Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 4 Dec 1974

Vol. 276 No. 6

Private Members' Business. - Footwear Industry: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann deplores the failure of the Government to protect the footwear industry in this country.

Seldom in this country has an industry faced such serious problems as those which are facing the footwear industry at present. I am not overtec reacting to the situation when I say that whole sections of the industry are in grave danger of collapse, with a resultant loss of thousands of jobs. The protest parade by the boot and shoe operatives on Friday last underlines the very disturbed state of the industry and, incidentally, the workers in the footwear industry are not noted for taking precipitate action.

For quite a few months now it has been apparent to everyone, but very particularly to the workers in the footwear industry and to Deputies in whose constituencies boot factories are situated, such as mine, that the situation is serious in the extreme and that, unless urgent action is taken in the rapidly deteriorating circumstances, not only will those working in the factories lose their employment, but many others engaged in ancillary employment will also be out of work, and the economy in the areas where these factories are situated will be very severely shaken. There are some areas where the boot factory is the main source of employment and its closure would simply mean the end of all hope in such areas.

During these past months Deputies on this side of the House have been endeavouring to impress on the Minister for Industry and Commerce the gravity of the situation but, apart from agreeing that there is a problem and generally playing around with words in an attempt to excuse his lack of initiative and effort, the Minister has done nothing. If we were to analyse the answers to questions on this subject, and particularly to supplementary questions, we could only reach the conclusion that he has done little research on this whole problem and that he does not properly appreciate what is involved.

When one remembers that he was not only pressed on this matter here in the House by us, but that he also had a number of meetings with the footwear manufacturers and with the Irish Shoe and Leather Workers' Union, one finds it difficult to understand why he has not got a true appreciation of the position. When one finds that he very often lacks, in his brief, relevant information sought by Deputies, one can only conclude that he simply does not understand the seriousness of the situation and, therefore, has not got the necessary determination and urge to take the steps which are very necessary and very urgent to overcome the problems involved.

Lack of decision has been the great failing of previous Coalition Governments and the same applies to this Government, but it is a particular failing of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, whether it relates to price control, to mining policy, to off-shore oil and gas policy, to the textile industry, or to the footwear industry, or whatever. At this stage, when very urgent and very important decisions must be made on which the continued employment of so many people depends, it is a calamitous failing. If this industry is to survive, decisions must be made at once. The decisions are not easy ones. No decision reaching a Minister's desk ever is easy. As a former holder of office, I can assure the Minister that the problems will not go away because he refuses to tackle them, or because he tries to ignore them. In the present situation, it is nothing short of criminal for him to sit there in what might be termed a state of masterly inactivity while more and more boot and shoe operatives are lengthening the queues outside the employment exchanges.

I admit that the Minister is a skilled debater and that his ability at times in debate to adroitly turn the tables on his adversaries appears to rate high with certain sections of the media, but I would advise him that he will be judged not on his facility with words but rather on his performance as Minister. I do not say this in a personal way—I abhor being personal—but rather to underline——

What has the Deputy been doing for the past three minutes?

——the reaction on both sides of the footwear industry to their meetings with him when they described those meetings as cordial but totally unproductive. The Minister should be aware that, for the past 18 months, the footwear industry has been plagued by the twin evils of redundancy and short-time working to the extent that the foundation of the industry is being seriously undermined. Unemployment coupled with short-time working means low output, and low output ultimately results in an industry passing the point of no return and being no longer viable.

Over this 18-month period I have been speaking of, hundreds of workers have become redundant in the footwear industry. Few factories have escaped. The plight of the people concerned, and of their dependants, is grave, facing life, as they are, in a world of escalating prices on a considerably reduced income, a situation which will become worse in the months ahead as those involved are only too well aware. At least the transition from employment to unemployment is cushioned by redundancy payments and by pay related benefits both of which, of course, were introduced by a Fianna Fáil Government. They are cushioned at the beginning of the unemployment period.

The loss to the economy in the various towns and to the economy of the country generally is tremendous. The country cannot afford the loss of valuable skills developed over many years. During the same period, most of the factories in which there were redundancies had also short-time working for months on end. Some of the short-time working was little better than total unemployment. Taken together, both the redundancies and the short-time working triggered off unemployment in many other areas because of the loss of the purchasing power of the boot and shoe operatives.

Clearly then, it is vitally important that action should be taken by the Minister immediately if this deteriorating situation is to be halted. The main cause of the problem is the vast increase in footwear imports generally. One has only to note the regular and rapid increase in the number of pairs of shoes imported over recent years, both as regards volume and value, to see that the home market is in the course of being eroded. When one compares the relatively much slower increase in our exports of footwear, it is easy to understand why the industry is in difficulties. Because the circumstances in which certain factories find themselves might be different, their reactions to solutions may also be different. Nevertheless, it is recognised by all that the enormous increase in imports of footwear is the key problem.

Some years ago exports of Irish produced footwear were approximately five times greater than imports. There were 1,522,000 pairs exported as compared with 309,000 pairs imported, but this year it is estimated that the volume of exports of footwear will be less than the imports. The comparison between the two situations underlines the gravity of the position. A great problem is the importation of footwear from low cost countries, whether direct or indirect. Some time ago it was felt by management that these imports would not constitute a danger to home produced products because of the fact that the quality of the Irish footwear was much superior. The belief that low cost goods would not pose a threat is not the reality of the situation as the latest import figures show.

