Friday, 23 February 1934
Dáil Éireann Debate
Go ndeontar suim Bhreise ná raghaidh thar £10 chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh Márta, 1934, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí Oifig an Aire Tionnscail agus Tráchtála, maraon le Coiste Comhairlitheach na Rátaí, agus Ildeontaisí i gCabhair.
That a Supplementary sum not exceeding £10 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1934, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, including the Rates Advisory Committee and sundry Grants-in-Aid.
It is proposed to ask the Dáil to vote a Supplementary Estimate of £10 for the Department of Industry and Commerce. The amount required, in fact, is £8,754, but savings on other subheads are estimated, and the total additional amount required is £10. There are two main purposes for which this money is required. The first is the establishment in Saorstát Eireann of an industrial research council. Within recent years rapid progress has been made in other countries in the encouragement and organisation of industrial research. In some cases  special departments of State have been established, and in others the work is centred in the Department of Trade and Commerce. There is, however, in this country, no co-ordinated effort to direct the scientific investigation of industrial problems. A few of the larger concerns maintain their own research establishment, and the Royal Dublin Society, the universities and the county councils have taken some practical interest in the encouragement of work of that nature. There is, however, no central body charged with the responsibility of co-ordinating the results of those various efforts. Under the estimate for miscellaneous expenses, there is a provision of £650 for research grants to students, but I understand that scientific industrial research is not undertaken by students who receive those grants. In some countries, such as Canada, research work in connection with industrial problems is conducted by the same organisation that carries out research work for the improvement of agricultural conditions. It is not intended here, however, to interfere with the existing practice by which certain sums borne on the Vote for the Department of Agriculture are utilised for research work in connection with agriculture. The industrial problems of this State make it necessary that an intelligently planned system of industrial research must be initiated, and must form a definite part of the Government's programme. Under ordinary circumstances the cost of such research work would be borne by those engaged in industrial enterprise, but in existing conditions in the Saorstát it is regarded as inevitable that the Government should take the initiative and should provide from public funds the expenditure involved.
It is proposed to set up an industrial research council, composed of persons who, because of their association with the universities or with industry, are in a position to bring specialised knowledge to bear upon the country's problems, to act in an advisory capacity to the Government and direct certain activities which I will outline. The research council will be financed  by an annual vote in the Dáil. We have invited certain persons to act upon the council and have received their assent. Membership of the council is honorary. Those who become members will receive only necessary travelling and incidental expenses in connection with the work of the council. We have asked Mr. Laurence J. Kettle to act as chairman, and the membership will include the following:—Dr. Kenneth Bailey, Professor J. Bayley Butler, Professor Lillon, John J. Dowling, Esq., M.A., of University College, Dublin; Dr. Drumm, D. Feighery, Sir John P. Griffith, Professor Hackett, Mr. T. Hallissey, Dr. H. Kennedy, Dr. T.A. McLoughlin, Mr. T.J. Monaghan, Professor John J. Nolan, Professor T.J. Nolan, Mr. Thomas O'Keeffe Kinsella, Mr. John O'Neill, Professor A. O'Rahilly, Professor O'Reilly, Professor Pierce Purcell, Professor Rickworth, Miss Phyllis Ryan, Professor Taylor and Comdt. J.F. Kinneen, of the Department of Defence. The council will have a permanent secretary, a small staff, and a library. The secretary and the staff will be recruited from the existing service. The functions of the council will relate to the following activities: first of all, intelligence; the study and recording of the results of scientific industrial investigation in other countries and their bearing upon Saorstát industries, and the bringing to the attention of the Government and interested industrial parties of the results of such investigations as appear to have a direct bearing on the industrial situation in the Saorstát; secondly, special investigations; that is arranging for the carrying out of special investigations either at the request of the Government or on the initiative of the council, directed to the development of Saorstát resources; a specialised study of the more extensive use of native materials in the home industries, and the making of reports following these investigations; also the organisation of research work in connection with the establishment of new industries or the extension of existing industries in the Saorstát and research work in connection with the improvement of technical  processes and methods of production. In addition, it is proposed to have the council advise the Government on the granting of financial assistance to Saorstát inventors, whose investigations appear to the council to be likely to have beneficial national results. In addition to these activities, the council will arrange, at the request of particular industrialists and, subject to payment by them, for the carrying out of particular investigations into the utilisation of waste products, improvements of technical processes and so forth. It is proposed also to secure the advice of this council upon the most effective method of utilising the money provided under the Miscellaneous Vote for research scholarships.
