Wednesday, 20 April 1932
Dáil Éireann Debate
To ask the President whether his attention had been called to a statement made by the Minister for Finance in the Seanad on 22nd March last, that the Shannon Scheme, the Dairy Disposals Board, the Drumm Battery and the Beet Sugar Factory were as precious a collection of white elephants as drew their unfortunate owners to the verge of insolvency, and if in view of this statement he will indicate the policy of the Executive Council with regard to those projects.
The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. With regard to the second part, large sums of public money have been sunk in these enterprises, and quite irrespective of any views that may be held of the wisdom or otherwise of their initiation and their management up to the present, it is the duty of the Government to safeguard the capital invested in them and, if possible, to secure their success. I need only add that the Government is resolved to carry out its duty in this respect.
I said at question time that that was not an answer to my question. I want to say now that not only was it not an answer to my question, but I submit it was an attempt to evade my question altogether. I asked the President if he would state whether he and the other members of the Executive Council agreed with this statement. This is a very important matter; it is a matter of great importance to the people of this country. The people of this country have, as the President quite rightly stated, sunk a lot of their money in those schemes, and we are entitled, as representatives of the people, to know exactly whether the statements made by the Minister for Finance in the Seanad represent the view of the Executive Council. I may say that when I read the statement in the Press I was amazed to believe that any Minister of this State would be so irresponsible as to make such a statement, and would have such  little regard for national schemes, and for the national credit, as to make a statement of that kind. I decided to wait in case the Minister was misrepresented, or was not correctly reported, until I got the official report, and when I received the official report I found that the Minister was correctly reported. Now, I do not want to use very strong language in this matter, but, in my opinion, the language is not too strong when I say that that statement made by a responsible Minister of this House, speaking as a member of the Executive Council, with regard to four schemes of national importance, was nothing less than an outrage, and I want, and I think I am entitled to get, as a member of this House, from the President, a plain “yes” or “no” to my question. I am not going to put the President to the trouble of going into a long, detailed explanation of the matter. I gave in my question the statement made by the Minister, and I asked the President to state whether that was the view of the Executive Council or not. The President can answer me in one word, “yes” or “no,” and I hope that the President will shorten the proceedings by giving me a plain and straight answer. I do not wish to say any more about it. It is not going to do any good to drag the matter out, but I do say I am entitled to, and I hope to get, a straight answer. Is the view expressed by the Minister for Finance, who is a member of the Executive Council, holding collective responsibility, the view of the Executive Council on these four national projects?
Mr. McGilligan: The statement to which Deputy Morrissey's question related to-day, and to which the evasion of the President was supposed to relate, was made by the Minister for Finance in the Seanad, much as Deputy Morrissey has quoted it, but there was something more to it than was quoted. This is the full text:
In 1927, the Minister said, the Cumann na nGaedheal Party went to the country with this as their programme—the hydro-electric development of the Shannon, the reconstitution of the Dairying industry  of this country on a new basis, and the establishment of a Beet Sugar Factory. When they came into power they added to that list a new project—the development of the Drumm Battery. The success of that Government's practical policy is expressed by the four schemes— the Shannon Scheme, the Dairy Disposals Board, the Drumm Battery and the Beet Sugar Factory, as precious a collection of white elephants as ever drove their unfortunate owners to the verge of insolvency.
That statement was made when the Minister for Finance was replying in the Seanad, in concluding the debate on the Central Fund Bill. The Central Fund Bill included a vote on account of £8,000, out of a full estimate of £25,000, which had been put down for the development of the Drumm Battery, so that, speaking on the very Bill which included the £8,000 vote, taken by him for the development of one of these schemes, he thought fit to say to the House, and through them, to the people, that this was one of “as precious a collection of white elephants as ever drove their unfortunate owners to the verge of insolvency.”