The Minister, when speaking at the Shoe Fair, departed from his script and promised to do something about imports from low cost countries. When I raised the matter in this House and asked the Minister what action he had taken since then he endeavoured to put a different interpretation on his words. Whatever the actual words used and whatever the literal interpretation of these words might be, the fact is that he gave an impression which was universally understood by both sides to mean that he proposed to take action in relation to low cost footwear and to take it soon. Nothing has happened since. I hope the Minister will let us know what action he proposes to take. I hope his decision will not come too late.

The danger which arises at this late stage is whether, if a Minister makes a decision with regard to the import of low cost shoes, the industry generally, and the individual factories concerned, will be able to gear themselves to meet the increased demand. I have been informed that certain orders are not being placed with home manufacturers pending a decision by the Minister. If the Minister's decision is delayed to a point where it is too late to enable the factories to cope then the fault will lie with the Minister although this will be of little consolation for the workers who will continue to swell the ranks of the unemployed.

The real urgency can be seen from the fact that in 1973 the home production was 7.6 million pairs of which 3.1 million pairs were exported. In addition, 4.2 million pairs were imported. The total market consumption was 8.7 million pairs. The fact that 4.2 million pairs were imported in 1973 gives imports 48 per cent of the home market. In 1974 the import figure is approximately 5.5 million pairs. If the size of the home market remains constant and exports maintain their stability, then the share of the home market taken by imports rises from 48 per cent in 1973 to approximately 64 per cent in 1974.

The first demand of the manufacturers and of the union is that all exports from outside the EEC be stopped. In the light of all the circumstances it is not a request that the Minister can lightly brush aside. Undoubtedly, it will present some difficulty for him but it is his task to overcome these difficulties. When I raised the matter of low-cost countries the Minister replied that he was aware that some low-cost countries were producing footwear and added that there was a tariff on such imports. Nobody knows better than the Minister the total inadequacy of tariffs in this situation. If a pair of shoes can be produced in Hong Kong or Korea at 50p per pair because of low wages and poor working conditions and if a tariff of 100 per cent is placed on them, it simply raised the price of the shoes to £1, A tariff of 100 per cent would be regarded as a high tariff but in these circumstances it does not make the slightest change in the competitiveness of the imports vis-ávis the home-produced shoe. It has no effect at all.

I suggested in this House that the dutiable quota system, based on, for example, the year 1972, was the only system which could be effective because it gives to the Minister the power to control the volume of imports. I would remind the Minister that some years ago due to an international agreement when Ireland was obliged to change from the quota restriction to tariff protection, the Fianna Fáil Government negotiated on the matter and continued to provide quota protection for footwear for a further two years until the difficulties which faced the industry had abated. There is no reason why the Minister cannot follow this example in this serious situation.

The Minister could point out to those concerned that a vital sector of our economy is in jeopardy and that we must, if only for a time, apply the dutiable quota system of protection to avoid a complete breakdown. This would enable the Minister to control matters in a vital area while not doing anything to injure Ireland's export prospects or our credibility in the market place. Imports from low-cost countries, whether they are from Eastern European countries who do not buy even one pair of Irish shoes or from the Far East, are a serious threat to home-produced goods. No effort must be spared to remove that threat while taking cognisance of the whole economic picture.

I can understand the Minister's fears in relation to exports but I remind him that we must have a firm home base if we are to sell our production on the foreign market. The footwear industry must be assured that if they are to put the necessary effort and money into development that they have a Government, and a Minister, who are prepared to make a realistic effort to help them achieve their aims. Rationalisation is difficult to achieve in view of the size of our home market. We can only hope to achieve this rationalisation if we can sell our products on foreign markets. To do this the footwear industry needs a breathing space because with the reduction of tariff walls abroad the time has come to utilise these benefits. However, the import pattern has developed far too quickly. Time is needed and the home market must be protected to the extent that it will provide a worthwhile base for future exports by our industry.

I have a number of questions down to the Minister as to whether he referred any aspect of the importation of footwear to An Bord Dumpála. There are many reports of shoes being imported at prices and in quantities which must give rise to suspicion that these goods are being dumped here. They do not necessarily come directly from countries outside the EEC, although in some instances they do. In some instances it is known that they enter this country through the United Kingdom. I should like to know if the Minister has heard of this and if he has carried out any investigation. I am aware of the fact that in 1973 An Bord Dumpála investigated complaints of dumping from Czechoslovakia in relation to men's working boots and that some action was taken. However, a complaint was made to me that the process took a long time. I have been informed that it took the board a considerable time to reach their conclusions and make a decision. In normal circumstances we could overlook the length of time taken because the effect of dumping in such circumstances, provided it was ultimately stopped, might not have grave consequences but we are now receiving reports of further redundancies and short-time working being introduced and because of this any delay can be of catastrophic proportions.

