Thursday, 12 July 1951
Dáil Éireann Debate
“To ask the Minister for Finance if he will state when the increased rates of pay approved and granted by his predecessor to workers employed on the Brosna drainage scheme will be paid and the cause of the delay in having the increase paid to the workers concerned.”
“I am not aware that any increase in the pay of workers employed on the Brosna drainage scheme was approved by my predecessor. I may add, however, that the matter is under consideration and I hope to be able to announce my decision shortly.”
This is the meanest and lowest trick played in this House by the Minister for Finance in a long time. The Minister knows quite well from the records before him from the Board of Works that the board was unanimous in recommending an increase to the workers to whom I refer. He is right in saying that the increase was not granted by his predecessor, his predecessor being Deputy McGilligan, but the workers, accompanied by Deputies representing the constituency of Leix-Offaly met the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, then Deputy Donnellan, and the board, and it was agreed by the Parliamentary Secretary and the Board and submitted to the Minister for Finance for his approval, that the rates of pay for the workers on the Brosna drainage scheme and other similar schemes should be increased with the least possible delay. The then Parliamentary Secretary made a statement in this House in which he invited the workers' representatives to discuss their grievances and conditions of employment at any time they thought it desirable to draw the attention of his Department to those grievances. The workers on the Brosna scheme very happily availed of the invitation the Parliamentary Secretary gave.
The case was put forward by the  groups of workers themselves, fitters, labourers, drivers, etc. Their case was so genuine and their grievances so real that the board were unanimous in recommending an increase, but now the Minister comes along and tells us that the matter is under consideration. Deputy Donnellan, as Parliamentary Secretary, recommended that increase and the board were unanimous in their recommendation. I accuse the Minister for Finance now of attempting to sabotage the good work done by the previous administration for the workers concerned. The workers on that occasion would have felt very grateful for an all-round increase of 2d. per hour. I believe that the board were sympathetic to that request and that the Parliamentary Secretary was prepared to co-operate.
Mr. O. Flanagan: I am asking the Minister whether this matter had the approval of the board and the Minister, in reply to a supplementary question which I put to him, said that no Parliamentary Secretary had power or authority to make such a recommendation. The Lord help Deputy Beegan if he has to labour under the Minister for Finance on those terms.
Mr. O. Flanagan: I would feel very grateful to the Minister if he would disclose the real facts of the case and state why he is standing in the way of those workers getting an increase approved of by the board. I will now express my complete dissatisfaction at  any attempt to provide those workers with an increase of 2d. per hour at this stage in view of the fact that the cost of living has gone up considerably in the past three weeks. A greater increase will have to be given.
Mr. O. Flanagan: I am most anxious to know why the Minister is standing in the way of the immediate payment of these increases. I want to know whether he is prepared to have that 2d. rate made retrospective to the date on which it was unanimously approved by the Board of Works. I want no time to be lost in having it paid to the workers concerned. Those of us who know the Minister know that he never had any sympathy at any time with the working classes of this country but this is one occasion on which he is not going to get away with it. He is not going to play low mean tricks at the expense of the workers, of the dignity of the Board of Works and of the honour of the men on the board who were unanimous in recommending an increase.
Mr. O. Flanagan: I say that the cause of the delay is a deliberate attempt on the Minister's part to throw the blame on the former Parliamentary Secretary by saying that no serious attempt was made to increase those workers' rates. I do not want to go any further because Deputies Davin and O'Higgins are anxious to have a word. I would warn the Minister,  however, that we will not take a slipshod reply. We want to know when those men are to get their increase and why he is deliberately standing in the way of those workers by preventing them from availing of the generosity of his predecessor.
