Agricultural Workers (Weekly Half-Holidays) Bill, 1950—Second Stage (resumed).

Wednesday, 29 November 1950

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 123 No. 9

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Debate resumed on the following amendment:—

To delete all words after “That”[1516] and substitute the following:—“Dáil Eireann declines to give a second reading to the Bill pending a substantial increase in the net agricultural income and in the volume of agricultural output.”—Deputy Cogan.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Roderick James Connolly  Zoom on Roderick James Connolly  Having already spoken for two hours in support of this measure, I think it is time to summarise the points which I hope will appeal to the progressive members of the House in support of its being given a Second Reading. Before doing so, however, there is a contribution made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Commerce in moving the Second Reading of the Bill we have been discussing which is well worth noting. I think it answers the amendment put down by Deputy Cogan more adequately than the figures at my command answered him when I was dealing with this point. I propose very briefly to refer to it and to relate it to this question of the increased productivity of the agricultural industry as one of the conditions on which this measure of social amelioration may be granted, according to the terms of the amendment.

The Parliamentary Secretary drew attention to the increase in the national income, a very substantial increase, which, in 1949, he said, amounted to £352,000,000. As a very considerable portion of this national income is due to agricultural activities, one can assume inferentially that there was a considerable increase in the income of the agricultural community, and that this was the result of increased productivity is abundantly evident from the further figures which the Parliamentary Secretary adduced. He says that the output of agriculture has been restored to the pre-war level and, in conjunction with that, there has been an unprecedented rise in the volume of industrial production. He gave the total number of people in non-agricultural activities as having increased by 60,000 over the 1946 figure. The obvious inference from that—and we know it from other sources-is that this indicates in some measure the transfer of rural workers to industrial activity and represents to some extent the proletarianisation of [1517] the rural community which has been going on increasingly.

What is the deduction from that? During the same period, agricultural productivity has been restored, he says, to the 1938 level, having dropped during the war years. In 1950, one may further see from his figures exports of all kinds have increased in volume by 10 per cent. as compared with 1949. They have almost reached the 1938 level, and, for the three months of this year ending September 30th, the volume of exports generally was 4 per cent. higher than the amount for the corresponding quarter of 1938. As the main bulk of our exports consists of agricultural produce, it is a quite fair assumption and quite correct from these figures that agricultural productivity has gone up. It has at least reached the 1938 level and probably has gone further.

If these figures and the inferences drawn from them are correct, we have, on one hand, an increase in the volume of exports and an increase in the quantity of agricultural products, and that is certainly proof positive that there has been what I argue could take place—and it was vehemently denied by Deputy Maguire, supported by Deputy O'Reilly and Deputy Cogan —that there could be an intensification of agricultural labour. If there was, as they admitted, a decrease in the number of farm labourers available, a decrease in the number of workers concerned in agricultural productivity, and if there was an increase in the volume of agricultural production, surely there must have been an intensification of that labour. That intensification would be spread over the unpaid family labour but would also affect the employed labour, the labour employed by the 47,000 farmers who alone are affected by this Bill.

To summarise, the Bill will not adversely affect the small farmers who are the chief concern of Deputy O'Reilly, because there are only 47,000 farmers over the whole country who employ labour, according to the figures given, who will be directly affected. Secondly, the Bill will not impose any greater burden of compulsion on the farmers than is imposed by [1518] any other legislative measure passed by this House for the benefit of the agricultural community, albeit the members of that community, as in this and other cases, in the first instance, always seem to resent and to protest against any such measure affecting their interests. Thirdly, the Bill will promote goodwill and co-operation between the classes affected, the agricultural labourers and the employing farmers. Fourthly, it will cause absolutely no increase in the wages' accounts of the farmers. To use Deputy Cogan's words, it will not cost the farmers a red penny. The 47,000 farmers who will be directly affected will require no increase in their wages' account and certainly in the case of the 500,000 self-employed farmers, the mass of unpaid family labour, as it is called, no one speaking on their behalf can say that giving farm labourers a half-holiday of four hours a week will remotely affect their labour costs. Fifthly, due to the increased goodwill obtained by the passing of this measure, there will be an increase in the output per man-hour on the part of the farm labourers. I have proved that it requires an intensification of labour only to the extent of something like 8 per cent. to maintain production in this restricted area of the agricultural community at the same level and, with goodwill on the part of the farm labourers, you will get increased productivity.

On the other hand, I might say, parenthetically, that if the Bill is not passed, if the House does not accede to this motion to give the farm labourers a half-holiday, there will be such a measure of frustration felt by these workers that, instead of goodwill you will have antagonism, and thereby you would achieve some of the tendencies towards a fall in the productivity of agricultural labour. If the desideratum of Deputy Cogan is to obtain increased productivity, I think the best way of ensuring that is by having co-operation between the two sections involved. That can only be done by giving this Bill a Second Reading.