Those people laid off initially because of dumping activities are unlikely to regain their employment. Therefore, the length of time taken to investigate dumping is of vital significance. If An Bord Dumpála are reasonably sure that dumping is taking place, I would ask the Minister whether they have power to restrict or stop imports while the investigation is taking place. If they have not got such power, would the Minister be willing to make it available to them? I am aware that An Bord Dumpála could not of its own accord initiate an investigation even where it had received information from the Revenue Commissioners that there was a likelihood that dumping is taking place. Therefore, I would suggest that if An Bord Dumpála comes into possession of such information it should immediately inform the Minister so that in turn he could request them to initiate an investigation. An Bord Dumpála have the statutory right to seek information in regard to dumping from the Revenue Commissioners. I would be interested to know in prevailing circumstances when the footwear industry is being beleaguered by imports from many and varied countries, if An Bord Dumpála have made inquiries as to whether the Commissioners are suspicious of any of those imports; in other words, that An Bord Dumpála would take the initiative themselves.

Since our entry into the EEC the problems of the footwear industry increased as we knew they would to some extent. However, conditions generally at present have enlarged those problems beyond what was anticipated. Therefore, we have to take another look at the import situation from the EEC. The figures I have are that 83 per cent of our imports come from the United Kingdom; 12.5 per cent from other EEC countries and 4.5 per cent from countries outside the EEC. The Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement and the EEC regulations control the import situation to quite an extent. In regard to the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement, I feel the Minister should consider exercising the provision in Article 19 to meet this difficult situation because of the appreciable rise in unemployment in the footwear industry. He could also consider sections 68 and 69 in the book in relation to the accession of Ireland to the European Economic Community relating to the transitional period, and serious persistent difficulties in that section of our industry.

Apart from all of this, of course, the fact is that there is not one country of the EEC, apart from our own which has not, at one time or another, broken the rules when continuation of acceptance of them meant a serious problem for the country concerned. Normally, I would not advocate the breaking of rules in any context, international or otherwise. I fully appreciate that it would be much more advantageous for this country if all of the countries involved adhered to the rules and changed them by unanimous consent only. But in the present circumstances relating to our footwear industry and taking into consideration the fact that other countries of the EEC have broken the rules—some of them in relation to footwear; I am thinking here of Italy —when their vital interests were under severe strain, then I feel we have an equal right. Provided that discussion, consultation and negotiation between the Minister and those other countries first take place and then should they be a failure, I would feel he has got to take another look at that aspect of it. In those circumstances I do not feel the footwear industry is asking too much when it requests the Minister to restrict imports from EEC countries to an amount equal to the exports from Ireland in the preceding year. I think it was suggested that the figure to be taken would be the import figure for the year 1973 of 3.1 million pairs.

I would assume that the Minister has been having discussions with the UK and with the other EEC countries in respect of their levels of exports to Ireland at this critical time. I noticed recently a report that the countries of the Community were to have discussions relating to the footwear industry in the EEC vis-á-vis imports from countries outside the EEC. I would suggest to the Minister that side by side with those discussions he should discuss the problems of exports from the UK and other countries in the EEC to this country; firstly, exports which are home-produced within the EEC countries and, secondly, exports to this country from EEC countries which are first imported into the EEC countries and then exported here.

When talking about breaking agreements, we might very well remember that, even though the Anglo-Irish free trade area agreement did not under its terms permit an import deposit scheme, the British Government had no hesitation, on two occasions—if my memory serves me right —in imposing import restrictions on exports from this country to the United Kingdom despite our protests.

I should like now to ask the Minister what he proposes doing to encourage Irish people to buy Irish footwear, or at least to give first preference to Irish footwear. This is the other side of our defence of employment in the footwear industry. In addressing myself to that point I have already been considering the means by which we could reduce the pressures of foreign made footwear on the home market. I should like briefly to discuss the prospect of improving the sales of Irish footwear on the home market because that aspect of the matter would help considerably in improving the situation in the industry here. There are about 8.7 million pairs sold on the home market and, as I have already said, in 1973 4.2 million pairs were imported. In 1974 it is estimated that the import figure will be approximately 5.6 million pairs. That figure of over 5 million pairs is itself not much below the total Irish production of footwear for 1974. Obviously, if home production were to regain a reasonable proportion of the market, now taken over by imports, that would give a considerable boost to the industry and very particularly to the morale of those involved in it. How to achieve that is the main question. I feel it is not sufficient for the Minister simply to make speeches requesting the people to buy Irish— and pointing out the consequences of not doing so. First of all, he has to be seen to be serious in this matter by taking decisions necessary to protect the industry from without, decisions which, as I said before, nobody pretends are easy but which must be taken if we are not only to halt the unfortunate decline all too apparent but also to develop the industry.

I have little faith in purely holding operations. To succeed I believe it essential that the industry be geared to expansion. The "Buy Irish" slogan has been used so often and to so little effect, relatively speaking, in the long term that cynics might tend to scoff at it. Nevertheless, we must re-think the whole matter because despite all the problems involved, despite the relative lack of success in the past, the fundamental idea of focusing the people's attention on giving first preference to Irish goods in a small country such as ours, is a very sound one. We must bring fresh minds to bear on the development of the idea, to produce new ideas, new methods of presentation which are in keeping with modern trends and which can make an impact on the buying public. Success in this matter means winning back a portion of that part of the Irish market now controlled by imports of foreign footwear. In my belief this in turn will establish what I feel to be a matter of vital importance—a firm base so essential to the development of our exports. I feel the professional touch is necessary here. We could well be on our way to success in this matter were we to succeed in involving those in the retail trade to a greater extent, by persuading them by convincing arguments that it is in their own best interest as well as that of the nation as a whole to sell Irish footwear.

