Tuesday, 31 May 1932
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. McGilligan: I put down a question which appeared as No. 1 on the Order Paper to-day. A particular answer was given with which I expressed my dissatisfaction and indicated that I would raise the matter to-night. That question was only supplemental to one put down on the 25th May. That was supplemental to certain things which happened earlier in this House and to those I want to refer. When I was speaking on the Budget on the 20th May I asked:
Does the Minister for Finance found his anticipation of the yield on a continuation of trade, as it runs at the moment? Does he feel that Ottawa is going to be of any advantage to us in retaining certain preferences which we have at present?
I have been anxiously waiting news for weeks past about a certain suggestion made before I left office and which was agreed to, namely, that there should be meetings between our High Commissioner in London and British officials to discuss State matters, and that there should be, at the same time, meetings between the British Trade Commissioner in this country and high officers of State to discuss the same trade matters. That was the preamble to a good Ottawa Conference, and without such a preamble and without discussion of economic matters no good will come out of the Ottawa Conference, even if there were no political clouds in the background.
Have these meetings taken place? Have preparations been inaugurated with the British? Have the British been asked to have that preparation, have they refused to meet us?  Remember it was their suggestion at the beginning, a suggestion that we accepted, and that the present Government should have adopted and carried out. I should like to have that question seriously answered. Have these meetings taken place, and if not, why not? If they do not take place, what are the prospects for Ottawa, and if Ottawa offers no prospects what are the Minister's prospects in getting in the yield of taxation he hopes for, and what hope is there in this year of getting his Budget balanced?
A suggestion was made by Great Britain last December to the other Governments of the Commonwealth that an informal exchange of views should take place on the questions which may come up for discussion at Ottawa.
That was the first day on which this matter was raised by me by reference to the suggestion made on which I founded certain questions, the gist of the questions being: have discussions taken place, have they been requested, and if so, with what result? That led to the official communication from the Government which I have just read and the gist of which I think might be said to lie in the last paragraph.
I think it is a fair interpretation of that statement to say it was meant to  convey an implication that no requests for discussion had up to that date been made and that the reason why no requests for discussion had been made was because the preparations made by the Government were not sufficiently advanced.
To ask the Minister for External Affairs if, in relation to the suggestion made by Great Britain last December to the Government of the Irish Free State that informal exchanges of views should take place on the questions which might come up for discussion at Ottawa, any representation or request has been made to the British Government by or on behalf of the Government of the Irish Free State to have the discussions commenced, and, if so, with what result.
No exchange of views has taken place between the Saorstát and the British Government on the questions which might come up for discussion at Ottawa. We understand that our position in this respect is not different from that of at least two other States of the Commonwealth. The High Commissioner asked for information or suggested discussion on five distinct occasions between the beginning of January and the middle of the present month. He received certain documents relating to the trade between these two countries on the 18th April. Further information was promised. It must be remembered, however, that the agenda for the Conference was not circulated by the Canadian Government until yesterday, and without the agenda discussions could hardly be expected to yield concrete results.
On that I made certain supplemental remarks and questions to the effect that the suggestion for informal discussion was made last December and envisaged discussion taking place prior to the circulation of the agenda.  I went on to ask if the High Commissioner, on behalf of the Government of Saorstát Eireann, made any request to have discussions commenced, and, if so, what reason was returned to him? The Vice-President on that occasion told me that he was not familiar with the details and requested me to put down a question once more, and I did put it down for to-day. Before coming to what happened to-day, I want to point out what I think can be said to be the correct interpretation of the second question. I asked previously had any representation or request been made to the British Government by or on behalf of the Irish Free State Government, if these discussions had commenced and, if so, with what result. The reply I got contained about seven sentences, only one of which was really relevant. It is:
I want that put in contrast to the phrase used in the official communication that the Government will be quite willing to commence discussions when its preparations for the Ottawa Conference are sufficiently advanced. A few days later we were told that although the preparations are not sufficiently advanced on five distinct occasions information was requested and discussions suggested and we do not know what happened. What we do know is this: the High Commissioner received certain documents relating to the trade between these two  countries on the 18th April. The date is significant. Two days before the introduction of the Bill with regard to the removal of the Oath. He did receive a document on that date. The answer continued:
He does not continue to tell us whether the further information promised ever reached the hands of the Government. All that we do know is what is contained in the last sentence that the agenda for the Conference was not circulated until yesterday, and without the agenda discussions could hardly be expected to yield concrete results. Again I want to make a suggestion and it is this: that clearly the present Government of this country has not received any communication from the British Government since the l8th April, because if they had it would have been stressed, and the date is significant, and realising the significance of the date at the request of the Vice-President to put this question down I phrased it for this morning in this way:
To ask the Minister for External Affairs if he will state with regard to the requests or representations as to information about or discussions on matters likely to arise at Ottawa stated to have been made to the British Government by the High Commissioner (a) if the High Commissioner suggested discussion on any occasion since April 20th, and, if so, how often and with what result; and (b) if the High Commissioner requested information on any occasion since April 20th, and, if so, how often and with what result.
