Friday, 28 February 1947
Dáil Éireann Debate
That a supplementary sum not exceeding £300,000 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1947, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, including certain Services administered by that Office and payment of certain Subsidies and sundry Grants-in-Aid.
The additional money is needed under a variety of sub-heads, and I propose to deal with them in the order in which they are set out on the paper. The first is a contribution to the International Labour Office. It was discovered at the International Labour Organisation Conference at Montreal last year that this State was listed as in arrears in the payment of the annual contribution. Examination revealed that that was due to the practice of paying the contribution for the calendar year at the end of the following calendar year. The position is being regularised by paying two contributions this year.
The largest single item of the Supplementary Vote is concerned with food subsidies. Additional moneys are required in respect of flour and bread. There is an anticipated saving of £6,500 on tea, but the total additional sum required is £444,505. The higher subsidy required in respect of flour is due to the much higher percentage of native wheat in the grist being used  now. The fact that the imports of foreign wheat have fallen substantially during the last few months necessitated a substantial lowering in the percentage of hard wheats mixed in the grist. That has necessitated payment of an increased subsidy in respect of flour in this financial year. The actual amount that would be paid in subsidy would be determined by a variety of considerations, but it will be appreciated that payment in the financial year has to be based upon the outgoings in that period, and does not necessarily take into account the all-over proportion of native to imported wheat, in the cereal year, which runs from September to September.
Mr. Lemass: About 12½ per cent. foreign. The other factors which have necessitated an increase in flour subsidy are the higher costs of imported wheat and the cost of certain flour which has been imported where wheat could not be procured. It is also necessary to provide for increased subsidy in respect of bread. Following on the payment of increased emergency bonus to workers employed in Dublin bakeries last year, the amount of the subsidy payable to the larger Dublin bakeries was increased, so that the price of bread would remain unchanged.
The increased amount necessitated under that heading was £25,000. There was, however, some saving upon the total bread subsidy by reason of the reduction in the consumption of bread in the latter half of last year when the rate of extraction of flour from wheat was increased. Since last year, however, there has been a further increase in the wages of bakery workers, following on a recommendation of the Labour Court. That increase in bakery wages will necessitate an expansion of the bread subsidy up to £120,000 in a year. However, only £20,000 is required in this financial year under that heading. It is probable, however, that the bread subsidy will be substantially increased next year, because it is clear that other smaller bakeries in Dublin will be able to support a claim for higher subsidy also and many of the provincial bakers' associations are, I know, preparing  claims on the same grounds. The reduction in the tea subsidy is due entirely to the exhaustion of imported stocks held by Tea Importers, Limited.
The increase under sub-head B (1) was anticipated when the main Estimate was being prepared. It was known that the amount of the company's expenditure in the financial year would be in excess of the £20,000 voted. The position of the company was under consideration at the time. Certain decisions have been taken which will necessitate legislation. The Supplementary Vote ensures that the company's operations can be continued until the Dáil has decided on its future programme.
The increased expenditure in respect of mineral exploration is consequent on a decision to undertake a programme of exploration by drilling in the area of the gypsum deposits at Carrickmacross and Kingscourt. The total cost of the new exploration programme to be carried out in that area will be about £44,000, but it is only expected to commence in the month of March, so that the total expenditure in the current financial year will not exceed £1,000.
Mr. Lemass: There may be some part of Meath in the area, but it is the whole of the gypsum area which is being explored for a number of purposes. It is necessary to get fuller information as to the quality and extent of the gypsum deposits in connection with a possible development of the manufacture of sulphate of ammonia. It is considered that there may be some possibility of locating coal, and perhaps even salt, in the area. In any event, it is desirable to have the most complete information concerning the deposit which is, I think, regarded as the most valuable mineral deposit in the country.
These are all the items in respect of which additional amounts are required,  except the additional Grants-in-Aid provided for in the Estimate in respect of Bord na Móna, consequent on the expansion of its operations, and the provision relating to the finances of the Labour Court which was established by legislation since the main Estimate was passed. The various items of expenditure in respect of the court are set out in different sub-heads of the Estimate. The total additional amount required is £527,828, but, because of savings under other sub-heads of £227,828, the net additional sum needed is £300,000.