Looking at the matter objectively, I think it is asking too much of the hard-pressed housewife to concentrate on buying Irish goods at all times, if she is left without any guidance on this matter when she goes out to shop. It would of course be nice if she would do so and no doubt there are some people in this so-called affluent society who could without placing any great strain on themselves do this, but we know from experience that it is asking possibly too much of human nature and therefore our best hope lies in convincing the retailer that he has a special part to play in the presentation and display of Irish goods. Quality and price of course play a particular part.

Let me say to their credit that the majority of our shopkeepers do their best and this goes also for some of the large stores but we know only too well that the big profit margin is the sole objective of some. These people are not short of excuses when challenged but there is no hiding the basic reason. I therefore suggest to the Minister that he should concern himself at once with a very thorough investigation of the profit margin on footwear, particularly footwear coming in from low-cost countries. I can remember a case some years ago of a large newly-opened footwear shop in Dublin which had its window full of foreign-made shoes and only a few pairs of Irish shoes. A friend of mine employed in the management side of a boot factory in my constituency saw this and at a seminar of leather workers later asked the employees of the shop who were at the seminar why they pushed the sale of these foreign shoes, to be told that they got a bonus from their employers for so doing. To put it mildly, the shortsightedness of these employers' policy appals me. Do such people not realise that to continue in this vein could cause the collapse of the shoe industry and that the workers who are their customers would no longer be able to buy from them?

From the figures available, it would appear that the supermarkets are the worst offenders, buying 2.4 million pairs from abroad out of a total of 5.6 million pairs imported and getting a large proportion of these by bulk buying, I understand, of low-cost footwear. I do not wish—again it would be unfair of me if I were to do so— to put all the supermarkets in the same category. Some do their best, but it is heartbreaking to go into many of them in the city and see the enormous consignments of foreign-made shoes on offer. How can we expect the ordinary housewife, with very limited time at her disposal, to go poking around a store packed with foreign goods in order to buy an Irish product? How can we expect young people, who are now an important factor in the business world because of their purchasing power, to concern themselves to buy Irish products when they find themselves in some large stores surrounded by imported goods? On second thoughts, perhaps it is at the level of our younger people that we should now direct our attention. We need to get across to our young people that to buy Irish is not only the essence of patriotism but the surest path to a worthwhile future for themselves. We might take example from the commercial advertisers who undoubtedly get their case across to the youth, not in the old arid way which means little in modern society but in a way which will get a positive reaction. I commend to the Minister that he take particular note of that point.

To sum up, home production from 1972 has dropped from 7.6 million pairs to 7 million pairs in 1974. Imports have increased from 3.3 million pairs in 1972 to 5.6 million pairs in 1974. This is an almost unbelievable increase. Imports from the United Kingdom during that period increased from 2,720,000 pairs to five million pairs approximately, an increase which I feel would give rise to some suspicion of dumping which I think should be investigated. During the same period, imports from the EEC increased from 600,000 pairs to 700,000 pairs and from countries outside the EEC, from 100,000 to 280,000 pairs. In relation to this last situation, that is, the imports from the low-cost countries outside the EEC, the increase is also exceptional and even more important, it appears to be a pointer to the problems which can develop in this area when the footwear industry in the countries concerned becomes fully developed.

We have dropped our share of the home market from 52 per cent in 1973 to 40 per cent, or even lower, in 1974. It was recognised that in the context of the Common Market, we would lose out to some extent on the home market, but the lowest figure thought possible at that time was about 50 per cent. Our latest figure indicates the dangerous plight the industry finds itself in and the Minister will agree that the industry will find it very difficult to develop what we need most, a worthwhile export business in footwear, if the home market continues to deteriorate at the rapid rate it has done in quite recent times. This highly intensive labour content industry must get a breathing space for quite a considerable period to get used to a higher rate of imports. There is an urgent and grave need for rationalisation to meet the changes from the quota system in the sixties to the expiration of the duties in the seventies. Firms are faced with more redundancy this year and two are faced with imminent closure.

From the figures I have given it will be seen that imports from the United Kingdom are quite a considerable problem and I would feel that from a danger point of view imports from countries outside the EEC constitute a very real danger. If one takes cognisance of our relatively tiny population, it can be clearly seen that it takes a very small increase in imports to have catastrophic effects on the industry here. From any research I have done into the matter I am convinced that given the time and given the assistance, both in finance and control of imports to which the industry is entitled from the State, we have the ability to rationalise production. Our boot and shoe operatives are highly skilled and if proof were needed of this, one has only to note the interest of manufacturers of footwear in other European countries in our labour force.

Let the Minister make his decision at once so that orderly development can proceed, something which will be entirely frustrated if redundancy and short-time working continue, resulting in the scattering of our work force. In making his decision, it is vital that the take particular cognisance of the proposals put before him by the Irish Shoe and Leather Workers' Union and by management. I am convinced that this industry which is vital to the economy for the employment it gives and its contribution to our balance of payments, can be restored and developed and our boot and shoe operatives employment secured.

