total destruction before they find out we have to work at this problem to get it right. I think that the shifting of this question to national organisations or on to the Government or the Labour Court has led to national confrontations we need not have had. I will not go further than that except to say that in the middle of this strike when people are saying rough things about trade unions and rough things about hidden, perhaps arrogant, perhaps unofficial, groups, there are bloody-minded people on the other side, too. To Deputy O'Higgins, who implied, without saying it, that the time has come for strong action, let me say that what we are witnessing now in the strike that is going on at the moment is the effect of strong men taking strong lines and making negotiation unreal.
Many of the notes I made as this debate went on would have been more appropriate to a calmer situation, not because of the agitation at the moment but because almost anything that can be said in this field can influence the length of the present strike. I am convinced that if anybody thought that the Government were going to come into the present strike it would go on for a long time. I have met some people who expect the Government to pass legislation to make the workers' side come to heel, as they say. I have met people who seem to live in the hope that the Government would come in and force the employers' side to yield. Both sides will keep going if they think the Government will come in on their side.
Apart from what was raised in the House there is an article this morning in the Irish Times. Some years ago I decided that so long as the Taoiseach left me in this post my period of office would be devoted to establishing procedures, if this is possible, and that the procedures we would establish would be negotiation—and I have made a plea for the full use of the management function at the beginning of negotiation at plant level; the making of agreements at plant or industry level, the provision of conciliation officers to those who find they need outside help and the establishment of the Labour Court to make recommendations. If we can get these procedures functioning I would happily leave my post feeling that I had contributed but if my time is to be occupied by jumping into the arena in each dispute I would consider my time wasted.
I strongly urge the House and the newspapers who have such an influence in this matter to set about establishing an atmosphere for procedures that will be accepted and not to try to create a situation where the unofficial or the most stubborn will bring everyone screaming to their knees.
I respect this article in the Irish Times. Two or three years ago, before I embarked on this policy which I have outlined, this article would have appeared earlier and in situations of much less disruption. It is something to say that we have now had five weeks of a strike of a most disruptive nature when anxieties have been raised by the almost anarchical behaviour of some people and it is only now and in a mild way, that the request comes for intervention by the Minister. The article refers to previous interventions by Ministers. It refers to Deputy Lemass. I do not remember Deputy Lemass intervening in any strike since the establishment of the Labour Court. I would point out to the writer of this article—he has given thought to what he is saying and he has not tried to score points—that in each of these interventions before—and the word intervention is a nice way of not committing yourself to what you want the Minister to do—when a Minister went into a strike to force a settlement, all the procedures had been used. The Labour Court had made a recommendations and it had been rejected. In some cases its second recommendation had been rejected. All the procedures the State had supplied had been used and the strike was going on. Then the Minister came in. There were differences of opinion at that time as to whether the Minister should have done it or not. I would have justified it on the basis that all the State procedures had been used and that if the Minister had not gone in to seek some solution somebody else would have had to do it.
But in this present dispute the Labour Court has been ignored as if it did not exist. I know the anxiety people have for a settlement and perhaps they believe I could bring about a settlement by going into the dispute now but by so doing I should be undermining the Labour Court which has not been used; I should be justifying the people who ignore the Labour Court and I should be justifying the people who rejected their own officials.
Nobody feels the pressure stronger than I do, the pressure that a politician feels to appear to be doing something. There is nothing more glorious than action when you are in the public eye and nothing as destructive of a politician's position as to have to work quietly behind the scenes to try to establish order so that those who come after us will have some order in their industrial life. The pressures on me are much stronger than on anybody else asking me to intervene but I believe that my policy is what should be carried out. We should establish procedures and we should restructure our trade unions and make our managements take on the anxieties that are properly theirs. And we should do that under the heaviest of pressure just as we would all be willing to do it when no pressure is being exerted.
Hope is not lost in this dispute. There has been great disruption and loss to the country, but at this stage, with all the loss behind us, we gain nothing if we undermine the procedures that are established. We should establish might instead of right; if we establish that, the stubborn will win, and reason cannot prevail. If we establish that now, having lost so much, then nobody could justify our not having interfered with the whole procedure several weeks ago.
In any course in politics you will have people who disagree with you. At this point when the pressures are enormous and the losses great, people are anxious and angry—and I have met angry people—it would be all too easy to forget that there are others coming after us, that there is next year and five years and ten years ahead. Some day, somehow, this country will have to set up procedures and we shall have to behave as sane human beings. We shall not do it by giving in under the pressure and talking sensibly when the pressure is off. I suppose there are other places for a politician to justify himself. It is not the place in which I have to justify myself because, except for a few feather touches of suggestion as to what they would do if they had my task, all the speakers obviously understand that there is something bigger at stake here than just the settlement of a strike. Deputy Kyne has been for many years a trade unionist and he knows the effect of politicians intervening in matters like this; he said that this is no task for the Minister and he posed the question to those who suggested strong action: "Do you want the troops in?" We do not. If we fail to make free negotiation work we will have another system but, while it is free negotiation, let us give that free negotiation its full chance of proving whether or not it can be worked by the Irish people.