Mr. Coogan: I should have welcomed some provision in the Estimate for the exploration of our coalfields. I want again to put it to the Minister that, in view of the fuel situation here, which so far as we can see now is going to be with us for many years to come, his Department might consider a long-term policy in relation to coal development. At the moment, our annual production of coal is somewhere in the neighbourhood of 160,000 tons.
Of that, we produce 100,000 tons of anthracite in Castlecomer, the balance coming from Leitrim, with probably some small production in Slieveardagh. There is every reason to believe that, particularly in the Kilkenny and Leitrim coalfields, further production is possible, and that, with State aid, that production might be stepped up to something in the neighbourhood of 250,000 tons a year. That would be roughly one-tenth of our normal fuel requirements and I want to make a plea for the development of our coalfields.
I feel that we have concentrated too much on turf, to the neglect of our coal areas. As I stated last night, expert opinion takes the view that the productive capacity of the Kilkenny coalfield has not yet been ascertained, and that it is necessary to have drillings made there in order to see what the productive capacity may be. In addition, I believe it is possible under modern scientific developments—it may be possible through some geo-physical investigation—to establish whether or not there is coal elsewhere throughout the country, particularly beneath our bogs. As I understand the matter,  the geological surveys of the past were superficial surveys. They were based upon an examination of the projecting rocks here and there throughout the country, but where, as in the case of the bogs, it was not possible to examine the rock formation, no opinion could have been expressed, and some experts hold to the view that it is possible that there may be rock formation beneath our bogs. When we consider that one-eighth of our country is covered by bog, the expenditure by the State of a few thousand pounds on an exploration of our bog areas is worth while.
I do want to impress on the Minister the importance of considering this industry. Even at the end of the next ten years of turf development, we shall have a big gap to fill. It is entirely in the lap of the gods what amount of coal we shall be able to import from abroad. It is not clear what amount of coal we shall be able to get from Britain. The price of imported coal will be so prohibitive that I think it is worth considering whether we cannot step up our native production in order to lessen the gap between native fuel and imported coal. Assuming that, in ten years, we had 1,000,000 tons of machine won turf available, we should still have the equivalent of 1,500,000 tons of coal to make up. For that reason, we should consider whether we cannot do something to bridge the gap by the production of Irish coal.
I notice in to-day's paper that the Railwaymen's Union, whose members are affected by the fuel position on the railways, have demanded that the Irish coalfields be opened immediately and that steps be taken to increase the production of Irish coal in the hope of saving the railway system. In that connection, I should like to point out that, in answer to a Parliamentary question in the British House of Commons, the Minister for Mines stated that 3,000 Irishmen had now been absorbed into the mines in Great Britain. On a previous occasion, when I mentioned this matter, I was told that the training of a miner was a long-term job and that, under the law, two years were required to train a fully-fledged miner. I know that that is the law but, during the emergency, men were put  into the mines in Great Britain and trained in from three to six months. It has also been possible to absorb 3,000 Irishmen into that industry in Britain.
It is clear that these men were unskilled when they went into the mines. I can speak with personal knowledge of the Castlecomer area and we lost no great number of miners from there. According to figures recently given to me, only about half a dozen of our men went across to the mines in Great Britain. It would seem, therefore, that the men taken into the mines in Great Britain are really trainees. I cannot see why we should not take on the job of training miners here and getting down to business in developing our mines. Development is a long-term job. If you have to drill, it will be a long time before you can complete your investigations and say you are in a position to go ahead with the commercial development of coal in a given year. Be that as it may, we have to consider our coal as an alternative fuel, particularly for industry. As I have said, there are plenty of pockets of outcrop coal in the Kilkenny area which could be utilised as an emergency proposition. I think that all restrictions should be removed to enable groups of persons who are interested to develop outcrop coal. Landowners might be permitted to quarry for coal if they can get the necessary labour. In many pockets, the quantity of coal available is considerable. Upwards of 1,000 tons of coal are to be obtained by quarrying methods in several of these pockets. As the present situation may continue for a considerable time, we should take steps to make that coal available to private citizens and to industry. I appeal to the Minister to get the technical experts of his Department to face up to this problem and to see whether we could not step up our coal production and reduce considerably our dependence on foreign coal.