Finally I would refer again to the continued and rapid loss which is being experienced by the industry in their share of the home market. In 1971 the Irish share of the home market was 65 per cent, in 1972, 56 per cent, in 1973, 52 per cent and in 1974, 40 per cent. The Minister will agree that this is an extremely rapid decline in the proportion of the home market. It is something that will have an extremely severe effect on the industry in general because, as I pointed out before, if we are to develop the shoe industry it will be necessary to develop exports but it will not be possible for us to expand without having that share of the home market that is essential as a firm base to exports.

I appeal to the Minister to make a decision at once. There is nothing worse for any industry than uncertainty.

I find myself in two minds as to what tone to reply in because at certain stages of Deputy Faulkner's speech I was provoked to assail his position extremely vigorously. At certain moments I got the impression that there was an element of knock-about. In one breath the Deputy said that my behaviour is nothing short of criminal and soon afterwards he said he does not like to be personal. I thought that perhaps the line to take would be to mock what he said but then he went on to say serious things. Whatever way this problem is approached by speakers, it remains a serious one. Later, during the Deputy's speech I considered my own position to be sustained and helped for reasons that will emerge as I continue. I would beg the Deputy to remain, if not for all of what I have to say, at least for the first part of my reply because I wish to make clear the legal position under which I am functioning and which he does not appear to understand fully.

Having talked of the legal position I shall go on to put some statistics on the record. I want to tell the House and the country what is the position at this moment and then I shall comment on what Deputy Faulkner has said.

I shall begin by indicating clearly the legal position under which we are functioning. Deputy Faulkner and many other Deputies may not be aware of what is the legal position. The remarks I shall make now will be made much more coolly than I had intended when the Deputy had been five minutes into his speech. We are functioning under a legal position resulting from our signing the Accession Treaty. We are functioning under legal disabilities which were negotiated by the Opposition while they were in Government and the dangers of which were told to them very clearly but which dangers they pooh-poohed totally lightheartedly. They subverted some of the agencies of the State to propagate at public expense this totally lighthearted and irresponsible version of what our legal commitments would be in regard to protecting our weaker industries, industries which, for a decade, we had known were under threat.

Legally, in the matter of imposing restrictions on imports we, nationally, are not free agents. By provisions of the Treaty and by the Act of Accession we are precluded from imposing new financial burdens on imports, either from the EEC or from non-member countries. I refer to Articles 12 to 14 and to section 2 of Chapter 1, part II of the Treaty of Rome and to Articles 32, 36, 39, 42 and 59 of the Act of Accession.

These provisions preclude in the first place the imposition of new financial burdens and, secondly, they prohibit quantitative restrictions as between member States. I know that Deputy Faulkner recognises that difficulty to some extent but he did not seem to recognise it fully when he talked of the idea of breaking the rules. He said that normally he would not advocate this line but he mentioned that other countries had done so. Certainly, he flirted with the idea of repudiating our commitment. I will talk about that because it is something that must be talked of. There is a certain irony two years on in the demands from the Opposition benches that the Government break the rules which that Opposition at the time negotiated and brainwashed the people into accepting very lightheartedly without understanding the dangerous ramifications involved. Although Deputy Faulkner made a serious speech, he could have been more honest by talking about the role of the EEC. It was rather late in his whole presentation that he referred to that subject. It is thinkable but not lightly so that we would break the rules but the effect of such action would have to be weighed very carefully. Deputy Faulkner has the privilege of opposition in that he can be more lighthearted in regard to suggestions of that kind than we can be.

The only scope for departure from our contractual obligations to the EEC is that provided, first, by Articles 108 and 109 of the Rome Treaty. These articles can be invoked in a balance of payments crisis. Therefore, should we decide that a balance of payments crisis exists we could invoke these articles but such a measure would have ramifications of a very profound kind on our whole financial system, on the relationship of international financial institutions to us and on our relationship with countries with which we trade both within the Community and outside it. I assure the Deputy that such a step would not be taken lightly.

Article 135 of the Act of Accession deals with economic difficulties in certain sectors but it is well that we would understand clearly what the legal position is in that regard. I am talking now to the whole industry and not only to Deputies on any side of the House. From the sources available to me I must put on record the sort of situation that faces our footwear industry. There was the removal of the quota in 1970. That was under the EFTA. Since 1970 we have had a very dramatic taking-over of our home market, starting before we were members of the Community and accelerating since our accession. In 1969 imports accounted for 12 per cent of the home market, in 1970, 19.4 per cent, in 1971, 29.2 per cent, in 1972, 37.2 per cent, in 1973, 45 per cent and this year the best estimate we had is a little more than 60 per cent, not as high as the 67 per cent that has been quoted but a little higher than the 60 per cent that Deputy Faulkner said—a very dramatic taking-over of our home market by imports.

