Thursday, 13 March 1975
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. O'Connor: When the debate was adjourned I had covered the interests we have in Europe and the advantages we have there. Since then some major factors have come to light which compel me to go back on some of them. The agreement that was reached here over the past few days, whereby Britain has succeeded in getting an extension of the time for the purchase of agricultural products from New Zealand, leaves us in a worrying situation in view of the fact that the British market has meant so much to us in the past and must still be one of our major markets if Britain remains within the Community. It is unfortunate that bigger members of the Community can bring pressure to bear and do what suits their own interests.
We experienced difficulty when Germany and other countries were allowed to purchase meat from countries outside the EEC and this affected our cattle trade. We will have to keep a close watch on our imports from Britain because much of the material comes from countries who have not the same kind of labour conditions as we have here. We must be realistic about the situation. As we are in the EEC we should be able to get all the benefits of membership. We should impress on member states that this kind of back-door entry of materials and goods is not in the best interests of the Community or of our country. We must not forget that we wield a quite considerable influence in the Community and we should not hesitate to bring this matter to the notice of the other member countries.
It is disappointing that the money we will get from the regional fund will not be given directly to the fishing industry and to help turf production. This kind of aid would give maximum help in an area where employment is badly needed. More important, it would  give employment to people who are not able to work in industry; in this connection I am referring to middle-aged people who have always been engaged in outdoor work. It is vital that these people be given employment in their own environment and in the kind of work they are used to and any money we get from the EEC should be allotted for this purpose. Earlier this year I attended a meeting of the central development committees in Athlone and I was amazed to hear the agricultural experts from Brussels who attended that meeting. The bulk of the FEOGA funds were channelled into projects for vast milking parlours, for concreting big yards and for huge grain silos. We are getting these funds because of the underdeveloped areas along the west coast but the interests of the people in that area are not being considered. The Government should urgently consider this question.
I understand that out of the entire FEOGA funds only a small amount has been allocated for a pier at Caherciveen, minor improvements have been carried out to a pier in Valentia, a small sum of money was allotted to County Clare and a further amount was given to a fish processing plant in Dublin. That is the extent of the benefit the west got from the fund. We hear a lot of talk about development by various spokesmen; they tell us they are trying to help the western areas but nothing practical is being done. The money is being channelled to other spheres. Perhaps the people of the west are somewhat to blame because they have not applied pressure on the Government. In the last 50 years they have given up hope of being helped to any extent. We should try to ensure that they get a decent livelihood and that those who have emigrated are given the chance to return.
If we had anything to gain from the EEC it was the development of areas such as the west. I am given to understand that a director of the regional development organisation in Brussels was brought to this country recently by the Cork Chamber of Commerce —I think the Tralee Chamber of Commerce were involved in this also. The official came to Dublin and was  received by the Ministers for Industry and Commerce and Finance. Afterwards he went to Cork and was taken by the chamber of commerce around Cork harbour and was also taken to the vicinity of Kanturk to see the underdeveloped areas. Nobody would hold that Kanturk is an underdeveloped area. It is quite convenient to Cork and there is full employment there, the bulk of the people being employed in the city of Cork.
A German gentleman flew in. He visited Connemara but apparently nobody told him about the conditions that obtain in most of County Kerry, in Clare and in west Cork. This has been the grievance for a long time. For instance, there was a fishery meeting in Dublin during the week but the people who should have been there were not and we had no support.
Going back to the German's visit to Cork, neither Cork nor Kerry County Councils were informed of his visit and the Cork Regional Development people—I am a director of the board —knew anything about his visit until he was on his way out. The secretary of the development board told me he knew nothing about his advent. I cannot understand how the Departments of Finance and Industry and Commerce did not inform us of his visit.
The Tralee Chamber of Commerce have been trying to get money for the development of Fenit pier and Farranfore airport. I cannot see the logic in having the pier and airport developed before we have the means to develop the production that will make them viable. I am glad the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs is here and I hope he will take a particular note of what I have been saying.
Mr. O'Connor: I am particularly interested in business development. I came into this House to try to improve the lot of the people among whom I live, to try to bring about the day when they can get work in their own areas. I spent three years in  Europe and I used every minute of my time to get through to chambers of commerce, particularly those in Germany. I managed to get three substantial industries for my own town and I have tried to get development beyond it as well. We have a large number of middle-aged people existing on the dole who are all the time looking for productive work.
On the last occasion I explained that turf production can be a major factor in our balance of payments situation. It is a different proposition now from 1942-50 because of improved machinery. There is a very useful portable machine which has been used in Cahirciveen. It has been hired out in Roscommon. There is a vast area of bogland in Connemara, Mayo, mid-Roscommon and Kerry which, if developed could yield up to 2 million tons of turf, the equivalent of 500,000 tons of coal. Coal is being sold at £40 per ton and the turf we could put on sale at £8 per ton—excellent hard turf—would make turf production an excellent business. Many people in my area who had installed oil burning equipment have now gone over to an excellent new turf and wood burner. There will be an excellent market for our turf in many areas as far east as Mullingar and Athlone. Apart from providing an excellent native fuel it would save us the worry and concern of having to find currency to pay for oil and fuel imports.
The turf production machine I mentioned extracts 18 per cent of the moisture. In former days, in the weather conditions we have, it took three to four days to extract that amount of moisture. Once 18 per cent has been removed the turf dries very quickly.