Mr. Norton: On a few sub-heads of this Estimate, I should like to get information. The sum of £444,000 is being made available for additional food subsidies. I understood from the Minister recently that he proposed to import  sugar and that the normal retail price of that sugar, based on the purchase price, would be, approximately, 9d. per lb. Can the Minister say whether any portion of the subsidy now being provided is earmarked in respect of the sugar which it is proposed to import? As we shall not have an opportunity of raising this matter until the Minister's main Estimate comes before the House, would the Minister indicate at this stage whether he is prepared to extend the food subsidies to the imported sugar so that it would be made available to consumers at the present price and so that they would not be required to pay what is, apparently, estimated as the economic price—9d. per lb.? Sugar is a staple commodity. It is used extensively in workingmen's homes and, if there is a case to be made for subsidisation of food, a particularly strong case can be made for the subsidisation of sugar because of the part it plays in the dietary of young children.
I should like to refer to the advance which it is proposed to make to the Mineral Development Company. It is true that our experience of coal mining operations has not produced the highly satisfactory results that yesteryear we thought were awaiting us. That ought not to deter us from pushing forward our coal exploratory work as much as possible, nor should it dismay us in attempting to tackle the very serious task which lies ahead. It is quite clear to everybody that we shall never get coal from outside with the same ease or in the same abundance or at the same price as obtained before the war.
If one is to judge by what has been said by people in coal producing countries and by the statements which have been made by the authorities of the British coal industry, on which, in the past, we have mainly relied, it looks as if we shall always be depending for a supply of coal from some country with coal to export. In a situation of that kind, it seems to me to be good national housekeeping for us to endeavour to produce as much as possible from such coal deposits as are in the country. I should like to see more money spent in endeavouring to develop these deposits. It may be that these deposits are not as good as we should like them to be. It  may be that the seams are not as thick as seams are in Britain or elsewhere. I do not think we are in a position to pick and choose. The winning of coal anywhere on a tolerably good, mercantile basis is a policy which we shall be coerced into adopting because of the character of the world fuel position.
It has been stated by geologists that there is an enormous quantity of coal in the Leinster basin, the centre of which may be said to be Carlow and the adjoining county of Kilkenny. These geologists have certified that there are very substantial deposits there but, of course, a geological survey really takes cognisance of what is found on the top and what is deemed to be underneath. It might well be that the forecasts of the geologists in that respect might not prove to be well-founded but it might also transpire from boring operations that the deposits were in fact better than the geologists thought, that the seams were bigger and were not as faulted as some speculators in this matter, have hazarded an opinion.
I should like to see the resources and technical skill of this mineral company utilised to exploit the coal deposits throughout the country. I should like to see every possible effort directed towards ascertaining how far it is possible for us to get access to these deposits and to make them merchantable for our people. I am afraid that the Minister so far has adopted, in respect to coal production here, a policy which will not give very satisfactory results. It is not easy to get a person to invest in the production of a commodity which he cannot even see and the existence of which beneath the surface is highly problematical. It is even difficult to get investors to invest money in projects, the raw materials of which they can see and feel. The investor in a relatively undeveloped country always shies away from investing his money in projects of a highly speculative character such as coal production inevitably is. I would suggest to the Minister that in this matter he might give some consideration to the desirability of creating, in respect of coal deposits, a State organisation on the lines, for instance, of Bord na Móna with a view to charging it with  the responsibility of getting at such coal deposits as we have and making them available for our own people, to satisfy in part our own requirements, so that in future we may not be so helplessly dependent on imported supplies as we have been during the past seven years. I, at all events, am satisfied that if we are going to have a speed-up in production along the lines of utilising and exploiting our coal deposits, it can only be on the basis of a State organisation with capital resources to develop and exploit our coalfields to the full. Reliance on private enterprise in a matter of this kind is sheer futility.
