I beg to move the motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper:—
That the Seanad requests the Minister for Local Government and Public Health to appoint a Departmental Committee to inquire into the proposal to close down Peamount Industries at Newcastle, County Dublin, and to report on the value of these industries as an adjunct to the treatment of tuberculosis patients at Peamount Sanatorium, and the steps, if any, which should be taken to enable the work of the industries to be continued.
The decision—I understand it is a decision—to close down the Peamount Industries on the 31st December next came as a surprise to members of the public who, like myself, were interested in the work done, but had little or no knowledge of the financial position of the industries. Judging by the large number of persons who have spoken to me since the announcement of this motion appeared in the Press, I am certain that there is very general regret at the decision and a general desire that an effort should be made to find some satisfactory way by which the work might be carried on. At the outset I should like to say two things: First of all, that I have been in no way connected with the Peamount Industries or with the management of the sanatorium. The only connection I had, if it be a connection at all, was that I was present at a meeting of the Women's National Health Association when it was decided to set up the Peamount Industries and I have a sort of idea that I spoke in favour of it. But since then I have been in no way in touch with them. I am speaking now entirely as a member of the public who is interested. The second thing I should like to make clear very definitely is that neither this motion nor anything that I may say should be regarded as in any way a criticism of the Committee of the Women's National Health Association on whom the responsibility for the decision rested. It was due to the initiative of that association that the industries were founded, and I am perfectly satisfied that the committee greatly regret the decision and that no one would be better pleased than the members of the committee if a way could be found by which the Peamount Industries could be carried on without involving the sanatorium in further financial loss.
Since I came into the House I had messages sent to me from medical men, who have been connected with the sanatorium, saying that they wanted to make it quite clear that the only reasons they knew of why it should be closed were financial ones. That, of course, was exactly the position as I had understood it, apart from these messages. The President of the Women's National Health Association very kindly and very courteously, has given me detailed information as to the financial position of the industries, and I think that I ought to say that, while I feel strongly that an effort should be made in the public interest to find a way of continuing the industries, I do recognise that the present financial arrangements are unsatisfactory and that, unless these are changed, and placed on a better basis, the committee, sooner or later, would have been forced to close down the industries.
From information given to me, and from inquiries which I have made, I have formed the opinion that, before the industries are allowed to close down, a departmental committee of investigation, appointed by the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, should sit and examine the whole position. If there are technical reasons, or other reasons, why that is not the best method of investigation, I, of course, am perfectly satisfied that as long as some competent committee, whether appointed by the Minister, appointed by this House, or appointed by some other bodies, had authority to obtain the necessary information, it would look into the matter and see whether there is not a possible way of getting over the difficulty. I have suggested a departmental committee because that seemed to me to be the best way, but my whole argument is in favour of investigation rather than claiming that I am competent to say what is the best method by which that investigation should take place.
Peamount Industries were opened on January 1st, 1930, following a report made by the honorary secretary of the Peamount Sanatorium on a visit to the Papworth Village Settlement in Cambridgeshire. It was proposed that the industries be run on lines similar to those at Papworth and that Peamount Industries should be a non-profit making concern forming part of the general activities of the Women's National Health Association. Sir Pendrill—then Doctor—Varrier Jones, of the Papworth Settlement, was appointed on 31st July, 1929, to be honorary director of the Peamount Industries, but for reasons of health, I understand, he resigned in August, 1934.
The main object of the industries was to provide employment at the outset for patients who might be expected to occupy positions of trust—clerical, administrative, and managerial—and also for patients who could be trained as workers although they would never be able to produce to full capacity. This aim is emphasised in Sir Pendrill Varrier Jones's note on "The Inauguration of Peamount Industries" which is printed in the Annual Report of the Women's National Health Association for 1929. His words are as follows:—
"Peamount Industries have been established to provide employment for those who cannot find it in the open labour market. Peamount Village Settlement will provide that sheltered environment, without which the work of the sanatorium is in vain. A living wage for those who cannot compete in ordinary industry —a security which it is impossible to obtain in the outside world. These are the things which we have set out to attain."
There can be no doubt that the main purpose of the scheme was the provision of employment for tuberculosis patients at Peamount and this may be divided, roughly, into two: (1) the provision of occupational therapy for patients during their treatment, and (2) the provision of permanent employment, under medical supervision, for patients whose treatment in the sanatorium has been completed and concerning whom medical opinion is that they may become useful citizens, able to provide for themselves, if they can live within the shelter of a tuberculosis village settlement, but who are very liable to suffer a relapse if they have to return to normal civilian life.