It is anticipated that the total annual cost of the council will not exceed £5,500, including £1,000 for the secretariat; £1,000 for records, including a technical library; £2,500 for special investigations; £500 for aids to inventors, and £500 travelling expenses to members of the Council. The amount which we can provide for industrial research work is, of course, very small in comparison with the huge sums spent on similar work in other countries, but we are satisfied that it is desirable to start the establishment of any such research organisation on a small scale, and that, even when started on that small scale, it will be possible for it to do very useful work in the co-ordination of efforts at present being made and in pursuing, with a view to commercial exploitation, certain investigations which have been undertaken in recent years on the initiative of individuals associated either with the Universities or with particular industries.
The second main item covered by this Vote is the provision of £8,000 in connection with the production of industrial alcohol in the Saorstát. Some time ago the Government adverted to the fact that in a large number of continental countries, legislation required the compulsory admixture with petrol offered for sale for transport purposes of industrial alcohol produced within those countries. Having regard to that fact, we examined the possibility and  the advisability of initiating the production of industrial alcohol here, with a view to its utilisation in a similar manner. These investigations, while they brought in a considerable amount of information, were not, however, in any sense, conclusive. Industrial alcohol is made, or can be made, from a number of agricultural products— from beet, from potatoes, from cereals, and it can also be made from peat. There can be no question that it is possible for us to grow in this country the products from which the alcohol is made and the processes of distillation, as practised in other countries are, of course, well beyond the experimental stage. Our problem did not relate to the possibility of growing the products or the utilisation of the processes, but to the extent to which these could be done in this country with anything like the same efficiency and the same cost as elsewhere. It was decided finally that we should undertake, under Government auspices, and not in any sense as a commercial proposition, an experimental development. It was provisionally fixed that that experimental development should take the form of the establishment, in a particular part of the country, of a number of small distilleries utilising potatoes as their raw material and producing about 120,000 gallons of industrial alcohol in the year and centring around a central refinery to which the spirit produced in the distilleries would be brought for the finishing processes.
It is clear, of course, that a development upon that scale alone will not involve any substantial dislocation in the petrol business, nor will it involve any very great heavy expenditure. The annual consumption of petrol in this country is about 40 million gallons and the total production of alcohol from this experimental development, taking into account the quantity of it that might be sold for industrial processes in the ordinary way, and for which industrial alcohol is now imported, would not exceed 500,000 or 600,000 gallons, or slightly less than 2 per cent. of the petrol used for fuel purposes. In so far as we have been able to arrive at conclusive estimates, the cost of erecting the five small distilleries  and the central refinery should not exceed £100,000 and may be less. The distilleries would utilise approximately 25,000 tons of potatoes in the course of the campaign.
Mr. Lemass: No, a total of 25,000 tons. There is some difficulty in ascertaining what would be found to be the average starch content of different varieties of potatoes. It is obvious that the higher the starch content of the variety of potatoes used, the more economic the production of alcohol becomes. Our calculations were made on the basis of an 18 per cent. starch content, but those who have been advising us believe that it will be possible to introduce and secure the development of potatoes with a starch content of 21 or 22 per cent. Our calculations were also based on a price for potatoes of 35/- per ton. It is true, Deputies will say, that potatoes are at present selling at a higher price than that, but, having regard to the fact that prolific varieties can be utilised, and that everything that is taken out of the ground can be utilised in the distilleries, we are informed by those who are in a position to express an opinion, and I have been personally informed by a number of individual farmers, whom I have consulted, that at 35/- a ton, potatoes produced and sold under such a system would pay the farmer.
It is proposed that the amount required for the construction of distilleries should be provided by vote in the Dáil and the distilleries will be erected by the Minister for Industry and Commerce or through a committee acting on his behalf. It will, of course, be necessary to introduce legislation at a later stage, if the distilleries are constructed, to enable them to be operated, because the Minister for Industry and Commerce without such legislation could not engage in the business of trading in alcohol. It is also proposed that for a period, at any rate, the by-product of the alcohol which is a cattle feed of considerable value should be purchased from the  distilleries at a commercial price by the Government and distributed to the farmers for use in cattle feeding.