The question of this Bill in any way influencing the cost of living has been, [1519] I think, adequately dealt with. It will not remotely influence the cost of living, because there can be no justification for passing on any imaginary increase for such a restricted area of commodities as that involved by the 47,000 farmers and the 100,000 farm labourers. Seventhly, that despite the weather vagaries, it is possible, as Deputy Cogan proved, to give the farm labourer a full week's employment of 50 hours. That can be done without undue inconvenience to the farmers.

Finally, to show that those who have certain views on this Bill that we who are supporting it are eminently reasonable, I may say that there appears to be fears entertained by some that the intention of the Bill would be to give a half-holiday to the farm labourers which would be anchored to a special day per week much in the same way as the Shops Act gives shop assistants a half-holiday on Wednesday or Saturday. I think it could be worked out during the later stages of this Bill, when we get over the Second Reading, that it is possible to regulate the giving of this half-holiday so that farmers will have the utmost convenience, that they will not be inconvenienced by it, always provided, of course, that the farm worker is paid for his half-holiday, and that he be not chased from pillar to post to suit the individual farmer. I think that could be a matter of agreement between the sections involved, and in certain areas involved.

This is not the end of all things for agriculture if this Bill is passed, or if it is not passed. If it is not passed, it will be one more milestone on the long road which the agricultural labourers have to fight in order to obtain better conditions, conditions comparable to those enjoyed by all other sections in this country.

A personal explanation may satisfy some of those who have been opposed to this Bill. It has a certain historic significance, and, therefore, I propose to make it. It has been put to me by Deputy Maguire, and others, that I do not happen to be a farm labourer or a member of the farming community, and [1520] that, therefore, I cannot speak with any authority on this question. I have defended that position by giving, as I conceived it, a logical exposition of the Bill and of its provisions. In reply to the arguments put forward by the Deputy I stated too that every one of us is closely and intimately associated with the agricultural community. But for an historic accident, I might have been more intimately associated with it than I am at present. My father, as those who are interested in Irish history will know, was the son of a small farmer in the beautiful vale of Annalore in the County Monaghan, a place with which Deputy Smith is quite familiar. His family were forced to leave their land in the bad old times. My father had to take up other occupations as a very young boy in the industrial City of Glasgow. He had no further connection with the land. The land which belonged to the Connolly family lay derelict until about 1913 when we were resident in Belfast. My father received some official communication which, in effect, meant that he could resume possession of this farm in the County Monaghan. At the same time, he received a telegram from Jim Larkin stating that the affairs of the Dublin strikers had come to a crisis and asking him to come down and help. My father was then placed in the dilemma of either regaining possession of the old homestead or of going to the aid of the Dublin workers. He chose to abandon his right to the farm in the County Monaghan in order that he might come down and aid the workers in Dublin. Having done that, it led to the raising of the Citizen Army and the Easter Week Rebellion. But for that, Deputy Corry and others as well as myself, might not have the privilege to-day of sitting in this Irish legislative Assembly. Had my father chosen to regain possession of that Irish homestead I might have been a small farmer's son and, perhaps, more competent to speak on this measure than I am.

Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Dillon): Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  If it suits the House, I shall intervene in this debate now. I am glad to do so. I should like, first, to direct the attention of the House to the fact that [1521] when the Agricultural Workers (Holidays) Act was before this House as a Bill, the Government felt it its duty to make that Bill a matter of confidence. In respect to the Bill at present before the House, the Government would wish Deputies to vote quite freely as it is not a matter of confidence. Personally, I should vote against the Bill. I would like to state shortly why in the circumstances obtaining at the present time, I propose to follow that course myself.

I listened with attention to the speech made by Deputy Dunne in introducing the Bill, and I want to suggest to Deputy Dunne and to his Labour colleagues that there is an element of danger in too readily looking to the Legislature to effect reforms which, in the ordinary course of trades union activities, might be secured by a trades union for its members. I am one of those who believe that well organised and responsibly operated trades unions are an essential element in a free democracy. I see no evil in such trades unions discharging their function in the negotiation of wages and conditions for their members. It always seems to me that their free functioning and effective participation in the life of the community is put in not a little jeopardy if, instead of employing the usual methods of organisation and negotiation, the Legislature seeks to usurp that function and, by statute, enact what might very much more advantageously be arranged by agreement and contract between employers and employees.

Deputy Dunne makes the case that while that may be, owing to the circumstances of this country where you have a multitude of small farmers with, not infrequently, one worker on a farm, and that that is characteristic of a body of workers, it is peculiarly difficult to organise on a trades union basis. It probably is. Most things worth doing are difficult to do. While I recognise that it may be necessary in exceptional cases to take exceptional measures, I think it right to recall the danger that here arises on a matter of principle; that the correct place to effect a reform of the character here envisaged is in the arena of legitimate [1522] trades union negotiation rather than the Legislature.

