Private Members' Business. - Adjournment Debate—Cattle Tax.

Wednesday, 10 November 1954

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 147 No. 4

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Mr. G. Boland: Information on Gerald Boland  Zoom on Gerald Boland  At Question Time to-day I asked the Taoiseach the following question:—

“To ask the Taoiseach whether he has seen a report in a provincial newspaper of a speech by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture in which he is reported as having said that if a change of Government had not taken place a heavy cattle tax would now be in operation which would have completely and for all time killed our cattle export trade, and, if so, if he will state if there is any record in [595] any Department of any proposal by the previous Government to impose a tax on cattle.”

I think the report in question appeared in the Roscommon Herald. The following is the reply which the Taoiseach gave:—

“I have seen the report referred to by the Deputy. The statement which it attributes to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture appears to be an expression of opinion, based, no doubt, on a statement made in the Seanad by a member of that House who is believed to represent the views of the Fianna Fáil Party.

There is no record of any decision by the previous Government to impose a tax on cattle.”

The Taoiseach was correct when he replied that there is no record of any decision by the previous Government to impose a tax on cattle because, of course, there was never any such proposal made. However, I want to deal with the reference, in the Taoiseach's reply, to a member of the Seanad who, the Taoiseach says, is believed to represent the views of the Fianna Fáil Party. That Senator was dealing with a proposal made earlier in the debate by Senator Johnston who made a suggestion that a levy might be made on exported cattle to create a fund out of which other branches of agriculture might be subsidised. The proposal was turned down immediately in the same debate by the then Minister for Finance, Deputy MacEntee, who was, of course, speaking for the Government. Some days later, the then Taoiseach, Deputy de Valera, said at Limerick: “The Government have not the slightest intention of imposing a tax on cattle for export. No such proposals have been considered or are contemplated.” Will the Taoiseach not now agree that the Head of the Government at the time and the then Minister for Finance were the spokesmen for the Government and should be taken as being the spokesmen for the Government—and not a member of the Seanad? Is it too much to ask now— having got from the Taoiseach a statement [596] that “There is no record of any decision by the previous Government to impose a tax on cattle”—that we shall hear no more of this, for which there is no foundation?

Minister for Lands (Mr. Blowick): Information on Joseph Blowick  Zoom on Joseph Blowick  What reply did the then Minister for Finance, Deputy MacEntee, give in the Seanad on that day?

Mr. Boland: Information on Gerald Boland  Zoom on Gerald Boland  I will tell the Minister. I have it here. I did not bring the volume down with me. I have not got the exact reference but I copied it. Referring to this proposal, he said: “Somebody has ascribed to me a courage which I do not always feel, but it would not be courage—it would be foolhardiness—for any person to bring in a proposal of that sort.”

Mr. Blowick: Information on Joseph Blowick  Zoom on Joseph Blowick  Did the Minister for Finance on that occasion not say that the proposal to put a tax on cattle was one that “I have not considered yet but I should like time to examine it”?

Mr. Boland: Information on Gerald Boland  Zoom on Gerald Boland  He said he would like an opportunity to consider the whole question: it was not a tax on cattle but a proposal by Senator Johnston in which he suggested that a levy might be put on cattle—which were going at a very high price—in order to subsidise other branches of agriculture. The then Minister for Finance said he would like to consider that matter but, in his opinion, it would be foolhardiness and therefore, he turned the matter down.

That was on the 19th June, 1952. On the 22nd June, 1952—during the by-election in Limerick—the then Head of the Government dealt with the subject and said there was never any such intention. Now that the general election is over, I would ask the Government to ensure that statements for which there is no foundation will not be made. After all, even if a member of the Seanad makes a remark like that— even if he were in favour of it—it was the general scheme suggested by Senator Johnston that appealed to Senator Quirke, not the tax on cattle. Even if he were in favour of the tax, it would not be correct to ascribe that view to the Fianna Fáil Party because of the fact that the then Toiseach and the [597] then Minister for Finance turned it down. Whatever purpose such statements by members of the present Government may have served during the general election, they have no purpose now. I would ask the Taoiseach to ensure that such ill-founded statements will not be made.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Aloysius Costello  Zoom on John Aloysius Costello  I find it rather difficult to know why I should be put in the position which Deputy Boland has endeavoured to put me in to-night.

