Thursday, 7 May 1925
Dáil Éireann Debate
The point in regard to my amendment is this. I do not think that it was intended to have included the various items I move to have excluded under this amendment. Within a few hundred yards of this building an exhibition of paintings was arranged for this current week. Certain Irish artists sent over pictures from England, and all those would have been charged duty except that they were refused. I do not think it was intended that that should be the case, and that there should be any discrimination between paintings on canvas and on a panel. Moreover, finally, I think the adoption of the amendment would not only be just and in conformity with the intention of the original resolution, but it would be making for the simplification in the administration.
Mr. BLYTHE: I accept the principle of this amendment. I have already given instructions that pictures are to be let in free on the importers signing a form of guarantee to pay duty in case the Bill does not contain an amendment. The situation is, therefore, met in the meantime. I suggest Deputy Figgis should not press this, and we will put the proper clause in the Finance Bill dealing with the matter.
This is an attempt to fill up what is, I think, an accidental omission in the Bill. It is within the knowledge of the Dáil and the Minister that a large number of people have left Ireland during the last three or four years. They have gone to live in England and have taken with them their furniture. It is possible that when some of those people, who are old people, die, that their heirs, whether sons or nephews, will wish to come back here. They will bring the furniture back and, strictly speaking, they will not be exempted by the words of the Minister, “in use by the importer or his household.” At the same time, we should make it easy for those people to come back and make it easy for those people to bring back their furniture. The principle embodied in the amendment is, I think, acceptable although the wording may not be. It is possible to ascertain whether a thing has been left by will or not. You can produce a copy of the probate of the will. That makes a small loophole for evasion. It is true that an astute dealer could go around to old people getting them to make wills leaving furniture that was not in their possession and getting it imported here. That kind of fraud can be easily detected. If the same people imported furniture two or three times in the year it would be easy for the Minister's staff to get on to them. I do not think this clause, which affects people who in a will leave furniture to children here who bring it in for their household, is a sound one. It will cost very little to the Exchequer and I hope the Minister  will see his way to accept the amendment.
Mr. BLYTHE: The proposal is one that would not involve any great administrative difficulty. The only objection I see to it at the present moment is that it may be made a reason for pressure to extend the principle. We could not agree that in the case of a cellar of wine which a man bequeathed, the wine could be imported free of duty. The same applies to a motor car. There is just this to be said. You might make up just as good an argument for a motor car as for furniture. I would like to consider the matter further.
It might be possible so to draft it that we would deal really with furniture that had been taken out of the country. I do not see why furniture that was never in the country and had been bequeathed by will to somebody here, should be admitted free. I would guarantee to look into the whole matter.
Since putting down my amendment my attention was drawn to the fact that there was a phrase in it which lent itself to the possible interpretation that I was having a shot at the President. That is not so. It was quite innocently framed, and not intended that it should bear that construction. I am now sorry that it found its way into the Order Paper, and as the matter is covered by the next amendment, I will not move it.
“That whenever the Revenue Commissioners are satisfied that any article of furniture has been made more than one hundred years ago, they may, subject to compliance with such conditions as they may think fit to impose, permit such article to be imported without payment of the duty mentioned in this Resolution.”
The wording of this amendment is borrowed from a provision in the tariff of the United States. In the United States they exempt from the tariff on furniture any article that can be proved to be 100 years old. The reason for that is, that the great craftsmen in the making of furniture for the most part lived more than 100 years ago; these are masters that we should copy if we intend to have that richer and more varied life that the Minister for Finance talked about a few minutes ago. If we aim at that richer and more varied life we are not going to shut out by tariffs the works of Chippendale, Sheraton, and the great French artist, Buhl. If we did that we would deprive our own artists of models. We want to have artistic furniture made in the Saorstát.
There is at present good furniture being made in the Saorstát. We do not want to check anything that would encourage people to bring in the very best. At present, as the resolution stands, even if the National Museum were to bring in an article of furniture a duty of 33? per cent. would have to be paid on it. Of course, I know that even under the resolution the Minister could exercise a dispensing power, which is a very bad and unconstitutional principle, and for which Ministers have in times past been executed.
Major COOPER: I trust not. I trust that if there is any execution to take place, Deputy Wilson will throw himself in front of the Minister and proclaim that he dies for his protectionist principles. I do say that these things are valuable as models. They are as much works of art as paintings or  statues. Therefore I hope the Minister will give some sort of concession in this direction.
Mr. BLYTHE: I understand that, in the not very recent past, there were craftsmen in Dublin who were able to make as good antique furniture as was made anywhere else, and I would not like to discourage that industry. I do not know that any antiques that were imported are more than one or two years old. Having been treated in the proper method they pass as antiques. As far as I understand, the business of antique furniture is mostly in fakes. I understand that there is at least one man in Dublin who can do that as well as they do it anywhere else.
Mr. BLYTHE: How are the Revenue Commissioners to distinguish between them? I really think that would be impossible, because we would be letting in things that would not be antiques. As I say, there is a man who can make them really well here.
Major COOPER: He makes them up from genuine antiques largely. I think I know the man. He has worked for me. He finds perhaps two old chairs. and he makes eight chairs out of them. That is the kind of work he does. He needs models. I was partly thinking of this man when I put down this amendment. I think if we get a report from our representative in Washington or New York as to the procedure in the United States in this matter, the Minister will see what is done there, and I think he will find it advisable to adopt the same procedure here. I would ask him to bear it in mind until next year, and in the meantime to inquire into the American precedent.
“That whenever the Revenue Commissioners are satisfied that any article of furniture is imported for use, exclusively in a stage play or other dramatic or musical representation  or performance, they may, subject to compliance with such conditions as they may think fit to impose, permit such article to be imported without payment of the duty mentioned in this Resolution.”