I think it fair to put on the record the countries from which these imports are coming. I shall not give the figures for as long a period but for 1972, 1973 and the first half of 1974. In 1972 of the imports the UK sent 77 per cent, the other EEC countries 6.6 per cent and the non-EEC countries 16.4 per cent. That was the share of imports of the different inputting countries. Let me simply say that for the first half of this year the UK imports had declined to 74.5 per cent. This is pairage and not value. The non-EEC countries had declined from 16.4 per cent to 11.7 per cent but the other EEC countries, not UK, not Ireland, the other seven, had gone from 6.6 per cent in 1972 to 13.8 per cent in the first half of this year, more than doubling in that period which, indeed, is the period since we joined the Community.

It is worth nothing in parenthesis that though the Korean situation is potentially very dangerous and it is very dangerous currently in other sorts of production, in regard to footwear —I make that distinction between footwear and textiles and clothing— Korean imports of footwear are very small, indeed, at this time though potentially very threatening. That is the circumstance in regard to the actual statistics of what has been happening to the industry and I share Deputy Faulkner's and all Deputies' concern as to the profound seriousness of the situation that those figures reveal.

I want to say now something about what I called originally the current state of the situation, what has happened so far, and I would say in parenthesis that I have often heard Ministers reproached with using the media rather than using the House for saying what they are doing. I could have floated off various things at various times in the past and I could to some extent have headed off certain criticisms today on the basis of releasing to the media what I am now going to say but I did think it was useful to have certainly Deputy Faulkner's speech and other speeches from the Opposition benches and this is the place, where possible. It is not always possible. Where possible, this is the place to talk about ministerial action if there is a choice in the matter.

I have made it clear that our choice is to operate our contractual agreements, Treaty of Rome and Accession Act, or to break them. That is the choice and we will talk a bit about the ramifications of breaking them in a minute but it is prudent first to proceed along the basis of not breaking them but trying to make them work because breaking them gets pretty serious. Apart from the ongoing intervention, the core of the matter is not in Dublin or London or any of those places, the core of the matter is, in fact, in Brussels. Deputies may like that or not like it but that is the truth of it. I think Deputy Faulkner accepted that to some extent when he talked about thinking about breaking our obligation. But, of the total Commission I personally have seen and put the case to five of the Commission, to all of the Commissioners involved with this area and my staff have had ongoing meetings with the appropriate people at Commission level on two separate subject. You will see from the statistics that the really rapidly expanding area is the area of imports from EEC countries, non-UK, but there is also a worry about imports from outside the Community and there is a worry about what the UK does in our market as well. All three of them are important but the rapidly expanding one is the rest of the EEC.

I am authorised by Commissioner Gundelach, who is the responsible man, to say—and while I cannot be satisfied, very far from it, with the position, it is fair to say and I will indicate the case in a minute—it is well that it is on the record of the House—that we have been making to Brussels—now that we have received a certain at least understanding of that case and the measure of that understanding is that Commissioner Gundelach has set up a Commission task force to look specifically, not simply at footwear, but at three threatened industries—this debate is about footwear—but three threatened industries in Ireland. There is a special Commission task force in existence which will be in Ireland next week which has already received submissions.

We may complain, as we all have complained in Opposition and, indeed, I complain in Government about the rate at which Government functions in a country this size. Deputies on all sides will know that Community institutions function slowly also and in some cases more slowly and irritatingly slowly.

We, of course, also raised the question as other countries have raised it over some time of imports from outside the Community and we have made clear our dissatisfaction with the expected time of decision in regard to third-country imports into the Community. I cannot anticipate action. I cannot anticipate the decisions of the Community, but I think it fair to say that they recognise the urgency and while they have not given promises we must hope for something more rapidly than their original timetable which I think would not have involved action until, perhaps, early spring because they understand it is more urgent.

I cannot prejudge exactly what package will be offered to Ireland by this task force going back and reporting to the Commission. I cannot prejudge exactly what the Commission will do but I do assure my colleagues on all sides of the House that the core of the answer is in Brussels and not in Dublin for reasons of their making in their time in office, which we can have our opinions about. The choice, therefore, is to make the Community work for us which it shows some signs of willingness to do —the existence of the special task force is some indication of that willingness—or else to face up to the ramifications not just for footwear but for the whole of our economy and, indeed, for other economies because our actions will be taken as a precedent, of breaking our commitments under the Act of Accession. That is the choice. That is the reality of it, putting it pretty bluntly. That is where it is at.

I think it correct and prudent that we exhaust the first possibility first and I hope my colleagues in the House, whatever they think of the quality of my actions, will at least grant me concensus on that. That is the nature of the action that we have been pursuing and because of the legal commitments that I quoted we must in wisdom let those processes be exhausted before we go on to consider further action. In other words, we have to assess what comes out and, of course, we have to work, as we have been working, that those things come out quickly.