Mr. Davin: I accompanied my colleagues, Deputies Flanagan and O'Higgins, on the occasion when they met Deputy Donnellan, then Parliamentary Secretary, who was accompanied by one of the Commissioners of the Board of Works. The Parliamentary Secretary, with his advisers, listened to the case on behalf of the different grades presently employed on the Brosna drainage scheme and he assured the deputation with myself and my colleagues that the case would receive the favourable consideration of the commissioners. I subsequently met the Parliamentary Secretary with my colleagues again. I do not wish just to guess at the date, as I have not got it at my finger-tips, but it was early in May before the dissolution. We were assured by the Parliamentary Secretary that the recommendation put forward by him and sent to the commissioners for an increase in rate of 2d. per hour had been forwarded for the sanction and approval of the Minister. I assumed that it was only a matter of course and of a short time until that recommendation would be automatically ratified. The next I heard of it was during the general election campaign when I visited Clara on a Saturday night. I was accompanied by a Minister of the inter-Party Government, and at the end of the public meeting I was challenged by the secretary of the workers' organisation who was accompanied by other workers who were then and still are employed on the Brosna scheme. He asserted that the recommendation of which we had advised them had been rejected by the Minister for Finance. I phoned the following day from my hotel to the Office of the Board of Works asking for some information on that matter, in other words, asking to know whether this was one of the usual political propaganda stories circulated in the  area for party propaganda purposes. I could not get in touch with the officer I wanted at the time, but I was subsequently informed, and this will not be denied, because I can prove it, on the 23rd of May that the recommendation had been previously sent to the Minister for Finance and was receiving the “active consideration”— these were the words used—of the Minister. That was on the 23rd May.
From long experience in this House I assumed that when the Dáil is dissolved the senior civil servants as well as the junior civil servants would be very careful about taking hurried decisions—not knowing whether a new Minister would come in who would, very likely, take a different view from that of the Minister of the day. I assumed, therefore, that that was the reason why things were going slowly. To-day is the 12th July. In the ordinary way probably Deputy MacEntee, if he were not Minister for Finance, might be up in Belfast. He is here, thanks be to God, and I hope he will give us the real reason. I do not want to play politics with regard to this matter because it concerns bread and butter to the hundreds of men involved. They have been waiting a long time to get what they are entitled to get. As I told the Parliamentary Secretary at the time, I did not accept enthusiastically the rate of 2d. per hour because I thought—and I informed him and his advisers accordingly—that the men concerned made a good case for a higher figure. I was informed quite definitely on the 23rd May that the matter was then under active consideration. As such a long period of time has elapsed, I hope the Minister will now inform us that he is willing to sanction the recommendation of the Commissioners of Public Works which was ratified and forwarded to the Minister of the time, some time about the middle of May. At least we are entitled to hear the cause of the delay. I hope the Minister will say here and now that, after all this delay, he is prepared to sanction the recommendation sent to his predecessor nearly two months ago, and that he will sanction also the recommendation to make it retrospective from the date  recommended by the previous Parliamentary Secretary.
Mr. O'Higgins: I desire to add my voice to what has been said by Deputy Flanagan and Deputy Davin. The point has rightly been made that this application for an increase in the wages paid to the Brosna workers has been under consideration for a considerable length of time. I was present with the other Deputies when this matter was first raised in a legitimate way by representatives of the workers with representatives of the Government. Over 12 weeks have now elapsed. We know that a recommendation was made by the Commissioners of Public Works to the Minister for Finance for some increase in the wages.
As Deputy Davin has said, during the general election a lying story was spread by the present Minister's political friends that that recommendation had been turned down by the Minister's predecessor. That was a lie. That story was spread for foul political purposes by the supporters of Deputy Boland and Deputy Maher in the constituency of Laoighis-Offaly. It now falls to the three Opposition Deputies in that constituency to raise this matter in this House and we do so for the purpose of ensuring that these workers will get a fair measure of the justice to which they are entitled. The work upon which these men are engaged is work of national reclamation of the utmost importance. It is essential that the Brosna scheme should continue to get a full supply of labour and that workers employed on that important work should be properly paid. I do not know whether it will astonish the Minister for Finance, but I am sure it will astonish his Parliamentary Secretary and other Deputies to learn that at present Brosna workers are receiving a rate of wage less than county council workers and less than Bord na Móna employees engaged on Bord na Móna camps in Tirraun and in other areas around. That is a serious situation. It means that workers engaged on the Brosna are not being paid even the standard wage from Government and semi-Government concerns. In addition, they are paid substantially  less than the ordinary generally recognised rate of wage for unskilled builders' labourers in the area. I think their right to a substantial increase in their wage has been fully established. It is important to remember that the Commissioners of Public Works, on the recommendation of the previous Parliamentary Secretary, have made a recommendation which is at present before the Minister for Finance. I understand that that recommendation was made at the beginning of the month of May. I do not know the exact nature of the recommendation but I hope that the longer the delay in dealing with it the higher will be the wage that will be sanctioned eventually. We all know that under this Coalition Government which we now have in power the cost of living is rising every day. The cost of butter which the workers have to buy has increased even in the past ten days, and we know that other commodities are increasing in price. If we are to accept what the Minister for Industry and Commerce says, if he is going to be there for any length of time there will be a shoal of increased prices.
