Unemployment Relief Bill, 1931 (Certified Money Bill)—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be read a Second Time."

It is slightly awkward that this Bill comes immediately after the discussion on the petrol duty. Senators are aware that we have felt it necessary most years that some sum should be voted at this time of the year for the carrying out of schemes which would relieve unemployment and distress. We feel it necessary, in spite of the difficult financial circumstances generally, that some money should be found this year. There has been a slight increase in the recorded figures of unemployment and there are areas too in which it is pretty clear that there has been such a shortage in the potato and oat crops as to cause some hardship. The general decline in prices too has caused some sharpening of the distress which in many areas we will always have in the winter season. The problem of finding the money has not been so easy. We did not feel that we should borrow for it. We felt we could only borrow for distress and unemployment if there was some enormous increase and that schemes far beyond anything we have ever carried out were necessary. If we had conditions which obliged us, shall we say, to spend one million or one and a half millions, then the most exceptional measures would be taken and the amount required would certainly be beyond what could be expected to be raised by taxation.

The amount that is being asked for this year is not exceptional. It is something like the amount that we have asked for in previous years. We felt that it is not consistent with reasonable Budgetary policy to borrow in order to find the amount required. On the other hand, we did not feel in the present state of affairs that we could impose taxation for the purpose. It was in those conditions that we looked to the Road Fund. We are not proposing actually to deprive the Road Fund of money that would normally be available for the purpose of the fund in the present year. So far as the Road Fund is concerned, it will have all the income that the road tax will give it, and all normal schemes of improvements, maintenance and repairs that should be carried out will be carried out out of that fund.

Senators, I am sure, are aware that there was at the time of the Treaty a United Kingdom Road Fund which was, of course, a joint fund and to the assets of which the Saorstát had a claim. For a very long time it was impossible to arrive at any conclusions in regard to the apportionment of the fund, but in 1927 the matter had proceeded so far that the British Government paid a sum on account of £200,000. It was not possible to get any further by means of negotiations and the two Governments agreed on the appointment of an arbitrator. Sir Henry Strakosch was chosen. The next step was to prepare an agreed statement of the facts. That took a very considerable time and a great deal of difficulty was found in arriving at agreement as to the facts. However, agreement was finally reached last June and the two Governments accepted a statement to lay before the arbitrator in regard to the facts. Then each Government had to prepare its own claim to the assets of the fund and to make its own case. The two cases have now been prepared and they are being exchanged. Each Government will prepare a comment on the claim of the other, and the agreed statement of facts, the claim of each Government and the counter statement of each Government will be ready to be laid before the arbitrator within a very short period. The three main documents are ready. When the arbitrator has received those and studied them he can either come to a decision on them or hear either Government verbally if the Government wishes it, or he can ask for additional information or additional arguments. But it is not anticipated, matters having reached the stage which they have now reached, that there will be any great further delay. The main difficulty that was experienced since the appointment of the arbitrator was in agreeing to a statement of the facts. It is anticipated, therefore, that most probably it will be possible for an award to be given within the current financial year, and even if it is not given before the 31st March next that it will not be delayed very much beyond that. We anticipate that there will be a payment out of the old Road Fund available for the Road Fund certainly within six or seven months and probably within a shorter period. The Road Fund has generally a considerable amount of cash in hands during the earlier part of the year, and it is anticipated that it will be possible to find this sum that is now being asked for out of the Road Fund and that the Road Fund itself will be recouped at quite an early date.

This money which will be received out of the old United Kingdom Road Fund was of course the proceeds of road taxation contributed prior to 1921. The people who contributed it probably in many cases are no longer motoring. A great deal, of course, has been done with the roads in various ways. For instance, in the repair of bridges that were broken down, undertaken by the 6d. rate, a good deal has been done and the extra point duty men who have had to be put on to deal with traffic have never been charged up to the Road Fund. I think there is no hardship involved in taking this £250,000 in anticipation of the special receipt which the Road Fund will shortly receive.

