Wednesday, 4 February 1953
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Dunne: asked the Taoiseach if he will state what steps the Government propose to take to safeguard the health of the people of Dublin City and Country in the event of a prolongation of the milk strike; and what plans, if any, the Government have to bring the dispute to a conclusion satisfactory to all concerned.
Mr. Finucane: asked the Taoiseach whether the Government are taking any, and if so what, steps to end the present deadlock in the milk dispute; and, further, if he will make a statement in the matter.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach (Donnchadh Ó Briain):  With your permission, A Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 1, 2 and 3 together, by making a general statement on the position.
On the 18th December last the Tánaiste and the Minister for Agriculture discussed, with representatives of the milk producers' organisations, the claims submitted by those organisations for increased milk prices. The producers' representatives asked for an early decision. They were promised that the Government would give immediate consideration to the matter, but it was made clear that the necessary examination would take some time to complete. By letter, on the 9th January, the Minister for Agriculture informed the producers' organisations that, as the Government's consideration of the claims had not yet been completed, he would not be in a position to announce their decision for some weeks. Later, in a public statement, the Minister promised that the decision would be available before the end of January.
It was in these circumstances that the producers' organisations, without awaiting the decision, attempted to force the Government's hands by withholding  supplies. It must be obvious to all that no Government, conscious of their responsibilities to the community as a whole, could yield to pressure of this nature. It has been made clear to the producers, therefore, that there can be no question of the Government resuming consideration of their claims so long as the present stoppage persists.
The withholding of supplies has a serious effect on the national wellbeing. Milk and its products are important and essential items in the nation's food. They are also an important source of income to the farmer. No one can afford to contemplate with equanimity any interruption, however brief, of the work of so important an industry.
In fairness to the consuming public, the Government must consider the effects on the cost of living of increased prices for milk and butter. If the producers' claims were conceded, they would bring the price of butter to over 5/- a lb., increase the price of milk in Dublin and Cork by 1¼d. a pint, add over £5,000,000 to the community's food bill and increase the cost-of-living index by 4.6 points. Those who make these demands seem not to realise how adversely their industry could be affected by inability or unwillingness of the public to maintain consumption at such a cost. We might easily find ourselves again in the position in which we were when export bounties and subsidies had to be introduced to maintain the dairying industry.
It is hardly necessary to prove that the Government are not unsympathetic to the industry. I have already referred to the bounties and subsidies paid to the industry from 1932 onwards, and I need only add that one of our first actions on resuming office in June, 1951, was to increase the price of milk. In their recent consideration of the problem, the Government were  fully aware of the difficulties created for the producers by increased costs and were taking these into account. They will necessarily take them into account again when consideration of the matter is resumed, that is, when the obstacle created by the present milk stoppage is removed, as we hope it soon will be. The stoppage is no less harmful to the producers themselves than it is to the rest of the community. We hope that the producers will recognise this and, by resuming supplies, take the step necessary to bring the present situation to an end.
General Mulcahy: In view of the cumulative and very varied dangers that are in the situation as it actually exists: in view of that, on the one hand, and on the other of the reiterated statement, even by way of formal advertisements on the part of the strike committee, that they are prepared to enter into negotiations or to submit the question to arbitration, does the Taoiseach not consider that it would be wise and vigorous action on the part of the Government to jerk the situation back now to negotiation level so that the issues at any rate of the present dangerous situation might be faced in negotiation, and so that the House here would be given an opportunity of feeling that the situation had been brought back, in whatever way, to negotiation level at the present time? The Taoiseach will understand that much of the material which has been given by way of answer is open to long discussion and long judgment, but I think that what is not open to any long consideration is the fact that a dangerous situation exists and that the Government could make a contribution to, as it were, stopping or arresting that by entering the negotiation stage straight away, even if that were only confined to a consideration between themselves and the strike committee of the dangers of the present situation.
The Taoiseach: Because if we have a great deal of arbitration, then the Government, on behalf of the community, has to foot the bill. We have got the responsibility, and we intend, as long as we are here, to act up to our responsibilities.
The next thing is in regard to negotiation. The Tánaiste, as was pointed out in the answer, with the Minister for Agriculture, met representatives of the producers. They put their case before them. They were informed that it would get immediate consideration. That consideration was being given, but it was necessary, in view of the position that the Government is in the matter, to get the fullest possible information and to foresee as far as possible the results of any judgment that would be given. We wanted to give the judgment on its merits and in the interests of the community. Now, whilst that was being done, a pistol is put to the heads of the Government. Nobody can carry on negotiations or carry on a proper examination under such circumstances. The moment the people give up putting the pistol to the heads of the arbiter, then we can proceed with further consideration.
General Mulcahy: Does the Taoiseach not understand that the present situation is growing in danger and that the community generally are being caught in a very very difficult situation, first and foremost from the point of view of the milk and, in the second place, from the point of view of a clash between the Government and a  fairly widespread section of the people? In a clash like that the ordinary people will suffer in every aspect of their lives. Does the Taoiseach not consider, in view of the fact that it was thought possible that a judgment on this matter could be given by the end of January, that the situation could be judged by the Government saying: “Sit down at a negotiation table again and we will discuss the danger of the present situation and any other matter you may wish to discuss”?
