Committee on Finance. - Adjournment—Donegal Warp-Yarn Supplies.

Thursday, 11 March 1943

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 89 No. 10

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Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  To-day I asked the Minister for Supplies whether he would take steps to make available adequate supplies of warp yarn of suitable quality to the weavers in the Dunlewey district of Donegal, so that the weft yarn locally spun can be used by local weavers in the production of home-spun cloth. Dunlewey is one of the oldest centres of the home-spun industry in Ireland. It is a valley in Donegal in which, I believe, there are not more than 20 weavers, but all of us who are familiar with that special craft know that those people have had an extremely difficult time. With the admirable assistance of the Department of Fisheries, immense progress has been made in the last 10 or 15 years in the improvement of the quality and design of these home-spun cloths. As a result, the grave damage that was done to the industry during the years 1919 to 1924 had been largely undone, and the reputation of Irish hand-woven cloths from West Donegal and other parts of the Gaeltacht was increasing by leaps and bounds.

With the arrival of the emergency, a situation of the profoundest gravity arose. One of the reforms in the improvement of the industry as a whole was that, instead of using home-spun yarn for the warp and weft, modern investigation and practice had established that it was better, when dealing with hand-woven cloths, to use a machine-spun warp yarn and a hand-spun weft. There are several reasons for this. One is that the hand-spun yarn is not as even a yarn and is bulkier than the machine-spun yarn. If you try to have the warp and weft hand spun, it means that the cloth becomes bulky and unacceptable to the expensive class of trade in which this cloth finds its readiest market. Secondly, the home-spun yarn, being more uneven, naturally—and it is one of its principal attractions that it is [1327] uneven—has not got the tensile strength of an even machine-spun yarn, with the result that, if you use it as a warp, it is liable to break on the loom. That makes the process of weaving very much more difficult and, if there are too many breaks, that character would seriously militate against the quality of the finished cloth.

The third danger, if the supply of this machine-spun warp yarn were to dry up completely, is that, unfortunately, from the technical aspect of the weaver as distinct from the cloth merchant's view of the cloth, a cotton warp yarn is just as easy to weave as a machine-spun worsted yarn. There is grave danger that, if the machine-spun worsted yarn is not forthcoming, unscrupulous persons would offer weavers shoddy yarns and say: “Do not worry about the quality, whatever the quality, we will dispose of the cloth.” In the existing scarcity, it would be possible to dispose of inferior cloths of that kind—hand woven cloths of cotton or worsted woven yarn; but if any quantity were put on the market by unscrupulous persons and the hand-spun cloths were mixed with a whole lot of shoddy, it would result in a bad reputation for the whole industry in that district. Already in Donegal, certain unscrupulous persons are going around offering people shoddy cotton woven warp yarn. I seriously apprehend that, if reasonable supplies of machine-spun warp yarn are not available to the weavers, we may have a recrudescence of the evils which manifested themselves in this industry after the last war.

The Minister, in his reply to me, said that he regretted that it was not possible to provide supplies of machine-spun warp yarn for hand weavers in the Dunlewey district because the woollen-weaving mills which have yarn-spinning facilities can use all the woollen yarn spun in the mills. Of course, they can. They could use ten times as much woollen yarn as is spun in their mills at present owing to the acute scarcity of cloth. I am asking that these mills should be compelled to share this essential [1328] raw material of the weaving industry with the hand-loom weavers of Dunlewey, who are less fortunate. I am not asking anything which runs contrary to established principle, because it is well known that the Department of Supplies has laid down that, if you succeed in importing a parcel of merchandise, the Department is entitled to say to you, although it was your industry and zeal which secured this parcel of merchandise, “We will not allow you to avail of this parcel exclusively. On arrival at the Dublin docks, you must hold it at the disposal of the Department and we may direct you to give a part of it to your trade rival, so that everybody's factory will be kept going pari passu.