There are two points in this—one is the very minor point of what public criticism and public chastisement ought to be given to the Minister for Finance for his folly. That is a minor thing, but the bigger thing is whether the present Government is big enough to say about one of their Ministers that a mistake had been made, and that their policy was not that policy of deriding four schemes in which the country was vitally interested, and on the success of which the country's fortunes, to a good extent, depend. What do we get—the evasion to which Deputy Morrissey referred. The President says “With regard to the second part, large sums of public money have been sunk in these enterprises,” and the next part I consider to be an aggravation of the ludicrous folly of the Minister for Finance—“Quite irrespective of any views that may be held  of the wisdom or otherwise of their initiation their management up to the present, it is the duty of the Government to safeguard the capital invested in them.” There was not a person who could have been criticised for opposition to the Shannon Scheme, on account of a pro-English bias, who did not, at some time or another, when the scheme was becoming a success, crawl in again with that same sort of statement, that the country's money had been sunk in it, and somebody had to safeguard it, and the President is in good company when he takes that particular line in his attempted evasion of this question. He says “It is the duty of the Government, if possible, to secure their success,” and that, to my mind, is an aggravation of the previous statement to which attention has been called. Surely it is time that we knew the mind of the Government on the matter, or at least whether they have a mind on the matter. The Minister for Finance is in that particularly blissful state about some of these schemes that it would be folly to expect him to be wise about them. We have known that of old. He criticised the Drumm Battery. I think his comment about that scheme was the one which shocked the public in this country most. He criticised it in his speech on the original Vote on the grounds (a) that there was no patentable device, (b) even if there was——
Mr. McGilligan: At any rate, we had other statements. Senator Connolly told us in the Seanad in October last year that the Drumm Battery was a failure. Deputy Boland told us in this House a week previously that he knew the Drumm Battery was a failure. Is it the policy of the whole Party as well as the Government that this scheme has got to be derided and if it is their policy will they let us have, at any rate, this information: What expert advice had the Minister for Finance, because he is no expert in these matters himself, upon which to base that statement with regard to one of these schemes, the Drumm Battery, that it was a white elephant? If he believes it was a white elephant for what reason did he include £8,000 in the Vote on Account out of £25,000 that now stands in the Estimate for the coming year? I thought it would be a good thing when I saw the blunder that had been made by this statement of the Minister for Finance to have this matter discussed in a better way than by Parliamentary question and answer and I asked that we should have it taken at once, that we should have the Estimate put down on the first day that we met. The information I got from the Whips was that the Minister was so involved in Budget preparations that he could not attend. That was the official reason given. I find to-day an advertisement in the public Press that at some meeting with reference to the everyday uses of electricity the Minister for Finance proposes to display his form on the boards of the Gaiety Theatre. I wish they would keep him on for the evening performance. I see there is a play to be produced called “It's a Boy!” A more appropriate play for him to appear in could not be found.
Are we going to get a statement from the President as to the Government policy on any of these four schemes? As Deputy Morrissey says, if he had given a plain answer when asked about the matter, it could have been settled. But the country wants more than a mere answer of yes or no. The country wants more than a mere repudiation of this ludicrous folly on the part of the Minister. They want to find out had the Minister any expert information at his disposal which warranted his speaking on the matter at all, and if so, who were the experts and what was the expert advice he got? They want to know if he has put that expert advice, if it has been got, before the members of the Cabinet, and if they agreed with him, because there were two members of the Cabinet present in the Seanad when he spoke. They want to know, if that is not the case, having regard to the expert advice previously got, and which is on the files for the Minister and other members of the Cabinet to examine, will they make amends by giving us a detailed statement at the earliest possible opportunity of the prospects of any one of these four schemes and, in particular, I stress the scheme with regard to the development of the Drumm Battery? Are they going to get expert advice? Did they not consider the expert advice which had been got sufficient? Have they any appreciation of what that advice amounts to? Did they know what the proposals of the Great Southern and Western Railways Company are with regard to the particular electrification scheme that has been put before them? Did they believe them to be founded upon expert advice and good expert advice? What has the Minister for Finance discovered that made him expose himself to the ridicule of the populace by this type of statement?
Harm can be done to these schemes by irresponsible statements. Probably the Minister has such a record for irresponsible statements that the harm that might be done by his saying these  things about any of these schemes is less than if these things were said by somebody else. I said there was a shock to the public. The shock to the public was not so much that the Minister could find it possible to say these things, but that it was possible for a man who could say these things to be made Minister for Finance. One begins to have doubts for the stability of the country in the matter of finance unless there is going to be something amounting to very close supervision of all that the Minister for Finance works at and announces with regard to what he is working at. I suggest to the President that if he can find no other way it would be a good plan, even at a further cost to the State, to get a second bed in Government Buildings and make him sleep there at night so that he will not be able to give out these fatuous statements to the public.
The President: The first point I want to deal with is the suggestion that there was an evasion in the answer given here. I deny that. Anybody reading the question could only infer that Deputy Morrissey wanted information on one point: Whether we propose to safeguard the public money that was invested in these enterprises and whether we propose to do our best to ensure their success? That at any rate was what I understood was the intention of the question.
