Committee on Finance. - Resolution No. 9—General (Resumed).

Tuesday, 21 April 1959

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 174 No. 5

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[792] Debate resumed on the following motion:—

That it is expedient to amend the law relating to customs and inland revenue (including excise) and to make further provision in connection with finance.—(Minister for Finance.)

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  Just before the adjournment, I was dealing with the unemployment position and the steps the Government have been taking to relieve unemployment since they took office two years ago. Everything possible has been done by the Government and will be done to create employment in order to keep more of our people at home. This has been handled in a very practical way and any promises made during the past two years have been kept. Not alone that, but the Minister has brought in a very favourable Budget which has given hope to every section of the people. The big difference between now and two years ago is that the Minister then had to clean up the financial mess and put the country in a sound financial position. He has succeeded in doing that.

There is an urgent need for us to get into the export market more and more. It is the concern of every public representative to see how best that can be done, and to ascertain what are the best exportable goods we can produce. We must endeavour to do what other civilised countries, who have had hundreds of years of experience of self-government behind them, have been doing. Their policy is to produce what they are able to consume in their own country and export what they cannot consume. While we have had many prophets in this House and outside it telling us there is a shortcut to prosperity, I have yet to be convinced there is such a short cut for any country. Countries with unlimited resources in the way of minerals were in a different position from ours and it is the national concern that every factory producing any goods here [793] should strive to produce for export. If our producers are not assisting the Government and the national well-being by trying to get into the export market then they are not pulling their weight to the extent to which they should. We have given adequate protection to all our industries. We must now impress upon our producers that if the country is to prosper, they will have to go ahead a good deal more. The Government and the Minister for Finance must endeavour to give them all possible help.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  There were only four members of the main Opposition present.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  The Deputy may not know it but there were no Deputies sitting behind him and only the Minister was sitting in front of him. He should talk softly and hold them here, or else we shall have to bring them back again.

Mr. P.J. Burke: Information on Patrick J. Burke  Zoom on Patrick J. Burke  Deputy O'Higgins will have an opportunity of addressing the House later, if he has not done so already. I repeat that we should make every effort to get into the export market. Our people who emigrate could assist us by buying our produce which is exported. They should endeavour always to buy Irish goods. We shall have to have propaganda in that regard, even in the schools.

I have not travelled abroad much, a few times in France and a few times in England, but in areas that were supposed to have large Irish populations, I was sorry to find that certain Irish exports could not be obtained. Our own emigrants could help us a lot. If there is enthusiasm and initiative on the part of our people to improve our country by buying Irish products whenever possible it will contribute a good deal toward making the country prosperous, towards the general well-being, possibly towards keeping people in employment at home and even bringing some emigrants back to employment [794] here. Our semi-state industries are doing a very good job.

I shall not delay the House by going over these matters and I will conclude by saying that the Minister for Finance has done a very good job. I hope he will continue the good work and lead the country to the prosperity we all so much desire.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  It is probably worth while to examine some of the claims made by Deputy Burke. He says the Minister has given hope to every section of the people and done a very good job. It will be agreed that the Budget has not caused great commotion. Even Fianna Fáil back benchers did not find much to shout about in the Budget. Apart from some reliefs in entertainment duties, the major features of the Budget were a reduction by 6d. of the income-tax rate and an increase of 2/6d., as from August, to old age and other pensioners.

Everybody will agree that the Minister could not have done less in relation to the income tax reduction. To give anything less would clearly be regarded as an insult. It was necessary, as Deputy Sweetman put it, that that shot in the arm should be given. If I have any regret in the matter it is that the Minister did not take his courage in his hands and go a lot further along those lines.

No one will feel particularly happy about an increase of only 2/6d. to the old age and other pensioners. The fact that that increase is being given, as someone else has pointed out already, implies an admission on the part of the Government that the increase which they gave previously, coupled with the slashing of the food subsidies, was just not enough. The Government, by their action in increasing old age pensions and other pensions by 2/6d. a week as from August next, are going some way to make amends for the action of the same Government in their previous Budgets in removing food subsidies and forcing up prices of essential commodities on every section of the people—the various sections that Deputy Burke thinks [795] have been given hope by the Minister.

That is all that can be said of this Budget. There is nothing very much in it. There is nothing unexpected in it. There is nothing in it that anyone will have any particular difficulty in talking about or not talking about, according as it pleases one.

