Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 21 Jul 1938

Vol. 21 No. 9

Position of Rural Workers—Motion.

I move:—

That a select committee consisting of nine Senators be set up to inquire into the position of rural workers as regards employment, wages, housing, rent, education, the provision of properly-controlled halls and playing fields, and the allotment of land;

That the committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; and

That the quorum of the committee be five.

As one who for forty years has been associated with organised efforts to improve the condition of the rural worker and the genuine working farmer, I rise to move this motion standing in my name. In almost every land the drift from the country to the town is the most marked of all our social problems. It is an unhealthy social sign. About 80 years ago, as one of my old colleagues was accustomed to stress, one-fifth only of our population lived in urban areas. It would appear as if in another quarter of a century we will have a third of the population in Dublin alone. The decline and the drift to the towns did not begin to-day or yesterday. In a little over thirty years half a million of our people were cleared off the land and went to the emigrant ship or to the slums of the towns. The clearances of Meath caused the slums of Dublin. In the areas of rural Limerick and Tipperary to-day you have but one-fourth of those who were there 90 years ago. That is an accomplished fact. The same conditions prevail in Meath, Kildare and Westmeath. Wherever the fertile areas are, the people were driven off the land, and the richer districts are supporting the fewest people. Prosperity or national progress is not to be measured by the extensive unpeopled ranches or by the number of fat animals for export, but by the number of active, virile, intelligent people the country maintains in reasonable comfort and happiness. Our strength is not to be measured in animals but in men. Civilisation replaced the beast by men, but the clearances reversed the process and replaced men by beasts. The present Government and particularly our worthy Chief, are not to be blamed.

Under difficulties they have been doing much for housing, for land distribution, and in helping the masses of our people, but, now that the economic war has been ended, much more needs to be done. Our Government are now free to tackle more seriously the various home problems that need attention, and particularly the lot of the people on the land. I do not deny that our urban population have serious problems of their own—the slums are still there, although big strides have been made in removing them. Rents are far too high and ground rents in and around Dublin are appalling, and must soon be tackled. Interest rates charged by the banks for housing loans are excessive. The cost of commodities cannot be defended. The producer and the consumer are both ground between the millstones of unscrupulous middlemen. The conditions for the growth of a healthy population, both as to food and housing, do not exist in working-class districts in Dublin. Progress is being made, but the undoing of these great evils must of necessity be slow. I am out to deal with the rural workers, to keep their children, the bone and sinew of our race, in healthy surroundings, where their brawn and brains will be the asset of the nation. In most cases they are the immediate descendants of those driven off the lands by merciless measures which no British statesman and no reactionary landlord would defend to-day.

So much has been said on this question that it is hardly necessary for me to go into it again. It has been discussed in this House by each and every member, but it is a well-known fact that the question of the land is one of the most important questions that the country must deal with. We certainly think that unless you adopt some plan to break up the ranches and put the people on the land that you will not have a solution of this question. It is a well-known fact that in Meath alone there are thousands of acres of land run over to-day, as in the past, by beasts, and that the people were cleared off the land and that the bullocks are still taking their places. Even in Tipperary, in places around Cashel, it is a well-known fact that there are thousands of acres of land and no people, because the people were driven off them.

I think that this subject has been discussed at such length in this House already and that it is unnecessary for me to deal with this subject any further. There is another question on which I would like to speak, the question of cottier tenants. A Cottage Purchase Bill has already been introduced, and for what it does we give every credit to the Government, and we certainly say that the principle underlying that Bill is good but that it does not go far enough. The question of a 50 per cent. reduction is not in the Bill, and there is no sub-section in it which points to a 25 per cent. reduction. We certainly think that the Bill has not gone far enough to meet the wishes of the cottier tenants in that respect. A 25 per cent. reduction to-day means that 3½d. is taken off the present rents of the cottages, whereas the tenants are asked to assume a liability that is thrown on the board of health of £56,000. That sum is actually going for the cost of repairs as the cottages grow older. Now, there is no doubt in the world but this is a statutory liability on the board of health to keep the cottages in repair. It costs £56,000, but with the 25 per cent. reduction it means that only £32,000 is to be taken off the present rents, and the cottier tenants are asked to assume a burden of £24,000, which is to-day given to the board of health.