There is a provision in this Estimate for the salaries and expenses of the Labour Court. I should like to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the very satisfactory work which the court has performed since it was created. I think the tactful, patient and understanding way in which the court has handled the disputes referred to it has produced a very considerable element of peace in industry, in a very yeasty period. One has only to reflect on what the position might have been if there were no such tribunal to adjudicate on the variety of wage claims which have been dealt with in the past six months. I think the Labour Court has performed a very valuable service. It has certainly justified the high hopes which I held out for it when the Bill which created it was being piloted through this House. In fact, in a short time and under a relatively simple measure, the Labour Court has been able to do a million times more for peace and disciplined organisation in industry than the unfortunate Trade Union Act of 1941 could ever have done. I do not want to accuse the present Minister for Industry and Commerce of any responsibility for the production of that monster. I am quite sure that if his sagacity were brought to bear on that Act, it would never have seen the light of day, seething as it was with acrimony, venom, stupidity and probably every other vice which leaves its mark on the human race.
I would suggest to the Minister, now that he has got this matter into calmer waters and that a more intelligent appreciation of the situation is emerging,  he might tell the House and bodies in the country who are interested that he does not see any further use for the 1941 Trade Union Act, that it will be repealed and put aside as an evil memory, as a warning to intemperate Ministers of the unwisdom of doing things in a bull-in-the-china-shop fashion and in that way indicating his desire to avoid every possible friction so far as our industrial relations are concerned. It is probably the one and only blot on our whole trade union legislation. Now that the Labour Court is functioning so satisfactorily, as I am sure the Minister acknowledges, he might take this opportunity to tell the country generally that he does not see any further use for the 1941 Trade Union Act and that, with respect to any functions which are still dischargeable under that Act, he will see whether he cannot dovetail them into the functions of the Labour Court and so get rid of that piece of legislative absurdity.
Mr. Hughes: Like the two Deputies who have spoken, I am interested in the question of coal development, but I think I must say, with this difference, that I appreciate the limitations of our coal deposits. The old Dáil before the Treaty set up a commission to investigate our resources, the secretary of which was the late Darrell Figgis. I remember reading the report of that commission, and he estimated that the deposits in the Leinster coalfield might be put at 299,000,000 tons. I think as a matter of fact that that statement had a propaganda value more than anything else and it served its purpose. There is nothing like 299,000,000 tons in the Leinster coalfield, in my opinion.
We would all wish very much that there was but, from further investigations that have been made since that time, I think it is appreciated in the Minister's Department that there is nothing like that quantity there. As a matter of fact the expert attached to that commission, a Belgian geologist, Mr. Simon, applied the Alps theory to the Leinster coalfield. There was a good deal of over-faulting of our coal deposits, and as a matter of fact it was absurd to apply such a theory at all. The greatest difficulty, so far  as I know, about the Leinster coalfield is the uncertainty connected with it. There is only one certain seam, the Jarrow seam. That was the original scheme that existed some years ago. On the Castlecomer side it has been properly developed by proper mining methods. Quite a lot of capital was invested there by the particular company that dealt with it. On the Carlow side, the seam is far more uncertain. The difficulty is that you get a seam and it disappears quite suddenly. Then you search around again and you may strike that seam in another direction. I do not know whether Deputy Norton remembers an old man, a Mr. Reid, who worked there. If the Deputy were down in the workings he would see that they resembled the hind leg of a dog. There was no systematic working carried out at all. He worked in one direction for a certain time and when the seam disappeared completely in that direction he tried to get a bit of coal in another direction.
Mr. Hughes: If there is any uncertainty about the coal seams it makes people who are investing their money very anxious. A great deal of boring has been carried out in that district. I am sure the Minister could give a good deal of information on it, if he got due notice. I am aware that nearly that whole area is leased—the Deputy may know that too—and I know that there are very drastic conditions attached to the leases so far as there is an obligation on the lessee to develop the area. I wonder if the Minister has insisted that the terms and conditions which are attached to the lease are carried out.
So far as the No. 2 seam is concerned it embraces a very considerable area. I am not sure, but I believe that one lease covers nearly all of it. Now while it would not be wise to develop our coal resources to such an extent that we would exhaust them in 20 or 30 years, I believe, at the same time, that there is room for further development.  I would be inclined to encourage private enterprise as far as possible but when our private enterprise is not doing the job and where there are leases there in existence I think the Minister should insist on and press for the fulfilment of the conditions which are attached to the lease.
