Friday, 16 February 1934
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Finance (Mr. MacEntee): It may avoid unnecessary interruption, sir, and permit me to conclude my speech in an orderly manner if I, first of all, draw the attention of the House to the terms of the motion. The motion is:
I ask that, before that motion receives the support of any Deputy, they should ask themselves what grounds there are for condemning the action of the Government in reducing the total of the grants payable for the relief of rates on agricultural land. Obviously, it can only be on the grounds that the present Government has not done as much as it is possible for any Government to do, in present circumstances, in order to relieve the burdens upon agriculture. I said, as much as it is possible for any Government to do. The powers and possibilities of this, or of any other Government, to do more for the farmers than we are doing can only be measured and assessed by what our  predecessors did. In the course of this speech I have drawn the attention of the House to the fact that we have reduced the land annuities by over £2,063,000 yearly, that we have provided export bounties this year amounting to £2,350,000, or, in actual fact, as the expenditure that has taken place up to the present shows, to £2,500,000. For a milk scheme we have provided £100,000, for the development of a turf scheme we have provided £150,000, for the promotion of tillage and the better marketing of our agricultural products, £85,000, and under the Old Age Pensions Act of 1932 we have placed in the households of Irish farmers and of Irish farm-workers no less a sum than £600,000. We have taken effective steps to revive the tobacco industry, so that up to date, on the lowest computation, Irish farmers this year will reap a net profit of over £100,000.
Mr. MacEntee: Deputies have very short memories, and I merely want to remind them of what we did. This is relevant to what I am going to say, if the Deputy will permit me to continue. In addition to reintroducing the cultivation of tobacco, we are extending the cultivation of sugar beet. By incurring capital expenditure amounting to over £2,000,000 per annum, and assuming a considerable Exchequer burden, we are making it possible for farmers and rural workers, out of the beet crop alone, to make between £600,000 and £700,000 per annum. As I stated last week, these are solid and lasting things we have done for Irish farmers. In the last year our predecessors were in office, when they were, in the classic phrase of the ex-President of the Executive Council, “bidding high for votes,” they were only able to find for some of these, or  for similar purposes, £1,812,000. The difference between the two figures, £6,326,000 and £1,812,000, does not represent the margin by which we found it possible to do more for the Irish farmers than the Government which had been ten years in office, with ten years to think out some scheme of amelioration, and some scheme of national development, to put agricultural production upon a secure and prosperous basis.
General Mulcahy: I do not want to interrupt the Minister, but I suggest, if he is making the case to the House that the farmers have got from the present Government £6,326,000 that they never got before, he should, when dealing with the motion before the House, address himself to the fact that all over the country agricultural labourers' wages are down, and that in every part of the country the people find a real difficulty in meeting their obligations, as far as rates and taxes go.
Mr. MacEntee: I am not going to take the Deputy's assertion as representing the real facts of the case. On the contrary, we find that in the poorest districts people have been able to meet their overhead charges, annuities and rates, and pay the shopkeepers.
Mr. MacEntee: Deputy Mulcahy asked me how it was that people were not able to meet their obligations in certain districts. I deny that people are not able to meet their obligations in certain districts. I admit that people are not meeting their obligations in certain districts, and in the opening part of my speech on this motion I showed a fairly conclusive and convincing reason why people are not meeting their obligations. I ascribed it to the deliberate campaign to deter people from paying their rates and discharging their other debts, which had been embarked upon by some of those associated with the Opposition. I say this, that recently I have been in contact with representative organisations of manufacturers and distributors, and I heard it stated there over and over again, by people who can speak with knowledge and experience, that never has it been so easy for them to collect their ordinary trade debts as it has been during the past 12 months. Therefore, I say, when you see the people in the poorer districts paying rates and annuities, when you hear manufacturers and distributors saying that they have fewer bad debts, and that it is easier to collect money this year than for the past ten years, there cannot be such a state of depression existing in the country as would justify the reduction in certain areas of agricultural wages. That is only part of the ramp which has been started by the Party opposite.
Mr. MacDermot: Would the Minister allow me? In examining the case of country shopkeepers and banks, will he venture to say that either one or the other had no difficulty in collecting outstanding debts?
Mr. MacEntee: I want to say further that any reduction that exists in bank  profits has been due almost entirely to the increased taxation which those undertakings have had to bear and not to any difficulty they have experienced in collecting amounts due to them by their debtors. I was talking about the rates of agricultural wages in this country. I was saying that if there was any reduction in agricultural wages, it was only part of the deliberate and organised ramp that has been undertaken by members of the Opposition Party, a ramp similar to that which was set on foot as the result of a conference here of leading supporters of Deputy Belton and his associates, who came together and began to consider what elements in agricultural production at the present moment were showing a substantial return to the farmer and who arrived at the conclusion that amongst them was milk. They decided that the price of milk in certain areas must be brought down to an uneconomic level and approached certain large dairying undertakings in the vicinity of the city to get them to reduce the price of milk in order that they might be able to turn round and say that the farmer is not getting in 1933-34 the price for milk that he was getting in 1931-32.
Mr. Belton: If the Minister wants to repeat a statement he made in the House and withdrew, he can go on. Because that is the character of the  man who is Minister, I am not going to ask him to withdraw.