There should be at least a 50 per cent. reduction. It is a well-known fact, Sir, that cottage rents to-day are a lot dearer than they were in 1881. Moreover, on the loan charges of the cottages you can see that there is £236,000, roughly speaking, a quarter of a million pounds, that is gone into retained annuities. We certainly think that the cottier tenant has a right to be given a chance to get some of this quarter of a million of money. They are the honest class of the community and they have borne the burden of the economic war just as much as the farming population. For the last 50 years they have been in the forefront of every battle for the rights of the people; in the land agitation they stood beside the tenant farmer in the effort to break the deadly incubus of landlordism in the Land League days. They never flinched or faltered at any time in standing behind and fully supporting the national demands of the country and the people.

While the principle of this Bill is good, and while we give every credit to the Government for passing a Bill which will make cottier tenants the owners of their homes, we certainly think that the Government have not gone far enough, that 25 per cent. reduction is not enough, and that 50 per cent. reduction is actually required. When they are accepting the liabilities of the boards of health to-day to the extent of £56,000, surely the Government would be well advised in meeting the cottiers on this matter of the 50 per cent. reduction.

As to the question of unemployment, there is no doubt that it is one of the problems agitating the country at present. There are, as Senators know, 80,000 unemployed people to-day in the country. These people are costing the Government at least £80 per head, that is a cost to the country to-day of £6,500,000. I think many ways could be got of employing those people and removing this evil. One of the ways would be the reclamation of land in Counties Clare and Galway and along the Kerry coast. A double asset would be gained if this money were so applied. By reclaiming these lands you would make the lands productive and you would be helping to solve the unemployment question. We know that there is more unemployment in Northern Ireland and in England than in this country, but the position is so serious that we think the Government would be well advised to try to solve this problem and thus save the country £6,500,000 which the unemployed are to-day costing.

I put down this motion as a direct representative of the 50,000 cottier tenants. We think they are entitled to consideration. They stood behind the national movement and they are the chief asset of the nation. I hope the House will pass the motion and, if they do they will be helping to solve this problem for the poorest class in the community and it will redound in their favour throughout the land.

I am glad of the opportunity to second such a motion as this because I feel that a little time should be devoted to consideration of this big problem of the rural workers, the uneconomic holders and the cottier tenants. By setting up a committee such as the motion suggests a comprehensive survey of existing conditions which are said to be responsible for the decline in our rural population might be made and certain recommendations formulated with a view to securing legislative action to improve them. I believe that it would be more useful to attempt to find remedies than to be continually crying about the ills. I am sorry to have to state that, in my opinion, there has been more shedding of crocodile tears over this problem than efforts to remedy it.

With regard to employment, everyone will agree that to increase the number of employed would be the main concern of any committee or group of persons interested. I am of the opinion, rightly or wrongly, that there is a certain volume of opinion in this country in favour of a policy that must inevitably tend to decrease agricultural employment. If the settlement of the economic war is to result in an unlimited market for young store cattle and easy money for what are often described as armchair farmers, I am afraid the benefits of such a settlement are very doubtful. The student of history, of course, will recall that in former generations a similar situation arose in this country when an unlimited market for every class of four-footed animal was opened; and the appalling results of that are well known to those who have glanced through the pages of the history of the past. The greed for land, for grass, has resulted in depopulating the countryside and in the crowbar brigade and all those appalling occurrences of the land war. It cannot be argued, of course, that a tillage policy alone would increase employment to-day, as it would 50, 100 or 200 years ago, because of the development of agriculture machinery. But our farmers should not be encouraged to exploit the market for young stores without keeping a close eye on the finishing and fattening end of the business. I am afraid it is true that the farmers have been exploiting the labourers for a long time—not all the farmers, of course, but a very substantial number. The wages and conditions of farm labourers, to my personal knowledge, were the worst form of slavery in even what are described as the good old days. I have recollections of conditions of farm labourers, and experienced some of them myself, and for a Christian country I am sorry to say that they were far worse than the conditions of black slavery referred to here to-day.

Efforts have been made recently to fix agriculture wages. The wage fixed is too low. In fact, I will go so far as to say it is too low to enable a man to live in frugal comfort. But it is appalling to hear political propagandists endeavouring to misrepresent the position and to ridicule the effort to provide for the vast majority a minimum wage which they never got before. I should like to see it made a criminal offence for certain people, who are compelled by other circumstances to pay more than the minimum wage, to endeavour to reduce the wages to the minimum.

