Private Deputies' Business. - Adjournment Debate—County Cork Coal Imports.

Wednesday, 10 December 1941

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 85 No. 9

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[1441]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Fionán Lynch  Zoom on Fionán Lynch  Deputy Broderick has given notice to raise the subject matter of Question No. 6 on the adjournment.

Mr. Broderick:  I avail myself of this opportunity to raise the matter of which I gave notice at question time, which is an important one for the areas concerned. I do not think the question could be dealt with satisfactorily either by the Minister or by myself by way of question and answer. An order was made scheduling portion of County Cork, including Bantry, Macroom, Schull and Skibbereen, as a turf area. There were probably some merits in that order, as those districts hinged on turf areas and the people were accustomed to the use of turf. But the extension of the order to the rest of the county is open to question. Firstly, there is the question of the justification for the order; secondly, the effects of the order; and, thirdly, the possibility of a loss to the State in regard to coal. The effect of the order is that it forces people in the area concerned to purchase turf which has to be brought a long distance from West Cork, or North Cork, or Kerry. The Minister is quite aware of the transit difficulties involved—the shortage of petrol, and the shortage of railway wagons. Then the people in that particular area have not the appliances for the use of turf. Up to the present that area was reasonably well supplied with coal. Now the people are compelled to bring turf possibly a distance of 120 miles, with all the expense involved. I wonder what is the justification for having an area on that particular side of Cork City scheduled while Cork City itself is not a scheduled area.

Then our appliances in the private houses—ranges and so on—are entirely unsuitable for turf. If a supply of coal were not available, there might be some justification for it. There are also the board's mental hospitals where they are forced to use turf. Recently, since the Turf Order, one of the boilers had to be scrapped. Even by using all the timber we can get on the farm and property, it costs £140 a week for fuel. [1442] It is not so much a question of money as of inconvenience, with bad lighting and heating in an institution of that kind. Everyone is asking why they have to go into an unscheduled area and bring coal out when there is a reasonable supply of coal with the local merchants. That is one of the effects of the order. The Minister notified the merchants that they should store as much coal as they could. Now they have it stored and have arrangements made to get in more coal. One of the letters I have here from a merchant says that he is making arrangements for the delivery of coal all through the winter. We are getting a supply of reasonably good coal. Why should the Minister expect these merchants to import coal and pay for it and then leave it in the yards waiting for the Minister to give a permit to somebody or other to buy it? That is trespassing a lot on their generosity.

These letters I have received simply state that they will not import, and that means a loss of coal to the State. I wonder if the Minister can reconcile that with the present policy. When the supply ceases—as it will cease, under present circumstances—we also lose all the harbour dues, freightage, and dock labour. These reactions are bound to be prejudicial to the interests of the State and the local interests. I have received—and I suppose the Minister has, too—protests from the harbour councils, Cobh and Youghal, and on behalf of Ballinacurra, Midleton. Why has the Minister caused this particular area to be scheduled as a turf area? There is no turf in the place. An attempt was made in Carrigtwohill, and another in Ballymacody. to get turf from under the sea. Why should people in that area, which is not a turf-producing area and where turf is not used, be compelled to go to West Cork or North Cork and pay the transport charges on a supply of coal?

Apart from the inconvenience caused and the danger to the institutions, I think it should go home to the Minister for Local Government that it is his Department that is responsible for the security of the State. In the case of people who were capable by their own [1443] efforts of getting in coal into this country, without any aid or assistance from the Minister but entirely on their own responsibility, running the financial and other risks, paying for the coal and paying the freightage on it, why should they be told by the Minister that they must leave that coal there, that they cannot sell it until someone gets a permit to buy it? Does the Minister not see that ordinary commercial trading will not continue under those circumstances?

There is no necessity for me to deal further with this. There are the three points, and I cannot improve on them. First, is the order in that area justified? Candidly, I do not think so, and have no reason to think so. Secondly, there is no necessity to dilate on the amount of trouble given unnecessarily and the amount of increased responsibility in the use of the present turf. Thirdly—and this is the prominent point—the effect of this order will be to deprive this State of the successful efforts of the commercial community, of merchants who are importing this coal without any subsidy from the Minister and who are now told that they cannot sell it without a permit.

Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. Lemass): Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  It is obvious from the terms of the question which the Deputy asked at question time to-day that he misunderstood the effect of the order made scheduling the County Cork as a turf area. If that misunderstanding is general in the area, I think it is desirable that the correct position be stated as clearly as possible. The effect of the order is not to prevent the importation of coal into that area. No permit is required for the importation of coal, nor will coal be diverted as was suggested in the question. The effect of the order is that nobody can purchase coal without a permit. So far as institutions, industries and other large consumers of fuel are concerned, permits to purchase coal will be given if all the circumstances appear to justify it. In that respect, the position in County Cork will be precisely similar to that of most of the counties of this State at the present time, all of which are scheduled as turf areas.

[1444] In the County Cork there is an abundant supply of turf sufficient to meet all the requirements of all parts of the county; and I am informed by the turf division of the Board of Works that arrangements are being made to ensure the supply to the East Cork areas of a sufficient quantity of turf to meet ordinary household needs there, as well as any additional needs which may arise. There is no danger of a scarcity of fuel, as in the whole of the area there is more than enough turf to meet requirements. Now, the Deputy appears to be under the impression that the restriction on the use of coal in Cork inflicts a hardship on the people of that area without inflicting a benefit on anyone else. It is quite incorrect to assume that the coal now being consumed for household purposes in that area imported by traders for sale for household purposes will not be available for more essential purposes for which coal is needed in that and other parts of the country if this Order is maintained.