We all know that the Minister has constrained newspapers in the City of Dublin to share whatever newsprint they had or imported. I know of a case in which a Donegal firm had an old business connection with Manchester. As a result, they were able to get 5,000 lbs. of woollen yarn over and above the allocation the British Board of Trade had already made to this company. An influential friend succeeded in getting an export licence for them from the British Board of Trade. They then went to the Department of Supplies to ask their leave to import the yarn. The Department of Supplies said that they must try to get the yarn elsewhere. They tried and they went back and said to the Department: “We cannot get it elsewhere, but we can get it from the firm we have mentioned.” Then, they got a permit to import but, with the permit, they got a notice somewhat in these terms: “When you import the yarn, you will not be allowed to use it. We will take the whole parcel of yarn and distribute it amongst Dublin manufacturers who want it worse than you.” If the Department of Supplies consider that they are justified in doing that in the case of a Donegal knitting firm, surely they would regard themselves as justified in going to the worsted mills and saying, not that they propose to take their entire supply of woollen yarn, but saying: “We are not asking you even for enough yarn [1329] to keep the weavers of Dunlewey busy; all we are asking you to do is to give enough warp yarn to set up the looms of 20 weavers so that, on that warp, they can weave their homespun thread, which will go unused unless they can get this supply from you.” The Minister may say that the weavers can use home-spun warp in the weft but, if they do, they will produce a cloth which will be unsuitable for sale in virtually every district outside Connemara.

The kind of cloths woven in Dunlewey are not woven for use in the locality, as are the cloths woven in Connemara, where the people use them in going about their daily work. The great bulk of the cloth manufactured in Dunlewey is sold in Dublin, Cork, Belfast and other such centres. It is badly wanted in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere for making men's, women's and children's garments. It is vitally important that this admirable material, which has a splendid reputation, should not be depreciated in the public estimate during this period when, probably, a much larger number of people will come in contact with it than would come in contact with it in normal times. The amount of woollen yarn required to protect these people from material disaster is infinitesimal. I do not deny that, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, it may be burdensome to the worsted mills to be asked to part with portion of their yarn but, weighing the advantage to the weavers of Dunlewey against the disadvantage which would accrue to the worsted manufacturers who turn out hundreds of thousands of yards of this material, I do not know how the Minister can convince himself that the injury done to the millers would be greater than that done to the hand-loom weavers of Dunlewey.

I recognise that the Minister has many interests to reconcile, but it has been the policy of every Government in this country to foster the hand-loom industry as an industry peculiarly suited to the social and economic conditions of the people who live in that part of Ireland. It has been an undoubted boon to them. The Department [1330] of Fisheries has made a great effort to save that industry from extinction, and it would be disastrous if one of the casualties of this emergency were to be so invaluable an industry.

I seriously apprehend that disaster may overtake the industry if some assistance is not forthcoming in the shape outlined by me. I do not conceal the fact that I have a special interest in the weavers of Dunlewey. The craft has been handed down in that valley from the earliest times. Some of the finest people this country has produced have lived all their lives there, somewhat removed from contact with the beaten track. I do not conceal that they are peculiarly dear to me, and that is the reason why I venture, though no longer representing Donegal, to speak on their behalf in this House. I did at one time represent them, and I am profoundly beholden to them. If the Minister would consider the special circumstances of these people and weigh their claims against the legitimate claims of the worsted manufacturers and cloth manufacturers on a large scale, he would, I think, agree with me that, whatever small sacrifices these large users of yarn would be called upon to make, it would be just and right to ask them to make such sacrifices so that this small, much more vulnerable and more venerable industry, may be preserved not only for the present, but for the future, to help in the solution of the many social problems that occur in the poorer parts of the north-west of Ireland.