It is fair also that I should put on the record of the House the sort of things that we said in Brussels to Commissioners and to other people at senior level in the Community. We pointed out to them firstly that we were much the smallest country of the Community. If you count it in terms of gross national product rather than in terms of individuals we are much the smallest. The next smallest one is three times as big as us. We are the poorest in per capita income. I did not make a political football out of it. I am not trying to make a political football out of it now because decisions are taken and you cannot go back to a time where your road branches and when you get up one branch it is very difficult to say that was a mistake, we will go up the other one. I am not trying to make a political football out of the next bit but it is fair to say and I hope people will agree with me that we joined the Community with expectations which have either not been fulfilled or have only partially been fulfilled. We have recently—by recently I mean within hours almost—had some move on a regional policy but that was late and on a scale that cannot make us too happy, to say the least of it. We had some move on social policy but not on a scale we would desire. We have seen a commitment written into the Treaty of Rome to raising the standard of all the citizens of all member States but we have not seen that carried into effect. We had great agricultural expectations but we are not just an agricultural country with the biggest agricultural sector of any of the Nine but we are also a livestock country. And what happened to the price of cattle has hit not just farming but our whole economy and specifically people buying footwear. The effect of cattle prices was greater in our country.

We have pointed out the scale and the significance of the footwear sector in our economy where expressed as a percentage of the whole number employed in industry in our country it is very large. We have pointed out that traditionally it was a protected industry and that if it was to come through by rationalisation and modernisation to the excellence that could mean real penetration to a market of 250 million or 300 million, it had to have time, and that time was assumed in the adjustments that were negotiated at the time of accession but that we did not foresee, when that Accession Treaty was being negotiated, that there would be a recession of the kind that has happened and that has cut home and export demand. We have had a telescoping of these difficulties.

We made the point that while we were concerned about the loss of jobs, we were concerned with more than that because when you get a penetration from overseas footwear getting over 60 per cent of the market, as has happened here this year, you are not talking only about the loss of jobs but the loss of a whole sector of your economy so that when the upturn comes, as I think collectively, we believe it will come, that sector will not exist to take advantage of the upturn.

I listened with some interest to what Deputy Faulkner said earlier because he was saying many of those things also; they are things anybody would say but it is useful to have them on the record now from both sides.

We pointed out that since our economy is so tiny and our industry so fragmented that at times when say the Italians can push stuff into Britain, the British can use the offseason lines; they can use the last little bit of production which technically, is not dumping to push it into us, since our industry is so little and our home market so small that we can be smashed up in time of economic downturn by increasing competition in a way that the great industries of France or Britain or Italy cannot be. I should say in fairness to the Commissioners and others to whom we spoke in Brussels that while they did not give us answers then—we have not been getting results, for example, about Korea as quickly as we would like—I got the impression that they knew what we are saying was serious and that we were making a serious case and I think the setting up of a task force— not an unknown procedure but not a normal one—was an index to the fact that at least we were being listened to with a willingness to have the situation investigated.

I want to refer to the meeting I had with both sides of the industry on, I think, 15th March, because some of the proposals they made are practical and are being acted on. They know that on some of them which are being acted on, I am not free to comment. Some of them without breaking our treaty agreement cannot be acted on unless we get agreement from the Commission which then recommends it to all the other countries. But a ban or a limitation on imports from non-EEC countries is not possible without Commission approval and recommendation, without breaking the Treaty. The same applies to any 5 per cent import deposit and to any departure from the rate of liberalisation of trade. The questions that they raised about VAT are being investigated but that is not in my Department.

Deputy Faulkner also referred to control of margins and this has been explored vigorously but the difficulty there is the difficulty of implementation which is a real one. It is a matter of finding ways to make it more effective and that is being vigorously pursued.

Deputy Faulkner made me cross at the beginning for reasons I have tried to indicate. I deny that I do not appreciate the difficulties; I believe I do. I deny that I have done nothing. I deny most firmly that my actions are nothing short of criminal. I deny that it is a fair characterisation to describe as masterly inactivity the sort of thing I have been saying here. We are faced with a decision which Deputy Faulkner to some extent began to face. Either we make the Community institutions work for us which we were and are doing as vigorously as we can or else we look at the matter of breaking our agreement. I have not been saying that we are doing this or that in the Community because I do not like raising hopes in regard to the actions of other people whom I cannot control but when Deputy Faulkner says that I, as Minister for Industry and Commerce, must make a decision about low cost imports, a decision of the immediate type for which he calls is not my decision. The legal position, as I have tried to put it on record indicates that is the situation. If it is a matter of breaking our obligation under the Act of Accession that is not a matter for me, as the Deputy knows; it is a matter for the Government and a rather serious one. Many of the things he said I must do as Minister for Industry and Commerce I would love to do and my failure to do them arises not from indifference, ignorance, or lack of desire but because it is not legally possible under the Act of Accession. I regret it. Therefore, to belabour me for failing to take decisions that I cannot legally take is, it seems, unjust.

Deputy Faulkner said that he would not normally advocate the breaking of rules but all the different countries at different times—I think he said—had broken the rules, not always about footwear but in one way or another. Italy got itself into and is in a desperate crisis. It took a unilateral action which was subsequently validated by the European institutions but at a terrible cost to Italy—at the cost of international agencies forcing on Italy a series of actions which produced the resignation of the Government and a tremendous political crisis. If that was the sequence of events Deputy Faulkner wanted, I could understand it but it would not be the best way to solve the problem.

It could happen here also.

Anything could happen anywhere. If we are to break treaty obligations, important as one sector may be it involves the whole of our economic position and it is not lightly done. It is only done after all the legal channels have been exhausted. We are following those legal channels with all the vigour available to us.