Mr. MacEntee: I can take an example that will show that the position of this country at the present time is no worse than it was 12 months ago, or as bad as it was 24 months ago. I am sorry, however, that Deputy Mulcahy led me off the direction which I intended to pursue this morning. I would remind the House that I have endeavoured to show how much more we did than our predecessors. We are told, of course, that the cattle trade is in a depressed condition owing to the restrictions which have been imposed on the admission of our cattle to the British markets. We are not denying that the introduction of those restrictions and those tariffs has imposed undoubted burdens upon those engaged in the cattle industry, but we say that we have alleviated to the fullest possible extent any hardship that might have been occasioned, and that irrespective of the political course that we pursued the Irish farmer inevitably would have been faced with these restrictions, that it was only the lack of foresight displayed by our predecessors which left this Government when it came into office in the position that it had not the machinery available to deal with the development in British agriculture which was inevitable from the day that the National Government, as they call it, was returned in 1931. If you want proof of that you have only to read the statements made by the British Minister for Agriculture speaking in the House of Commons last night. He said that if the Government had not restricted Free State exports in December, it was absolutely certain that there would have been a catastrophic decline in the price of  British home produced livestock. “The British Government,” Mr. Elliott went on to say, “were accused of endangering the relations between Britain and the Free State.” I am sorry that Deputy MacDermot has left the House, because he is one of those who justifies his present attitude in regard to the dispute between Great Britain and ourselves on the question of the land annuities by saying that we have complicated the whole issue by political considerations, and made it more difficult to deal with. Here is the answer given, not by a member of the Free State Government, but given by a member of the British Government, Major Elliot, to that allegation. He says: “The measure was not dictated by any desires of political expediency, but by the stern facts of economic necessity.” There are Deputies opposite, Deputy Keating for instance, who in every debate on this matter have but one parrot-cry to utter: “Give us back our markets.” I saw during the last session one of the most disgraceful scenes I ever witnessed. I saw the then Centre Party, as it was called, in a state of delirious excitement howling at the head of this Government, the head of the Irish people, and shouting: “Give us back our markets.”
Mr. MacEntee: There is Major Elliot for you stating that it does not matter what Government was in power in this country, those markets are no longer available to the Irish people on the same unrestricted scale as hitherto, that stern economic necessity has driven the British Government to reduce the imports into Britain——
Mr. MacEntee: Not at all. If Major Elliot wished to find a simple justification for the measures which are now being taken by Great Britain he would have turned round and said it is because of the economic war; he would have taken up the parrot-cry of the benches opposite. But instead of that he tells the truth about the matter, because he knows that whether we are in power or whether you are in power —and God forbid for the country's sake that that should ever happen again— the same thing will continue whether the economic dispute is settled or not. Whether political differences are resolved or not, all the time there will remain the stern economic necessity which will compel any British Minister for Agriculture, acting in the interests of the British farmers, to impose some restriction on the entrance of Irish cattle into the British market.
General Mulcahy: Is not the whole trouble in this matter the stern necessity for saving the faces of Ministers on the far side that keeps them out of engaging in a fight with the British authorities to get us our place in the British markets?
General Mulcahy: The Minister talked of the markets for this country in Great Britain. The Minister knows that the Executive Council sent Ministers to Ottawa to discuss the whole matter, and that to save their political faces the Ministers sent to Ottawa evacuated their trenches and left the field to the British Government. The President, in an interview given to a British journalist the other day, said: “We ask nothing from Great Britain any more than they would give to Denmark or Holland.” We ask a lot more.
Mr. MacEntee: The restrictions were not imposed at Ottawa. They were imposed in December and, according to the member of the British Government responsible for agricultural policy at present, if these restrictions had not been imposed it was absolutely certain that there would have been a catastrophic decline in the price of British home-produced livestock. If there had been a catastrophic decline in the price of British-produced livestock would not there have been an equally catastrophic decline in the price of Irish-produced livestock?
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister is entitled to make his speech without interruption. If Deputy Keating gets up to make a speech he is also entitled to make it without interruption. He ought to give us all this information by way of speech and not by way of interruption.
Mr. MacEntee: Very well. Major does not carry conviction with the members of the Party opposite, and of course, the whole of the bother and all these cattle restrictions have not been made necessary by the stern economic necessity, as the British Minister for Agriculture declares them to have been, but are occasioned by political considerations merely; by the fact that we have refused to pay the land annuities. I should like to make myself strictly relevant by saying that the Dáil is now asked to condemn the action of the Government in reducing the total of the grants payable for the relief of rates on agricultural land. I pointed out the extent to which the Government has gone to alleviate the representing, I believe, the limit to which any Government could go. As to the argument put forward by the Opposition, that the present situation has been created by our refusal to pay the land annuities over to Great Britain, I should like to refer to the statement made by General O'Duffy in Monaghan on Tuesday last, and fully reported in the Irish Independent, that any succeeding Government of which he might be the head, or with which he might be associated, would be in exactly the same position that we are and would be unable to do any more for the farmers towards the relief of rates on agricultural land. We have been told now that the source and origin of this dispute has been our refusal to pay the land annuities. What possibility is there of terminating that dispute, if, in fact, the non-payment of the land annuities has been the cause of it, when the Party opposite have adopted this as their policy: “that the land annuities would never be paid to England again, no matter what Government was in power; the attitude that Fine Gael took up in the whole position was that the country was unable to pay 100 per cent. or 50 per cent. of its debts, and they only asked England to treat this country as she would wish America to treat her. Even in that matter the basis of any arrangement  must be ‘honour.’” Honour is put in inverted commas.