Much has been done, but much more could be done in the matter of housing at reasonable rents. Much could be done in the matter of education—not so much the book-learning type of education, because, I suppose, a farm labourer who could discuss literature, science and art would be regarded as a sort of monstrosity. I once heard a farmer say that all that was necessary for them to know was just the amount of literature that was in a cow and the science required to milk it. But a form of education that would produce a highly efficient agriculturist is necessary and that is a subject which such a committee as the motion suggests could usefully examine, so that we would have men and women with a scientific knowledge of agricultural and horticultural production. We need not aim at very high scientific knowledge, but certainly education along those lines is, I am afraid, sadly neglected in the rural parts of the country.

I believe that there is no other country where so much good food is allowed to go to waste and to rot for want of knowledge on the part of our people as to how to use it. It has always seemed to me the height of folly to have in small towns and rural areas what they call cookery classes experimenting with foreign products, such as rice, tapioca, currants, raisins, cocoa-nut. All those things are very necessary in a way, but, at the same time, the experiments are confined to these types of foreign foodstuffs while many tons of valuable fruit and vegetables are allowed to go to waste and rot in our fields, woods and hedgerows.

Next to bread, I think the potato is regarded as being the staple food of the country. I think it ranks next to bread in its use amongst the population of the country. Yet, how many of our young people throughout the country ever even heard of boxty, not to say the innumerable palatable and nourishing dishes which could be made from potatoes? When we read of the progress that is being made in other countries in regard to cookery and the use of all classes of vegetables and fruit which people in this country would regard as mere waste; when we look at the advance that countries like France have made in that respect, we have to admit our backwardness in that regard. A queer-sounding foreign name would seem to be sufficient to make us eat hay. Perhaps now that Arus an Uachtaráin is established, a headline in fashionable dishes of purely Irish origin might be set and, perhaps, give an international reputation to some of our lesser-known Irish products, not to mention skill in preparing them. All these matters have been discussed by various public bodies for a long number of years, including the improvement of the education of our rural population along certain lines, and I am sure that any committee or commission that will examine the problem thoroughly will find ample scope for improvement in that regard.

Senator Conway has dealt with the grievances of the cottier tenants and their efforts to improve their lot. The provision of properly controlled halls is, of course, a very thorny subject. One means that springs to my mind in discussing a matter like that is that if the Volunteer movement was developed as it should be throughout the country, where Volunteer halls were established, the local Sluagh committees could do a lot to brighten up the countryside by catering for those who are not eligible or qualified for service in the Volunteer forces. They could help a great deal by having their halls made available for the use of the rural population. Playing fields do not strike me as presenting a terrible lot of difficulty. Nevertheless there are some districts where it is very difficult to get permission from farmers to play football. These are things which could be very easily got over.

As to the allotment of land, I will say that apparently the majority of the people of this country believe that the Government is doing wonderful work in that respect. Unfortunately—perhaps it is not their fault—they are not doing enough. I believe they are making an honest effort. Until all the available land is divided amongst the people you will have cries and wails from the countryside. In spite of all that has been said in this House and outside it in connection with the plight of the farming community, the greed for land is astonishing. If, as some farmers would have us believe, they are not making their farms pay, it is difficult to understand the lengths to which people will go to acquire just as much land as you would step over.

I have pleasure in supporting the motion, but, discussing this motion now, in an election atmosphere, it is very difficult to get for it the attention which it really deserves. I would go so far as to suggest that the matter might be left over for discussion by the new body which will be coming in shortly. Fortunately or unfortunately many of us will not be here to carry on the discussion, but I believe that the subject is well worthy of consideration by such a body. If Senators are of opinion that the motion will not get the consideration it deserves at the present time, then I would be in favour of withdrawing it and leaving it to be considered by the new body in which there will be representatives of the people most concerned and which can discuss the matter more fully and more throughly than it can be discussed to-day.

I beg to support the motion, although I agree that it would be more desirable to defer it until the new Seanad meets. I and those associated with me in the Mount Street Club feel that a back-to-the-land policy is the only policy which will help to solve this question of unemployment. We have tried experiments in a small way in connection with city unemployment, and we have found that it is a successful policy. We have so much faith in this matter of land settlement that this very day we are inspecting a farm of 200 acres with a view to encouraging the city unemployed to get a back-to-the-land outlook. I believe that anything that would help to make rural life more attractive and that would keep the people in the country would be of advantage to this nation. Whilst I should prefer that this motion should be passed, I think that, in view of the coming election, it would be better to defer it until the new Seanad comes into being. I heartily approve of the motion.