The information sought for by the Deputy relates to communications between this Government and another Government. The giving of such precise details as the Deputy requires concerning the actions of a particular civil servant in relation to such communications could hardly serve the general interests of the State or the efficient working of the Department of  External Affairs. The Deputy will have to be satisfied with the information that no change has taken place in the situation described in my answer to his question of the 25th May relating to the same subject.
It is to be noticed that there is, as was clear from the President on another occasion, a definite attempt to throw on to the shoulders of the civil servant a duty which should have been performed by him, an omission which was in fact the President's. I put a supplemental question. I said I was not concerned with what any civil servant may have done. My previous question to which this question is really supplemental as requested by the Vice-President related to requests made on behalf of the Free State Government. Everything said since was supplemental to that and that runs right through the whole question. I did go on to ask if any discussion had been suggested by the High Commissioner since the vital date, the 20th April, this year, if so, what was the result. To that I was told that no further information could be given to me except what was already given. What is the situation in which we find ourselves? That there is an important Conference coming off, that until arrangements have been made to formulate any legislation arising out of that Conference a certain preference now given to our goods on the British markets holds and the date up to which these things hold is to be mid-November of this year.
That date was fixed according to the spokesman of the British Government in the House of Commons when the date was mentioned because it was thought that any arrangement come to at Ottawa would require a couple of months to get formulated in precise Parliamentary language. Consequently, the 15th November was put down as the extreme date to which the original preference would hold. We got considerable advantage from this preference. We saw statements in the Press. We got a confirmed statement to-day to some extent that a delegation of ours was going to Ottawa. We  were told to-day also that it is necessary to meet four days a week from this until the 8th July and to sit until 10.30 on Tuesday nights because we have such a pressure of business which it is necessary for some of the Ministers going to Ottawa to get through before they leave the country on the 8th July, the last date possible if they are to be in time for the Ottawa Conference.
We have five Parliamentary weeks and a mass of business for these five Parliamentary weeks. We have an invitation hanging fire from the British Government since last December to have informal exchanges of views, and nobody in this country knows precisely whether or not any proper return has been made to that invitation to have these exchanges of views; or alternatively nobody in this country knows whether, a proper approach having been made by this Government to the British Government, that approach has been turned down. We have only five short weeks of Parliamentary time, with a mass of business awaiting these Ministers, in which to get the necessary discussions—what I described as the necessary preamble to the Ottawa Conference. We get instead of it what I have read out to-night, and I think there is sufficient mystification and sufficient contradiction in what I have read to-night to make people wonder what exactly is the situation with regard to these preliminaries to a good Ottawa Conference.
On the first day I raised it we got the hasty rush into print that the official invitation was received and that the acceptance of it still holds good. That is followed with the precise statement, meant to delude the public, that the Government here would be quite willing to commence discussion when its preparations for the Conference were sufficiently advanced. A variety of things can be read into that; but two or three things clearly must be read into it. One, that there has been no attempt to initiate the discussion up to the date of that communication of the 20th May, and the reason that there had beer no attempt to initiate a discussion was  because the Government here was not sufficiently advanced with its preparation. Yet, five days later, I could be told, in answer to a question, that the High Commissioner had on five distinct occasions approached the British Government. The answer ceased to be precise at that moment. The High Commissioner had either asked for information or suggested discussions. At any rate, he did suggest discussions. That is clear.
Some time between January and the middle of May discussions were suggested by the High Commissioner and information was requested, and the only information that apparently was got, that was thought worthy of note, in the reply to this question of mine, was that certain documents relating to the trade between the two countries were received on 18th April, with the added information that further information was promised, but without the additional information as to whether or not that information came to hand. Lastly, we get the farce by way of answer this morning when I segregated it to the precise item, had the High Commissioner asked for information and had he suggested discussion since the 20th April? I am told that it would not serve the general interests of the State to give any information on that point.
There is another matter which is relevant to this. It was introduced as a relevant matter to the answer I read with regard to the information given and the further information promised. Since the Canadian Parliament adjourned an official communication has been issued on their behalf stating that now that Parliament was out of session the Canadian Government hopes to find time to discuss the long document communicated to them by the British Government suggesting a list of materials on which the British Government thinks the Canadian Government might make concessions to it. The Canadian Government says they circulated that document to their manufacturers and that they are going to have a conference with them. It has also been rumoured—I cannot say if it has been officially communicated —that a document similar to that  document has been received by the New Zealand and Australian Governments and there has been a suggestion in the papers that the South African Government is in possession of a similar document. I think it is clear from the answers made to me that we have not received such a document, because the only document referred to is the document relating to the trade between the two countries, circulated on the 18th April.
If we have not got that document why have we not got it? First, have we got it? I am saying that the suggestion clearly lies to be made that that document is not in the hands of our Government or at least a document similar to it. Will it strike the people of this country as peculiar that if the Government of Canada certainly, and the Governments of New Zealand and Australia probably, and the Government of South Africa possibly, have got the same document and we have not got anything something similar to it, that there is something peculiar about the attitude of the British Government with regard to the position of this Government at Ottawa?