If the land annuities are never again going to be paid by any other Government, no matter what Government may be in power, how are these restrictions which we have been told were occasioned by the non-payment of the land annuities ever going to be removed? How and when are they going to be removed? If they are not removed, what more can any Government do than we have done by granting relief of rates upon agricultural land? We are told that it is not going to be done by sitting down at a table, as Deputy MacDermot on occasions has asked us to do, and trying to come to some give-and-take settlement. According to General O'Duffy, we are unable to pay 100 per cent. or even 50 per cent. of our debts and there is not going to be one penny piece of the land annuities ever again to go to England. We cannot have even this private hugger-mugger over a table which our predecessors were so fond of and as a result of which they entered into the 1923 and 1926 agreements and the Boundary Settlement. Friendly hugger-mugger is ruled out.
We are standing in this position, that we cannot pay a penny piece, according to General O'Duffy. But the basis of settlement must be one of honour, honour being in inverted commas. We are not saying that we are not paying them, according to General O'Duffy, because the amounts are not due and the land annuities properly belong to us. We are merely saying: “We will not pay them, because you are an arranging debtor yourself. We will not pay because you are an arranging debtor in respect to moneys which you owe, and, because you are trying to bilk your creditors, we are going to bilk them too and we are going to see that an arrangement based upon that argument is going to be one of honour.” It is not much wonder that even the Irish Independent could not stomach what General O'Duffy declared, and they put the word honour in inverted commas.
The only way in which any element  of honour might be imported into a settlement of that kind would be that General O'Duffy, or those who endeavour to negotiate the kind of arrangement which he foreshadows, should have reduced this country to such a situation that when they would be in office for an appreciable period as a Government they could go across and say: “Look at us. We could have paid the annuities in 1923 and we did pay them until 1932. We have come into power; we were put into power because we induced the majority of the people to believe that we were supermen. We have been allowed to govern. There is nobody going up and down the country organising private armies, nobody suborning local authorities not to do their duty in collecting rates, no person conspiring to overthrow local administration. We have been given a fair chance and yet, having got that fair chance, the country is in such a condition that we cannot pay a penny piece of its just debts.” That is, the debts that Deputy MacDermot, if not General O'Duffy, contends are justly due. That is the only sort of arrangement which, on the arguments made by the Opposition Party, would contain any element of honour. And even then it would be a purely ad misericordiam appeal based on this fact, that General O'Duffy's administration had reduced this country and its people to a condition of abject poverty.
The Party which envisages that situation asks the Dáil to condemn us because we have reduced the total of the rates upon agricultural land. If General O'Duffy does succeed in throwing over, not merely Deputy MacDermot, but also Deputies Cosgrave, McGilligan and Fitzgerald and does enter into a settlement with Great Britain which would be an honourable settlement based upon his declaration that never again will the land annuities be paid to Great Britain—if he does succeed in doing that and the settlement is, in fact, an honourable settlement, is it not clear that it can only be an honourable settlement because the British will have admitted that what we have contended in this  House is true, that the agreements of 1923 and 1926 were not valid agreements and were not agreements which those who entered into them had any right to make?
I would like Deputy Mulcahy, who has not yet spoken, to tell us how the settlement which General O'Duffy envisages and under which never again will the annuities be paid to England, no matter what government is in power, can be one of honour and how the present Opposition can maintain the attitude which they have hitherto taken up on this matter. They contend we are in honour bound to pay them; they contend that if they are restored to power the economic position of this country will be so improved that we will be able to meet all our obligations, even those which they desired to fix on us under the agreements of 1923 and 1926. Even if the unexpected happens and General O'Duffy is returned to power, as things are at present shaping will he ever be in the position to convince the British or any impartial judges that we would not be in a position to pay these annuities if they were properly due?
Mr. Belton: New elements are brought into it now as to how General O'Duffy, if he comes to power—he is not in power and according to the Government he is a long way from power—will settle a question that is not before the House.
Mr. MacEntee: I have shown, sir, that these questions are intimately associated with each other. The House is asked to “condemn the action of the Government in reducing the total of the grants payable for the relief of rates  on agricultural land.” If those who moved that motion were unable to show that they will be in a better position than we are to grant the additional relief asked for, then——
Mr. MacEntee: I am not wasting the time of the House. I am dealing with this matter as seriously as I am permitted to deal with it by the continuous interruptions from the Deputies opposite. That motion means, I presume, that over and above the £8,189,000 which we have devoted to agricultural relief this year, that we should find some more money and spend it in the particular way which the motion suggests. But Deputy  Belton surely will not have forgotten the speech of his vice-leader, Deputy Dillon, in which he condemned us because we had increased taxation by, I think, £1,189,000 over and above the figure for 1928-29. Possibly Deputy Belton in his reply will explain to us how we can increase the amount which will be available for the relief of rates on agricultural land, maintain our present agricultural services, continue the existing provisions for the relief of the farmers and at the same time reduce taxation.