I am not going to quarrel with the taking of £250,000 from the Road Fund for the purpose of relieving unemployment. What I do quarrel with is the small amount of the sum that is being put up to deal with this most important problem that we have to deal with at the present time. The Minister has told us that there has been a slight increase in the numbers of people unemployed. I do not agree that the increase has been slight. There has been an alarming increase in the numbers of people unemployed in this country during the last twelve months. Take, for example, the railways. It is a well-known fact that the railways, from one cause or another, have curtailed services and reduced their staffs very considerably. It is also a well-known fact that owing to the economic conditions in other countries the young men and women who normally had to flow from this country to earn their livelihood elsewhere are not being able to go away to seek their livelihood. The position of this country at the moment with regard to unemployment is becoming alarming. We have only got to study the reports of the officers dealing with the question of home help. In these reports you will find that increases have been taking place every month in the number of people demanding home help. In Dublin alone, in the month of October, 7,100 families received relief from the Dublin Union authorities. That goes to prove that the conditions in the country are a good deal worse than the Minister is prepared to admit.

For that reason, I say that the amount of money that the Minister proposes should be spent in the relief of unemployment is altogether inadequate to deal with the circumstances of the moment. The Minister has other means of raising money if he requires it. Suggestions in that respect have already been made. I think the Roads Advisory Committee suggested that a large loan could be got on the security of the Road Fund and that the money could be usefully spent in providing employment for the people who need it. Plenty of useful work remains to be done, and employment could be given to people doing it. I would go so far as to say that they are entitled to get it. I think that every man and woman who is able and willing to work has a God-given right to be allowed to work and that the means should be provided for them. We heard the statement made before, that it is not the business of the Government to provide employment for the people. It is the duty of the Government to see that they do get employment in their own country. The Church has stated openly and quite emphatically that the people are entitled to be provided with employment or with the means of subsistence. To their credit they have seen in recent months the danger that exists. The Church has said that there is a menace there and the sooner it is tackled the better for society. Every man who has a family has the right to get the means of providing for his children. Nobody can say that the poor working man has not the same love for his children as the wealthy man. These people ought not to be tempted too far. They are being driven to desperation. Is it any wonder that they are joining illegal organisations? Everyone knows that the labourers of this country did their share when men were wanted and what is their condition to-day? In every respect they are worse off than they were before the fight started. Widows and orphans get no pensions here. If they had remained under the British Government they would get pensions and the men who are out of employment would get something at least to keep them. They would not be offered the miserable thing that barely keeps body and soul together. That is the cause of a good deal of the trouble that is occurring in this country. I earnestly suggest to the Minister that this quarter of a million of money is not nearly adequate to deal with the problem that is before us. This unemployment problem is a cancer that is eating the vitals of the country. It is responsible for most of the trouble in the country. The people believe that they can get employment, and that if the Government were in earnest the means of employment could be provided for them. They believe that this country can provide employment for its own people. No serious effort is being made to do that. Unless something is done very soon to aid these people it will be a bad thing for all concerned. Responsible people in this country have sounded a not of warning with regard to this important matter and I hope the warning will be taken notice of.

From the Minister's statement, it was not quite clear that they are certain of getting this money about which there is a dispute. He told us that there was a dispute between the two Governments as to what part of the Road Fund should come to this country and that both Governments had made up their case and put it before the arbitrator. Then he proceeded to jump to the conclusion that the Free State would get what they wanted out of it. Is not that rather premature?

It is admitted that there is a sum due. It is only the amount that is in question.

Is it contended that we will get something like the amount mentioned?

I think we will get that much.

It is by no means the first time that there has been an arbitrator between the two countries and in every case we got the worst of the bargain. I am not at all sure that we will get the best of it on this occasion.

Question put and agreed to. Committee Stage ordered for to-morrow.