Thursday, 6 March 1941
Dáil Éireann Debate
Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £1,450 chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1941, chun Oifige Taighde Eolaíochta Ré na Práinne, maraon le Deontas-i-gCabhair.
That a sum not exceeding £1,450 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1941, for the Emergency Scientific Research Bureau, including a Grant-in-Aid.
As members of the House are aware, the Government set up this Emergency Research Bureau on the 20th February last. In the notice that was issued at the time it was formed, it was indicated that the general purpose of the bureau was:
On account of the shortage of certain materials—and, in some cases, industries may be held up through lack of one item of raw material forming a small proportion of the total materials used—we felt that we should have a small body of scientists to which we could, from time to time, refer certain questions coming up for consideration, such, for example, as: Are there any substitute processes, or substitute material, which could be used, and, generally, to suggest methods by which some of the difficulties of the present situation might be overcome. The problems are technical ones. It was felt that, in addition to the ordinary departmental machinery, we should have a body like this. One of the questions that suggests itself is: why not make use of the body already in existence, the Industrial Research Council? That body was formed for long-term investigation and planning, and the Minister for Industry and Commerce had under consideration suggestions, which had come from the council itself, for its reorganisation. That reorganisation would need legislation to give effect to it. It was felt that it would be better to let that organisation go ahead on its own, and set up an ad hoc body to deal with the present situation. It is intended, in the first instance, that the bureau should be in existence for a year, or, generally, for such length of time as it might be found advisable to keep it going. The money now asked for is for the balance of this financial year. The sum is divided into two parts: (1) honoraria for the members, and certain incidental expenses, travelling and so on, connected  with their work and (2) a Grant-in-Aid, which in a full year will be £10,000. The Grant-in-Aid will be administered in this way, that sums will be paid out by the Minister for Finance on the recommendation of the Taoiseach; in other words, that proposals for work to be dealt with will be submitted to the Taoiseach, and that when he has satisfied himself, after consulting with such advisers as he thinks necessary—generally the Ministers who would be in one way or another affected—that it is desirable that the work should be undertaken, a decision will be forthcoming at once. Certain delays which would otherwise occur it was felt would be obviated in that way. The idea was that this money would be accounted for fully, and the accounts examined by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
I do not know that there is very much which I need add. The sums that are made available here are roughly proportionate to the time that is yet to run in this financial year. I say: “roughly proportionate,” because the sum of £200 is an even figure, and is made up of £35 dealing with the expenses side and £165 on the side of the honoraria for the period. The sum of £1,250 is roughly proportionate to the £10,000. I think I have indicated clearly the purposes of the Bureau. The personnel has already been published. The Professor of Technical Physics, University College, Dublin, Professor J. J. Dowling, is chairman of the Bureau; the other members are Dr. Drumm, Dr. Hogan, Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Poole, Professor of Geophysics and Experimental Physics, Trinity College, Dublin; and Dr. T.S. Wheeler, who is State Chemist. The Secretary of the Industrial Research Council will act as secretary to the Bureau, and it is intended that the staff and the premises which are used at the present moment by the Industrial Research Council can also be made available to them. If there are any questions that any Deputies would like to ask, I shall be glad to answer them.
General Mulcahy: As we pass from week to week, the Government as a whole reminds me of a body that is  suffering from some kind of political influenza, as a result of which none of the members is capable of acting in any way, and the head seems to be acting somewhat abnormally. I do not know why it should fall to the Taoiseach to convey this information to the House, or why it should fall to the Taoiseach to make recommendations as to what would be done by this Research Council. If this Estimate were introduced here by the Minister for Industry and Commerce, or by the Minister for Supplies, I could understand it, and we would have some questions to ask as to why an approach of this particular kind had not been made long ago. It is satisfactory to see some kind of approach made now, but goodness knows it cannot be satisfactory to Parliament that the Taoiseach has to come here to sponsor the establishment of this Bureau, that it is the Taoiseach who is to make recommendations, and that it is the Taoiseach who is to receive reports in connection with it.