With Deputy Flanagan and Deputy Davin I desire to impress on the Minister the justice of the claims of these men. I do not think that the Minister's reply to the question raised by Deputy Flanagan is satisfactory. It does not hold out much hope for the workers on the Brosna. I trust the Minister will reconsider the position and ensure that these workers will get a measure of the social justice to which they are fully entitled.
Mr. MacEntee: Deputy Flanagan opened his performance by a reference to the meanest type of trick. Apparently some individuals who, during the last general election or in the proceedings or manoeuvres preceding the last general election, had indulged in a very mean deception of the workers employed upon the Brosna drainage scheme have now been found out. From the statements made by Deputy O'Higgins and Deputy Davin and Deputy Flanagan it would appear that during the course of the last general election campaign they had assured the workers for whom they profess to speak in this House that my predecessor,  the then Minister for Finance, had approved and granted an increase in the rate of wages payable to workers on that scheme.
There is no reference in that question to a recommendation from the Parliamentary Secretary. There is a categorical statement that an increase in rates of pay was approved and granted by my predecessor.
Mr. MacEntee: I stated in reply that I was not aware that any increase in the pay of the workers employed on the Brosna scheme was approved by my predecessor. My predecessor as Minister for Finance was Deputy McGilligan. I say that he neither approved nor granted an increase in the rates of pay to the workers on the Brosna scheme.
Mr. MacEntee: It is quite true. It is quite true that on the day on which the Government were running away from the division on the Vote for the Minister for Agriculture a recommendation came over from the Office of the Commissioners of Public Works— at least that was the date of the recommendation—to the Department of Finance, making certain proposals in relation not merely to the Brosna scheme but to other schemes as well. I do not know whether the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance had any prior discussion with my predecessor in regard to the terms of that minute. There is nothing on the Government files to indicate that in fact he had.
Mr. MacEntee: Wait a moment. After all this is an orderly Government now and it does business in accordance with the Constitution. I am not aware that the Commissioners of Public Works have any constitutional right or power to commit the Minister for Finance or the State to any expenditure without incurring his previous sanction.
Mr. MacEntee: Are we to assume that the Commissioners of Public Works and the Parliamentary Secretary were so omnipotent during the reign of the inter-Party Government that all the Minister for Finance had to do was to act as a rubber stamp and countersign their decision?
Mr. MacEntee: Deputy O. Flanagan and Deputy O'Higgins and Deputy Davin wanted the workers who are seriously concerned in this proposal to assume that once the fiat had gone  forth from the Office of Public Works the matter was settled.
Mr. MacEntee: If there is any quibbling, who has done the quibbling? The three wibbly-wobbly blancmange Deputies who got up here and spoke this evening. They are the people who are quibbling because they want to make it appear that a recommendation made by a Parliamentary Secretary, knowing, I believe, that it would be rejected on May 3rd, had got the force of law.
Mr. MacEntee: ——that the matter is under consideration and I hope to be able to announce my decision shortly. So far as the workers employed on the Brosna drainage scheme  are concerned they have reason to be grateful to me inasmuch as my concern with their position has been much greater than that of my predecessor. Deputies O. Flanagan, O'Higgins and Davin have told the House that they were informed that a recommendation came from the Commissioners of Public Works on May 3rd. My predecessor was in office at that time. He was in office up to June 13th. During the whole of that period there is nothing to indicate that he called for the file or looked at the papers. As everybody knows, a new Government took over on June 14th.
Mr. MacEntee: I have asked for the papers. I have caused the matter to be examined and in due course I will come to a decision in regard to it. At least I have paid some attention to the recommendation which came over from the Office of Public Works. That cannot be said of my predecessor. May I say that except for a telephone call which Deputy Davin put through on May 23rd, in response to which he got a reply from the Office of Public Works telling him that no decision had yet been reached in the matter, none of the Deputies who have spoken with  such heat here to-day in relation to this matter evinced any interest or exhibited any interest in it at all.
Mr. MacEntee: ——and Deputy O. Flanagan and Deputy O'Higgins had even been as concerned as Deputy Davin about the position they would at least have written one or two letters or put through one or two telephone calls.
Mr. MacEntee: But, of course, they were too busy going around Laois-Offaly misleading the workers and telling the workers this increase had been approved in the hope of receiving sufficient support to be returned here.
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