Mr. MacEntee: If we were to accept this motion, the effect would be to transfer some part of the existing burden borne by the agricultural ratepayers on to the Central Fund. Deputy Belton knows, as well as I do, that the additional money which would be required in order to make that transfer operative could only be raised by imposing additional taxation on the necessaries of life. If we were to do what this motion suggests we should do we would be simply transferring the burden from the backs of the people who can best afford to pay and passing it on to those who are least well off.
That is what is really behind Deputy Belton's motion. Deputy Belton is a large landowner. Most of those associated with his Party are large landowners. Most of those associated with our Party are comparatively small farmers. Those big men, those shopkeepers who own more land than they can work, the graziers who will not work the land that they own, and all those people who describe themselves as gentlemen farmers and who have led more or less a parasitic existence in this country for the last 60 years, are to go scot free. That is the meaning of the motion. And the agricultural worker, the small farmer and the majority of the people in the towns and in the cities are to pay this money in order that the gentlemen who drive in motor cars to protest meetings and who loudly proclaim that they cannot pay their just debts, are to be relieved of their responsibilities to the local communities amongst whom they live.
 I said last night that Deputy Dillon's Party is the one class-conscious Party in this House, the Party that works for themselves, the Party that thinks nothing of the country and everything of its own class. That cry of theirs to put the rates on the Central Fund is only another unscrupulous dodge in the movement to bring the Government to its knees. In the words of Mr. Smith at that famous Cork meeting at which Deputy Dillon participated, “by paralysing the local and national administration, by upsetting our finances and destroying our credit,” they seek to do this. Deputy Dillon and Deputy Belton and the other Deputies on the Cumann na nGaedheal Benches who were associated with him in that unpatriotic activity have failed, and dismally failed.
Outside observers coming here, after reading the speeches of the Opposition Deputies and the statements made by them, have been greatly surprised at what they have found. They came expecting to find a land desolate and in decay, a people hopeless and famine-stricken. Instead everywhere they have gone they have found signs of prosperity prevailing. Others who have examined the situation from the statistical point of view have found that the statements made by those who were opposed to the Government were without foundation. No one will accuse a great English financial periodical like the Economist of being unduly biassed in favour of the present Government. On the contrary, that journal has the reputation of examining and discussing in a judicial spirit, without partisanship or bias, all questions to which its attention is directed. In its issue of the 17th October last it published a survey of British and foreign banking. This has relevancy to the interruption of Deputy MacDermot. In the course of that survey it examined the position of the Irish banks. This, again, is important in connection with the cry that has gone up that the country is being drained of its wealth under the present Government. In the course of that survey the Economist pointed out that the Irish bank returns at June last were valuable as shedding a light on  the balance of payments of the Irish Free State. We have been told by Deputy Brennan that this country was living on its capital, and that there was not a single industry paying its way. Yet, that statement as examined and analysed by the trained staff of the Economist shows that the movement of the excess of the banks, external assets over their external liabilities provided an almost exact measure of the net flow of funds into or out of the Free State.
Mr. Belton: On a point of order, is not the statement referred to by the Minister the statement of an individual who is paid for his job—the Irish correspondent of the Economist—and who is a civil servant, I think, in the Minister's Department?
Mr. MacEntee: And I am perfectly certain that a journal with the prestige and status of the Economist is not going to publish its considered judgment on a matter like this merely in order to conduct propaganda on behalf of one or other interest in this country or outside it. The interruption is silly and ridiculous, even more silly and ridiculous than most of the interruptions that come from Deputy Belton. I was saying that the Economist, having pointed out that the excess of the banks' external assets over their external liabilities provided an almost exact measure of the net flow of funds into or out of the Free State, went on to stress that from the first quarter of 1932 to the first quarter of 1933 there was a steady net inflow of funds to the Free State, amounting to more than eight and a half million pounds. A roughly comparable figure for the United Kingdom, the Economist observer went on to say, would be £200,000,000. Then he went further, and said that the Irish balance of payments in 1933 was therefore strongly favourable, and he ended his examination of this position by  remarking that the accumulated reserves of the Irish banks are so much as to make the financial position of the country manifestly strong. That statement, because it is the unbiassed opinion of a competent external observer, is much more important than all the vapourings of Deputy Belton or the flippancies of Deputy Dillon, or the frenzies of Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney. It is the judgment, as I have said the deliberately expressed judgment— of a competent impartial observer.
Mr. Belton: It did not say that the economic position was strong. It said the financial position was strong. So is the financial position of the United States strong, whatever about the economic position.
Mr. MacEntee: What has been said by the Economist in regard to this country is borne out more emphatically even by a publication recently issued by the League of Nations, and entitled “World Economic Survey for 1932-3.” Deputy Belton has tried to draw some distinction between the financial stability of banks and the economic condition of the country in which the banks carry on.