When I was speaking on the Holidays Bill, as reported in column 1324 of the Official Report of 7th March, 1950, I said:—

“I should like to persuade everybody in this country that it was practical to provide a half-holiday for agricultural workers, but there is a wide difference between believing in a thing yourself, between desiring to persuade your neighbours to believe in it, and claiming the right to use the powers of Oireachtas Eireann to compel it. I will be no party to compelling the farmers to provide a half-holiday for their agricultural workers at the present time, and, even if I wanted to do it, I would not be fit to do it because Oireachtas Eireann would not enact it. Do not let us therefore throw away the attainable and possible in a futile resolve to insist on the impossible. Maybe it would have been impossible 15 or 20 years ago to do the little thing-and I do not claim any more for it than that—that we do to-day, but, whatever was the situation 20 years ago, it is possible now. Maybe it will be possible in time to see on every farm in practice what is already practised on very many farms. Maybe the time will come when we shall be entitled to say, with the consent of Oireachtas Eireann, in legislation, that which I now say by way of persuasion and recommendation. I should like to see every agricultural worker getting his weekly half-holiday. On every State farm and institution every agricultural worker gets a half-holiday.”

I want to reiterate that categorically I address it to every farmer in the country. I think it is a good thing, wherever it is possible, that the amenity of a weekly half-holiday should be made available by a farmer to the agricultural workers he employs. I believe that every farmer has a duty, and I use the word “duty” deliberately, to equip himself as quickly and as far as his means will allow with every mechanical assistance which will render it less difficult to provide workers [1523] with a weekly half-holiday. I believe that the provision of milking machines, the use of suitable tractors on small farms and mechanical equipment to do many of the jobs that are at present undertaken by manual labour all contribute to making it possible to introduce this reform on farms where, without equipment, it is physically impossible at the present time.

I am glad that I do not think it is in the least necessary in this debate to deny that agriculture is prospering and that the farmers of this country are better off to-day than they have been at any time before this in my life-time. I glory in that fact and, if I suspected that substantially the same could not be said of agricultural workers in the employment of farmers, I would be ashamed ever to have done a day's service in the cause of Irish farming. But I am quite convinced, and I say this advisedly, that the farmers have amply vindicated my faith in them in equitably sharing the prosperity they now enjoy with their agricultural workers. Here I take Deputy Dunne to task. He likes to tell us that farm labourers are the lowest paid workers in Ireland, receiving 60/- per week. How many agricultural workers in Ireland are at present working for 60/- per week?

Mr. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  The greater number of them.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  I do not believe that 10 per cent. of them are and, if a greater percentage were so working, I would be bitterly ashamed of the industry that offers them no higher. Sixty shillings per week is the minimum. To offer them less than that is a statutory offence punishable at law.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Roderick James Connolly  Zoom on Roderick James Connolly  Not enforced even in Monaghan.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Most energetically. If there is any agricultural worker in Ireland who is receiving from his employer less than 60/- a week at the present time, he has not only a right but a duty to notify the Agricultural Wages Board. If there is any Deputy, Deputy Connolly not excluded, who [1524] has brought to his attention a single case in which that law is violated, I have a claim upon him to explain to me why that complaint has not reached me.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Roderick James Connolly  Zoom on Roderick James Connolly  Because a worker would be victimised and lose his employment, and you have no means of compelling the farmer to retake him into employment.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  I glory in the fact that this is a free society.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Roderick James Connolly  Zoom on Roderick James Connolly  It is not.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  I know Deputy Connolly will agree with me that, in addition to being free, it is fortified by some standard of justice. Being a Monaghan man, he knows his neighbours, and, being a Monaghan Deputy, I know them also. If Deputy Connolly will give me any case in Monaghan in which a man is being paid illegally less than 60/-, and on being required to restore what has been stolen, the farmer adds the further injustice of victimising the victim of his theft, I will answer for any parish in Monaghan that if the farmer puts out his workman in these conditions he will find life amongst his neighbours a very dreary occupation thereafter. Come now, I am speaking in public about my own constituents. Am I not entitled to ask that before the farmers of Monaghan are decried as robbing the labourer of the hire which is his due that at least one case should be substantiated?

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  On a point of order, are we discussing a weekly half-holiday for workers or are we discussing agricultural wages?

Acting-Chairman (Mr. Sweetman): Information on Gerard Sweetman  Zoom on Gerard Sweetman  I think the Minister is in order.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  Do you think the Minister is in order in discussing agricultural wages and the enforcement of the Agricultural Wages Act on this Bill, which deals with the provision of a half-holiday for agricultural workers?