Let us examine the rest of the record of the Government on financial matters. Let us see what three Fianna Fáil Budgets and the policy enshrined in those Budgets have brought to the people. If we want to find out in what direction the Government set the sails of the ship of State about which Deputy Burke spoke, we should go back to their first Budget pronouncements. Because it is necessary to get this into proper perspective, I want to quote the Minister for Defence in connection with the General Financial Resolutions of 1957, when he spoke in this House on 15th May, 1957.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Cunningham): Information on Liam Cunningham  Zoom on Liam Cunningham  The Deputy is now proceeding to deal with a Financial Resolution other than that with which we are dealing here. The Deputy must confine himself—

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  The Deputy is doing no such thing.

Acting Chairman:  The Chair says that the Deputy must confine himself to the Financial Resolution before the House at the moment.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  I do not think anyone will dispute the ruling of the Chair on that but I would certainly dispute the right of any Chairman to decide for me before I say what I intend to say. I am not dealing with the Financial Resolution of 1957. I am dealing with the Financial Resolution of 1959 and I propose to remind the House, no matter whether the Deputies opposite like it or not, of what the Minister for Defence said on that occasion as to why this Government was elected, why the people had put the Fianna Fáil Government in office. I propose to remind them why they are in office and I propose reminding the people and the Deputies.

[796]Acting Chairman:  The Deputy will be out of order if he does that.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  I think I can argue that out with the Chair. Let me come to it in this way: The Fianna Fáil Party, before they came into office, announced their plans for ending emigration and for ending unemployment. The present Tánaiste announced the necessity for any Government who took office to find 15,000 new jobs a year for the people. According to the statistics published this year, it appears that the number in industrial and agricultural employment in 1958, as compared with 1956, which Fianna Fáil used to paint as the black year, showed a reduction of 32,000 people, that there were 32,000 fewer people in employment in this country than in the year that Fianna Fáil used to like describing as the black year of 1956.

That must be looked at in the context of what the Fianna Fáil Government claim as the aim of their policy to end unemployment. The Minister for Defence made it quite clear. I do not know whether I am to be precluded from quoting him or not. I would much prefer to be quite accurate and quite fair to the Minister for Defence in what I am saying. If I have to summarise my remarks, I shall summarise them. I shall do it, naturally, at the risk of losing something in accuracy and I shall do my best not to embellish.

The Minister for Defence, to the best of my recollection, in dealing with the aims of the present Government on this question of employment told the House quite bluntly that the Fianna Fáil Government were elected for the purpose of ending a situation of mass unemployment and mass emigration. That was two years ago next month. As between 1956 and 1958, a year after the Minister was speaking, the position was that, under a Fianna Fáil Government and under the policy pursued by that Government, there were 32,000 fewer people at work in this country than in the black year of 1956.

The Minister for Defence—again I shall summarise him if I have to; again I would prefer to quote him if I [797] would be in order in doing so, and to be quite accurate in my quotations rather than risk misquoting him—to the best of my recollection, speaking on the same occasion, made the assertion that the people had put their faith in Fianna Fáil to remedy the situation regarding employment and emigration. How have they remedied it? They are now on their third Budget. They now have had every opportunity, with an overall majority in this House, with no group of people in this House sufficiently large to say “nay” to any measure the Government bring in. How have they remedied the situation? There were 32,000 fewer in employment in 1958 than there were in 1956.

The Tánaiste referred to the necessity for 15,000 new jobs to be found each year. Is there any great hope for the people, when, after the Fianna Fáil Party have operated for two and a half years, unemployment is still so high and, what is even more depressing, the number of people actually in employment has gone down by so much?

I was referring to the fact—I want to emphasise it—that whatever claims can be made for this Budget, there is one thing that no Deputy should overlook and one thing that I certainly do not propose to allow the people to overlook, if I can help it, that is, that this Budget maintains the position with regard to the removal of food subsidies. Under the financial wizardy of Fianna Fáil over the last few years, £9 million has been taken off the kitchen tables of the people in the removal of food subsidies.

That money has been saved to the Fianna Fáil Government. If there were any Government in power other than the present Government, £9 million would have been found and used for the purpose of subsidising the people's food, of keeping the prices of essential foodstuffs down. Fianna Fáil, the strong Government with the overall majority, decided that they would have nothing to do with that and they cut out the subsidies, saving themselves £9 million. What are they giving in return for the £9 million which they have taken off the kitchen [798] tables and out of the cupboard of the people?