Mr. Boland: Information on Gerald Boland  Zoom on Gerald Boland  You are the head of the Government.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Aloysius Costello  Zoom on John Aloysius Costello  I am, but I am not the mentor of what Deputies, to whatsoever Party they belong, may or may not deem fit to say from time to time.

Mr. Boland: Information on Gerald Boland  Zoom on Gerald Boland  Even members of the Government?

Mr. Beegan: Information on Patrick Beegan  Zoom on Patrick Beegan  That was demonstrated the week before last.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Aloysius Costello  Zoom on John Aloysius Costello  Deputy Boland said that I was correct in saying there is no record of any decision by the previous Government to impose a tax on cattle. That is correct. I would, however, draw the attention of the Deputy to the fact that, in my reply to-day, I gave a more favourable answer than his question warranted. He asked me “if there is any record in any Department of any proposal by the previous Government to impose a tax on cattle.” The words I want to emphasise now in Deputy Boland's question are “if there is any record in any Department of any proposal by the previous Government to impose a tax on cattle.” In my reply I said: “There is no record of any decision by the previous Government to impose a tax on cattle.” There was, in fact, a proposal. However, I thought it better not to make public that matter and I gave the reply that there was no decision.

Mr. Boland: Information on Gerald Boland  Zoom on Gerald Boland  I should like that made public, whatever it is.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Aloysius Costello  Zoom on John Aloysius Costello  There was a proposal. It was made by the Department of Finance when Deputy Boland was a member of the Government, in a memo dated the 17th January, 1944, [598] to put a tax of £2 per head on cattle. That proposal was put forward by the Minister for Finance to the Government. Of course, the Government did not accept it. Therefore, I said that there was no decision. I let the Deputy down rather easily——

Mr. Boland: Information on Gerald Boland  Zoom on Gerald Boland  You did not.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Aloysius Costello  Zoom on John Aloysius Costello  ——when I did not say that there was a proposal. That would have been a sufficient answer. However, now that the Deputy has raised the matter to-day and repeated, perhaps inadvertently a few moments ago, that never was any such proposal made, I may say that a proposal was made by the Minister for Finance to the Deputy's Government on the date I mentioned but it was not accepted by the Government. Having made that perfectly clear I now want to say that the Constitution of this country guarantees the right of free speech to everybody.

Donnchadh Ó Briain: Information on Donnchadh Ó Briain  Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Briain  Even if they are lies?

The Taoiseach: Information on John Aloysius Costello  Zoom on John Aloysius Costello  Persons are free to express their opinions. They may do so perhaps on insufficient data. It is the duty of people who do not agree with them to expose that and to demonstrate to the electors or anybody listening to them that the opinions are ill-founded. That is free speech. Everybody is entitled to his opinion. It may be a wrong opinion. The statements may be wrong. However, if it is an opinion on a certain matter— that if a change of Government had not taken place something would have happened—a Deputy is entitled to say that because it is his opinion. That may be his opinion. It may be still his opinion in spite of what I have said. Deputies apparently want me to go around looking up reports every day and to say this, that and the other because the Taoiseach, Deputy de Valera, said one thing and the Minister for Finance said something else, that that must be accepted and put an end to all discussion. The Deputy is entitled to say if there had not been a change of Government such and such a thing might have taken place.

[599]Donnchadh Ó Briain: Information on Donnchadh Ó Briain  Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Briain  He did not say “might”. He said “would”.

The Taoiseach: Information on John Aloysius Costello  Zoom on John Aloysius Costello  That is his opinion. His opinion may be wrong, but he is entitled to it and I certainly am not going to go round looking up every newspaper, reading reports of everybody in it and acting as a sort of schoolmaster. That is not my job. I am here to do a solid, difficult task as head of the Government and I am not going to be diverted into futilities and [600] trivialities by the members of the present Front-Bench Opposition, looking up newspapers and collecting statements made by people that may or may not be right and may be expressions of opinion which may be well founded or not. That is their right and I do not intend to act as a schoolmaster.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.45 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 17th November, 1954.


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