I have not time to refer to points raised by Deputy Faulkner about An Coimisiún Dumpála. Perhaps I may have a word with him privately or I can get other speakers on this side to refer to them. There was another matter on which I found myself in complete agreement with the Deputy. There is a tradition of cynicism about "Buy Irish" campaign but if ever there was a time for such a campaign this is one. We have been thinking about the matter to try to get participation from outside by social groups not merely be exhortation. The planning is reasonably well advanced and on next Wednesday morning we will be able to launch formally something that is reasonably well planned, which is realistic and involves wide sectors on the question of "Buy Irish". I agree with the Deputy that we would be utterly wrong to be cynical about the matter because it has an important contribution to make.

I realise I have not answered all the matters raised. I will try to see that other speakers on this side do so before the debate ends.

I come from an area that is deeply concerned with the shoe industry. I do not intend to attack the Minister; I only want something positive done to help a serious situation that is affecting every shoe factory. I am alarmed at the imports from Korea, Hong Kong and areas outside the EEC. Some of the shoes are coming in at a cost of 80p and some traders are stamping them made in Ireland. This is a serious matter and one about which I feel very strongly. What is happening is that new padding is put on the shoes and they are re-labelled "Made in Ireland". I do not know how we can compete against these people but we will have to do something about the matter.

The Minister referred to the legal position that exists as far as our membership of the EEC is concerned. I realise this but how many other countries have broken the rules when it suited them? The Minister may say we cannot do that but if something is not done for a number of factories closure is inevitable. A factory cannot remain open for two or three days per week and pay its overheads. It is not on, as any businessman will tell the Minister.

We should consider the broader issues of the footwear industry. There is a necessity for a comprehensive policy with regard to this industry. Millions of pounds worth of cattle are exported on the hoof each year. This includes the raw hides that are tanned and processed in the United Kingdom and imported by the shoe manufacturers. There are three tanneries that could be developed and expanded to use this obvious natural resource. An injection of capital into the tanning and processing industries would be a development in this direction. This is something the Ministers for Industry and Commerce and Agriculture and Fisheries should examine. It may be a long-term solution and it may take time but now we have a situation that requires immediate action.

The Minister stated that a kind of task force is being set up. These groups are very slow and they go into many details. We will have men from Luxembourg and other places inspecting the various factories and eventually making a report. All of this will take considerable time.

We are importing more than five million pairs of shoes. Some traders have not been supporting the factories here as they should. They have tried to re-label the shoes and have only been concerned with making profit at our expense. I want to tell the people that although they may be buying cheap shoes, in the long run they are sacrificing the workers and their families. A year ago there were 6,000 people employed in the shoe industry but now there are only 5,000 people employed in it, and there will be further redundancies. Possibly rationalisation will have to take place within the factories too.

There is a lot of ballyhoo talked about design. It is said that we are not able to design shoes here. I am glad to say that the Minister made a presentation to an employee from my area whose design was top class. I would not like anyone here or anywhere else to think we are unable to design the type of shoe that is required here. It amazes me that people go into shops and pay £16 for Italian shoes. They think that because they come from Italy they are better than Irish shoes. That is not true. We produce a top quality shoe here and we have a wide range.

Italy imposed a 25 per cent tariff. The Minister said it brought the Italian Government to their knees. Everyone knows governments in Italy were always on their knees with elections every three months or so. The Minister will have to do something about the shoes that are coming in from Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore. Those places are outside the EEC. They may say they buy certain commodities from us but I believe we should protect a major industry in this country. If we are caught by legalities in the EEC we are not caught outside the EEC.

I am sorry, we are caught equally outside.

We remember when we had the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement. The UK came along and put a 10 per cent levy on our exports. We objected but they did it. They imposed an export deposit too and they got away with it. We tried to negotiate with them but they said: "We have the heavy hand, you will pay and that is it." They took it off when it suited them to take it off. The UK is now about to negotiate new terms with the EEC. If it suits her to break anything she will break it. Let there be no doubt about that. I believe we should impose an import deposit of about 25 per cent. Imports from inside the EEC should be limited to an amount equal to the exports from Ireland in the preceding year. That view was put forward by the union. It was not a bad one. In the year 1967 our imports of shoes were worth under £500,000. Now that figure has gone up to just over £5 million. This is a massive increase and if it is allowed to continue it will lead to the closure of some of our factories. In the last few years something like 20 of our factories have closed. The way things are going it looks as if the workers will be marching again. We had over 3,000 of them here a week ago and they were pretty angry because they saw the loss of their jobs. Some of them have been 30 years in the business. When one is 30 years in a business one is not able to adapt to any other type of work in spite of the efforts of AnCO to retrain people. When the workers marched they must have considered the situation very serious.

I was very disappointed that the Minister came up with nothing constructive. All he had to offer was that he was getting the commissioners over. That is little consolation to the worker. If he hears that he will know that will take months. They will look at this brief, that brief and every sort of brief but the workers will eventually find themselves not on a two-day week or a three-day week but some weekend there will be the announcement of the closure of another factory. I thought the Minister would have something constructive to offer to protect the workers and the shoe trade. If something is not done immediately there will be many shoe workers lining up at employment exchanges.

Debate adjourned.