The motion before the Seanad is: "That this Bill be now read a Second Time."
INTOXICATING LIQUOR BILL, 1924. - UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE (No. 2) BILL, 1924—SECOND STAGE.
Will the Minister for Industry and Commerce be here to give us the benefit of his advice on this Bill?
The Minister is at present engaged in the Dáil operating another Bill, but the Minister for Agriculture is here and he will give us the benefit of his advice so far as it goes. We cannot expect him, of course, to be fully acquainted with the minutiæ of a Bill that is not in his Department. I think the Bill was not treated as a contentious measure in the Dáil. There does not seem to be anything very contentious in it. It seems to be more in the nature of a supplementary Bill.
The Bill is a very simple one. It makes provision for the payment of unemployment benefit to a number of insured contributors whose benefit, through long periods of unemployment, had run out. It proposes that people who were unemployed contributors will get credit in what is known as the fourth benefit year, that is to say, they will get paid the insurance benefit they were entitled to be paid, and were paid, in the third benefit year. In other words, people who received unemployment benefit to the full extent of the stamps to their credit at the end of the third benefit year, and who ceased to be entitled to get further benefit will, under this Bill, be put into benefit again. The Bill also provides that the money that will be paid will be benefit in advance. In other words, it is not a free gift. It is a continuation of the previous Unemployment Insurance Act that was passed in August last. There is another important factor in connection with this Bill, and it is this: It proposes to put into benefit ex-National Army soldiers other than those who previous to their becoming members of the National Army had been in what is known as insurable employment. That is very necessary because of the fact that in the previous Unemployment Insurance Bill provision was not made for these young men who joined the National Army and who had not been in insurable employment prior to 1920.
You must bear in mind that most of the young men who joined the National Army were not in a position, in the majority of cases at least, to be in what was known as an insurable trade prior to 1920. Prior to 1920 the number of trades that were known as insurable employment were limited. It was after 1920 that the great bulk of the workers other than agricultural labourers and domestic servants, were included in the Unemployment Insurance Scheme. Therefore, it is a great hardship on a large number of National Army soldiers, who had not been in insurable employment prior to 1920 and who joined the National Army, that they were not entitled to receive Unemployment Insurance. The Bill proposes that stamps will be placed to their credit and that they will be deemed to have been in insurable employment. Therefore they will be entitled to a certain number of weeks' benefit under the Unemployment Insurance Scheme. I would ask the Seanad to study carefully the figures as regards unemployment in this country. I may say from my experience, and I have a fairly general experience of working conditions in this country during the past 25 years—this is the experience, too, of the oldest men in a Trade Union movement—that there has never been, in the history of this city, so much unemployment among what is known as the regular workers as there is to-day.
It is a lamentable state of affairs that this Bill does not propose to deal with chronic unemployment. This Bill proposes to deal with the genuine unemployed, with people who are victims of the circumstances of the unemployment that is rampant at the moment in the country. It proposes to put people who have been for a considerable period out of employment and whose benefits have lapsed at the end of the third benefit year, into benefit for what is known as the fourth benefit year, and I would suggest to the House that every facility should be given to the passing of this measure. I notice from the reports of the debates in the other House that the Minister was anxious that the Bill should pass as quickly as possible so that people will be entitled to get this benefit before the end of the year, and I would appeal to the Minister that every effort should be made to have this Bill passed so that the benefits may be paid at least—to ensure that the great bulk of these people would be sure of their Christmas meal—if possible before Christmas.
I do not think I require to say anything more on that side of the question. The Bill deals with two particular classes. It proposes to put into benefit people whose benefits have lapsed at the end of the third benefit year and some whose benefits have practically lapsed. Secondly, it proposes to do what is long overdue, to provide unemployment benefit for ex-National soldiers who were not in insurable employment prior to joining the National Army.
I would like the Minister to give some information as to the amount involved for the financing of the scheme. We all agree with what Senator Farren states, but I think it would be well if, as a matter of information, we were told what the amount involved is. I would be grateful if the Minister would give that.
I cannot take the simple and non-controversial attitude towards this Bill that Senator Farren does. He and his colleagues have continually told us that this Bill is in the nature of an advance towards a fund to provide benefit for workers in the insurable trades, and that, for the time being, during the prevailing depression this fund is overdrawn and there is a hope that when things get better the fund will get into credit. I cannot take that view. Up to a certain point I did, but the figures are becoming so large and so alarming that I think we have to face the fact that this is no longer a good asset. It involves, the Minister will tell us, a sum of over a million. There was a sum of three quarters of a million under the previous Act and there is a sum of £350,000 involved under this Act. Supposing you place that item on our national balance sheet as an asset, I wonder what any business, any bank, or any insurance company would give you for that? I think in view of the fact that we are paying it out of revenue, not very much. I do not think that it should be regarded as an asset that will be afterwards paid off.
