I beg to move:—
"That the Seanad requests the Government to take such steps as will enable barley growers in the Saorstát to secure a remunerative price for their grain during the coming season, or in the alternative forthwith to consider the advisability of imposing a protective tariff on imported barley and malt."
The position of barley growers at present is very bad. Some years ago they received 60/- per barrel for their barley, now the price is below 20/-. Their market is a circumscribed one. They have only a very limited market in Ireland for the sale of their barley, and they must accept practically whatever price is arranged for them. On the other hand, they have to meet their liabilities, and they depend upon the barley, to a great extent, to pay the debts contracted during the season. This matter is urgent, because before the Seanad meets again the barley harvest will be on and the prices will be arranged. Except some method is adopted by the Government to obtain a fair price for them, the barley farmers will be down and out, and they are already very badly hit. They got a bad price last year and the year before, and anything that they had saved in the previous years has disappeared completely. I feel that the Government could easily, without any coercion, by representation to the interests concerned, get for the barley growers what would be considered a fair price for their produce. At present barley cannot be produced at the price at which it has been selling. The growers cannot export their barley because, although it suits the brewers and distillers in this country, it does not appear to be suitable for the English trade. The growers are therefore in the hands of our big brewers and distillers. These brewers and distillers are very considerate to their employees, but in this particular instance they forget the unfortunate employees who are at the very root of the business, namely, the growers. The barley growers produce the raw material. The brewers and distillers buy it in competition with the world's markets. The barley grower, therefore has no chance. His hands are tied, and he must take whatever is offered to him. If the brewers and distillers were approached by the Government and the case were put before them, I feel that they would treat these employees of theirs as well as they treat their ordinary employees, and that there would be no reason to complain.
The Government have a pull upon the brewers and distillers, because under the Hops Control in England the brewers were bound to take a certain amount of Kentish hops whether they suited them or not at a certain price. Since the Free State Government was established our brewers and distillers here have not been under this control, and they were free to take their hops from any part of the world and to get the best value they could. It seems to me that the Government, by a little judicious reasoning with the brewers, would be able to induce them to pay a better price—a price which would enable the barley grower to exist. If the price is continued on the same basis as at present he will not be able to exist, and eventually that will be to the disadvantage of the brewers.
I may be told that these farmers can grow something else instead of barley. It would not be to the interest of the brewer that they should grow something else. In any event, they may not be in a position to grow something else, as they cannot change their whole system in a year. The produce of about 70,000 acres of barley and malt was imported into this country during 1923. That importation means a big loss to the Saorstát in employment of every description. It seems to me that it is not fair to put the Irish barley grower in competition with the world markets, because other countries are not paying our expenses. At present our farmers are the most heavily taxed in the world. Everything is against them. At the present time you can get barley from California cheaper than you can get it from Kerry. I appeal to the Seanad to support my motion, which is not coercive by any means, but is merely a request to the Government to consider the question. Agriculture is our principal industry in this country, and if agriculturists are down and out the merchants and the bankers and everyone else will be down and out. I hope there will be some means devised by which these farmers will get a better price for their barley during the coming harvest than they have got for the last three years.