One of the matters upon which we want to get information and for which this experiment was initiated is the extent to which it will be possible to secure a commercial market for the by-products of the distillery. There are 90 gallons of this by-product for every ten gallons of alcohol. In a number of European countries where grass is scarce these distilleries are operated for the production of cattle food with alcohol as a by-product. This cattle food is supposed to have considerable value. Whether it would be possible to secure a sale for it in a manner which will prove remunerative must be sought afterwards because the by-product is of most value when fed hot to the cattle. That involves the organisation of a system by which it can be drawn away from the distilleries and utilised on the farm in the course of a day or two. The by-product could be dried and sold otherwise but——
Mr. Lemass: No. A large commercial value applies to it. It is roughly worth a ½d. a gallon. That is the value put on it by those who have studied the market. There are other matters in connection with it on which it is not possible to get definite information without experimenting. The first is the possibility of introducing a class of potatoes with a high starch content and also a high yield per acre; the second is the possibility of securing a market for this wash or by-product, and the third is the period over which the campaign can be continued in this country. In other countries, distilleries work on an average for 200 days in a year. Those who have looked into the problem, however, are of opinion that a much longer period of operation should be possible here, taking into account the period of the year in which potatoes are marketed and the period during which they can be kept in pits without sprouting.
I should like to say at this stage  that if we take this Vote we have not yet made any final arrangements which will insure the erection of the distilleries and their operating in the present year. I do not contemplate that any exceptional difficulty will arise in that connection but there is always the possibility that some unforeseen development will take place which would make it impossible to proceed with the experiment during the present year having regard to the fact that there is a time element in operation. Certain negotiations are in progress with a view to the provision of expert advice, the purchasing of the necessary plant and so on, but these negotiations have not been concluded and before they are concluded some difficulty, which we may not see at the moment, may arise. It is our hope that we may be able to secure the erection of distilleries in the present year and that next year the experiment will be able to be operated under circumstances which will give us conclusive evidence as to whether it would be advisable or not to proceed with the wider development of the industry.
The intention is to erect the first experimental group of distilleries in the district of North Louth, Cavan and Monaghan. The sole reason why that district was selected was because of the fact that in the Cooley area where potato growing has been the main occupation of the people there are, as Deputies are aware, considerable difficulties at the moment. Those potatoes are grown in what is known as the black scab area and they cannot be marketed in the Saorstát. The growers are not permitted to sell the potatoes in the Saorstát. Heretofore they depended entirely upon the export market, but now that export markets are being subject to quotas and restrictions of one kind or another, there is an increasing difficulty in disposing of potatoes grown in the Cooley area. That difficulty is being experienced.
The total production in the Cooley area would be substantially less than would meet the requirements even for these experimental distilleries. Consequently, it will be necessary to put  two or three of the distilleries in the adjoining areas in the neighbouring counties. Various representations have been made in favour of the initiation of the scheme in Donegal, Mayo, Kerry and other counties. For many reasons we would have liked to have done so, but the special circumstances existing in the Cooley area determined us finally to proceed in that locality rather than in the others. If, however, the experiment should prove to be a success these other areas would have the first consideration in the preparation of any plans.
Mr. Lemass: Perhaps I should explain that. Probably the best product to use in the production of industrial alcohol in the existing circumstances would be beet. We, however, decided that for a number of reasons it was not desirable that we should organise an increased production of beet for this purpose, having regard to the fact that the extension of the beet area for sugar is proceeding and that the benefits of that production are, in a measure, confined to particular localities. There are people who claim that in the particular counties I have mentioned, Monaghan and Cavan, and around that district, beet cannot be as successfully grown as it is grown in other counties. Whether that is true I cannot say. Potatoes can be grown also in Donegal, where it would not be possible to grow beet with the same success. A number of products can be used for industrial alcohol, apart from beet and potatoes, including turf or, as it is called, peat. It has been tried out in other countries.
Mr. Lemass: In France. As a matter of fact particulars of that process were recently submitted to my Department, and I propose to refer them to the industrial research council with a view to having them examined. The economy of the process appeared very largely to depend on the ability to find a sale at the price stated for the other products which came from the process as well as alcohol. Having regard to the fact that potatoes are grown so extensively here and can be grown in all parts of the country, the fact that they are used for industrial alcohol purposes elsewhere with success, and that industrial alcohol from potatoes can be used for a number of industrial processes, in connection with which industrial alcohol produced from other products is not equally suitable, we decided to concentrate upon potatoes at any rate for the initial development.