I understand that conditions on the Munster side, and even on Slieveardagh, are very uncertain still. I believe that, in some cases, a seam is actually perpendicular and not horizontal: that a seam could actually be out-topping at a point and that, 50 yards away from it, one might have to go down 900 feet to get the same seam. There may be difficulties so far as working our coal is concerned but, as I said before, I believe that, in the circumstances in which we live now and the uncertainty of our fuel supplies in the future, the Minister should have our resources fully explored and fully examined. I know that a good deal of exploratory work and boring has been carried out. I feel sure that the Minister has confidential information on the matter and I would be glad if he would avail of some opportunity of telling us the position.
On the question of bread subsidies there is just one local matter to which I would like to call the Minister's attention. There was a local bakery in Carlow which used, approximately, 50 sacks of flour a week and the owner at that time was paid a considerable amount of money in subsidy. The bakery exchanged hands and there was some difficulty about the transfer of the licence. The bakery is now producing non-batch bread and there is no subsidy available to that particular bakery for the production of batch bread. I am not concerned so much about the owner of the bakery as I am about the poor of the town. Provision should be made for the payment of a subsidy to this baker in order to make cheap bread available to the poor of Carlow. I think it was unfortunate that there was some difficulty about the transfer of the licence from one baker to the other and that it is the poor who have lost the benefit of the subsidy to the extent to which it was in operation before the transfer occurred. I hear that the matter has  already been brought to the Minister's notice and I am most anxious that the Minister will look into it again, not so much from the owner's point of view as from the point of view of the people who are entitled to subsidised bread.
Captain Giles: A Chinn Comhairle, I am informed that the Minister is going to spend some money in the exploration of gypsum deposits near Kingscourt, County Cavan. That certainly is something to which we can all look forward because we are satisfied that this deposit is of high value to the nation. This industry is very badly needed in a thickly populated area of poor people. It will also help to decentralise industry. I would ask the Minister to do his utmost to establish this industry and to have it opened up to the fullest extent. I believe that there are immense possibilities there and I think that any money spent in exploration will bring good results. I would like to have the position as regards coal in the country cleared up. Many people say that there is plenty of coal in the country but that the Government will not work it. I do not agree. I think that if we had coal in this country the British would not have left it there 750 years without taking the last piece of it out of the country. It would be no harm to have borings made to find out definitely once and for all if we have coal of commercial value in this country and if it can be worked on a commercial basis. Many people say that the vast deposits of coal in Britain and Scotland do not stop with the sea and that the same plain of coal should extend across to Ireland. Well, I hope that that is true but we will never know definitely until we have some borings made, and so I think that the best thing that the Minister can do is to get them done.
Mr. Lemass: I think Deputy Coogan did not advert to the fact that this is a Supplementary Estimate and, consequently, contains provision only for certain activities not covered by the main Vote. The main Estimate for the Department contained provision for mineral exploration work, for the ordinary work of the geological survey and for certain surveys by Mianraí,  Teoranta, which are not mentioned in the Supplementary Estimate.
So far as mineral exploration is concerned, particularly the exploration of coal measures, a great deal of work has been done. The geological survey, of course, does not undertake actual drilling operations, unless there is an immediate prospect of commercial development. It is carrying out a magnetic survey at the moment on a regional basis, as a preliminary to a general magnetic survey of the country and is hoping thereby to acquire information concerning minerals, which information, however, would not lead to commercial development unless followed up by drilling operations. In the Leinster coalfield area, a great deal of drilling has been done in the past few years and a number of new prospecting licences have been given to private concerns.
I want to make it clear that the Department is not going into the production of coal. I do not at all agree with Deputy Norton that the development of whatever coal resources are in the country can best be done by a State organisation. There are some private concerns engaged in coal production here. We, undoubtedly, would be prepared to facilitate them in extending their operations, particularly by exploration work, if that is what is required; but I am satisfied we will get far more useful results by allowing these private concerns to extend their activities than by carrying on coal production as a State enterprise. There is no comparison between our circumstances and those of Great Britain and the mere fact that nationalisation of the coal industry has taken place in Great Britain is no reason why we would get more coal or cheaper coal by nationalisation here.