Mr. MacEntee: Here is the result of a survey made by the League of Nations of the economic conditions, not merely of this country, but throughout the world. In that volume there is published a diagram indicating the economic conditions of the principal countries of the world. We figure in that diagram with, among other States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Poland. We, this Irish Free State, are definitely shown in the year 1932-33 as one of the States in which economic conditions during the second quarter of 1933 had taken an upward turn. The improvement had set in in the first quarter of that year, and had persisted through the second quarter. Every economic index that can be consulted will show that that improvement has gone on continuously ever since. There is no statistical  index which will not show that our position now is much better than it was at the end of 1932. Just think how much better it would have been if, in our affairs, the affairs of this State and its people, the Opposition had taken up a more patriotic attitude, an attitude similar to that taken up in other countries whose fortunes were at stake and whose people were going through a great economic change. The mere fact that we have faced our difficulties, that we are overcoming them, that things are improving, and that all this has been achieved in spite of the Parliamentary Opposition here, and the unconstitutional opposition outside the Dáil, is the strongest condemnation that can be passed upon the futile and mischievous activities of those politicians who blaspheme the sentiment of Irish unity when they call themselves the United Ireland Party.
Mr. Minch: This debate has developed all round the subject without ever even barely touching it. We have heard references made to the Ten Commandments, to fish, to the Twelve Apostles, to murder, and every single impossible subject that could be brought in. Agricultural land is the invisible battlefield on which this economic war is being fought. We do not know whether we are in the middle of the economic war or whether we have emerged from the economic war or whether there ever was an economic war if we are to listen to the Ministers in their different speeches up and down the country and in this House. The President of the Executive Council gets up and says there is a national crisis on. The Minister for Finance gets up and states that we have achieved victory and that his Budget is buoyant. But when it suits one or the other or any of the back benchers of Fianna Fáil they will stand on one foot, according to the way they think they can win a sympathetic hearing from the electorate. County councils are, in the main, the great rate collecting bodies in this country. County councils have to do the unpopular work; county councils have  to pass estimates which will bring demands into every home and house in the county looking for money, and county councils, when they pass their full estimate, are generally the recipients of consideration from the Central Fund. County councils, although they have to do this work, are simply the vassals of other bodies and, instead of being the parent company governing these bodies, they have got to meet huge demands. What occurs? The Government chooses a moment in the middle of trade turmoil, and when the majority of the county councils have passed their estimates, to bring in a reduction of the Agricultural Grant to the tune of £500,000, which makes a difference in County Kildare alone of £12,000, a minimum of 1/- in the £. They chose to do that at a mean moment, and then, after they had gulled the county councils into going on in the hope that they will receive the same decent treatment that they got in the past, they complain when the racket starts, because the hearts and almost the souls are crushed out of the local bodies by that mean action, carried out at the time at which it was carried out. The county councils in some cases were not caught, and when, afterwards, they fought against this mean and low attitude, they were brought into court in several instances and mandamuses sought against them. It was the only way they had of protesting, and at no period were they not prepared, in fairness and honesty and justice, to collect the rates and to do their duty as citizens, because in the past they have never failed, whether there was a national or an international crisis, to do their job and to do it well.
Deputy Norton walked into this House one day with a copy of the Leinster Leader in his hand—it was probably handed to him by his big secretariat outside or inside. He had not read it, but he gets up here and accuses me of being a party to a conspiracy in County Kildare for the non-payment of rates. When challenged on that he withdrew it and suggested that it was a question of the non-payment of land annuities. Deputy Hugo Flinn,  the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, the Chairman of Piffle, Twaddle and Company, the absolute muck-raker in this House, who is never happy unless he has his hands up to his armpits in political swill and rubbing it all over his face, said that I was afraid to come into this House and accept the challenge that I advocated the non-payment of rates. Where is Deputy Flinn now? He has gone out to rest himself after the exhibition of clowning and buffoonery which he carried on here last night. I answer Deputy Hugo Flinn that at no time did I advocate the non-payment of rates, and as he has called me “this so-called Minch or Deputy Minch,” I call him what he is and always was, a coward; and in many instances, in view of what he said here last night, a cad.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Those expressions will have to be withdrawn. Deputy Flinn, so far as I recollect the statement made, referred to “Minch.” He was reminded that the proper way to address a Deputy was by the word “Deputy,” and he did so then. The Deputy will have to withdraw the expressions “coward” and “cad.”
Mr. Minch: Always having respect for the Chair, I will withdraw, and I am sorry for saying it in view of what the Chair has said. A most unpleasant atmosphere has been created on this motion. I am the last person in the world to indulge, in this House or outside, in any mud-slinging, but I am never afraid to stand up and take what is coming to me. Deputy Flinn gets up here as if he were one of the great saviours of Irish nationality. He spares nobody. He refers to Deputy O'Higgins, first of all, as Dr. O'Higgins; he refers to him then as Colonel O'Higgins, and then as Deputy O'Higgins. It is all a low attempt to degrade the individual in front of him. I have listened to Deputy O'Higgins' replies, and at no time has he ever stooped to the low methods adopted by Deputy Flinn, which are a disgrace to this House and to Irish nationality. In the meantime, while all this is going on, we find that the actual motion and the object which it is designed to bring before the House and have honestly and justly aired, are completely forgotten.  No attempt is made whatever to reply to it on the part of the Minister. He, the eminent statistician, simply juggles with figures, and according to the Minister, if there are two men and one dies, there are, therefore, two men half alive. Anybody can prove by quoting statistics and plotting graphs any sort of a juggle that he wishes to prove.