According to figures supplied by Mr. Hall, Manager of the Peamount Industries since they came into being, over ten years ago, at least 900 patients from the sanatorium have been sent to the industries for occupational therapy for various periods of time. It will, of course, be understood that some—perhaps many—of these would never have become well enough to become permanent employees of the industries, but medical opinion holds that the provision of interesting and purposeful occupation helps to arrest the disease in many cases by removing from the mind the worry which often results from the economic difficulties in which tuberculosis sufferers are liable to find themselves.
During the same period, 51 patients in all, when well enough to leave the sanatorium—42 men and nine women— became regular workers at Peamount, and if the industries close down, unfortunate people in a similar position will be left unemployed in the future unless they can find employment in ordinary industry with the risk of relapse which this must involve. Mr. Hall, the manager at Peamount, informs me that, in his opinion, at least 30 more men, who had completed their treatment and who were married with families, could have become regular workers in the industries, during the ten-year period if funds had been available for the building of the necessary cottages. The relatively small number of girls who became permanent, or more or less permanent, workers at Peamount is also, I am told, largely due to the want of living accommodation. In the early days of the industries a special hostel was erected for single men settlers, but no such accommodation was provided, I am informed, for girls. Mr Hall tells me that approximately 170 girls were trained in the glove factory at Peamount since 1933 and that, in his opinion—I am quoting his opinion, because, of course, my opinion is not worth anything—approximately half of these might possibly have become regular workers if suitable living accommodation had been available.
From its inception the resources of the industries have been limited, and what surprises me is not that it has had financial difficulties, but that it has been able to accomplish so much. The buildings were erected from funds supplied by the sanatorium, together with money collected from the public and over £4,000 received, I understand, from the Sweepstake money. The working capital seems to have been provided mainly by a bank overdraft and a substantial loan from the sanatorium committee, on which no interest was charged.
The industries include a woodworking factory and a glove factory. From figures which have been supplied to me it would appear that during the last six years there has been an average trading loss of £550 per annum. In one of these years there was a very heavy loss—otherwise, the average trading loss per annum would have been considerably less. For the last half year for which I have seen audited accounts the trading loss was under £250, so I think we may take it that, if Peamount Industries are to be continued on the present basis, a loss of in or about £500 per annum will have to be faced somewhere. I think I ought to mention that the industries receive a capitation grant of 5/- per week for each patient sent for occupational therapy. This is paid by the sanatorium, but only paid during the period of training.
But for this grant the annual loss shown would be higher. On the other hand, in estimating the loss provision has been made for annual depreciation not only on fixtures, tools and machinery, but also on buildings, which were paid for to a large extent out of sweepstake funds. It has been suggested to me from various sources that if the Peamount Industries were to advertise more widely it would increase the turnover and reduce the loss. It has also been suggested that if more capital was available so that the industries could be extended in scope it might be possible to run them at a profit.
I am not in a position to express any opinion on these or other suggestions. There may or may not be something in them. I am, however, convinced that no industry which employs workers suffering from a serious disease like tuberculosis can possibly compete on equal terms with industries manned by healthy workers.
I am, therefore, of opinion that the issue to be decided is not whether Peamount Industries can be turned into a profit-making institution, but whether the social value of the industries to the country is worth the probable annual cost of continuing them. The problem of finding work for the consumptive is no easy one, but its solution would be of great value to the country as a whole. It is desirable, on the one hand, to make it easy for a person threatened with tuberculosis to leave his present employment, where he may be a danger, and, on the other hand, to prevent him from returning to unsuitable work when he is well enough to leave a sanatorium.
I would like to read the following quotations from one of the Papworth reports, which sum up the problem with remarkable clarity:—
"A working man, feeling tired, somewhat slack, and perhaps slightly dyspeptic, goes to a doctor, who may say that he suspects tuberculosis, and thus brings his patient face to face with a difficult problem. If found to be tuberculosis he may be sent to a sanatorium and his family have to live as best it may without his earnings, for these will probably cease; his employer may not keep his job open for him, and if he does the other workmen may even object to his presence when he returns. No other employer is likely to employ a ‘consumptive' fresh from a sanatorium, when plenty of fit men are available. Eyentually he decides that whatever happens, he must not be found out: after all, he does not really feel ill, only a little below par—quite able to do his job, but tired in the evenings. So he continues to work, and avoids that suspicious busybody of a doctor —because he literally cannot afford to be tuberculous.
"Let there be no mistake about this: once a man is a certified consumptive he loses his job and does not regain it, and often all his savings are exhausted and irretrievably lost. But after he has been temporarily patched up he is sent back to his demoralised and unhappy family, who then have an unemployable and infectious invalid in their midst to add to their other worries."