I am sorry that this motion is before the House at a time when it cannot get the consideration that it deserves. That is a matter that concerns every member of the House. Those of us who were brought up in rural areas know the condition of the rural worker. Each of us knows that the rural worker is not as well treated and is not getting the same concessions as the urban workers. I think that the House might make certain recommendations to the Minister responsible regarding what could be done for rural workers. We have Senator Baxter and other Senators talking about encouragement to stay on the land. I am honest enough to admit that the present Government has done a great deal for the rural workers but a lot more could be done and I hope will be done for them. The rural workers are not treated in the same way as city workers. Why I cannot understand. The cottage tenants are entitled to a 50 per cent. reduction just as much as the farmers are entitled to a 50 per cent. reduction in their annuities. If the farmers are entitled to that, the labourers, who are not half as well off, are entitled to the same concession. On that I have always expressed my opinion and do so now. I hope the Minister will see his way to approve of that view in the near future. The Minister has done a lot in bringing forward a purchase scheme but I am not satisfied that a 25 per cent. reduction is sufficient when the tenant is responsible for repairs. I do not want to go into figures, as Senator Conway has dealt with that aspect of the question, but the 25 per cent. reduction is not enough in the circumstances.

I am sure that every member of the Seanad will agree that there should be equal payments for widows and orphans in rural areas and in urban areas. Encouragement, we are told, should be given to the people to stay on the land. Encouragement is not given inasmuch as a distinction is drawn between the widow residing in an urban area and the widow residing in a rural area. If a man thought he was shortly going to pass out of this world, and if he had a wife and four or five young children, it would be in his interest to move into an urban area. That is a sad thing, but it is true. When that is the case with a man whose days are numbered, is it any wonder that a man who is about to start life would move in also because of the better conditions? Widows and orphans in the rural areas should get the same amount as they do in the city. There is another point in regard to widows' pensions which I should like to mention. Some of these widows may have been living on small, uneconomic holdings of a few acres, on which they never had a day that was not a day of hardship. These women are in some cases receiving only 1/- or 2/- a week. I hope to see the day when the Government will be in a position to treat all widows alike. It is a great pity it has not been possible to do that up to the present. We have a Minister who is very favourable to that class and, if he did this, it would be one of the greatest acts ever done in this country, because these widows never had any of the comforts of this world. Senator Hughes spoke about the kind of dishes cooked in these houses. It was very easy for the women in these cases to cook anything they had to cook. I hope to see the time when a widow of that class will be treated on the same lines as a widow residing in an urban area. The widow residing in an urban area may have enjoyed comforts which the widow on the uneconomic holding did not enjoy, because the husband of the urban widow may have been earning good wages.

Another question to which I wish to refer is that of unemployment assistance or the "dole." It is very hard to see any decent man being forced to go for the "dole." In these circumstances, however, I cannot understand why he should not get the same amount in a rural area as is obtainable by an unemployed man in an urban area. The Government's advisers must have thought this matter out very seriously before they made the distinction, but it is a thing I cannot understand. Take the case of a man living in a rural area with a wife and five children. The highest amount he can get is 14/-, whereas a man with the same responsibilities in an urban area will get 20/-. Six or eight persons cannot exist on 14/- a week. What is the result? These people are forced to go to the relieving officer. We have cases in County Dublin where they get 12/- or 14/- assistance. People living on the borders of Meath are forced to go into the Home Assistance Officer to make up the difference between what is obtainable and what the city person is getting from one source. If this committee is set up, it should give grave consideration to the position of people like those. Picture the plight of a man who has to go in six miles to obtain 3/6 a week. He must walk in because, if he paid his fare twice a week, the 3/6 would be gone. If we are going to keep the people on the land, they must get the same conditions as the people in the cities and the urban areas. That is not the position to-day. While admitting that a great deal has been done in fixing the wages of agricultural workers and in other ways, they are not treated the same as urban workers. There is no need to set up a commission or to send for papers to establish that. Each one of us knows that that is the position. The encouragement is to go into the city. A single unemployed man in Dublin gets 10/- a week, even though his father may be earning £5 a week. The single farm labourer's son, if unemployed, does not get one penny. That is wrong. I hope the day will come when there will be nobody on the dole.