That is a very serious reflection on the whole Government machine at the time, and it is a matter which creates in some of our minds at any rate the greatest possible anxiety. It is satisfactory that something is going to be done to find substitute materials. It is satisfactory that waste and other materials which are lying around are going to be collected and reviewed, and that scientists are going to be brought in to advise the Government on what can and should be done with them. I take this opportunity of making an appeal with regard to another class of material that is available in the country—men and women. If the other Departments are engaged on dealing with the problem that is there, I would ask the Taoiseach, much as I object to his having to handle this, to collect a few more specialists, and to bring before those specialists some of the other apparently wasted material that there is in the country. He could begin with the wasted material that is going before the court of referees and being told by the court of referees that they are not looking for work. This is not dumb material; it is not material that has to be collected——
General Mulcahy: Here we are asking for money to pay a number of scientists with special qualifications to see what can be done with waste and useless material in the country. As I say, that material cannot speak for itself. That material has to be examined. But there is congregating around our labour exchanges and going before the special courts——
General Mulcahy: I am glad to hear that. I hope to persuade you, Sir, that it is relevant. Again, it causes us the greatest possible anxiety to think that the machinery of Industry and Commerce and the machinery of Supplies has so broken down that the Taoiseach, who must be having similar encroachments on his time and energy through the inefficiency of the other members of this body, which, as I said, seems to be stricken with some kind of political influenza, should be called upon to deal with this. It is a very regrettable thing.
Mr. Norton: I welcome the decision of the Government to establish this Emergency Scientific Research Bureau, although one would imagine that a bureau of this kind would have been established not in March, 1941, but in September, 1939. We have allowed 18 months of very valuable time to pass by, and it is only when we are in the middle of a blockaded period that we proceed to discover that we ought to set up this Emergency Scientific Bureau to examine the possibility of providing alternative raw materials for our industries. While I welcome the decision to establish the bureau, I cannot compliment the Government on their tardy approach to this problem, because quite clearly the circumstances demanded that this bureau should have been established long since. As the  Taoiseach has mentioned the question of the Industrial Research Council, and has intimated that the problem before this new body is of a more urgent and short-term character, perhaps he will tell us what in fact the Industrial Research Council has done since it was established.
Mr. Norton: I agree that it does not arise directly on this Estimate, but, if the Taoiseach is asking us to vote £1,450 for an Emergency Scientific Bureau, I think he ought to tell us why in fact the work which this body is to carry out could not be done by the Industrial Research Council, so that this expenditure might be saved. The other body was established for the purpose of dealing with the situation which is now being referred to this Emergency Bureau. What is to prevent the other body from dealing with the matter? Is it that it is engaged on exhaustive labours of a kind which would not permit it to deal with any emergency research work? Is it because it is overloaded with any scientific surveys at present? Is it because it is on the brink of world-shaking discoveries that it is not desirable to disturb its toil? What, in fact, has the Industrial Research Council done since it was established which we could not be told of now when we are asked to establish an emergency bureau of this kind?
My fear in connection with this Emergency Scientific Research Bureau is the same as I had when the other body was established—that it would approach problems in that kind of leisurely way that is very often associated with research, that it would examine a problem over a long period, and that ultimately, while theorising on possibilities, would produce nothing of a practical character. If one is to judge by what we have heard so far from the Industrial Research Council, its work has not been of a tangible, beneficial character to the nation. My fear is that while this Emergency Scientific Research Bureau bears a rather high-sounding title, we will get  just as little result from it as we have so far got from the Industrial Research Council. Will the Taoiseach tell us what we have gained by establishing the previous council dealing with research, and what does he anticipate we will get from an emergency bureau of this kind?
I take it that before the decision to establish the bureau was arrived at there was some consideration given to the possibility of the bureau finding alternatives for certain materials which are not now readily available. What are these materials? What task is to be set before the bureau? What realms is it being asked to survey? In what direction is it to operate? Setting up an Emergency Scientific Research Bureau at this stage, while it may ultimately have good results is, I am afraid, merely holding out hopes to the people which will not be realised. The Taoiseach ought to give us some indication that such preliminary examination as has taken place is of a kind that would induce us to hope that this bureau will find substitute materials for those which we cannot get and that there will be some return to the nation for the expenditure involved in this estimate.