We had Deputy Flinn referring to stockbrokers whose graphs have shown that in the last few years there has been an upward trend. That might be all right for the mug who does not understand it, but what has been the position? Two and a half years ago, when the world's stock exchanges were gambling to the sky, there came a huge and appalling collapse, and with it good value shares, shares with intrinsic value which were paying substantial dividends, came down to rubbish prices and all over the world one share brought down another. Ireland, with its investments in foreign countries, suffered similarly. Every big stock exchange in the world has an influence on the stock exchange of its neighbouring country. Large industrial securities—and the Deputy made no difference between stock and securities or between debentures, preference or ordinary shares—all went down and collapsed. By degrees, however, with the righting of the financial exchanges of the world, with Governments grappling with the situation and with unhealthy companies being weeded out and the bucket-shop proprietors and the share-pushers being sent to jail, in many instances, confidence was restored and these shares began to come on a rising market again. Deputy Hugo Flinn gets up and tries to represent that it was because of the prosperity of this country that these shares began to show an upward trend. That sort of thing shot across the House is the sort of thing that makes any sane man feel like walking out and refusing to listen to the type of diatribe we have to listen to.
What is occurring down the country? As I have said, a war is being fought on agricultural land. It is being fought with a silver bullet, and the casualties are to be found in men's pockets. The  county councils are struggling and doing their best to meet the huge demands that will be made upon them by the boards of health, by mental hospitals and by county homes, and they know, and know better than anybody else, through their knowledge of local conditions, how difficult it is to get these moneys and how difficult it is to collect rates.
We all know the difficulty there is in collecting rates. In connection with landed proprietors, it is strange that references to class distinctions always emanate from the benches opposite. The man who has land, a motor car, or tries to be a decent Irish citizen, who does his best to live up to his station in life and behaves and acts like a gentleman, is represented from the benches opposite as one who tries to run away and not meet his obligations. But we all know how difficult it is for people to pay their rates. People with land were never so hard hit as they are at present. They find it an arduous task to make ends meet. The local shopkeeper in the country town knows how difficult the farmer's position is. It is all very well for the Minister for Finance to get up and talk about the large manufacturers in Dublin, and their artificial prosperity: to say that they never had a better year than last. In my own business I know how difficult ordinary debt collecting from farmers is. Business men are obliged to make big sacrifices by reducing debts owed to them and by giving large credits.
The growing of beet has been referred to. We are told what a great help it will be to the farmers. We all know that beet at 30/- a ton is not much better than the growing of potatoes at 3d. a stone. We have been told, too, what a great blessing the growing of tobacco is going to be to the farmer. Deputy Cosgrave questioned the Minister for Agriculture about that this morning, and I think it was made pretty clear that it is going to end in a fiasco. We have been told about the wonderful things done for the farmers, the millions that have been granted to them. We do not hear from the opposite benches very much about the economic situation, or of all the  millions that are taken off us at the other side. Under normal conditions all that money would be retained in this country and would be going largely to our producers. The position at the present time is that millions are being taken from the taxpayers without any direct benefit to this country. Nearly all of it is collected at the other side. Taxation has been increased by £4,500,000, while our losses in other directions might be put at more than double that. What we really need is that farming should be put on a revenue-earning basis. We have subsidies being levied to enable our producers to get into the British market which is supposed not to exist.
I feel so much about all this that I fear I have not arranged my facts as I should have, and, perhaps have been inclined to go to over-statement, but there is no doubt that things could not be worse than they are at present. This motion has been brought on from honest and sincere motives and yet we are told from the benches opposite that we are traitors, British henchmen and dishonest politicians. I think it is a shame that such words should be used. They are really an attempt to bring us under mob law, to incite people to attack our platforms and attempt to hound us down at the cross-roads. I say that this economic war is being used to deal unfairly and dishonestly with the country. The people that we represent are as good nationalists as any that ever sat on the benches opposite. They are decent, Irish people, anxious to do their duty, with clean and honourable records and good family associations. They will never be afraid to stand up and fight for their country with or without a silver bullet, as they have done in other times, whether it be on the fields of France or of this country. They resent and repudiate the attacks that have been made on them, the attempt that has been made to degrade them by calling them British henchmen and traitors.
Mr. Coburn: So much has been said on this motion that one finds it difficult to say anything new on it. I am  quite prepared to admit that in the awkward position in which the Government find themselves, as a result of the dispute with Great Britain, they have done much from their point of view to mitigate the disadvantages under which our farmers labour at the moment. While saying that I am not prepared to admit that as a result of the measures taken by the Government the farmers are in the sound financial position that the Minister for Finance would try to suggest. The Minister made a very long speech to-day and a very long speech last week, and if my opinion is correct I would say it was prepared for him. I am here to give expression to the opinions I have formed as a result of going amongst the people. They are the only persons who can give an authoritative statement on the real position at present. Men who have been engaged in farming for 40 or 50 years have told me that never have they found it so difficult to make ends meet as at present. I was very much struck by a statement I heard from one of the largest farmers in the County Louth about a month ago. What struck me most was the sincerity behind the statement. He told me that he was forced to sell his farm, that he had to cut adrift from the old ways and that it almost broke his heart to have to dispense with the services of half a dozen labourers whom he had employed for a period extending over 40 years. His ancestors had also been good employers.