I do not claim that Peamount Industries have solved that problem, except for comparatively few persons, but I honestly believe that what should really be considered is not the closing down of the industries but whether there is not some way in which they should be enlarged and extended and be of more value to a greater number of citizens, rather than be closed down because of the small amount they are able to do at present. I understand there are 50 employees in the industries. Some of them, I am told, will only be there a short time, as the period for which the county boards of health will pay is probably exhausted, and if they are not going to be employed partially in the industries they may refuse to continue paying. Some 30 are at present patients in the sanatorium, and the principal loss, as far as they are concerned, will be the loss of occupational therapy, and whatever benefit they would obtain from such work in the treatment of their disease. For the other 20 workers the closing down of the industries will be much more serious. They are ex-patients, and as they cannot return to the sanatorium they will be forced to seek employment in the open labour market.
If, as is very possible—in fact almost certain—they fail they will have to fall back on unemployment benefit. The cost of the dole or unemployment benefit which will be paid to these unfortunate men and women if the industries close down on December 31st next will be a much larger sum per annum than the average £550 which, undoubtedly, has been lost. Remember that was the average over the last six years, but if ten years was taken the figure would be smaller. Speaking from memory, the 20 persons comprised 12 men and eight women. The men would receive payments of 15/- and the women 12/6 weekly. While I am not in a position to prove it I do not think there is any reason to believe that the loss in doles would be less than the loss in providing work for tuberculosis patients. At any rate there should be an inquiry to see whether there is not some way out of the difficulty. It is my opinion that Peamount Industries reorganised and placed on a sound financial basis could provide regular employment for a larger number of ex-patients, and that it could be so arranged that the cost to the State, if it contributed, would not be greater than the cost of the dole. I do not ask the House or the Minister to accept my opinion, but from an examination of the accounts, which were kindly supplied and from information given me by the manager, I ask the House to support me in demanding that before these industries are closed down there should be an inquiry, and that a bona fide effort by persons who know the value of Peamount to this country should be made to see if there is not a reasonable way out.
I am informed that providing work for these people is of medical value. Assuming that it is, it is much better that these people should be working in industries rather than being sent back to ordinary industries. Of course they would not be sent out if they were liable to be a danger to others. Between the whole lot of us it should be possible somewhere to find not only the £550 but double and treble that sum if there was no other way of finding it. If the £550 was divided between the county boards of health, who are the main contributors to the funds at Peamount it would not be noticed, apart altogether from what I have said.
My case is that there should be an inquiry which should, first of all, establish the value to the country as a whole of maintaining these industries, either as they are or enlarged. If it is decided that they are of value, it would be necessary to find out if that value is great enough to warrant either State contributions or private collections or payments through the public health boards, and to find the sum which it would cost. I think there is a prima facie case that it is of value to the country as a whole and that that value is quite as large as the annual loss, as shown by the figures.
My case is that before the industries are allowed to close down there should be an inquiry by a competent committee and that, if such committee is convinced that the industries are a valuable adjunct to the treatment of tuberculosis patients, it should then recommend steps which should be taken to enable the industries to continue.
I recognise, of course, that it is not sufficient for the Minister to agree to appoint a committee of inquiry. It will also be necessary for the committee of the sanatorium to agree to allow the Peamount Industries to continue in existence for a further period of, say, six months, to enable the committee to meet and issue a report. It is, I believe, proposed to close the industries on 31st December next.
If this closing were postponed until 30th June, 1941, and if the Minister were to act promptly, it should be possible for a departmental committee to issue a report in time for action to be taken if so recommended before the industries close down. If once allowed to close down it would be a much more expensive and difficult matter to have them reopened.
This extension of six months which I suggest would almost certainly mean a further trading loss—say, £250; no one can prophesy the exact figure—and it may be that the sanatorium committee may not feel that it can accept liability for a further loss even for half a year's trading. At the last meeting of the Council of the Federation of Irish Manufacturers the position of Peamount Industries was considered, and the council was unanimous in its view that the closing down of the industries should be postponed until an inquiry had been made. In order to give practical support to its view, and in the hope that it might make it easier to have an inquiry held, the council decided that, if the sanatorium committee would agree to postpone the closing down date by six months in order to allow an inquiry to be held, the Council of the Federation would issue an appeal to manufacturers and others to subscribe the sum of £250, which is equal to the trading loss for the last half year for which accounts are available.
The members of the council present pledged themselves to see that the £250 was raised, and I can, therefore, assure the Minister, if he agrees to appoint a committee of inquiry, and the sanatorium committee, if it agrees to a postponement of the closing date, that the loss made during the last trading half year will be found by a public subscription. The sanatorium committee, therefore, need not fear that their funds will suffer unduly by any postponement.