That being so, it looks as if a certain class are getting an undue proportion of unemployment benefit. The whole principle has rather outlived its purpose, and instead of its becoming a benefit in the proper sense to the workers who contribute, it is becoming more in the nature of public assistance and it should be viewed from a different angle. That being so, it is really a general question to consider— I do not suggest that this Bill be thrown out now—whether this is not the last that we should have of these advances towards unemployment funds and whether any future provision for unemployment should not take the form of relief work covering all the unemployed whether they are in an insurable trade or not.
I hope we will have some assurance from the Government that this is the last we are going to get of assistance to this largely overdrawn fund for benefits for certain workers in certain covenanted trades. That leads to the whole question of public assistance. I think that is one to be reviewed by the Government and to be co-ordinated. I do not think we know the amount involved in public assistance. In England many attempts have been made to find out the total amount given to public assistance for pensions and local relief. In view of the urgent need for economy it seems desirable that public assistance should be brought under one Department, the Department of Finance, and controlled by that. While undoubtedly benefits should be in some cases regarded as personal to the worker, the circumstances of the whole family should be taken into account, and where large sums are reaching the family from one source that should be taken into account when distributing from another source. Where there are large sums in pensions, for example, going into a family, the outdoor relief should be watched. This public assistance should meet the needs of the case. I know it is a big question, but we will have to face it. We cannot afford large sums, and the first thing is to bring it under the Department of Finance. Another important thing is to have accounts showing how much we are spending.
The last point I wish to make is that all the grants and contributions of this kind are only in the nature of a palliative to deal with the present trouble, and there is a great danger that the Government and ourselves, following the line of least resistance, will deal with this question in a piecemeal fashion by grants, and our attention will be diverted from the real remedy, which is the revival of our industries through strict economy in public expenditure, through the reduction of all taxation in order to divert money from unproductive into productive channels. I feel the longer we go on meeting problems in this way the less inclination there is to meet the fundamenaal issue, which is to revive trade.
I agree that this is merely a palliative measure, but unfortunately it is the only measure that can be taken in time to avert what would otherwise be a disaster. It is true also that this debt of the unemployment fund is an asset, although payment of it may be delayed according to the delay in the revival of trade. It is merely an overdraft of the unemployment fund. I understand the fund was first of all affected prejudicially immediately after the cessation of hostilities in 1918. Thousands of people who paid no unemployment contributions were then placed on the fund. It was then merely a dole, because these people paid no contributions. Since they have contributed in the ordinary insurance basis it has ceased to be a dole. The debit to the central fund is an asset and it will be realised that its realisation may be delayed. When this Bill was being introduced there was a far more encouraging development and that was the assurance of the Minister for Finance that certain relief schemes would work side by side with this, and that a specific amount of money had been set aside for that purpose. It was mentioned that where relief schemes through the medium of road work have been undertaken throughout the country that local authorities have taken advantage of grants they have got through this to reduce their estimates for road work.
That is a misappropriation of the funds. It was never intended for the relief of rates but for one purpose for which it should be used. In other words, large sums voted for constructive work were availed of by the local ratepayers to relieve themselves. There is the other question of the amount of work if the money voted for compensation were utilised to start rebuilding. It is a deplorable state of affairs to find in the cities of Dublin and Cork sufficient work available for two or three years and the people responsible cannot be got to start. No clear reason has been advanced for that. I cannot see why those buildings cannot be restarted. I think it is time the Minister for Finance began to consider whether he should not come to the Oireachtas for fresh powers to deal with people who do not start in time. He has power to reduce the grant already, and I suggest that there should be a graduated scale whereby the longer a building is delayed the less the amount to be paid by the State is, unless there were good reasons given for not starting the building. Another way would be to give something additional to those who would start at once and give employment. Personally, I would consider that a good means of starting the work. We are informed that unemployment is due to lack of confidence in the stability of the State. That is due to a number of reasons.