Acting-Chairman:  It seems to me the two must be interrelated.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  The same board, of course, enforces the wages which it is [1525] suggested should enforce this Bill, should it become an Act; and if the board fails in one of its duties, or if in the remedies the board is empowered to employ it fails in the enforcement of any part, then it must fail in the enforcement of all the rest. I look forward, and this Government looks forward, to the steady progress of the agricultural worker here to a basis of equality with the industrial worker. I think we are making some progress. We have travelled a long way, in any case, since the fixed minimum agricultural wage was 21/-, and I remember when it was 21/- not 1,000 years ago. When this Government came into office it was 50/-. It is 60/- now and seven days' free holiday, which is not bad hacking for the first two years; and it is that in circumstances where we all know the farmer can afford it. It is not a handsome legislative gesture to direct men, who have neither the money nor the means, to provide 60/- and seven days' free holidays for their agricultural workers. There is not a single agricultural worker who lost his job as a result of the improved rates of wages or as a result of the seven days' annual holidays, because the farmers are now in a position to provide these things out of their profits, and they know it. I think Deputy Dunne knows just as well as I do that this Bill really is a Bill to reduce the statutory working week of an agricultural workman from a 54-hour week to a 50-hour week.

Mr. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  If it does not do that what use is it?

Mr. Connolly: Information on Roderick James Connolly  Zoom on Roderick James Connolly  You cannot have your cake and eat it.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  I like to see facts as they are. It is quite possible for a farmer who employs seven or eight men, without any alteration in the existing basis of remuneration or hours worked, with the co-operation of his men so to arrange the work that every one of them can have a half-holiday once a week. I think any man who does employ a number of workers ought to do that now. This Bill simply means that if a man works 54 hours a week he gets paid four hours' overtime every week, and he cannot be required to work overtime every week; whenever [1526] he does, he gets paid for the remaining four hours at time and a half. I think it would be a great pity if we were to create the impression that it is impossible to contemplate a weekly half-holiday for agricultural workers without accepting the obligation to pay overtime in respect of four hours every week. It is quite possible, without going into the hours question at all, on the basis of the present statutory working week, for any farmer with two, three or more employees, by rearranging their work and by mechanising as far as he can the farm operations, to give them a half-holiday, and I hope he will. My approach to this Bill is exactly the same as that which I expressed on a previous occasion. There is a wide difference between considering a particular procedure admirable and desirable, and thinking it to be so indispensable to bare justice that the powers of the Oireachtas should be invoked to enforce it universally. I know that to that view the reply will be made that it is only a matter of degree. In Lord Shaftesbury's day there were those who were heard to argue that so long as a woman was not chained to the coal cart in the mine, and that it was only the coal cart that was chained to the woman, there was no serious injustice, and that argument is on the record of the London Times as being made by a prominent coal owner about 100 years ago and it seems to be a degree of obscurantism that makes one tremble lest in one's own day and age, one will find one's words quoted 100 years later, and they will sound as obscurantist then. But that ghost should not intimidate one into extravagance. It should stir one to examine one's conscience carefully to see if one is growing barnacles prematurely. I do not think I am. If I am, I have grown so accustomed to them that I cannot feel them. I would be obliged to Deputy McGrath, who looks down on me benevolently, if he can detect this defect in me to direct my attention to it, in which event I promise to reform.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  It is too much to ask. There are thousands of others.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  I did not appeal to Deputy Smith. His all-seeing eye, I [1527] know, is engaged in perpetual vigilance in my regard. I place myself in Deputy McGrath's hands.

Mr. McGrath: Information on Patrick McGrath  Zoom on Patrick McGrath  As we cannot go to the Savoy we might as well be here.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  You might even find me in the line for the Savoy.

Mr. McGrath: Information on Patrick McGrath  Zoom on Patrick McGrath  You are at the wrong job.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  Somebody got a disappointment the week before last. I do not believe, in advising Deputies to vote against this Bill on the ground that it is certainly premature to make this half-holiday in a 50-hour week obligatory by statute, that I am being antediluvian. I trust that I shall not be described as an opportunist if I repeat, before I sit down that, while advising Oireachtas Eireann not to legislate in this sense, in the same breath I strongly urge every farmer in this country to do all in his power to equip himself, by availing of the various schemes of credit, grants and advice which are now available through the Department of Agriculture, to make it possible for him to provide this amenity voluntarily. Lastly, I feel entitled to affirm that inasmuch as farmers to date have faithfully provided for their workmen to share in the growing prosperity that agriculture now enjoys, and I hope will enjoy in greater measure in the years to come, I depend on them, as circumstances allow, to provide for their agricultural workers the same amenities that are at present enjoyed by those who work in industrial occupations.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, some two weeks ago, Deputy Dunne announced the policy of the Government towards it, to the extent that he stated that the Bill was being left, as he put it, to a free vote of the House. Speaking later in the discussion, Deputy Connolly more or less repeated that assurance, and it was on hearing it a second time that I queried Deputy Connolly as to the source of his authority, as a private Deputy of the House, for announcing [1528] to us what the Government attitude on the Bill was going to be. We find, having heard the first intervention on behalf of the Government by the Minister for Agriculture, that the forecast of Deputy Dunne and Deputy Connolly was accurate. One thing about the forecast to which I take exception is that, in describing this action as leaving the Bill to a free vote of the House, Deputies did not really indicate what is happening. The announcement made by the Minister should have been to this effect: “The Government has decided, being unable to make up their own mind, on leaving this Bill to a free vote of the Parties in this House supporting the Government.” I and other Deputies expected that we would have heard from the Minister who has just spoken a clear statement setting out the attitude of the Government towards the measure.