Mr. Flinn: I have a certain amount of sympathy with the views and sentiments expressed by Deputy Norton in relation to this matter. Business and commercial people might have a certain amount of doubt and hesitation regarding a Government Commission doing work of this kind and they certainly would not expect to find from it a very rapid production of results. Broadly speaking, I think anyone friendly to the idea would tend to keep his mind in a state of abeyance and suspense before he saw results. I only intervene because I have a certain sympathy with particular sentiments expressed and because I have, to some extent, already run up against evidences of results. Already I have come across three cases in relation to specific problems of a practical nature which have, so far as I can see, been put into the process of solution in the way in which competent engineers and eager commercial men would attempt to put them in order  to get results. There is already evidence that this thing is alive and functioning.
Mr. McGilligan: I should like to say, in contra-distinction to what Deputy Norton has said, that the Government seem to have moved with amazing rapidity in this matter. When one considers the meeting which took place between the representatives of the Federation of Irish Industries and the Government, about the last day of January, there has been amazing speed. Looking at it from another angle, the Department of Supplies was set up in May or June of 1939, and I think anybody might have thought it would be part of their function to consider what materials might be deficient in supply if a great war came along, and whether there was any necessity to get great scientific minds working on substitutes. Apparently it takes the Federation of Irish Industries to get the Government to move. The Government, notwithstanding the complacent speeches we have heard here, apparently did not think that all was well in the matter of industrial raw material, but it took the shock created by the Federation to get the Government to move in the matter.
We have heard from the last speaker that certain results have accrued from the council on industrial research. They must be referred to in the secret report of the Transport Tribunal, because they have not yet been made known to the public. It is a pity that those gentlemen who worked so hard along these lines of circumstantial difficulties that the last speaker referred to should not get some little meed of praise from the public for what they did. So far as I am aware they have not got any publicity. Many people were under the impression that the members of that body were not occupied so much with research as with other matters.
I am rather curious about this matter of the recommendation of the  Taoiseach. The main concern appears to be with industrial raw material. I suggest that amongst the things that should fall for consideration are these, that when a substitute is discovered it would be desirable to know the cost of getting it, how far it is an efficient substitute for whatever is lacking, how far we are entirely deficient of the original raw materials, and how far you can get limited supplies, and then a decision as to whether the substitute will be proceeded with will, no doubt, depend on the balance of these considerations.
I suggest that the Taoiseach knows nothing whatever on his Departmental side about any deficiency of supplies, nor would he readily be able to pass judgment on whether a proposed substitute fits well into the scheme of things. For information on both these matters, one will have to turn to the Minister for Supplies, and the answer will come readily: “Anything you can get, for God's sake take it, because I cannot get it.” The Minister for Industry and Commerce will look at it from this angle: Is the matter economic, should it be accepted, and is it worth while spending money on it? I should have thought that if this was a serious proposition it would be left to the Minister for Industry and Commerce to decide whether or not a substitute would be available.
It is one of the signs of the times, as Deputy Norton says, that in the third month of 1941, in respect of a war which broke out in September, 1939, and for which by anticipation we had established a Department of Supplies in May or June, 1939, we are now getting a couple of thousand pounds fired at us to help Irish industrialists who have discovered that raw materials were running short in January, 1941. They discovered that in January last although the situation was described here in a reassuring way. The only thing that caused a stir in Government Buildings with regard to supplies was something that happened on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. So far as supplies were concerned up to the forenoon of Christmas Eve, the Minister for Supplies told us that they were as good then as they  had been at any time previously. Then we had the announcement in regard to petrol and since then we have run on to numbers of other things. It is really a sorry mess.
The Taoiseach: I am not quite sure, from the speeches I have listened to, whether the setting up of the bureau is welcomed or not. It is natural, of course, that whenever a Government does anything it is always supposed to be late. If it is going to be accepted, the only thing the Opposition can say about it is: “You should have done that a long time ago.” That is very natural, and I suppose we have to take that sort of criticism. The first question raised was why I am introducing this and why it is not being done by the Department of Industry and Commerce, which would appear to be the appropriate Department.
