Thursday, 22 May 1930
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Tadhg Crowley: Yesterday I asked the Minister for Agriculture whether he can state the quantity of Irish creamery butter for sale in cold storage on the 31st December, 1929; 28th February, 1930, and 30th April, 1930. The Minister replied that the Department have not the information at their disposal which would enable the figures asked for to be supplied. I expected the Minister would give the figures required. He states that the Department have no information to enable him to give them, but I would point out to him that his Department issues a quarterly report, and he must have some machinery for getting the statistics in that report. I cannot see why he could not use the same machinery for getting the information which I require. There is considerable dissatisfaction in the constituency I represent at the speech that was made by the Minister in Hospital recently, when he said there was a very difficult time before the dairying industry. Rumours are in circulation in the constituency that large quantities of butter have been held in cold  storage for a considerable time. There was a rumour to the effect that 400 tons of butter were held in cold storage. I have heard another rumour that it is as much as 900 tons. If that is so I cannot see why the Minister would not protect the industry by putting a duty on the import of butter. There is also a rumour that a considerable portion of that butter has become useless, and that eventually it will be used only for car grease. If the Minister would give the figures I require it would prevent these rumours circulating, and they are certainly doing damage to the department which is in charge of the marketing of butter. I think the House is entitled to the figures I have asked for.
When he states that he cannot collect them I do not believe it is so. I believe he can get them if he wishes. The Minister has power to regulate the export of butter, and I think he should have power also to have the figures of the quantity of butter which is kept in cold storage from time to time. If that butter goes wrong somebody has to pay for it, and the farmers are the people who are certain to suffer. I will again ask the Minister to give the figures that I am looking for.
Mr. Moore: In connection with Deputy Crowley's inquiries, I think it is relevant to ask whether it is correct that the Irish Associated Creameries are being very much impeded in the marketing of butter by Section 14 of the Creamery Act, 1928.
Mr. Moore: I think it is relevant in this way. Deputy Crowley's point relates to the big quantities of butter that are in cold storage here. My point is that part of that may arise from the difficulty that the Irish Associated Creameries find themselves in in regard to the marketing.
Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Hogan): The fact is that I have not any powers to get these figures. I believe the Statistics Branch of the Department of Industry and Commerce has the power. The Department of Agriculture has not. I do not want to get away on that distinction either. Supposing the Statistics Branch of the Department of Industry and Commerce wanted to get the figures they would have to circularise every creamery in the country and every cold store. It would take a very long time to get the information, and when it is got what use would it be? The Statistics Branch of the Department of Industry and Commerce, I understand, have tremendous powers to make business men give information as to what stocks they hold, and so on. I am not so sure, while they may get that information, that they have powers to use that information except in very limited directions. Suppose that as a result of three months' investigation they have found that there are X tons in cold storage, how would that particular information either put up or decrease the price of butter? It would not make the slightest difference to the price. It would be three months wasted.
Mr. Crowley: The reason I wanted to get the particulars was that £172,000 worth of butter was imported for the first three months of this year, January, February and March. If the quantity proved to be as high as it is rumoured it is then, I think, the Minister should take action in the matter and see that the home market is protected, so that butter would not be dumped in here from other countries while we have thousands of tons of butter in cold storage. I maintain that it  is the Minister's business to know what quantity of butter is in cold storage.
Mr. Hogan: In reply to that, supposing there is a certain quantity of butter in cold storage. It might not be imported butter. Most likely is Irish butter, cold stored since last year. Suppose it is a fact that £172,000 worth of butter was imported in the months of January, February and March. The position will be that during the months of June, July and August imports will make no difference, because we will have a huge import surplus. I only want to understand what the Deputy is at.
Mr. Crowley: The point is that you have £172,000 going out of the country for butter while we have butter stored up at home. There is no doubt that it is there and that some of it has gone wrong. If it has gone wrong, the farmers are certain to suffer; and where you have, as was recently the case, fourpence a gallon paid for milk, I cannot see how the farmers can be expected to pay rates and taxes.
Mr. Hogan: The creameries of the country. I am glad the Deputy asked me that question. I have no responsibility for setting up the Marketing Board. The creameries of the country set up this institution. They can run it as they wish. I have no control over it and I do not want to have any control. I do not think a Government body is suitable to deal with a marketing board.