I said that there was an excuse made. In the first sentence of the reply to my question asked on 25th May I was told that “no exchange of views had taken place between the Saorstát and British Governments on the questions which might come up for discussion at Ottawa.” And then this followed: “We understand that our position in this respect is not different from that of at least two other States of the Commonwealth.” Then there is this sentence: “The High Commissioner asked for information or suggested discussion on five distinct occasions between the middle of January and the middle of the present month. He received certain documents relating to the trade between these two countries on 18th April. Further information was promised. It must be remembered however that the agenda for the Conference was not circulated by the Canadian Government until yesterday...” When it is stated that our position is not  different from that of at least two other States of the Commonwealth, is that a precise statement of fact? Did either of those two States of the Commonwealth make any representation to the British Government through any of their officials in London that they would like discussions commenced? If they did and if they have been treated in the peculiar way in which we have been treated then their case is on all fours with ours. I think, then, it cannot be said that our position in this respect is not different from that of these two other States of the Commonwealth.
That is the sorry story. We are going to send, at the taxpayers' expense, a delegation to Ottawa. We have no discussions previous to the departure of the delegation up to five weeks before it actually departs. We have a request made by our High Commissioner on some single occasion that there should be discussions commenced and, if anything has been sent by way of a return to that suggested discussion, it is a document sent to him relating to the trade between the two countries and further information will come. I suggest the further information never came or else we would have been told about it. Our delegates are supposed to set out for Ottawa, where preferences are to be had in greater number than they are at the present moment or where they are to be maintained at the present height. Discussions have been advanced or else discussions have been requested and have not been granted.
Before we go to the expense of sending people across the water looking for preferences that might be denied to us, the people of the country should know what has happened between this Government and the British Government. There should be an answer given to my question. It is merely shutting their eyes to facts if they neglect that duty. We know very well that since 20th April a particular situation has arisen. We know very well that a particular point of view is taken here with regard to certain measures and a widely different point of view is taken on the other side, and all that might have repercussions on  the discussions at Ottawa. We should be given an answer to this point: Was any request with regard to discussion made since the 20th April and, if so, was it turned down? If the request was not formulated inside the framework of a suggestion as to discussions we should have an answer to the second part of my question: Was there, since 20th April, any request made to the British Government for information and, if so, was that acceded to or turned down?
We hear talk also as to the personnel of the delegation going to Ottawa. We are told that quite recently it has emerged that financial and monetary matters, things about gold and golden ounces, are going to come up for discussion at Ottawa, and we have included a person described as a financial expert for the purpose of these discussions.
Have we any information as to what matters have been put on the Agenda by the Free State Government, if any? Have we any information as to why this team has been chosen that we hear spoken of? Why is it the Minister for Finance is supposed to be accompanying the delegation? Why is it we are told somebody connected with currency in this country is going? Is this merely striking out in the dark? Have there been any returns from the British Government to requests made by the High Commissioner on behalf of the Free State Government that there should be discussions commenced preliminary to Ottawa? Has there been any return by the British Government requesting information on the matters that are likely to go down on the Ottawa Agenda?
If we have not these, I suggest that it is useless to send a delegation to Ottawa, even with the best of good will operating at the moment between the British Government and our own Government. Without good and sound preparation there is going to be no good result from that Conference. Supposing we take merely that side of it—that there is good-will operating. If there had been no discussion or proper intercommunication of opinion, then surely it is madness for us to load  up a delegation with the people who are said to be members of it, when we do not know what are the subjects in which our delegation is likely to be interested, and from which they are likely to get good results. Let us take the alternative—that there is no good-will as between the two Governments. Would it not have saved the rebuff which is certain to come later from the British Government if the invitation for an informal exchange of views, issued by them last December, were attended to during the intervening months? Would not that have cleared the air, and would it not have been better to have a precise answer returned to a Free State Government request about discussions in London before the delegation crossed the water rather than have the same answer, whatever it may be, returned at Ottawa when the delegates get there on a fruitless errand?
I raised this matter originally in the course of a debate and following that there was an official communication to the Press. On a second occasion I raised the matter by way of question. There was then a golden opportunity of clearing up a mystifying situation. Instead of that I got information which did not add precisely to what the House was given before. Then when I raised the matter to-day, refining it to the very last point of discussion—was information suggested or requested since 20th April?—I got the statement that it was really a matter for a Civil Servant. It was a cowardly attitude to start with, trying to throw responsibility on to the shoulders of an official. In addition to that, I was given in reply a few phrases which were not relevant to what I had raised and which did not add to the information of the House.
At any rate, that question has to be answered. As long as no precise answer is returned to the questions I put down, undoubtedly the feeling is going to prevail amongst the people that the suggestion as to discussions was not favourably received by the British Government and that the request for information was answered up to the 18th April, but has not been answered since. A great many people  will ponder over why things happened prior to the 18th April and nothing has happened since that date.
Mr. Corry: Does the Deputy state that the President has adopted a cowardly attitude? Is that his statement? I say the Deputy has a lot of  check looking for information here considering the amount of information he gave to this House and to the country about the agreements made in regard to land annuities in 1923, and the agreement also made in 1926.
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