This is an attempt to fill up an omission of the Minister. The Minister has exempted from duty costumes used in staged plays, but he forgot that in addition to costumes used in plays there is also scenery and furniture, and in some instances the furniture is a very important part indeed. As scenery is mounted on wooden frames it might be held by the revenue authorities to be furniture.
In our pursuit of the rich and varied life we should wish that the citizens of the Saorstát would see the plays mounted under the best conditions possible. We do not want touring companies that come here, as they will for some time, to leave their furniture at Holyhead to be shipped to Belfast, and to use three or four of the chairs that are in the property rooms of the Gaiety or Theatre Royal. I have taken the Minister's own words in regard to clothing and adapted them to this. I hope the Minister will accept the amendment.
Mr. GOREY: I beg to move this amendment on behalf of Deputy Heffernan. It was agreed that it would be taken after the other amendments. I only do so to clear the minds of some Deputies regarding what is really our real point of view in opposing these protective tariffs. We have in this resolution, as in all the others, one idea, and that is that the State can help those who are prepared to help themselves. There is no doubt about  that. But the State cannot help those who are not prepared to help themselves; it can only hold them up for a time, like a drunken man. A drunken man is always in need of somebody to take him home, but the time will come when there will be nobody to take him home.
Mr. GOREY: He may then stay where he is in the gutter. Some of our industries may be like that. Something else besides State help is required. Most Deputies have found fault with us for our opposition to State help. So long as we consider that a proper response has not been given, a proper gesture has not been made, in response to that of the Government, we will continue in our opposition, and I think that our doing so will be one of the best assets that the Government can have to insure that a proper response is made to the gesture that they have made. We have had appeals to our better nature; we have had lectures here and abuse outside, abuse from publications claiming to be newspapers, or, I believe it has been suggested, Government organs. I have heard them described as some of the Gutter Press. I do not know the people who own these papers, but from what I have been told I believe the name of one of them is Fatty Arbuckle. But we do not intend to indulge in any of this clapping on the back business; we intend to be critical of all these impositions and to oppose them in order to insure that a proper response will be made. I do not think a proper response will be made, and although we may come in for some hard knocks, we intend to achieve the thing that we are all out for, that is, a proper response. Having said so much, I ask leave, on behalf of Deputy Heffernan, to withdraw this amendment.
Major COOPER: There are just two points I would like to make in amplification of what I said on the last resolution, and that is with regard to the question of possible expansion in this industry. I do not want to say anything that would vex Deputy Mrs.  Collins-O'Driscoll, because I have a great respect not only for her and for her point of view, but for the manner in which she expressed it; but this also is a trade that requires skilled labour, and I am told that the skilled labour required for the higher class of goods is at present very rare and hard to obtain.
I have inquired into it among some of the largest manufacturers. There are plenty of people who make the ordinary cottage chair, but people who can make the better class furniture are very rare, and in spite of the fact that the rate of wages in the Saorstát is four pence an hour more than in England or Scotland they do not seem to come back to us from England and Scotland. I know that there is an apprehension on the part of one firm that they will not be able to meet the heavy demands that will be created by this duty. It is a heavy duty, a duty that I do not think we are justified in imposing unless we are satisfied that the industry will expand sufficiently to meet the demands. I would like to refer to one other point, made by Deputy Figgis yesterday, as to the possibility of the Minister issuing a list of articles that are scheduled. I am told that some domestic chaos has been caused in my own household by the fact that an ironing board is said to be considered an article of furniture. Is a mangle an article of furniture? Is a wash tub?
I hope that the Minister will consider the advisability of making some concession to County Donegal, because I gather that County Donegal at present sends all its linen to be washed in Derry. Here is a case of a protective duty on one industry interfering with the establishment of another industry, and if the Minister considers that mangles and wash tubs are articles of furniture, I hope that he will consider at any rate allowing them in where they act as raw material for an industry. But my main point is that he should tell us what should be taxed and what should not be taxed. At Calais you get a list of articles and you are asked if you have any of the articles on that list to declare. They put up a  similar list on the mail boats. We do nothing of the kind; we leave it to the discretion of the Customs officer and the intelligence of the traveller. My only fear is that such a list might be too long and too heavy for a man to carry, but I think that the Minister should have a list of articles that are taxed for the convenience of incoming travellers.
Mr. McGOLDRICK: While I appreciate the sentiments expressed by Deputy Cooper in relation to the industry in Donegal, I do not quite agree with him that we need any sympathy in that county. I think that I might rather express my sympathy with the four towns that are adjacent to Donegal and that are not yet within the jurisdiction of Saorstát Eireann who will lose some business through this tax. I think that Donegal will not suffer hardship to any extent owing to these impositions on clothing and wearing apparel, and while I must thank Deputy Cooper for his consideration, I do not think that sympathy is so much needed in relation to County Donegal as it is in relation to the four towns to which I refer and for which I have sympathy under the circumstances.
Mr. McGILLIGAN: I want to reply very briefly to the point that has been raised by Deputy Cooper with regard to skilled labour and the possibility of expansion. There are between 2,000 and 3,000 skilled hands in the making of furniture unemployed at present. The wholesale furniture establishments have plant that in the past year has only been worked on an average at fifty per cent. of its total capacity. So that as far as skilled hands and increased output by way of additional working of plant are concerned, there is no fear that there will not be immediate expansion. I do not say that merely on this head it will be enough to meet the demand, but there is the further fact that there are a tremendous number of idle factories, big warehouses and old flour mills, at present vacant, and that a considerable amount of machinery suitable for the making of furniture has been thrown on the market since the war,  machinery that had been employed in munition making. So there are machinery and premises to be had very cheaply. I do not hold that we can immediately meet the normal demand, but that can be achieved quite soon.
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