Mr. McFadden: Information on Michael Óg McFadden  Zoom on Michael Óg McFadden  I should like to support the appeal of Deputy Dillon for an allocation of warp yarn to the weavers of Dunlewey. These are a group of workers who have preserved the weaving craft in Donegal, as Deputy. Dillon has said, and they should get some consideration in the present emergency. They usually got their supplies of warp yarns from a firm in Lisbellaw—Henderson and Eadie—but, due to Border restrictions, that firm has ceased to supply them. Recently, they got some supplies from Messrs. Flynn, of Sixmilebridge, but these supplies did not last very long—[1331] only a few days. If that firm could be induced to increase their supplies, the difficulty might be solved. It is unfortunate that the proposed spinning mill at Kilcar, in the hands of the Department of Lands, is not in full production. If it were, it would serve the wants of all the weavers in Dunlewey. If spinning plant can be got for that mill, I trust that the Minister will see that it is obtained as soon as possible. I hope that, by some means, we shall be able to get an allocation of yarns for the looms of Dunlewey.

Minister for Supplies (Mr. Lemass): Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  I think I must make it clear that there is no restriction in operation upon the supply of machine-spun yarn from Irish mills to hand weavers. What is proposed here, I gather from the remarks of Deputy Dillon and from the terms used by Deputy McFadden, is that we should compel the spinners to supply yarn to these hand weavers. I think that would be taking a step which is not justifiable in the circumstances. Our difficulty, in so far as textiles are concerned, is in the production of yarn. The yarn production capacity of the country is far short of the weaving capacity. There are only a few mills which are equipped for spinning yarn, and even these mills, working their carding and spinning plants to full capacity, cannot produce enough to keep their own looms in full production. In some cases, there is as much as 60 per cent. of the loom capacity idle.

The suggestion is that we should go to these mills, working their spinning plants to full capacity and still not producing enough to keep their own looms going, and take some of that machine-spun yarn for the purpose of giving it to people who are producing what is described as hand-spun and hand-woven cloth. I do not think we are justified in doing that. It is, as I have said, open to any of these mills to supply the yarn to the hand-weavers, if they wish. It is open to these weavers to get that yarn, provided they surrender the coupons. It may be that some of these hand-weavers have not been observing the [1332] conditions laid down by the Department in respect of collecting coupons for the cloth sold, and consequently may not have a stock of coupons which would enable them to purchase supplies of yarn; but, if that is so, they cannot expect me to have sympathy with them, because the necessity for collecting coupons for the cloth sold by them was impressed on them very particularly, and the need for it will be obvious to Deputies, if there is to be a fair distribution of available supplies.

In dealing with this matter, we can talk only of the yarn produced in the country. The very small allocation of woollen and worsted yarns coming from Great Britain is insignificant in relation to our requirements. The only firm in the country which is solely concerned with the production of yarn is producing only worsted yarns and, consequently, they are of no interest in relation to this matter. It is these few woollen mills which have plant for spinning woollen yarns, which are producing almost the full supply of these yarns which will be available to us in this year, and that supply, plus all we can import, plus all that may be produced at Tullamore, will not equal 40 per cent. of our requirements.

It is possible to produce the hand-spun warp yarn. I think Deputy Dillon is taking it upon himself to express an opinion which very few will share when he says that the best type of hand-woven cloth is that which is produced with the machine-spun warp yarn. Certainly those who have concerned themselves in this matter in the interests of the hand-weaving industry will not share that view, or will not express it as emphatically as Deputy Dillon has expressed it.

It is true that the cloths produced by Gaeltarra Eireann are produced on a machine-spun warp, but all the cloths sold by the Irish Homespun Society are guaranteed to be 100 per cent. hand-spun, and I have had representations made to me by people interested in the industry that all hand-weavers should be formed into a society, the members of which would undertake that all the cloth marketed by them would be entirely hand-spun.