Apart from the trade depression there are about four reasons. The most important is the action of the Republican party in the country in pledging themselves publicly and otherwise to pull down the State either by peaceful or violent means at the first opportunity that offers. The second is a series of Army crises among themselves which have shaken the State from top to bottom. The third is rumours of dissension amongst the Government ranks. We have those deplorable rumours of squabbles for minor and senior posts, and talk of resignations and secession and so forth. Those have had a terrible effect on credit and the stability of the State. After all, the party entrusted with the Government of the State cannot afford to be divided at such a time as this when it requires all the resources of statesmanship that it can command. It shows a remarkable lack of foresight to see a small party causing rumours to be spread that they are split up and that there is no party to take their place. I think they should take steps to reconcile their differences and to let the country know where it stands. The fourth is the attitude of those who are friendly neither to the Free State nor to the Republicans, and who are disposed to take advantage of the present condition of affairs to bring back the conditions that existed before the 6th December, 1921.
There is a hope, I believe, in the minds of certain people, because of the internal strife in Ireland, that the State may collapse and that the British may return. All these are considerations that affect credit. I know that someone will say labour has played its own part. I contend that, in the main, its record has been the most creditable of the lot, and that in a period of wild alarm and civil strife, when the very pillars of society were in danger of being pulled down, the Labour Party was the one party that stood solid, unmoved by either side in its trade union and political organisations. An ill wind from the west blew in a person, who, in any but in this delightful country, would not be convenienced anywhere except in its prisons. Naturally, that caused a little friction which is being effectually dealt with and will disappear in a very short time. These considerations all underlie the question of unemployment, and until they are considered in a very sincere manner, I do not think we are going to have very much improvement, even when the period of this Bill expires, in March next.
While the country is being torn asunder by this question of the Treatyversus Republic, and while we have forty or fifty members elected to this Parliament, going about with the dignity of membership of this Parliament, working for the destruction of the State, we must not hope for stability. I urge on the Government the suggestion that I made in another place; that is to face the question one way or the other. Let the Government take their chance and put the question to a Referendum of the people. I have my own opinion as to what the result would be. Let it be what it will, it is better to have it decided. Make it impossible by legislation for any persons to go about the country with the dignity of T.D. after their names, while at the same time they are working for the destruction of a State of whose Parliament they are members.
I am in agreement with Senator Sir John Keane, and largely with Senator O'Farrell. There are other factors that have tended to aggravate the question of unemployment. I really think that Senator O'Farrell has been particularly tender to his own Party, even though I know that some of the difficulties have been forced upon it. Still, it is not lacking in that respect. I happen to be a Jonah in connection with destroyed premises, both in Cork and in Dublin. The difficulties of people whose property was destroyed have been very great. I suggested on behalf of one company that a higher rate than the standard wages should be offered in return for increased production. They were told it would be absolutely useless to do so, and that the restrictions on output would not be waived. I think that has tended to increase the cost of building to some extent, and that it would be necessary for those whose property was destroyed to incur financial liability to supplement the award given them. They were deterred by the excessive cost put on them owing to restrictions. It is only fair that that should be known and considered by men who, I admit, are reasonable men, in the Party with which Senator O'Farrell is associated.
I did not intend to intervene in the debate again but for the remarks of Senator Dowdall. I am glad to have an opportunity of publicly meeting the statement he made. He has referred to restrictions on output by the trade unions. I deliberately challenge Senator Dowdall, or anyone else, to produce any single trade union rule that puts a limitation on output. It is not fair for people to make a general statement of the kind without evidence to substantiate it. Some time ago a statement appeared in the leading article of one of the daily newspapers, that there was a limitation and a restriction on output by the trade unions. When the editor was challenged to bring forward proof of the statement, he ran away from it. I suggest it is unfair, without evidence to support it, that such statements should be made publicly.
What about bricklayers?
What about the bricklayers? Everybody laughs when the bricklayer is mentioned. Does anyone suggest that a bricklayer is restricted in output?
I challenge Senator Moran to meet the point.
We cannot go into a controversy on the matter here, as we have no means of determining it. We must follow the ordinary rules of debate. One Senator is entitled to give his view, no matter how strongly he wishes to put it, and he has then to endure the Senator on the other side putting the opposite view. We cannot go into an inquiry on the subject here.
I agree, but I think anyone who makes a charge without evidence should be asked to sustain it. I have no hesitation in saying that there is no limitation of output in the building trade in the city. As far as the building trade is concerned, it is hoped that there will be a good deal of work coming along shortly. The men are willing and prepared to work if they get it. The extraordinary thing is that the only people who talk about output are these people who never give any output themselves.
Would the Seanad consider the taking of the Committee Stage of this Bill now? I do not think there will be any amendments. If that would suit the Seanad, it will suit the Minister for Industry and Commerce.
I move that the Standing Orders be suspended, in order to take the concluding Stages of this Bill to-day.