The quantity of coal which this country is allowed to import from Great Britain is determined, not by us, but by the British Board of Trade. That quantity is restricted further by shipping difficulties, and the position has existed for a considerable time past that the total quantity of coal coming into this country is substantially less than the quantity we are using, even on the present restricted consumption. Many essential services, such as transport and gas undertakings, are entirely dependent on the maintenance of coal supplies, and it may become essential to restrict still further the use of coal for less essential purposes in order to keep these services going. If the total quantity of coal which this country is allowed to obtain from Great Britain is restricted—and so long as it is restricted—we must ensure that, to the extent that shipping is available, the whole of the quantity will be available for essential purposes. It is for that reason—and primarily for that reason— that the parts of the country which are capable of having their ordinary household fuel requirements met by turf have been scheduled as turf areas—to use the term of the Order—and restricted [1445] to the use of turf by that Order for household purposes except under permit.

I do not know that Deputies fully appreciate the seriousness of the position that exists in relation to coal supplies. Judging sometimes by the tenor of the debates here, I think they do not. We had certain reserves. I am not referring to Government reserves, but to those of various industrial and transport undertakings in the country, which have enabled them to carry on up to the present. These reserves are becoming exhausted. The rate of consumption by these undertakings is much higher than the rate of replacement, and when the reserves are gone —and they are now going—a situation of the utmost seriousness will arise. In many parts of the country gas is already rationed, and it looks highly probable that the rationing of gas supplies will operate in every part of the country at some time. We have had to restrict transport services to the barest minimum as far as passenger services are concerned, and further restrictions may be unavoidable.

Industries which require coal as fuel have had difficulty in keeping up their production because of difficulties relating to fuel, either the quality or the quantity that they could get. In some parts industries have actually closed down because of inability to get fuel, and workers employed in these industries have become disemployed. It is against that factor that Deputies must consider the order which declared Cork County a scheduled turf area. The use of coal for household purposes when turf is available means, with the limited supplies available, or a proportionate use for non-essential purposes, that essential needs are left short. I do not think we should tolerate that position. It is true that people in the area have been accustomed to use coal in household equipment and cooking installations are all designed to use coal, but that situation exists in many other areas also, where the use of turf is mandatory or where nothing else but turf is available. I do not know that the Deputy can make a case for special treatment of the West Cork area apart [1446] from many other parts of the country, as that is what it means, should Deputies support the contention that the order scheduling that area a turf area be rescinded. I can say with confidence that the scheduling of that area will not mean a shortage of fuel there. Abundant supplies of turf in County Cork will be made available in the area sufficient to meet all reasonable household requirements. So far as persons in a special position are concerned, or those responsible for the management of institutions or industries, permits for the purchase of coal to whatever extent necessary will be given, and coal will, no doubt, be supplied by local merchants who have stocks available. This fuel problem is naturally one that has caused the Government very great concern. We know that of all the consequences the war can bring, a fuel famine might inflict the greatest hardship, and the steps taken to spread available supplies over the most essential purposes, and the substitution of turf for coal for less essential purposes, are part of the general plan to meet the circumstances that face us during the present winter, and that may probably continue to face us for the greater part of the emergency.

Mr. Broderick:  I could not hope to make a stronger case than that made by the Minister's closing words regarding a limitation of the importation of coal.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  The importation of coal is not limited or restricted in any way.

Mr. Broderick:  It will continue to be restricted if the Minister's order continues to apply. These merchants are not going to import coal in such circumstances. The application of this order in places like Cobh and even in the City of Cork means denying commercial men their trade. It is going to restrict the importation of coal. If I have done nothing more than to concentrate the Minister's mind on that aspect of the question in the national interest I am satisfied. I will read an extract from a letter that I received from a County Cork merchant:

“I have a ship loaded and expect [1447] another before the end of the month, and the captain of the Kathleen May has promised me to keep his ship between Youghal and the Bristol Channel for the winter months.”

That is doing national service and it is proved by the statement made by the Minister on the necessity of getting coal. If these merchants refuse to function, what will happen? They cannot afford to import coal in huge quantities and store it in their yards unless it is clear that they will get permits, and are not to be subject to restrictions. I see no reason, even after the Minister's statement, why East Cork should be scheduled as a turf area. I am afraid that unless some consideration is given to the position now—and I am informed it has now become easy to acquire coal from across the water, and of better quality—there will be no incentive for these merchants. The Minister should [1448] concentrate on that angle, apart from the national aspect and the loss to the State. If these merchants all around the coast cease to import coal—and there is no inducement to do so because of this order—it is going to have a very detrimental effect on the State.

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  I am sure the Deputy understands that if the amount of coal hitherto available for this country is limited, then, subject to shipping facilities, the coal that will not be imported into East Cork will be available for essential services carried on throughout the country. The importation of that coal into East Cork for consumption in household grates and fires means that we would be denying to the essential services that proportion of the limited supplies available to us.

The Dáil adjourned at 10 p.m. until Wednesday, 4th February, 1942.

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