The Bill, in so far as draftsmanship is concerned, may have its defects. That is understandable, perhaps, because it is a Bill introduced by Private Deputies who have not at their disposal the same facilities as a Government Department has, but surely it was not unreasonable on our part to expect that, badly drafted and all as the Bill may be, the Minister for Agriculture, as representing the Government, should come to the House and give the House a clear statement of policy in regard to it. I personally did look forward to such a statement being made here. I did suspect, it is true, that we would have the contribution to which we have just listened, a contribution which was mainly to this effect: “Well, as far as I am concerned, I should be glad to see every farmer in this land giving a weekly half-holiday to his worker, but I shall give no vote to compel the farmer legally to do so.” Knowing the form of the Government to-day, I could have come into this House and have repeated the speech that the Minister has just made.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  It would have been your first good speech, then.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  We heard no word or explanation from the Minister as to the results of the unprecedented step which he as Minister took shortly after [1529] coming into office when he circularised county committees of agriculture asking them for an expression of opinion on the question of granting a half-holiday to agricultural workers. I have said that that was an unprecedented step.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon  Zoom on James Matthew Dillon  But a good one forward.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  Farmer Deputies and farmers throughout the country will realise that when proposals which affect them vitally were being considered and decided upon by the Minister and the Government there was no prior consultation, no prior warning given to county committees of agriculture, no advice sought from those committees as to the course that the Government should take. When the Minister decided to send a letter inviting these committees to express their opinion upon this proposal, he surely had something at the back of his mind, he surely had some reason for doing so. He has not told the House what the results of those inquiries were or whether he has received replies to the inquiries. He has not told the House the number of committees that were favourably disposed to this proposal or whether all of them were opposed to it. He has not told the House why he took that step. I came to the conclusion, when he took that step, that he had two notions in his mind. One, that he contemplated the introduction of a measure of this kind, and the second, that contemplating introducing a measure of this nature, naturally, he wanted the advice farmers, so that he those committees who, in the main, are composed of active farmers, so that he could give his colleagues in the Cabinet the reasons why he was proposing that a measure of this nature should be passed into law. We have witnessed the wishy-washy sort of attitude he has adopted towards this particular Bill. We have not heard a single word as to why he got in touch with the county committees of agriculture or as to the results of the inquiries.

It is very easy for a Minister for Agriculture to say that this is a simple sort of issue. Let us look at it this way: There are roughly 250,000 farmers of all classes in the Twenty-Six Counties. [1530] There are roughly 100,000 agricultural workers. Therefore, if ever there was a question on which this House should get a clear lead from the Government, it is this one. Surely a Minister for Agriculture, speaking for the Government in this House, could answer a number of questions that arise in the mind of anyone who examines this proposal intelligently. First, a Minister for Agriculture could ask himself is this an equitable proposal. He ought to be able to satisfy himself as to whether “yes” or “no” is the answer to that question. Secondly, a Minister for Agriculture could ask himself what the effect upon employment in agriculture would be if the concession here sought were granted. Surely, he could advise the House on that matter. Thirdly, is it not the duty of a Minister for Agriculture to ask himself whether the granting of the concession sought in this measure would in any way retard or increase production? Is there any Deputy who will say that it is unreasonable to expect an expression of opinion from the Minister on those questions?

In this House and elsewhere we hear claims being made as to the effect of certain policies on the depopulation of rural Ireland. Is it not a fair question to ask a Minister who is responsible for the all important industry of agriculture to give us his opinion as to the effect that the granting of this concession would have on the flight from the land or the flight from rural Ireland? There are many more questions which would immediately arise in the mind of a man who is charged, as the Minister for Agriculture is charged, with responsibility for this important industry, and to which he should give an answer to his Cabinet colleagues or to this House when he comes here to speak for them. We have not secured information or a lead from the Minister on these few pertinent questions which I have suggested should have the attention of the person who is responsible for giving a lead to the House and to the country on a matter that affects 250,000 landlords and 100,000 agricultural workers.