The price at which the industrial alcohol will be available is not easy to determine in advance. It depends upon a number of factors. It depends, first of all, upon the average starch content of the potatoes received over the whole season. It depends upon the length of the season and upon the price at which barley and coal can be procured at the distilleries. We have, however, examined the provisional figures which we worked out for ourselves on the basis of an 18 per cent. yield of starch from potatoes, and satisfied ourselves that, taking into account the particular method of financing which is proposed, the price at which alcohol can be sold will be substantially less than it is being sold at present in other countries. That, however, is not a fair comparison, first, because in certain of those other countries the alcohol is used much more extensively for industrial purposes, and consequently there is a demand for it which would not exist here. Secondly, because in some cases the figures which are published in different returns provide for certain revenue out of the selling price for the Exchequer, and it is very difficult to find out exactly in each case what that revenue is. Thirdly, because, of course, the price on which we have been basing our calculation does not take into  account any capital charges in the experimental scheme. As I have said, the amount required will be provided by Vote of the Dáil. It is, however, anticipated that there will be no increase in the price of petrol to consumers when mixed with this spirit. There will, however, be a certain loss of revenue, in so far as the importation of petrol may be reduced and consequently the yield from the petrol tax may diminish. That is something that will be difficult to ascertain, because the annual importation of petrol is increasing and it will not be very easy to say to what extent at any stage the increase in imports has been affected by considerations of this kind.
Mr. Dillon: The Minister spoke of an 18 per cent. starch content at 35/- per ton price. Will that price fluctuate on a sliding scale like beet according to the starch content, or will it be a flat rate?
Mr. Lemass: The Deputy will understand that at the present moment we are working on a provisional scheme in the Department of Industry and Commerce, but it is the intention, when the final test is being made, to get in certain people who are regarded as experts in this matter and to a large extent we will act upon their advice. The intention, however, at the moment is to provide a flat price irrespective of starch content, certainly in the first year until certain experiments with different varieties of potatoes which are being conducted at the moment have yielded results.
Mr. Belton: I believe I am stating what is a fact that no attempt is being made to experiment on these varieties of potatoes yet because the only way the Department can do that is through committees of agriculture and no notice has yet been given to the committees. It is time now to be sowing potatoes in order to get the maximum starch content. You can grow them up  to June but you will not get the same starch content.
Mr. Lemass: The experiments are going on and the Department of Agriculture are providing certain average samples of different varieties of potatoes which are being subjected to tests by the State chemist.
Mr. Lemass: We are taking all varieties for the purpose of experiment. We are advised that there is a variety of potato used on the Continent which is very large and not suitable for human consumption but which is very suitable for the production of alcohol.
Mr. Belton: Would it not be well to try a general experiment in that variety of potatoes? 35/- per ton might pay for potatoes if you had a very large yielder, but if you have only an average yielder it is no use going on.
Mr. Lemass: There is more than the fact that the yield makes the price economic or otherwise; there is also the fact that everything that is taken out of the ground is included in the ton—damaged potatoes or even diseased potatoes in certain cases or anything else.
Mr. McGilligan: Yes, to yield half a million gallons of industrial spirit. The Minister said that it was difficult to find out the price at which the alcohol would be available. Has he statistics which would show the price of the raw material, rectification charges and overheads in relation to capital? Has he statistics to show that the price of the raw material, taking potatoes as the foundation, is 1/9 per gallon; that the rectification charges will be another 9d., and that the capital charges will be at least another 3d.? Will the Minister say if he has any hope of getting industrial alcohol produced here less than 3/-?
Mr. Lemass: On the basis of all the information we have been able to collect, taking the yield of alcohol per ton of potatoes, the labour involved, etc., we think it certainly can be produced well below 2/——
Mr. Lemass: Or give it to the farmers. Sub-head G of the Estimate deals with subscriptions, etc., to international organisations, special services, inquiries, etc., contributions to the Imperial Economic Committee and the Imperial Shipping Committee. These matters have already been submitted to the Dáil.
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