[1333] But look at the practical side of the problem. That cloth can be produced from hand-spun yarn. Why should we discourage the production of the maximum quantity of hand-spun yarn by these cottage workers by making available machine-spun yarn, which is in fact exceedingly scaree? If we provide, by compulsory action, by going into the mills producing the yarn and acquiring it or compelling them to supply that yarn for hand-weavers, we are in fact taking steps which are going to discourage the production of hand-spun yarn, and therefore decrease the whole quantity of yarn which will be available in the country. The whole problem of textile supply is the production of yarn.

Yarn is the bottle-neck which limits the total output of which we are capable. The maximum quantity which can be produced on the machines can be used in the mills in which it is produced. Over and above that, we should encourage the maximum production of hand-spun yarns by the hand-weavers, and I have no desire whatever to interfere with the development of that industry. On the contrary, it has always been the policy of the Government to encourage and to assist it in every way, and even though there must inevitably be some adverse reactions on it, because of the circumstances created by the emergency, in fact, the reactions on that industry need be less than the reactions on any other industry, because it can be made 100 per cent. self-supporting. I think it would be impracticable for the Government to take the step of compulsorily providing, at the expense of the machine spinners, machine-spun yarn for the hand-weavers. I do not propose to prevent these spinners providing yarn for the hand-weavers, if they can do so. As Deputy McFadden said, on occasion some are able to make supplies available. I think, however, that it is the best policy to encourage the maximum production of hand-spun yarn and cloths from hand-spun yarn.

There is one further point I want to make. There is, for all practical purposes, no chance whatever of getting additional spinning plant. If we could [1334] get that plant, we could use it. We have the wool and the loom capacity, but every possible source of supply has been tapped, and it can be taken as certain that the spinning capacity of the country cannot be greatly increased. We can get more out of the plant we have by working double shifts, by maintaining its efficiency, by supervising its operation, and perhaps, to some extent, by standardising production, but we cannot increase the total plant available to us. The spinning mill in County Donegal to which Deputy McFadden refers, therefore cannot have an expanded production in present circumstances.

In so far as any particular group of weavers are concerned, if they have special difficulties which are exceptional to themselves, my Department will be prepared to investigate the possibility of helping them, but the general aim of the Department must be to encourage these people in the direction of the production of the maximum quantity of hand-spun yarn and the utilisation of that yarn, in preference to encouraging them to draw on the limited supplies of machine-spun yarn available.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Surely it is manifestly more economic to use all hand-spun yarn, to employ it exclusively as warp rather than to manufacture all the machine-spun yarns into textiles consisting of machine-spun warp and weft? If we could increase the hand spinning of wool in the Gaeltacht and increase the output of hand-woven cloth by using hand-spun wefts on machine-spun warps, it seems to me that we would get very much more out of a given quantity of machine-spun yarn. I invite the Minister to consider that aspect of the problem. Might I ask him to go a little further? If we could get the Dunlewey people to approach him, recognising that he is himself unable to use any compulsory powers, might we say that he will do his best to help to get machine-spun warp yarn?

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  No. I promise to do my best to encourage them to use hand-spun yarn. There may be some temporary difficulty in which they could be assisted, but the general aim [1335] must be to encourage them to use hand-spun yarn.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Even though it appears to the Minister that the use of machine-spun warp would secure a greater yardage?

Mr. Lemass: Information on Seán F. Lemass  Zoom on Seán F. Lemass  A whole lot of other considerations have to be taken into account. One of the major problems of the country at present is the rapid rise in the cost of textiles. If that rise is to be checked, and I think it can be checked, it must be upon the basis of a standardisation of production [1336] and we must, therefore, try to get as near as possible to a standard cloth, the cost of production of which can be ascertained, and for which a fair price can be fixed. If we are to do that, we must leave out of account, I think, those cloths which are in a sense luxury cloths, that is, in the sense that they can only be purchased by wealthy people, and, in fact, I think Government policy should be designed to produce, if possible, a uniform cloth which will be available at the lowest price to all of them.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.55 p.m. until 3 p.m. Wednesday, 24th March,

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