I think it was Deputy Dunne who claimed that the granting of this concession [1531] would serve to induce those at present employed on the land to remain on the land, because they would feel that their conditions were so improved in relation to the conditions of other workers in other industries.

Deputy Dunne is entitled to advance that argument. I am not, as a Deputy, bound to accept it, but the Minister for Agriculture is, or should be, expected, when intervening to deal with that point, because it has an important bearing, just as all the other questions to which I have referred have, on what our attitude should be towards a proposal of this kind.

This is what is described as a Private Deputy's Bill. Why is this a Private Deputy's Bill? Deputy Dunne, the mover of it, is a member of one of the Labour Parties. Out of Deputy Dunne's Party there are two Cabinet Ministers.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Roderick James Connolly  Zoom on Roderick James Connolly  They have joined forces.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  Yes, they have joined forces, I understand. It is very hard to remember from day to day. The forces go asunder and come together so often that it is hard for a person not associated with the Labour Party to know when they are together and when they are asunder. I am thankful to Deputy Connolly for reminding me that they are both the one Party now. It is like the big woman and the small man who got married and, on leaving the church, the small man said——

Mr. Desmond: Information on Daniel Desmond  Zoom on Daniel Desmond  Are we dealing now with marriages or churches, or are we concerned with a half-holiday for the workers? We have enough of the Deputy's tactics.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  We are dealing with the coming together of the two Labour Parties in this House. I had forgotten they were together and Deputy Connolly reminded me. Deputy Connolly's reminder recalled to my mind the story often repeated, and in which there is no harm at all, where the big woman, grasping the little man by the arm and replying to his remark that they were [1532] one now, said: “Yes, my man, and I am the one.” Deputy Connolly may belong to the Party who is the one.

I was analysing the reason for this being a Private Deputy's Bill. Deputy Dunne is a member of a Labour Party which has three Ministers in the Cabinet and one Parliamentary Secretary. I cannot understand why it is that the Private Deputies moving this measure could not or did not see fit to approach their colleagues in the Cabinet and ask them to ensure that a measure such as this would be introduced, not by a private Deputy, but as a Government measure.

Mr. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  We did not have your advice as to how to go about it.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on John O'Leary  Zoom on John O'Leary  You vote for it and everything will be all right.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I find that Deputies Dunne, Connolly and O'Leary have been very active in recent weeks in pressing the Government on behalf of other sections of the Labour movement, other sections that are better organised than the agricultural workers. Deputies will have noticed that during the past few weeks Labour Deputies and Labour Ministers have sought and secured interviews on behalf of those other workers with the Taoiseach in regard to the cost of living, in regard to matters of pay, and in regard to the general condition of their employment. and yet Deputy Dunne, when moving this measure, described the class of worker to whom it refers as the worker who is living or existing under the worst conditions that could apply to any workers in this country.

Deputy Dunne and the other Labour Deputies could not induce their colleagues in the Cabinet to take the same action in regard to these 100,000 workers as they have been taking in regard to all the other classes of workers on whose behalf they have been screeching out loudly for the past four or five weeks. I think it is a shame for Deputy Dunne to admit that his influence with Labour Ministers is so weak and puny that he could not induce them to pluck up their courage and take a stand on behalf of this downtrodden section, in whose [1533] interests Deputy Dunne is pretending to show so much concern. I do not think the Minister for Social Welfare, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and the Minister for Local Government would find themselves alone, if we are to accept the repeated assurances we have had from other members of the Cabinet, in taking a stand in the Cabinet on behalf of this class.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on John O'Leary  Zoom on John O'Leary  You never thought of them.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  So far as we can discover in discussions here and outside, the two Clann na Poblachta Ministers would favour a proposal of this nature. If that is so, then three and two make five and the Cabinet has only 13 members. The Minister for Agriculture, on a number of occasions, has shown himself somewhat disposed to the idea of a weekly half-holiday and, if approached in the way I suggest this matter should have been approached, if there is sincerity behind those moving the measure, he might be found to be on the side of the five. Then it would be a matter of six, and six Fine Gael, with the odd man out, the Minister for Lands, to decide the issue.

Mr. Blowick: Information on Joseph Blowick  Zoom on Joseph Blowick  He is not so odd; he has a good deal of company.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on John O'Leary  Zoom on John O'Leary  If you had done it, it would not be needed now; you left it too late.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  Deputies should try to be mannerly. Even if the method which I have suggested was employed, and even if this were not a success is it unreasonable to expect that these Ministers, when this private measure was introduced and when it came, as it must have come, before the Cabinet, would at least have insisted upon a Government decision in regard to it?