They are giving 2/6d. a week to pensioners; they are reducing income tax by 6d.; and they are freeing greyhound racing and professional boxing, and some other entertainments, from taxation of one sort or another. But there is this sum of £9 million of the people's money provided by the previous Government and the people are getting back, I calculate, under this Budget, something in the reign of £3 million by way of reliefs. I think in last year's Budget, the Minister gave some reliefs. I have not made a calculation of the total involved, but whatever the total of the reliefs in that Budget and in the present Budget, £9 million has gone down the drain, as far as the people are concerned.

It will be conceded by the Minister and his Party that their predecessors at least achieved the position in which the prices of essential foodstuffs were maintained at a reasonably low level. I do not know if any Fianna Fáil Deputy wants to contest that. I do know that a great number of people would like to get back to the position in which their food would cost them only what it cost them under the inter-Party Government. In connection with the price of bread and butter, the two main articles of diet in a number of houses, the Minister for Defence on 15th May, 1957, had this reference to make and I quote from the Dáil Debates for that date at column 1287:—

It is a fact, of course, that these subsidies were retained and that therefore the two items to which food subsidies refer, bread and butter, were kept at an artificially low level during the Coalitions period of office; but the question is at what price to the community in general were those commodities kept down and the subsidies retained? I think it was at a price which the community were not prepared to pay.

The Minister goes on:—

People realise now—and they showed they realised it by voting [799] for Fianna Fáil at the last election—that there was no ultimate advantage to the workers in having low prices and no work.

What is the position now, after two and a half years of Fianna Fáil's best efforts, after two and a half years of Fianna Fáil “cracking”? The Minister for Defence was able to say in 1957 that during the period in office of the previous Government, it was a case of having low prices and no work. Will he or any other Deputy sitting behind him now deny that if that was true, the position now is a case of high prices and still no work, because there are 32,000 fewer people in employment than in the year 1956. What of the people who, according to the Minister for Defence, put their faith in Fianna Fáil to remedy the situation? What have they got out of a change of Government? The subsidies have been removed and there is nothing in this Budget which is replacing a penny piece of any of those subsidies. The prices of food have gone up and up and up and the work is still not there and the people are still emigrating.

Now, I think, it would be quite relevant in this context to remind the House of what the Minister for Defence said in the same volume at column 1283. He said:—

In my opinion, and in the opinion of any fair-minded person who even now goes back and looks over the speeches made in the election campaign, it is beyond all doubt that we were put in here as a Government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of mass unemployment and emigration brought about by the previous Government. It is useless for the Opposition now to try to pretend that the action we have taken has come as a shock to the people. The people definitely realised that it was necessary to take decisive and tough action and it was because Fianna Fáil were the only Party who could be trusted to do this that we were put back into office.

They were the Party that could be trusted to take decisive and tough [800] action and the decisive and tough action the Fianna Fáil Government took was to remove the food subsidies and that was for the purpose of pursuing the policy of ending mass unemployment and emigration.

Is there any Deputy opposite who can feel complacent about the efforts of either the Minister for Finance, or the Government as a whole, towards achieving either of those objectives over the past two and a half years? Do any of the Deputies opposite seriously think that by endeavouring to monkey around with our election system and to abolish proportional representation they will achieve the goal of ending mass unemployment and emigration? That speech of the Minister for Defence was not made on the hustings in the last general election; it was made when the election was over. It was made in this House, an acknowledgment from the Front Bench opposite as to why that Government were in office. Two years later, is there any Deputy opposite who feels that he can give the Government a pat on the back for having gone any appreciable distance in the direction of achieving those objectives?

I have here a publication of the Fianna Fail Party calling on the people to vote Fianna Fail in the general election. I do not know what on earth the document is called; it has a photograph of the Taoiseach on the front page, with the slogan “Let Us Go Ahead Again”. On page two, it starts —“All Energies Devoted to One Aim —Full Employment” and on page three, from which I propose to quote, is an article headed—“Action can Start Now.” It reads:—

“Over 90,000 people are now out of work. The Coalition says it can do nothing for them now.”

—the word “now” is in black type—

“Fianna Fáil believes that work must be provided at once.”

There is nothing in any way weak or doubtful about that. Fianna Fáil proclaimed to the people that they believed that work must be provided at once. Here we are, three years later, with 32,000 people fewer in employment.

[801] I do not know whether you are aware of it or not, Sir, but Fianna Fáil published a document when there was a by-election in Cork, asking the people of Cork city to vote for Deputy Galvin. This appeal contained an article telling the people of Cork city that “quick action was needed to avert national disaster” and that Fianna Fáil had plans “to end emigration.”