When work, subsidised by the Government, is undertaken in a rural area, one of the conditions of employment is that a man should be in receipt of unemployment assistance. I say that that is wrong. There may be a certain type of person who is not so anxious for work but it is very hard on some of the people in rural Ireland to have to go for anything in the shape of assistance. The majority of people in rural Ireland like to earn the money they receive. There is a great spirit amongst the population in rural Ireland and I hope that that spirit amongst the peasantry will be maintained. If there is work available in a certain area and people are willing to give an honest return for wages, they should not be asked to go in and sign up for public assistance. That is a matter which I hope the responsible Minister will deal with. Naturally, it would be a fair way to find out if a man was entitled to work—that is, if he was eligible for unemployment assistance. By all means have investigations made and give the man an unemployment certificate but do not force him to go for assistance before he is taken on for work. That is a matter on which I feel very keenly. If we want the people to stay on the land, then the residents of urban and rural Ireland should be treated equally.

This Government has set a great example in regard to the division of land, particularly in giving preference to the cottier tenant, with his accommodation plot. I am afraid that that has not been carried out so well latterly as at the start. In the area in which I live, last year there was some land divided and some of the cottier tenants got portions of that land. I believe that the cottier tenants should get portion of these lands for more than one reason.

The first is that by giving the workers some property or stake in the country you are helping to make better citizens and helping to kill Communism for all time. You are helping the man; if his family are unemployed they can work on the land. I really think that the cottage tenant should in every case get preference when these lands are being divided. He has worked so hard for his living in the land, and he gives all he has to produce more wealth from the land. He should have first claim in the allocation of any portion of land that is to be divided. Last year an estate was divided in North County Dublin, and at that time 13 or 14 tenants of cottages did get portions of that estate.

I am sorry to say that when an estate was divided in an adjoining area this year not one occupier got an accommodation plot. It would be interesting to know why the change from the previous year was made this year. Those who got accommodation plots last year made very good use of them indeed—much better than other people who are in better circumstances and who let their land to others. I hold that the Government should not go back at all on the precedent set in giving land to the cottier. In every case where the cottier was in possession of half an acre and cultivated it, that man should be given preference. In doing that the Land Commission are helping the nation, they are helping the family, and they are helping to build up a sound people who will never go wrong. If the worker is given a stake in the country, that is a very great and important thing. Now, in connection with the matter of controlled halls in the villages, I am afraid we have not come to the time when we can treat such a proposal seriously. The first thing the worker wants is at least a home. Certainly the present Government are doing very well in that direction. The present Minister for Local Government and Public Health has made great strides in connection with the building of labourers' cottages. Notwithstanding that, one still finds in a portion of the County Dublin workers who are residing in hovels not fit for animals, never mind human beings. In the area in which I happen to represent on the county council there was a scheme approved of in October, 1935, for the erection of 40 labourers' cottages. These people are still living in the houses that were then condemned. The new houses have not yet been built for them though the scheme was approved. In such a case the Minister should take action. He has power but we, the people living there and knowing the conditions, have no power.

I am aware that some members of the County Dublin Board of Health took exception recently to a statement by me in connection with that scheme. Their answer was that more cottages are being built by their board than by any other board in Ireland and that the responsible Minister had complimented them on the number of houses they had built. Where is the use in telling people who are residing in hovels that the rest of the people of the country are living in fine houses? They know the conditions in which they themselves are living. If a man is working for the miserable wage of 15/- or 18/- a week, is it any comfort to tell that man that other employees are earning £5 a week? Telling a man a thing like that will not feed his children. Certain members of the board of health stated that they built thousands of cottages in the country. What is the use of that to us in Finglas? In 1935 the Minister made up his mind that these 40 cottages were needed at Finglas yet in 1938 they are not being built. This is a case where the Minister should exercise his power. The men concerned are good decent workers and they should be provided with a decent house in which to live.

Perhaps I am travelling a little beyond what we started with, but I know this does affect rural workers in this country. I do not know whether we are to give a decision on this motion of Senator Conway's to-day. Perhaps it would be unwise. I think it is a pity, at a time when the present Seanad is going out of existance, to bring on such a motion. But I do appeal to every member of the present Seanad who hopes to be elected a member of the next to take up this question. It is a most important one. I do not know why the workers in urban areas get preference over the workers in rural areas. We have all Parties in agreement in asking to keep the people on the land. But we cannot keep the people on the land if we do not give them at least equal treatment with the people in the urban areas. Those are my views on this question, and I do hope that out of this motion something good will come for the benefit of the rural workers, a class even more important than the farmers.