Speaking to Senators in the Lobby, I have heard a reference made to the reports of the Hospitals Committee in connection with the Sweepstake, and it has been suggested to me that the committee reported unfavourably in regard to the position of Peamount Industries. I think that is a misapprehension. I have read the quotations and I do find that whereas some of the earlier committees reported very favourably on Peamount and recommended the allocation of sums of money of a fairly substantial nature—one report actually went so far as to say that with additional money it might be as successful as Papworth— a later report did say there were difficulties with regard to a successful tuberculosis colony, because of the agricultural position; in other words, that a very large number of patients were agricultural. The committee did not recommend in any way that Peamount should be closed down: it did say that a further extension of Peamount should be postponed until the matter had been more fully investigated. That seems to me to be a not unreasonable recommendation, which does not seem to have been carried out, as far as the investigation is concerned.
I am quite sure that, apart altogether from the position of tuberculosis patients from the country—of whom, I think, the majority probably come to Peamount—there are quite enough, in fact, too many, tuberculosis patients from the towns, and far more than could possibly be looked after effectively in an industry the size of Peamount. There is probably a case for investigation, to see whether something more useful could not be done for agricultural patients, but there is no case at all for stopping what is being done for patients who would be suitable to industrial work. I make no comment on the fact that there seems to be an extraordinary desire on the part of many people from the country to come to the towns to learn industrial work. That does not enter into the present question.
There is one more aspect of this question to which I would draw the attention of the Seanad, as I think it provides a further important reason why Peamount Industries should not be allowed to close down without careful inquiry. The fight against tuberculosis is not purely an Irish question—it is international, and Peamount Industries is only one of a number of similar establishments in Europe and in America. To those who wish for further information on the whole subject I would suggest that they should read a report on "After-Care and Rehabilitation", by Doctor E. Brieger, which was presented to the Conference of the International Union Against Tuberculosis held in Lisbon in 1937. In this report will be found some very interesting and very favourable references to Peamount Industries. They are too long to quote in full, but I would like to read the following extracts:—
"Peamount Village Settlement is perhaps the best example extant of an ordinary tuberculosis sanatorium which has successfully adopted the Papworth scheme.
"Peamount Industries have become an efficient industrial concern under the direction of an experienced manager, himself an ex-patient of Papworth, with which he remains constantly in touch, and he has shown that commercial insight which is so necessary in building up new industries. Peamount Industries work with substandard workers, passed on from Peamount Sanatorium and housed in hostels and shelters.
"In the original plan of the Peamount scheme, provision was made for developing the industry, so that it should become the foundation of a workers' settlement. Thus, the Peamount scheme, according to its planning, was intended to fulfil the sociological task of after-care for tuberculous people. So far the construction of the third part of the threefold Papworth scheme has been only partially effected. The village housing scheme has been begun, but has not developed rapidly on account of lack of funds.
"Peamount, in the present phase of its development, is still in the making. All the will power is there: and the logical development of the scheme is assured as soon as the necessary cash is available."
It is only three years since that report was presented and it seems almost unthinkable that we in Ireland should now be thinking of closing down a village settlement which is so favourably referred to in a report to an international conference. Is there any adequate reason why we in Ireland should fail where others have succeeded?
Owing to the war I have no information, and it is impossible to say what may be happening to similar institutions in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium and other European countries. Certainly, I have not heard of any proposal to close down the Papworth or other settlements in England, nor to close down the similar institutions in U.S.A.
It may be that circumstances here are peculiar and that the closing of Peamount is inevitable, but we should not accept this without full and careful enquiry.
The Government has already demonstrated its determination not to let the crisis caused by the war interfere with the development of institutions of value to the nation.
It was, though there may have been differences of opinion as to the merits of it, to my mind a demonstration of faith in the future to set up an institute for advanced studies at a time of international crisis like the present. I find it hard to believe that the same Government which has set up the institute will allow an institution like the Peamount Industries to close in this time of crisis because it is losing £500 or £550 a year. Just at the present we are spending, and I consider rightly spending, substantial sums of money on A.R.P. to prepare for a possible danger to human life through air attack. This may or may not happen. If it does happen it may affect large numbers, or only a few. It is all problematical. The danger is unknown, but we are wisely spending money to prevent this possible loss of life.
In tuberculosis, we have a certain danger and there is nothing problematical about it. We know that there are, and will be, unfortunate people who will require treatment, and we know that these people, if cured, will be safer in a settlement like Peamount than in going into ordinary industrial employment with the danger of relapse, and of possible infection to others. Having examined the accounts, my view is that a few thousands more capital, with provision for making up a loss of a few hundred pounds a year, would not only enable the Peamount Industries to continue, but would enable a very considerable amount of reconstruction and improvement to take place. Surely, before we say that this money cannot be found, before we allow this industry to close down in two months' time, the Minister or the House or some people should get together and see if we cannot find a practical way of preventing that.