Lest I be accused of misquoting in any way, while I shall not give too long a quotation, I want to quote the full text of this article. It says:

“The present spate of emigration is the most serious problem facing the nation. The recent census report has shown that the situation must be righted quickly if disaster is to be avoided. In contrast to the inaction of the present Coalition, Fianna Fáil has been preparing its plans for the day when the Party again take up the reins of Government. The full employment proposals announced by Fianna Fáil show how the Party intend to deal with the problem of emigration, by providing work for our own people at home. The Fianna Fáil plan proposes an increase over five years in the number of new jobs by 100,000. This would result in full employment and the end of abnormal emigration.”

The people of Cork were told that Fianna Fáil were planning and that the Fianna Fáil plan proposed an increase, over five years, in the number of new jobs so as to place 100,000 people. Fianna Fáil have gone through half the span which they allowed themselves. They have been in office now for two and a half years. If the Fianna Fáil plan were worth a hang, we should have 50,000 new jobs created and that number of new people in employment since they came into office. Instead of that, the official figures published by the Government disclose the sorry position to which I have referred already—32,000 people fewer in employment in 1958 as compared with 1956.

Deputy Sweetman pointed out, when he spoke last week, that import prices have decreased by 10 per cent., that [802] they have dropped from 117 to 107 and that, notwithstanding the advantage to the Government of that position, internal prices, the cost of living index, rose by the same figures, roughly from 107 to 116 or 117. When Deputy Burke talks of the Minister having given “hope to the people of Ireland and to every section of the people”, I wonder if he is overlooking the fact that in 1958 total savings dropped by £15 millions on the year 1957, that they dropped from some £60 millions to £45 millions as between 1958 and 1957. Is he aware that the gross national production was down by 2 per cent. as between 1958 and 1957 and was also, I think, lower than in 1956— the “black year of 1956”, as Fianna Fáil like to refer to it?

As I said when I commenced, there is nothing Fianna Fáil can find to raise any cheer about in this Budget. The Budget is a most disappointing effort. The Minister could not have done less on the income-tax front without being told he was insulting the people by offering a decrease of less than sixpence. From the reply given to a Parliamentary Question last week the amount which old age pensioners will be getting, even when they get this increase, will correspond roughly to 5/- in the year 1909 or 1910. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach in the House at the moment. He was responsible for giving the answer to which I refer and no doubt he will be able to confirm that my recollection is reasonably accurate.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach (Donnchadh Ó Briain): Information on Donnchadh Ó Briain  Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Briain  24/7 to 5/-.

Mr. M.J. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Yes, 24/7 is equal to 5/-. That is the best effort of the Government. I remember, when I was a very young person taking an interest in politics, a number of people supporting the Fianna Fáil Party used to rejoice in interrupting the public with: “What about the shilling off the old age pensioner?” The old age pensioner, if he had now the equivalent purchasing power of the 9/- of those days, would be far better off than he is under the Fianna Fáil Government, who have jacked up the price of food, [803] taken off the subsidies and, by deliberate, positive Government action, pushed up the cost of living on every section of the people.

That action naturally falls hardest and toughest on the poorer sections of the people, on the weaker sections financially, on people such as old age pensioners and others who are now being compensated by this increase of 2/6d. a week. I cannot understand why the Government have decided that that increase should be postponed until August next. I think that very ready acceptance would be found on all sides of the House to a proposition that that increase should become operative immediately. I do not propose holding the House any longer. I am disappointed with the Budget. The Government, at the last general election, placarded the country with posters asking the people to let Fianna Fáil “get cracking”. They smothered every dead wall with posters calling upon to housewives of the country to get their husbands off to work: “Vote Fianna Fáil and get your husbands off to work.”

In their newspaper pronouncements and advertisements, and in their pronouncements by means of public utterances and speeches, they asked the people that unemployment should be the test of Government policy. We are prepared to judge Fianna Fáil by their own measuring stick. We are prepared to accept the challenge and to ask them to demonstrate to us—measured by their own yardstick, the yardstick of unemployment—what the Government have been doing for the last two and half years. I hope that before this debate ends the Government will make an effort to tell the House and the people how they propose operating the Fianna Fáil plan which was to give us 100,000 jobs in five years.