I have great admiration for certain farmers. I have admiration for the farmer who gives employment and pays a decent wage. I have the greatest possible respect for such a man. But there are certain people who own hundreds of acres who have never paid a decent wage, have never properly cultivated their land only when forced to do so by Government action when tillage was made compulsory. I heard Senator MacDermot say that those people were a necessary evil. But I hope to see the day when the evil is removed. I have great respect for the honest tillage farmer who is making an effort to cultivate his land. More consideration should be given to that type of farmer. At the present time he has a certain remission of rates, but the amount allowed is too small. More should be done for the farmer who is giving employment. He should get more advantages in derating. The man who has never taken off his coat to do an honest day's work or never paid a decent wage and who has his land uncultivated has no such claim to consideration. Treat the farmer well and you help him to treat his labour well. That is all I have to say; I would say much more if it were not for the particular time at which this motion is being brought forward. I do hope that when we make a recommendation effect will be given to it by the responsible Minister.

We have listened to the speeches made by the mover and seconder of the motion and the claims put forward by Senator Tunney on behalf of the workers. I would like to put forward the claims of the unemployed. I think the first duty of the State is to put every man who is capable of being employed into employment. That is the view I take. It would be much better if a five years' plan or a ten years' plan were adopted by the Government to carry out national improvements such as drainage and forestry. Much could also be done for the fishing industry which could be developed more than it is at present and in that way employment could be given on the sea-board areas. I would not, I think, at the present time very strongly support this motion that we have been discussing because I believe the duty of finding work for the unemployed is more pressing. The question of town halls and playing fields has been mentioned. The last speaker did not attach much importance to that. I do not agree with him. I believe that it is necessary in every village in Ireland to have a properly controlled hall, well equipped for dramatic classes and such other things as would be found useful. I suggest that the Minister should allocate about £100 to any body of workers or any committee or society in a particular village who would be prepared to erect a public hall. I just mentioned the £100 to enable the committee to make a start in the erection of such a hall. I suggest to the mover of the motion that he should withdraw it and it could be introduced probably in the new Seanad when it would receive much more and better consideration that it can receive here this evening. The motion is deserving of consideration by the new Seanad.

I am very glad that this question of the agricultural workers has been raised, but I believe its further consideration should be left over for the new Seanad. Like the previous speakers, I believe that this question of the treatment of agricultural workers is one of the greatest importance and should be tackled as soon as possible if rural reconstruction is to be taken in hand. My views on the question of agricultural workers is not so much with reference to housing as to the matter of providing them with a living wage. The wage which has been fixed is 27/- a week. Now, when we consider the cost of living and the expenses of keeping a family, we can easily see that that figure is not sufficient to maintain a man and his wife and family. The figure might be all right for a single man, but the married men amongst the rural workers are in the great majority. To maintain a family 27/- a week is not an adequate wage. There is besides the fact that though a man may be getting 27/- a week he may not on the average draw more than £1 a week. He will be occasionally unemployed, and for that reason his average wage will be less than £1 a week.

I wish that we could make those who do not live in rural districts understand the conditions under which an agricultural worker living in a cottage tries to bring up a young family. An agricultural labourer when employed may be fed by his employer and, if so, his actual cash wages would amount to about 14/- or 15/- per week. Senators can realise how difficult it is to rear a family on such a wage. It means very often that there is a scarcity of essential foodstuffs. The children of cottiers are very lucky if they get meat once a week or even less. There is a scarcity of such essential foodstuffs as butter and meat, which are so necessary to growing children. The children, from their earliest infancy, are brought up on a diet which consists almost entirely of bread and milk. The problem which faces us here is how to increase the labourers' wages to such a figure as it will at least enable him to provide his family with the ordinary necessaries of life. The trouble, unfortunately, is that labourers' wages are uncertain and they are low because of the conditions obtaining in the agricultural industry at the moment. Owing to marketing conditions all over the world, to the general depression in prices and the consequent depreciation in the value of agricultural produce, the farmer is not able to pay a higher wage. The problem which faces the Government is how to supply the deficiency between the amount which the farmer can afford to pay in present circumstances and the amount which would be sufficient to maintain the worker and his family. My personal opinion is that the only solution of this problem is to subsidise agricultural wages. It may seem a very drastic remedy but I do not believe it is so drastic as it may seem at first sight. I believe we must strain every effort to provide a living wage for our agricultural workers who, after all, are the foundation of the nation's prosperity. We must provide them with a sufficient wage to enable them to rear their families.