The President: Then Deputy Morrissey ought to be able to express himself a little more clearly than he has done in the question. The Minister for Finance, in dealing with the extravagant boosting of certain enterprises initiated by the recent Government, in the Seanad, gave warning that from the financial point of view these require very careful consideration and had imposed upon any Government a very heavy and weighty responsibility.
The President: Deputy McGilligan knows perfectly well that I cannot put my hand now on the quotations. There is no Deputy who was in the last Dáil who does not remember quite well extravagant statements such as that which sent up the stock of the Great Southern Railways Company several points.
The President: They were made in this House. We were told that £80,000 was going to electrify the railway from Cork to Dublin. On coming into office and taking responsibility after extravagant statements like that we have to make the public really aware of the exact situation.
The President: Everybody who is interested in these schemes was watching the amount of public money that was involved in them. Whether the epithet “white” was applicable or not that they were big schemes is certainly clear when you take the figures and see how much money was involved in them. There is involved already directly in the Shannon Scheme a sum of over £8,770,000; in the Drumm Battery up-to-date there has been paid £30,300, including £5,300 taken from the Contingency Fund; in the Beet Sugar Scheme there has already been given in direct subsidy the sum of £980,000 and in indirect subsidy a sum of £1,080,000, making a total of £2,060,000 in all. The sum of £870,000 has been spent in the enterprise of the Dairy Disposals Board. Now considering the resources of this country I think every Deputy will admit that, at any rate, the Minister was not far wrong when he said that we were given charge of certain elephants. There is no doubt that  maintaining these enterprises is going to put a very heavy tax upon the community.
The President: It is an honest way of dealing with it because the community were led to believe that we were being handed over, in accordance with the extravagant statements of the recent Ministry, enterprises which were going to be of tremendous immediate value. What was the position? Take the Drumm Battery that the Deputy has been speaking about. There is nobody in this House so anxious to assist research in this country as I am; nobody more anxious to see that public money, when it is necessary to help that research, will be given to it. Deputy McGilligan when he was Minister came along and said that they were acquiring a patent. He did not acquire a patent. He acquired an investigation. That was what he acquired, and he did his very best by extravagant statements made for political purposes, I hold, to injure the chances of that investigation becoming finally a great commercial success. He did everything in his power to injure that scheme himself.
The President: I suppose in 100 or 1,000 years hence it will be said that Deputy McGilligan had such wonderful foresight that he was able to see these developments. It is always easy to prophesy. Deputy McGilligan possibly will not be present in the House when it is possible to prove or  disprove his prophecies. Let us not prophesy but keep to solid facts.
The President: I am keeping to the question. I am telling the community definitely what is the situation and I am telling them that so far as this Government is concerned we intend to carry on the investigation and see that the public money is safeguarded to the best of our ability and that everything that it is possible to do to make these schemes a success will be done. That is the policy.
The President: The Minister for Finance did not do anything like the damage against these schemes that was done by the extravagant statements from those on the benches opposite. It was absolutely necessary to bring people down to bedrock and to recognise what was involved. If the Minister erred, on the other side there was a balance that could be secured between the two.
The President: Deputy McGilligan talked about the mess. He was principally responsible for the making of the whole Shannon Scheme administration. He did not show that there was much hope as long as he had control of it.
The President: We have taken it over, and, as I say, fully recognising our responsibility in connection with the money spent, we do hope that the original intention for which these schemes were started will be given real effect to by careful administration, by looking ahead and seeing where we are going, not by using these schemes merely as political propaganda. Everybody  in the House agreed with the idea of using the water power of this country for providing power. It was a question how it should be done, and I still hold, with the extra knowledge I have got now, the original view I held, that from a commercial and economic point of view it would have been better to commence developing our water power otherwise.
Mr. Morrissey: May I ask the President in the few minutes left before he concludes this very entertaining speech will he answer my question as to whether the view stated by the Minister for Finance in the Seanad is the view of the Executive Council?
The President: I am answering the question on the Paper, the unsatisfactory nature of the reply to which, I am told, was responsible for this debate. Of course, I am long enough in the House now to know that that is a mere excuse to have a debate on the adjournment.
Mr. Morrissey: This is my question: Is the Government standing over the statement made by the Minister for Finance in the Seanad? Does that represent the view of the Executive Council on this matter? I want an answer yes or no.
The President: If I am asked to state whether I concur with a certain reading of a certain thing or not, I want to know what reading the Deputy takes out of it, and I shall answer very quickly. If he tells me what his reading of it is, I will tell him whether I agree.
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