Mr. O.J. Flanagan: Information on Oliver J. Flanagan  Zoom on Oliver J. Flanagan  I feel I have quite a good deal to say on this Budget and I rise for the purpose of offering —if I may do so—the most serious possible criticism. I refer to the Budget as the Taoiseach's farewell gift to the old age pensioners. As a matter of fact, [804] it can be described as his farewell to Irish politics. If you examine the Budgets of Fianna Fáil before every single election you will find there was always some kind of a bait, a bribe of some kind, a vote-catching concession thrown out to the electorate. That only happened prior to elections, but the moment the elections were over and they had settled down for a term of two or three years in office, you then had the real test of Fianna Fáil's policy and saw how they treated the old age pensioners, the taxpayers, the farmers and every section of the community.

This Budget is no different from any other Fianna Fáil Budget introduced prior to an election and, no matter what the Minister for Finance, or any Deputy on the Government side may say, it is purely an election Budget. It is purely a vote-catching Budget; there would be no question whatever of giving the miserable one-eighth of a £ to old age pensioners if it were not for the purpose of soliciting their votes in the Presidential election. It puts a weapon into the hands of Fianna Fáil supporters. They can now say: “Vote for de Valera; he gave you the half crown on your old age pension.”

The sad part of it is that even after 20 years of this kind of political activity there are still people in the country falling for that type of thing. This Budget is a typical Fianna Fáil election Budget and, no matter what way the Minister for Finance may try to brush it up, it is still only an effort to attract votes.

Deputy Briscoe went one better and said that this is the first instalment of prosperity, that the next Budget will be better and the one after that better again. He forgets that we have been promised prosperity since 1932 but we seem to be as far away from it as ever. The Minister for Industry and Commerce says that at least we are around the corner and have now entered into a period of economic recovery. If we have only now entered into a period of economic recovery, what have the present Government been doing for the past 20 years?

St. Patrick's Day is an occasion for rejoicing, a day which causes great [805] pride in the hearts of all Irishmen at home and abroad. On St. Patrick's Day this year most of the Government Ministers were outside our shores speaking of and praising Ireland. There was only one speech at home, a speech of importance that sounded a very sad note. It was a speech made by Most Rev. Dr. Lucey, Bishop of Cork, at a dinner given by the Lord Mayor of Cork in the Imperial Hotel in which he said that, in relation to the total population, there was less work and more emigration now than at any time since the Famine. Members of the Government were making speeches about prosperity in America, in England, and all over the world. They were talking about Irish prosperity but they were talking to those who were prosperous outside our country. The Bishop of Cork knew from his own experience what he was talking about. He rules over a vanishing diocese, a diocese which is not much different from some other dioceses to-day, but he is not afraid to talk though the others keep silent for one reason or another.

Is there any Deputy in this House who can say that the Bishop of Cork was telling lies to his listeners in the Imperial Hotel? Is there any Fianna Fáil Deputy, from the Taoiseach down to someone who may be a prospective member of the Government, who can stand up to say that the Lord Bishop of Cork was wrong when he said there was less work and more emigration than at any time since the Famine? Yet, we are told we are around the corner now and are facing a period of economic recovery, but this is the type of speech we hear from one of the most distinguished Churchmen in the country.

Have the Government lost all sense of reason? Do they not realise that there is an unemployment problem in the country which is causing great hardship for the 70,000 registered unemployed? Despite the fact that there are 70,000 registered, there are [806] 20,000 others not registered, for one reason or another. There is a large section of our people in receipt of disablement benefit from local authorities. They are living on less than £1 a week, supplemented by home assistance, and they are not registered as unemployed because they cannot work. They are living under the most desperate conditions of dire want and poverty. Is it any wonder that only a few weeks ago, in reference to the poor in the city of Dublin, the Catholic Social Service Conference made reference to the fact that here, in this city, in its 21 food centres, they served 2,523,258 meals to the Dublin poor. These were people who could not buy a meal. They served 130,797 special meals to poor mothers and distributed 124,585 pints of milk and 4,284 sets of babies' clothes. Despite that, it is stated that we have reached a stage of economic recovery and progress.

It cannot be humanly possible that the members of the Government have lost their sense of sight and hearing, that they have reached the stage that they are so elevated from the general public that they have brought themselves into an atmosphere of prosperity which, in their hearts, they feel exists universally. Any Deputy in constant touch with the people in rural Ireland must know that there is an extraordinary type of emigration taking place at the present time. Up to this you had one or two members of a family going to England to eke out an existence, but now you have reached a stage that the whole family goes. They bar the door, put a padlock on the gate, a sack across the chimney tied with a tight wire to keep the crows from building nests there, and the whole family emigrates.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 22nd April, 1959.

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