One of the reasons is that, as I told the House, the Council of Industrial Research is responsible at present to the Department of Industry and Commerce, and the whole question of organisation in respect of it is in hands, and we do not want to interfere with that process, or to prejudice in any way any ultimate solution which may be found in regard to it. There were a number of difficulties in regard to the council. One of these was that the ordinary and necessary procedure of Departmental examination unavoidably tended to cause some delay and that the council was not sufficiently autonomous to get results quickly, or to do its work in the best possible way. How far a greater degree of autonomy can be given to that body and to what extent it can be laid on a somewhat different basis is being considered by the Department. It was right, therefore, that we should not, at a time like this, interfere with that process. The Minister at the moment is engaged in examining it from the point of view of legislation, but, even if legislation were introduced in a month, a considerable time might elapse before it got through and we do not want to cross the lines or to get the thing tangled.
That is one reason, but the more fundamental reason is that a recommendation may come along which has to be examined and it may affect more  Departments than one. Consequently, it may be necessary to consult different Departments, and, finally, it may even be necessary to have a sub-committee of the Cabinet in order to arrive at a decision before I would give the recommendation on which the Minister for Finance would make the money available, so that, from the point of view of co-ordination, it was regarded as better that it should be associated with the Department of the Taoiseach. There was another reason, too. A number of problems will come from Departments themselves and it is very much better, if these problems are to come from separate Departments, as they may well come in this instance, that they should be centralised in the head of the Government. These are the reasons for my taking it on—to try to get the greatest possible speed in arriving at decisions.
The next question was as to the type of tasks to be given to this body. I think these tasks are indicated by the general terms of reference. A certain industry makes representations to the Minister for Industry and Commerce that it is short of a certain material and that the Minister for Supplies is not able to guarantee that supplies will be available in a short time. The processes of manufacture of that particular industry have sometimes to be examined to see whether an alternative process, for which the material would be available, could not be substituted.
That resolves itself very often into a scientific examination, and the value of a group of scientists—it will be seen they are specialists in different directions—is that, between them, they would know where to look for any particular specialist who would be required to deal with any special problem with which they could not deal individually, or which they could not handle as a group. It does happen—some cases have come to my notice already, although I am not free to talk about these things, except in a general way—that a certain industry repre sents to us that a small quantity of a certain chemical is required. We pass on the request immediately to the bureau, who get in touch with  any expert they may have. Sometimes some of these industries have expert chemists of their own and the problem is examined and suggestions are made. An examination is made as to whether it is, or is not, possible either to make the particular substance required or to substitute another slightly different process which will do the work. That gives an indication of the type of task.
The big task in general, at the moment, given to them is the question of a substitute fuel for motor transport. Their task is to examine that question to see what, in our circumstances, is the best substitute we can find, and to advise generally. For example, if the Government wanted to equip Army lorries for peace-time—keeping available any petrol reserves for a time of action—they would examine the matter to see whether the supply of petrol could not be conserved by using a substitute. There is an example on which a considerable amount of expenditure would have to be incurred by the State, and, before incurring it, one would like to have the best advice as to what was the best substitute material. With regard to the whole question of industry and its technical problems, when I met the group to which Deputy McGilligan referred, I expressed the view that they should get immediately into consultation individually with technical experts themselves, that it was not for a body such as this, or any such body, to give general advice and that they knew their own problems best. They could give, so to speak, their definite problems to a consultant, and if we were able to refer them to suitable consultants in cases like that, it would probably be the quickest and most satisfactory way for them to proceed. I still believe that that is true, that industries which find themselves in difficulties should look after their own business immediately and try to get in touch with experts who would be able to give them direct and immediate advice in regard to their own particular industry; but, over and above that, I think there is a case for a bureau of this sort to advise the Government as a whole generally.
As I have indicated, there was one  problem that would immediately come up for consideration by the Minister for Defence. We might also have problems for the Minister for Local Government—we might have problems in regard to, say, certain medical supplies. That problem has not arisen, but it is one which we might immediately come up against. That would mean consultation with the medical body because we could not have representatives of all kinds on the Bureau. That was one of the difficulties with the Industrial Research Council. There was a pretty large number on it. There were various scientists and they met occasionally. This Bureau will meet much more frequently than that body, and I have personally been several times on the 'phone, at all times of the day and late at night, with the chairman of this body with regard to problems which have arisen. It would not be possible to arrange for anything like that with the Research Council as it stood. It was not designed for that particular type of work.