The Taoiseach: We fully realise the dangers to the community whenever there is action taken by one section of the community such as is being taken by the milk producers. We understand it thoroughly and it is in the interests of the community, so that such action will not in any way be successful, that we have to stand. We have to stand in the interests of the community and I am saying now that the judgment that will be given, as it will have to be given ultimately by this Government anyhow, will be the same judgment as would have been given by the end of January if there had been no strike. We are not going to be influenced in one way or the other by it. We have got to maintain the public position, which is that the Government is put in the position of being arbiter between different sections of the community on a very important matter for them all. If the consumers to-morrow were to try voilent action what would the producers think? We have got in this matter to stand firm on principle and that is what we are doing. That does not mean that we are not fully alive to the dangers but we are also fully alive to the dangers that would occur if we were to give in to demands of this sort.
Mr. Keane: Is the Taoiseach aware that on last Monday this developed further and all the creameries in East Cork refused to accept milk? I am making an appeal to the Government to look after the people whose milk would have been sent to the creamery, people whose cows had calved or were on the point of calving, who would be sending the milk next week. I appeal  to them to look after those people and to see in what way they will be compensated for a loss in the creation of which they had no hand. Surely the Taoiseach should be able to do something. In 1946, I think, he refused subsidies——
The Taoiseach: The Deputy is making an appeal to the Government. The Government has made an appeal to the people, who, like other sections of the community, ought to be interested in the maintenance of order and the maintenance of good government. We are asking the people who are acting in the manner in which they are acting— violently, unjustly in some cases—to behave and to permit this thing to be done properly. Which of the appeals do members of this House think ought to be listened to?
Mr. MacBride: Would the Taoiseach not consider it possible to indicate the Government's decision in regard to the initial question? As I understand the position, the issues are now as to when the Government will give its decision. Would it not be better from the point of view of everybody concerned if the Government were in a position to give its decision now so that the issues would be clearly understood and knit?
The Taoiseach: That was a point of view which occured to myself but any decision given under those circumstances would not appear—as it must appear—to represent the situation properly. It would appear to be a judgment that was influenced by this strike. I have said that it would not be so influenced, but there would be people who would say the opposite.
Captain Cowan: May I ask the Taoiseach if he will give the House and the country an assurance that those actions of recent days such as the destruction of milk, the damage, the injury to cattle and the attacks on individuals will be prevented by the full force at the disposal of the Government?
Mr. Lehane: Is the Taoiseach aware that the producers have been pressing their claim over a very long period with the Government and that the letter issued by the Minister for Agriculture on the 9th January indicated that the Government were not prepared to do anything until next May?
The Taoiseach: That is not true. The letter and the statements of the Minister for Agriculture were that there would be a decision given by the end of January. In one case it was said that the decision would take some weeks. Then later, the Minister pointed out that it would be by the end of January, but ten days or so before the end of January we have this strike.
Mr. Dillon: Before this House is used as an arena to call for turning the Guards on the farmers of this country, may I not ask the Taoiseach, if this strike is brought to an end, is it not manifest that, in regard to part of the claim, a settlement could be arrived at without any serious difficulty and, in regard to any part of the claim where settlement is not agreeable between the parties, does not justice demand that the farmers of the country shall have access to no more than every worker has access, every industrialist has access, that is, arbitration on the validity of their claim? If the Government will say: “In so far as we can arrive ad idem on any part of your claim, we shall settle it forthwith. In regard to any part of your claim which we cannot see our way to grant, we acknowledge your right—the same, but no more than any other section of the community has—to arbitration and the award submitted to the Dáil for its action thereafter,” surely this strike can be brought to an end in the morning and, whoever is involved in it, a situation will be arrested which could develop into an utterly deplorable one. I want to remind the Taoiseach, for I feel sure that in this he agrees with  me, the farmers are a stable element in this country and they are decent men. It would be a disaster if they were driven into a course of violence which would reflect no credit on the agricultural community and is as foreign to their nature as anything could conceivably be. In the name of decency in our own country, surely this House is capable of taking some step now which could end this danger.
Mr. Dillon: If there were a means of ending this situation surely every side of the House would be glad to see it ended. I ask the Taoiseach to consider the proposition I am now making to him and in 24 hours a very grievous matter will be ended.
The Taoiseach: With regard to the suggestion that we turned the Guards on the farmers of the country, every farmer with common sense knows that what the Guards are doing is protecting the elements of the community who are being attacked by some elements which pretend to be farmers and may not be, as far as some of us know, farmers at all. The Guards have to protect the community. That is one of their primary functions. With regard to the suggestion that this matter could be brought to an end within 24 hours, I cannot see how the whole thing could be settled in 24 hours. But this situation could be settled if the people who started this inconsiderate, ill-considered, foolish action, would stop it and allow the tribunal which was set up, the tribunal that is lawfully entitled to come to a decision, to do it, namely, the Government. As to the question of arbitration on every possible thing that comes before the Government, where will it lead to? What are the Government to do? Are they immediately to surrender all functions in regard to the safeguarding of various sections of the community? I do not think you can do it. Those who ask for it know perfectly well where it would lead to.
The Taoiseach: So far as getting foundation costings is concerned, there is a tribunal set up and it is a very difficult matter and it would take some time to get costings. The interim situation has to be dealt with.
The Taoiseach: I am sorry to say that I do not understand what the Deputy means by mediation. So far as we are concerned, any citizen in ordinary circumstances has access to us. That is one of our functions. If there is a serious matter that a citizen bona fide wants to communicate to us, it is always possible for him to do it. There is no need for any mediator. The question is a judgment and a decision with regard to the price of milk, and that judgment has to be given by the Government without a pistol at its head. Otherwise any decision of the Government will be questioned by one party or the other.
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