They might not themselves have taken the responsibility of framing and introducing it but, since it was framed, surely the Ministers whose names I have given here—who were themselves Labour Deputies of this House for many years and who, I take it, are interested in the claims of these [1534] workers—could have taken a stand in the Cabinet similar to that which, we are given to understand, they have taken, and are taking on behalf of other workers far more favourably situated. Surely they could have insisted on the Government making up its mind as to what action it would take on this measure and have compelled it to come in here and announce what its policy was going to be in regard to it. It was Deputy Dunne, I think, who lauded the idea here of a free vote.

Mr. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  You do not like it.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  There was one occasion on which Deputy Dunne did not like the whip either. That was when he was whipped around this House to vote for the reduction of the road grants in 1949. I suppose it is because of the freedom with which it was lashed on his back on that occasion that he does not like the whip since. When Deputy Dunne was leaving this House, after he had toed the line on that occasion, the Private Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare took him by the arm and said:“Ah, Seán, we thought you were going to leave us.” I can well understand Deputy Dunne's hostility to the Party whip because on that one occasion it cracked very bitterly on his back and he has had cause to remember it ever since.

Mr. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  According to you, I have got a good bargain out of it—or so you were shouting up and down the country.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I think the well is runing dry.

Mr. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne  Zoom on Seán Dunne  Oh, no.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance was not so mildly disposed towards you the other night.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on John O'Leary  Zoom on John O'Leary  The trouble with Deputy Smith is that he did not get three years in office and thus qualify, as an ex-Minister, for a pension.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  Order. Deputy O'Leary should allow Deputy Smith to proceed without interruption.

[1535]Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I have been a member of this House since 1927. If the Government wish to refuse to face its responsibility as a Government, if the Cabinet will not behave as a Cabinet should, then the Parties in this House who are supporting it will be called upon to discharge that responsibility on their own. No Deputy and no person outside can truthfully say that, in so far as this Party is concerned, we have ever hesitated to make up our mind and decide on any issue, whether in office or out of office, if fairly and clearly presented to us. The distance which the present Government have gone in the use of these tactics has resulted in our being compelled to force them in some form or other to face up to that responsibility. If we see any evidence of a desire on the part of this Government to meet these national questions, to do what a Cabinet is expected to do in regard to them, to discuss them, then we shall know that the Government is at last beginning to face up to their responsibilities. Of course, they will have their own differences. Let no Deputy think that no matter what Government you have, whether it is a single-Party Government or a Government composed of different Parties, you will find men who will find common cause on all issues. Matters will arise in any Cabinet on which there will be the most violent differences of opinion.

But can any Deputy in this House tell me in what way public business can be done except by a discussion, a decision, and by the acceptance by the minority of the wisdom of the majority? Surely that has to be done. It has to be done in the running of a football team; it has to be done by dance hall committees, by county committees of agriculture and, in fact, it has to be done in every walk of life. Yet we have here, now responsible for national policy, 13 men who have, from one day to another, repeatedly refused to measure up to what is commonly regarded as the responsibility of men in such posts. Even to-day at Question Time a Minister issued an invitation to a private Deputy to introduce a private Bill, because of the Government's failure to decide the question in [1536] which the Deputy himself was interested.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  The Deputy should confine himself to the provisions of this measure.

Captain Cowan: Information on Peadar Cowan  Zoom on Peadar Cowan  Is this not relevant?

Mr. Kissane: Information on Eamon Kissane  Zoom on Eamon Kissane  Of course it is relevant.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I only want to refer again to the indecision of the Cabinet on a matter that I regard as very vital, on a matter that affects an industry which is accepted by everybody as the most important industry in this country, on a matter in which 350,000 people—250,000 farmers and 100,000 permanent workers—are involved. In spite of all that the Minister for Agriculture, who is responsible in this instance, comes into this House and says that the Government cannot make up its mind.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  The Deputy has stated all that in various ways on several occasions.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  I was just concluding.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  I have given the Deputy a good deal of latitude. He has indulged in a great deal of irrelevancies. He should keep to what is in the Bill.

Mr. Smith: Information on Patrick Smith  Zoom on Patrick Smith  There is nothing in the measure except the principle of granting a half-holiday. I am inviting those who should deal with the matter to deal with it. I am criticising them for their failure to deal with it. My criticism is at an end. I merely want to repeat that no issue has arisen in this House on which, in my opinion, there was a stronger reason for a clear indication from the Government as to what their policy towards it was. The history of this Party has been such that we would freely take our part and make up our mind and record our vote if, as I say, whether in office or out of office, we saw the issue being fairly approached by those who have responsibility. It is not being fairly approached. The Cabinet has shirked its responsibility. They have adopted the usual subterfuge of leaving it to a [1537] free vote of the House, which, in effect, is leaving it to us. We are always free as members of the Opposition. We therefore propose, if the Cabinet shirks that responsibility, to leave it to the Parties themselves to decide the issue amongst themselves.