The article in the Irish Times points out the need for a national scapegoat. So long as we are willing to have scapegoats we will, I suppose, continue to have insoluble problems. I believe, however, that if people want to bring the force of public opinion to bear on this strike, and this is the only sanction available to us in our freedom, then they should not behave like hens pecking at those who are easy to peck but should, rather, turn the full force of their limelight on the people who are responsible for making the machine work. The very word “scapegoat” brings home to us how easy it is to turn from a difficult problem and find someone to blame. We should, I think, be grateful to the writer of the article for making us think and showing us that we are at the stage when lesser mortals turn to look for a scapegoat instead of bringing the full force of their moral pressure, their publicity and their limelight to bear on those engaged in conflict and on those capable of finding a solution to that conflict.
This legislation seems to have been accepted in the spirit in which it was hoped it would be accepted. It has been on the stocks for some time. It was not introduced to solve the present dispute. I pretend nothing for it except that it is the beginning of a solution to one aspect in the sphere of human relations in industry and commerce and the problems affecting our economy in that particular sphere. The House must accept and, accepting, must try to make others accept that, while there is freedom, there will continue to be strikes. While there is freedom, freedom will continue to be abused and will be seen to be abused by either one side or the other. As I said, the very existence of the Labour Court and, perhaps, of the Department of Labour, with a politician, perhaps, in a vulnerable position, may take the pressure off those people whose job it is to make free negotiation work. The very fact that there is a Department of Labour with a Ministerial head means that that Ministerial head risks being a scapegoat. Apart from the unattractiveness personally of such a role there is the responsibility of being a scapegoat for those who should make the system work. It is easy to turn away from a person who is difficult and take it out on someone who is more vulnerable.
I want now to tell the House and the country that it will take years to change the attitudes of the Irish people in both business and trade unions. It will take years to change their dispositions, to bring them into line with our hopes in regard to the way we should live by bringing those hopes into line with our ambitions for success in every sphere of activity and, until these years have passed, until dispositions have changed, until stubbornness ceases to be admired, we will have strikes and the hardships that workers have to endure in strikes, the losses that businessmen may suffer, together with the interference with the national endeavour.
While these changes of attitude are being gradually brought about and suspicion, arrogance, false leadership and misunderstandings are being removed, whoever occupies the job of Minister for Labour will have to bear with assertions that it is not worth while having a Department of Labour. I say it is worth while trying. I cannot shrug off this job as others might do. Others say they should not have to bother with these workers or with these problems. I will not shrug off responsibility. Even if the task seems to me to be enormous, difficult, intricate and unproductive of results, no matter how energetically one works, it is still worth while trying. It is worth while trying apart altogether from the good the Department has done in the setting up of machinery and the financing of that machinery to train our workers, our skilled personnel, our managers. To my mind this will be the greatest single contribution which will be made in the years to come towards the success of Irish industry, apart from that which we do not control, industrial relations. Apart from the benefits to be gained from training and protective legislation like the Redundancy Payments Act which is now operating successfully and has been much praised by workers who find themselves in need of its provisions, apart from the protection of workers in their places of employment, the extension of the inspectorate, the subsidising of organisations to help save the lives and protect the health of workers, apart from providing guidance in careers and stimulating thought in the guidance of both children and adults—adults who find themselves in jobs unsatisfactory to them—into employment, apart from setting up an entirely new concept of guidance and placement throughout the country, on which we have Government decisions and with which we are going ahead with offices and placement officers to whom employers will be tempted to go and of whose services school leavers will gladly avail, apart from all these functions, the Ministry of Labour is like any other Ministry in that one can get results by one's own work and one's own personal investment of time and energy; and I still think it is worth while having a Department of Labour even if the only thing these first patient, perhaps somewhat discouraging, steps do is to lead along the road to the point at which Irish people organised in trade unions and in management will come out into the light and leave suspicion behind them, unafraid to say what it is right to do and not afraid to do it. Until such time all I can do and all this House can do is legislate. I shall leave it to the Committee Stage to consider amendments or suggestions from trade unions or from any people who think they have any influence in the trade union movement. All I can do is prepare legislation that will work provided people co-operate. As I said earlier, this House may pass all the law it likes but the only law that will work is that in which trade unions co-operate.