I believe that if a census were taken of the people whom we would have to assist with these subsidies, it would be found that the sum involved would not after all amount to a very considerable figure having regard to the immense advantages which would result. The return from such expenditure would well repay the outlay. A little money, say five shillings, a week goes a very long way in the country especially amongst agricultural workers. During the time when free beef and free milk were distributed some years ago one could see at once an improvement in the physical appearance of agricultural workers and their families. To-day you can see that these children, fed under the conditions which I have described, are reared without proper nourishment and they are consequently as easy prey to diseases such as tuberculosis when they grow up. That condition of affairs is not due to recent conditions in agriculture. It is a condition which has been a very long time developing, in fact since the Famine.

In earlier days, these agricultural workers in our county, and I suppose all over Ireland, generally took small allotments of land on which they could supplement their earnings from their employers. At a later stage, these holdings were taken from them. They lost them immediately after the Famine but they continued to live in the hovels. These hovels were replaced by cottages in our own generation but a change was also taking place in the whole condition of agriculture in the southern counties. In the early days, a labourer was able to live on his land with occasional work on neighbouring farms. At a later stage, although the labourers had lost his right to the allotments, there was so much tillage and so much work was provided by dairy farming in the South that the labourers were continually employed. There was very little unemployment with the result that labourers were at-least able to live. In more recent times, however, the general depression in agriculture set in, the proportion of tilled land became less and less until finally tillage almost died out altogether.

Dairy farming, which was the foundation of prosperity in the south, also gradually gave way to the rearing of dry stock and of fat cattle, not alone on the ranches but even amongst the small farmers with the result that there remained less and less employment for the agricultural worker. Faced with these conditions, the agricultural worker, on the other hand, grew less and less inclined to work on the land and more and more anxious to get employment on the roads, or to go into the towns and cities with the result that you have to-day the deplorable situation amongst agricultural labourers which has been described. That situation has got to be remedied; these conditions must not be allowed to continue.

One cannot blame the present Government or the previous Government for this condition of affairs because it has been gradually developing for the last 60 or 100 years. If agriculture is to survive, if the agricultural labourer is to survive, this question has to be tackled. Perhaps if a commission is set up, it may possibly devise some means which will enable the agricultural worker to live on the land. My opinion is that any inquiry must proceed on those lines, that the Government must be prepared to subsidise agricultural workers' wages in such a way that his earnings will provide him with a living wage. In addition to that, there are other means by which the conditions of agricultural workers could be improved. The present Government undoubtedly has made great advances in the direction of providing agricultural labourers with allotments of land. Allotments, such as these, give new hope and courage to the cottier. I hope that policy will be continued, because no matter what may be said about landless men, they at least can be removed to districts where estates are being broken up, whereas the cottier has no hope of improvement in that respect unless land in the immediate vicinity in which he lives is being divided. In addition, I think loans might be given to enable the cottier to purchase and maintain a cow.

There is no reason why in rural districts he should not be able to keep a cow to help him to maintain his family. The question of cottage industries might also be considered together with side lines, such as poultry keeping. I fear I have detained the House too long but, in conclusion, I should like to support the motion. Though we may not be here when the new House is set up, I hope the new Seanad will seriously consider this question and realise that it is very necessary to the country that it should be solved at the earliest possible moment.

At the express wish, and on the recommendation of other speakers, I agree to withdraw this motion in the hope that it may be considered by the new Seanad. We were asked to introduce this motion at the express wish of some 50,000 cottier tenants in various districts, and we trust and hope, as representatives of that body, that the new Seanad will give this motion the support it deserves. We are glad that support for the motion has come from each side of the House, representing as we do, for the moment, the Cottage Tenants' Association, which to-day is recognised as a nominating body and as a successor to the old land and labour movement. We may not be here when the new Seanad takes over, but we hope at all events that this matter will receive the attention and support it deserves. I might mention that the very people who four months ago gave evidence, with the object of preventing our association from becoming one of the nominating bodies, are now trying to come into it. I accede to the request generally made and ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
The Seanad adjourned at 7 p.m. until Friday, 22nd July, at 10.30 a.m.