Mr. O'Leary: Information on John O'Leary  Zoom on John O'Leary  You had the free vote of the House. You did not use it.

Mr. Desmond: Information on Daniel Desmond  Zoom on Daniel Desmond  I thought Deputy Smith would show at least some knowledge of what line his Party was going to adopt, but at the finish he seems to make it quite clear that he is going to sit on the fence. I believe the simple question is: “Are the farm workers entitled to a half-day or not?” If Deputy Smith wants to protect the members of his Party by sitting on the fence he is showing that miserable contempt for the farmers that he showed when he was Minister for Agriculture himself. The gentleman who in the past hid behind the backs of the Agricultural Wages Board when it came as an issue on behalf of the farm workers, let him be honest now and say that his attitude to this question is the self-same as it was in the past. Let him be honest enough in this House to let it go on record that Deputy Smith in Opposition is even the self-same in his attitude towards the farm workers as was the Deputy Smith who was Minister for Agriculture.

It is a miserable attempt, when we realise that Fianna Fáil members in Opposition—those who represent cities and towns, those who may have, to say the least, an open mind as regards farm workers—are being told now by Deputy Smith: “Don't worry, boys, you will be sheltered, because we will not vote.” How interesting it would be to us to hear some of the Deputies in Opposition from down the country, who are so loud-spoken at times when it suits them on behalf of farm workers, and to see what way they would march on this occasion, whether it would be to give the half-day to farm workers or not. I may say that, no matter what line Deputy Smith has taken in the past, he has surpassed himself in the miserable, contemptible manner now. It is a shame that it has come to the time when he is even afraid to come [1538] out openly and say: “I am against the half-day.” It will go on record in this House—and I hope the farm workers will appreciate the fact—that Deputy Smith has not changed in his attitude towards them.

Why should we hear opposition to this question of the half-day? Let us start and realise one important fact, that of, roughly, 200,000 odd farmers and their families in this country, there is, to say the least, a fair proportion of their sons and daughters working in industrial employment, enjoying such conditions as a half-day in the week themselves. Deputy Smith or any other farmer Deputy of this House would naturally say they are entitled to it. They are entitled to it, but when it comes to giving it to the farm worker there must be a difference of opinion. They must differentiate between those who can leave the countryside and get employment in the cities and towns as against those who drudge on farms in the rural areas and give their full time there. Some may say that the farmer cannot afford it. I believe that the Minister was right when he stated that the farmers can afford it. We have no hesitation in saying it. During the debate, mention was made here that the Labour Party did not support the farmers in the demand for increases in the price of milk.

We did realise that the present Minister for Agriculture is definitely in favour of giving a square deal to the farmers and we do say that he has done more for them than his predecessor. He has made it clear here that the prices given here were, in his opinion, considered favourable. Naturally, we believe that such a statement, coming from one who is so interested in the agricultural community, was a statement we could go by as against the statements of members of this House. Yet with all this, with all the question of whether the farmer can afford it or not—which must of necessity be based on that assumption—we can draw the attention of the House to other points proving our justification for asking for this half-day. The members of the Labour Party who tabled this Bill naturally had in mind, as every member of our Party has in mind, that in reply to a question here some time [1539] ago by Deputy James Larkin, the Minister for Finance stated clearly that in hard cash, in the way of grants, etc, the farming community were getting £10,000,000 per annum. The farmers were and are getting an allowance where they employ farm workers. The leaflet issued recently by the Minister for Agriculture, dealing with the land project, shows that there have been 22,126 applications approved for grants for improvements, the amount of acreage involved being 90,832, with the amount of money in the way of grants being £471,420. When we take all that into consideration, may I ask those who oppose this measure and may I ask Deputy Smith, who is paying this money? Is it the farmers themselves or is it the farmer's relations or sons and daughters in the cities who are contributing to it? May I ask if the farm workers as a body or the average worker in the cities and towns oppose the providing of such money for the farmers? When there are grants covering an acreage of the amount given, 90,800 odd, resulting in an increase in the way of arable land under such a project, through the expenditure of so many thousands of pounds, are we still to hear the old lament that “the farmer will never be able to pay”? Figures may be given and statistics can prove anything; but when I hear members saying that the farmer has only £3 per week himself, may I ask how can such figures ever be proved correct?

It is true that an agricultural worker may have £3—that is, £3 in hard cash, but the farmer, as a man employing labour on his farm, is producing crops on his land and raising cattle to such an extent that it is totally impossible— and I do not care whether Deputy Cogan tries to prove statistics to his favour—to say that a farmer is down to a fixed rate of even £3 per week. There is a large difference, in the fact that a man working for himself will, of necessity consider that these earnings cannot be compared with, or the amount of labour justified against, the labour that he employs directly himself. I do not wish to delay the House, but I fail to see how the question can arise [1540] of not giving a half-day. I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.


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