The only coal mine for which the Department has a responsibility is that at Slieveardagh, where the workings are operated by Mianraí, Teoranta. I think it is very problematical whether it is desirable to leave Mianraí, Teoranta, with that responsibility. I should think that one lone, small State enterprise in the midst of a field full of private undertakings is not likely to be a satisfactory arrangement. I am quite satisfied that we have not got  vast coal resources. I think all the information obtained, not merely by the geological survey but from the records of people who worked coal mines in this country in the past, would seem to suggest that, while we have some deposits capable of satisfactory commercial working, there is little likelihood that there exists here vast resources of coal as yet undiscovered which could now be exploited to meet our needs.
Somebody referred to the fact that railwaymen are looking to Irish coal mines for the coal to keep the rail services going. Córas Iompair Éireann would use twice as much coal in the year as all the Irish coal mines could produce and only about one-third of the coal produced in Irish mines can be used in the railway engines in operation here. An expansion of coal production has taken place during the war, though it has been impeded by a lack of skilled workers. I think there is a complete misapprehension in Deputy Coogan's mind as to the labour problems of coal production. Only a proportion of the men employed in a coal mine work at the coal face, but obviously the number of men at the coal face determines the volume of production and the number who can usefully be employed around the coal mine.
Mr. Lemass: The housing problem could, perhaps, be overcome by various methods, but there is undoubtedly a shortage of skilled coal-face workers and they cannot be trained in any short period. While conditions in Irish mines are much safer than in English mines, despite the fact that they are working narrower seams, mainly by reason of the complete absence of coaldamp, the regulations which prohibit the employment of men at the coal-face unless they have a certain minimum experience underground are still maintained and are necessary in the interests of safety. We modified some of those restrictions, with the consent of the trade unions, during the war, but I think it would be futile to think we  could get any substantial increase in coal output by attempting to employ unskilled workers at that very highly skilled operation.
There is no provision in this Estimate for a subsidy for sugar. This Estimate relates only to items of expenditure that have to be incurred in this financial year. With regard to the price of sugar next year, after the sugar which has been purchased abroad is imported, I think I can say there is no likelihood that the price of domestic sugar will be increased. It is, however, a matter for consideration whether we would be justified in subsidising the price of sugar used for commercial purposes. If an arrangement could be found by which the imported dearer sugar could be confined to commercial users, releasing all the home-produced sugar for domestic use, that would be worth examining. However, no decision has been made upon the matter. There is as yet no definite information as to when the imported sugar will be available and there is even some element of doubt as to what its exact cost, landed in this country, will prove to be.
Mr. Lemass: It is raw sugar. I think it will have to be used here as raw sugar. There would be certain practical difficulties in refining it but most manufacturers can use unrefined sugar just as easily as refined sugar.
Some other matters were referred to, but I do not want to deal with them now, as they will come before the Dáil again in a manner more suitable for discussion. In particular, I may mention the fact that legislation affecting the future of Mianraí, Teoranta, is in contemplation and will be produced during the year. The whole position of that body has been under examination and it is clear that some of its war-time activities can or must now be wound up. Its future is a matter upon which the Government will have definite proposals to make to the Dáil. In all these matters relating to mineral exploration, as Deputies understand, there is a very high speculative element. We can set aside a vast amount of money for mineral exploration work and have nothing to show when it is all gone. On the other hand,  even a comparatively inexpensive geophysical survey might reveal important commercial possibilities.
I feel that most Deputies, like myself, will not feel satisfied until we have carried out a proper exploration of our mineral deposits by drilling. Only in that way can we be satisfied once and for all. So long as there is an element of doubt, we feel we may be missing something of importance. That is why the Government will have definite proposals for a specific programme of mineral exploration which it will bring to the Dáil in due course for consideration.
Mr. Lemass: I could not deal with the individual case to which the Deputy refers. There is a number of difficulties about the bread subsidy. We only pay a subsidy on batch bread where it is possible for the baker to show that a specific quantity of batch bread has been sold by him. Most of the difficulties that arose in that regard resulted from the fact that most bakers could only show from their accounts the quantity of batch bread which they produced. They could not show the quantity sold and, of course, the subsidy is only payable on the bread sold. In the particular case to which the Deputy referred, if my recollection is correct, the problem there arose from the fact that a new owner purchased the bakery without really buying the goodwill of the bakery. He, therefore, would have to be regarded as a new entrant into the business, and as a new entrant he would not be entitled to the subsidy because we are not paying a batch bread subsidy to people who entered the business after the subsidy was inaugurated.
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