It is the same story with all the farmers in that county who have to employ men. Never have I been troubled as often as I have been during the past six months with young men, particularly from the rural areas, seeking the use of whatever little influence I possess to secure employment for them. Anxious to find out why so many young men from the rural districts came to me in search of work, I made inquiries, and I found that in a very large number of cases their unemployment was due to the fact that the farmers who previously employed them were, owing to the position created by the Government,  unable to employ them any longer. Knowing all these things, and not alone knowing them but feeling them and having sympathy with the position of these young men, I found it very difficult to understand the mentality of the Minister for Finance when he informed the House to-day that, in his opinion, this State whether judged from the economic, industrial or agricultural point of view was never in such a sound position. Having heard that statement, my simple comment was: “Rubbish!” As I said in the beginning, I always prefer the practical to the theoretical. The Minister for Finance has not gone out amongst the ordinary farmers and inquired from them how they stand both in relation to the reward they receive as a result of their year's labour and in relation to the number of hands which they employ to-day as compared with the number which they employed, say, three years ago. The Minister who made these statements in regard to unemployment overlooked the official figures of unemployment published in to-day's Independent. Those figures, if I read them aright, prove only one thing. I am sorry to say so because I am one of those who always held that country comes before party. I should be delighted if those unemployment figures showed a considerable decrease but, to my amazement in view of the statements made here by responsible Ministers, the figures published to-day show an increase. Again, the Minister has stated that if there are more unemployed amongst our rural population, it is because the members of the Opposition Party, backed up by their supporters throughout the country, have deliberately embarked on a campaign of dismissal of their labourers in order to show that the country is not doing well. Again, I say that that is a deliberate misstatement of fact, in view of the inquiries which I have made. Not alone are those statements untrue, but I am sure the Minister will, on calm reflection, agree with me when I say that, knowing the character of many of the large farmers of the county which I have the honour to represent, knowing their family history and knowing the  good relations which always existed between them and those who served them, there is not one shred of truth in that allegation. On the contrary, that is the last thing which these people would like to do. I should like to inform the Minister if he were here and the President of the Executive Council as well—the members of the Fianna Fáil Party will, I think, agree with me in this—that there are many large farmers in every county of the State who are broken-hearted because they are no longer able to keep in employment the number of hands that they used to keep. They did it as long as their financial resources permitted them. Owing to the relations which exist between the Government of this State and the Government of Great Britain, they are not in a position to carry on any longer in the way which they did up to the start of the economic war. For these reasons, I am convinced that there is need for such a motion as we are discussing to-day, and have been discussing for the past month or two. It is a motion which, taking all the circumstances into consideration, the Government should regard with sympathy.
I am not going to reply at any great length to statements made during the course of this debate. You, sir, very properly, in my opinion, have ruled many of them out as being irrelevant and, therefore, I am not going to commit the same offence. I do say this, however, in reply to some of the statements that have been made by certain Ministers, that they would be doing much better work for the country and for the people, and especially for the promotion of good relations between the peoples of the two Governments, if there were fewer references to what is usually called playing England's game. We, here, as an Opposition think we are entitled to criticise any action of the Government in a fair and honest way. I think we have done that up to the moment. As far as I, personally, am concerned, I intend to carry on the same policy. So that, there is no necessity whatsoever for Ministers hurling epithets such as “loyalists,” as has been hurled against the Deputy  for Monaghan, Deputy Haslett, or against other Deputies on the Opposition Benches, such as that they are not nationally minded and that, if they were, they would be behind the Government in the steps they are taking at the present time.
I am not going to say any more, sir, at the present time, except to state that, in my humble opinion, it would be well for the government to consider very seriously the position of the farming community, and of the agricultural industry generally, which has been responsible for the introduction of the motion that appears on the Order Paper to-day. I advise the Government strongly, in the best interests of the people of this country, to consider that matter seriously. If, perhaps, they are not inclined to pay heed to any words of mine, I should like to tell them that I have not confined my inquiries to people who support the Opposition, but in most cases the inquiries I have made have been made amongst very strong supporters of the Government in power at the moment. Any statements I have received in this connection have come from strong supporters of the Government, and they have honestly admitted to me that if this state of affairs continues much longer; if this dispute, which is, in the main, responsible for this motion being discussed at all, is not brought to some speedy settlement, they will not be in a position to earn their livelihood in the future. That is an honest statement of fact, made from careful inquiries which I have made amongst my constituents in the constituency which I have the honour to represent.
Mr. Belton: I doubt if any motion, since the Dáil was set up, ranged over a wider field than this one, or if there was any motion which touched on so many points, and into which so many varied speakers came; so much so, that the difficulty is in deciding on where to begin to reply. First of all, I shall re-state what I stated in introducing the motion on 4th October—that that motion, which was one of urgency, had been on the Order Paper from 24th  March, and that it was not reached until 4th October. It has been before this House since 4th October and it is still before the House at the present time. I just wish to re-state that in order to point out that there are practically no facilities for Opposition Deputies in this House to bring a matter of great importance and urgency before the House or before the country. The need for this motion might easily have disappeared. It was introduced to meet a situation that arose a year ago, but the continuity of that situation in the current year makes this motion a matter of urgent importance and national interest now. As I have said, however, it would have neither national importance nor national interest now were it not that the Government are still continuing in their stupidity this year on the same line they embarked on in their stupidity last year.