With regard to Deputy Crowley's point, most of the butter in cold store will be sold in England, not in Ireland. He says he wants a tariff on butter. We need not argue as to what the effect of a tariff on butter would be in the months of January.  February and March. What is absolutely certain is that a tariff on butter during the months of June, July and August would not affect the price in the slightest, because, in fact, we have a big export during these three months. In any event, I have no power to go to any business man in this country and ask him what butter or what stocks he has in his creamery stores. If I went to a lot of the creameries they would tell me quite rightly to mind my own business. The Department of Industry and Commerce have immense power to collect statistics, but they are limited, to a great extent, in the use they make of them. So far as the Department of Industry and Commerce is concerned, it is a question of whether it would be worth their while to stop the work of their statistics branch and spend two or three months collecting this information, having regard to the very doubtful value the results would have for them at the end of their investigations.
Mr. Maguire: Deputy Crowley's case is that particularly during the months he has mentioned there was a considerable import of foreign butter while there was a considerable quantity of Irish butter in cold store. The I.A.C. held that butter when they should have put it into the market when there was a demand and a good price for it. While we were importing butter they held their supplies and allowed them to deteriorate. Clearly if that is the case there is justification as to why the Minister should take the responsibility of ascertaining what supplies are in cold store, and of seeing that the demands of the local markets are met from the cold stores.
Mr. Moore: The prohibition of unlicensed maintenance of certain creameries. It refers to the licensing of creameries. If my information be correct it has been found that that prevents the Associated Creameries from making up the butter in pound rolls and that they actually have to start a factory in Liverpool for that purpose, a great deal of the demand being for pound rolls. That would obviously be a very undesirable thing and a thing that should be immediately remedied by an amending Act. I would like the Minister to tell us if he has had any representation or is aware that that state of things prevails.
Mr. Hogan: That raises a big question. I cannot discuss it on the adjournment. The whole purpose, effect and intention of the Dairy Produce Act is to prevent butter being tampered with once it leaves the creamery, to see that it reaches the customer in exactly the same condition in which it leaves the creamery. To suggest that somebody should have the right to re-open the packets and re-make them is against the spirit of the Dairy Produce Act, and I cannot go into the merits of that. I do not think the House could go into the merits of that in anything like ten minutes. There are a great many other alternatives besides setting up a factory in Liverpool.
Mr. Hogan: I do not think so. I may say that the I.A.C. has no butter in cold storage. I happen to know that not as Minister for Agriculture. The I.A.C. has sold its butter, and sold it pretty well. If it comes to a question of holding a court and trying the various business men for handling their produce badly, I do  not think the I.A.C. would come out of it badly at all.
Mr. Hogan: Everyone in the country knows there was butter in cold storage. It would be very difficult to get the exact quantity of butter. I have no power, as Minister for Agriculture, to find out from the cold storage people what butter is in cold store.
Mr. Maguire: Therefore the information that we got is correct, that there was a considerable quantity of butter in cold storage. It was held over, and as a result deteriorated, and was sold at a considerable loss.
Mr. Fogarty: Is the Minister aware that there was a meeting held here about a month ago of the creamery managers and the directors of creameries, and that there were 900 tons of butter held up in cold storage?
Mr. Hogan: Honestly I am not aware of that. Suppose there is, is that my business? Surely I cannot be blamed if the creameries do not market their butter. Do you want me to go into the marketing business?
Mr. Hogan: I did not read the report. Suppose all that is true, do you want the Department of Agriculture to go into the marketing business? The fact of the matter is, I am afraid, that we are going to get into the habit of fighting out this dispute between what are called the inside creameries, the creameries of the I.A.C. and the creameries outside it, here in the Dáil. That would be rather a bad state of affairs. There is a difficult situation in the butter trade at the present moment. There was a decent attempt made by a body called the I.A.C. to find some better means of marketing butter than was in operation in the past. I am not going to pass judgment as to whether their methods were good, bad or indifferent. As Minister for Agriculture, I have set up a Tribunal, which I think is an impartial Tribunal, to examine into the marketing  of butter during the last few years and to make recommendations to me. If that Tribunal is to do its work and give a report that will be valuable it ought to be allowed to operate without trying to prejudice beforehand its findings. There can be no real argument against letting in the light. That Tribunal will get all the facts. I know that there are a great many vested interests. There are some people with vested interests in single marketing, there are others with vested interests in combined marketing. Of course, these vested interests are trying to protect their interests. Our business should be to get the best price possible for dairy produce as a whole without any regard to any interest. I suggest that the best service that Deputies can do to the butter trade would be to allow the Tribunal to get on with its work and not to listen too attentively to the various vested interests that are trying to get at Deputies of the various Parties at the present moment.
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