I have been asked what are the hopes we can have from a bureau of this sort. One thing we must bear in mind is that a body like this, no matter how expert, cannot perform miracles, and while we expect that we will get from them information as to what is known about certain things, we cannot expect them to work miracles. If anybody has got the foolish idea that the setting up of a bureau of this sort is going to solve all the problems that will arise, and is going to produce substitutes for everything, he is making a very big mistake. Nobody in his senses would expect such a thing, but that we would be much better off with such a body than without it, I am certain. Deputy Flinn's remarks were taken as referring to the other body when really his remarks related to this particular emergency body, which since it has been established has come across certain problems which have been approached not merely in a scientific but in a business and practical way. Then with regard to hopes from it, if any scientific body we set up could produce results I believe this body will.  In regard to that, we have to realise that there are certain material obstacles which no amount of ingenuity may be able to overcome, but I think ingenuity can be expected from this body. I think I have covered all the points that were raised. I do not know that we have to apologise for not having set up a body like this sooner. Even now, there are people here in the Dáil who seem to have doubts as to whether the setting up of this body will achieve any great results.
The Taoiseach: I think the record will show that at least one of the speakers—I have notes of the matter here—expressed doubts as to what we should expect from this bureau, that we should not expect miracles from it. I think it was Deputy Norton.
The Taoiseach: I think, on the whole, that everybody will admit that we should try to make use of any bodies of a scientific character to help us to overcome the difficulties we are going to encounter.
The Taoiseach: I am not in a position to go into detail on that matter. I know the other body was hampered to a certain extent, first of all, because of its large number. There was a report sent to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and as a result of that, a reorganisation of that body is taking place. It was hampered considerably.
The Taoiseach: The Deputy seems to know more about it than I do. I do not know whether the Deputy has any basis for what he says. The information I have got about it is that it was hampered mainly by the general terms of its foundation, and it is to get rid of the difficulties involved in the character of its foundation that the Minister is bringing in this reorganisation scheme.
The Taoiseach: I am not in a position to go into detail about it, but I do know that researches of a valuable kind were carried on under the aegis of this particular body in the university  colleges, and that certain valuable results have been achieved. That they have not been able to exploit these things commercially is another problem. Some of them have not got to the stage that the commercial exploitation of them has been fixed. Very valuable work has been done by that body, but the body was not satisfied—in fact, it gave a report to that effect—with the general nature of its foundation and the method under which it had to work. In regard to that body, we have the difficulty we always have here, wherever propositions of a business type have to undergo detailed examination. The detailed examination tends to be a protracted examination. If you are dealing with an outside body particularly, you are up against these difficulties.
The Taoiseach: I should not like to promise that there will be formal reports. Nobody knows better than the Deputy that in research work of that character, you cannot show results at any given date. To say that you have been for five weeks engaged on a particular line does not mean that you can show results. I do not like to promise formal reports. I am getting already an interim report on certain matters that have been examined, but I should not like to promise formal reports.
Mr. McGilligan: Would it not be possible for them to furnish a report showing that within a period X, Y, Z things had been considered and that certain results could be disclosed? That is all I want. I think the House is entitled to a little publicity in these matters and that it should get a record of what this body was doing.
The Taoiseach: I shall see what can be done, but the trouble about reports in cases like that is that the body concerned, in order to put up a report, will be striving to do little things that will appear to show a certain amount of work done. I do not think that we should put any such temptation in the way of people who are genuinely working. They have got, not merely to do the work, but to justify themselves by giving a record of certain things that have been done. Very often in research work, to prove that it is not possible to do a thing in a certain way may be as valuable a piece of work as doing it in another way.
Mr. McGilligan: Will the Taoiseach not agree with me that if the other body, the Industrial Research Council, had been allowed to present a report to the House, describing in a particular way the manner in which it had been hampered by certain kinds of procedure, that would have led to a solution of their difficulties?
Mr. Davin: Surely if the House is going to be asked to set up bodies costing large sums of money, we on the Opposition side should not be precluded from getting information as to the contents of the reports of these bodies? If the Opposition has a function, even, say, to criticise in a constructive way, surely we are entitled to some reports from bodies such as these?
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