One would appreciate the Government's difficulties much more than we do now if the Government had shown a little more interest in this matter, and if speakers, many of them on the Government Benches, who understand agriculture and are interested in it, had taken part in the debate. Many of those who understand it and are interested in it were not put up to speak and did not speak, but two gentlemen, representing the same Department, a Minister and a Deputy-Minister, occupied Private Members' time on this motion for at least ten hours between them, and I doubt if they said anything during their two long speeches. This motion was not put down in the spirit suggested by the Minister for Education, who referred to “the audacity” of the people who put it down. The Minister for Education happens to be here. That Minister for Education, before he became a Minister, had the audacity to stump his constituency and promise de-rating, and he will not deny it nor attempt to deny it. If he raised his head to deny it I would put the statement down over his own signature. He questioned the honesty of those of us who put down this motion, as, of course, did the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Minister for Finance—I do not  know whether any other Minister spoke on it.
Ministers travelled over the whole field of activities of last year, and up to the present time, because they are acting in that field still, and I suppose the “John Browns” who were introduced then, are also active at this moment. As it is now within ten minutes of 2 o'clock, probably there is another “John Brown” auction in Prussia Street. Allegations have been made in the course of their speeches by Ministers that Deputies engaged in conspiracies last year not to pay rates or annuities. Certain definite statements were attributed to me, and I was singled out, I believe, by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, as one who was ordered by mandamus to strike rates in County Dublin, and that I was one of those convicted of an offence before the Military Tribunal. Both of these statements are true, but I have nothing to apologise for or to regret. The apologies and the regrets will have to come from the Government that produced the conditions that made such incidents inevitable. If I had entered into any conspiracy not to pay rates I would say so openly, and stand up to it. I am more concerned with the implication in the accusation that I urged other people to do what I would not do myself. I never asked anyone to go anywhere that I would not go myself, or to do anything that I would not do.
But Ministers, and particularly the Minister for Education, promised the poor befooled constituents in Carlow-Kilkenny that if they elected them as the Government they would not have to pay rates on agricultural land any more. I challenge the Minister for Education to question that statement. Although I admit that people are not able to pay rates and annuities, because of the depression consequent on the economic war, and the general depression all over the world, yet, I hold that there was no moral obligation on them to pay rates or annuities, because they had paid them in another way. That was the real point of my speech when moving this motion on October 4th. There were many minor points that I wished to make, but they  required references, and at the time I had not those with me, because I had been in another place on that date, and did not expect when I arrived here to have to proceed with this motion. I did so in the absence of documents.
The whole case resolves itself into this. Our Government was under an obligation under the Ultimate Financial Settlement of March, 1926, to pay £5,250,000 which, for the purposes of reference, I will call £5,000,000. The Government here refused to pay that money, being elected, as they were, to take that line. I am not questioning their right there, because they claimed to be elected on that policy. I give them the benefit of the claim. They proceeded to carry out that policy, and, in doing that, they were not going behind the backs of the people who elected them. I grant that. But there was another side to it, the British side. They said: “Well, if you do not pay us the £5,000,000, we will collect the money.” They proceeded to collect it. My case simply was that the British had collected the £5,000,000. In all the superfluous talk against the motion that has come from the Government Benches not a single speaker addressed himself to the case I put up. The British collected the £5,00,000. Who paid? Agriculture paid. I have sought relief of rates on or the derating of agricultural land, but I have never sought relief of rates on houses or buildings. The agricultural land is the raw material of food production. A different principle is involved in the retention of the land annuities. I must not be understood as speaking against retention. That is not directly concerned with this motion. I am speaking of the fact of the retention, and what followed, and how the Government handled the situation that was produced by their action. Whether retention was right or wrong is beside this motion. I do not want to go into that question now, good, bad or indifferent. The British collected the land annuities.
I stated on October 4, and it has not been contradicted, that agriculture would have to pay the £5,000,000, and agriculture has paid. Perhaps a larger case than this could be narrowed down  to definite limits, to an objection to the reduction of the Agricultural Grant. I might claim the indulgence of the Chair to widen it to include a rates question and other questions now before the country. I do not want to go that length now. Agriculture has paid all the land annuities, and not only the land annuities, but other component parts of the debt to Great Britain. It has paid the Royal Irish Constabulary pensions, and it has paid the local loans payments. That is the ground I took up when I moved at Dublin County Council a year ago that we should strike no rates. I have no apology to make for taking that action, because we were paying £2,000,000 over the land annuities. The land annuities were the farmers' liability, but, as citizens, farmers contributed the other £2,000,000 to the Central Fund, which were paid. As we have had to pay the whole of the £5,000,000, by taxes on goods sent to England, I think, we have liquidated that debt and the responsibility for it. That is the case I put up. Nobody answered it. The Minister for Finance spoke for one and a half hours  last week, and for one and a half hours on Wednesday, and for one hour to day, but he never applied himself to that case. Deputy Flinn talked of everything under the sun. I was wondering if he was going to tell us the story of Beary discovering the North Pole. He did not touch on the question at issue. The Minister for Education told us about a conspiracy. There was no conspiracy. We paid. In any attitude we adopted we did not question—and it would be an impertinence to do so —the action of the Government in carrying out the mandate which they claim—and which I admit they got— from the people at the General Election of 1932, namely, to withhold the land annuities and the other payments. However, we paid them because we had no option. The Government here could not protect us by keeping England from imposing taxation on our produce. I move the adjournment of the debate.
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