Mr. O'Connor: That is where some of the money should be going. Our  bog roads and drains have been left unattended for 20 years. The message I want to get across is that if some of this money were set aside—and I think this is the intention—to develop our natural resources, which would have a large employment content, that would be a very worthwhile exercise.
May I revert again to give an illustration of what I saw and studied in Cahirciveen? A young lad there came home from England six or seven years ago. He bought one of those turf machines to supply the ESB station in Cahirciveen and for the workers there. He had as many as 75 men employed on and off for a period of six months. That was a very useful industry and afforded some workers the opportunity of getting something for their stamp money. They were men who would normally have been on the dole.
We do need money and I raised this matter, in writing, with the Minister for Finance before in an endeavour to get separate induction money into the county councils, if necessary, with which to open up the drains, bog drains and streams and have roads resurfaced. It does not take a large amount of money to resurface a bog road but a certain amount has to be expended each year to keep it passable. That was the experience we had during the war when every year there was expended £50 or £100 to strengthen the weaker parts of the roads. Possibly we are too late to have it implemented this year but there is a great future for employment in the areas most in need of it and for the people who can undertake it. It saves the payment of unemployment benefit, gets such people into the type of healthy employment they need, giving them the feeling they are serving a purpose in the community and that they do not have to go with their hands out to the labour exchanges.
There does not appear to be any overall co-ordination between the different Departments working towards development. Much of the energy and ability being expended is wasted by overlapping of Departments or through gaps between them not being filled. In the past when we were  trying to develop our energies in order to get the good things of life perhaps the “stop/go” method was necessary in that step by step development. But today we are a viable country, except for the underdeveloped areas of the west. But there is no co-ordination between the various productive Departments which should obtain in our present position. In order to pinpoint this I might say that four or five years ago a substantial grant was given for the development of the pier and harbour in Cahirciveen. The Board of Works were handling the matter but, for some reason, they were unable to get started within that financial year. By the time they got round to doing it the following year, the costs had increased considerably. We had to go back to the Departments concerned to have the increase santioned, with Kerry County Council contributing, and by the time all that had been done again the Board of Works were not ready to commence work. That had the result of delaying the work a further year. Now, after four years, we are still in that position. If I might use a local Kerry term: there has been no stroke struck in the start of this work in Cahirciveen. In my younger days when somebody referred to a project that went on too long, getting nowhere, they would say: “That is going on as long as Cahirciveen church.” It took many years to build and the steeple intended for it was never built. I am afraid we now have a good competitor in Cahirciveen pier. At present it looks as though it will be going on and on because, wherever the fault lies, it is taking so long to make a start, when they are ready, the costs will have gone haywire again.
Mr. O'Connor: I am not pin-pointing Cahirciveen, as such. I am trying to make the case that there is no co-ordination between the Departments involved in development here. If some Department is found unable to stand up to its commitments, whatever may be the reasons, it must be within the power of human ingenuity to have it solved. If there is a Department not fitting into modern progress, put it out of the job altogether and get somebody else to do it. By way of illustration I pointed out that four years ago we passed the moneys for Cahirciveen harbour works and still nothing has been done. That will remain the position unless there is a change of approach.
Mr. O'Connor: I am not concerned with the political aspects so much as the facts. I have given my time to the country since my very early days by coming into this House. Indeed, I have met with many frustrations in my time. Had I known what I would be up against perhaps I might never have come in here but I am not sorry for having done so. I think I have succeeded in doing the job I set out to do in my immediate area. I try to do my best for Kerry, and in so doing, I feel I am doing it for the country as a whole. I am following up the question of getting Valentia harbour developed. It is one of the finest fishery harbours in Europe. In years to come we could have employment there for 5,000 people and have exports out of that port valuing £20 million, or anything up to that, per annum of fish products.  I hope to see that at least on the road to development before I step out of this climate altogether.
Those are my ambitions and I know them to be possible of achievement. I have followed up the fisheries interest throughout Europe and have seen the way people work. We have the ability, brains and energy to do it here. That is a wealth we should be bringing in. As I said before, we get excited about the millions of pounds worth of oil we are supposed to have off the Cork coast which will be brought in at colossal cost.
We have a continuing inflow of wealth along our west coast. All we need to do is rake it in. This is the sort of thing into which the money we are getting from Europe should be channelled—the development of modern piers for the modern trawlers of 120 and 160 feet. This would enable us to bring in loads of materials from 50 to 100 miles off our coast, thus bringing untold wealth to our people, giving the kind of employment along our entire west coast which would keep our people at home, bring back many of them who are outside, increase our population and give a way of life to all our people.
Mr. E. Collins: I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his first contribution to the House in his capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It was an appointment that was well merited. The only regret I have is that he is not acting in a permanent capacity, because the Minister for Foreign Affairs is grossly overworked in his office, and, in view of our membership of the EEC, that Department needs a full-time Parliamentary Secretary.
I was rather disappointed with the speech of the Fianna Fáil spokesman, Deputy O'Kennedy, who seemed to be trying to downgrade the Minister, which brings no credit on himself or his party. It is well known abroad that our Minister for Foreign Affairs is a very able man. He has a very high standard not only in Britain but throughout Europe and in America.  I do not know why Deputy O'Kennedy decided to attack him; certainly he overplayed his hand. I do not think that matter arises. If our Minister is capable of leading the European Economic Community in certain directions for the benefit not only of Ireland but of the EEC, I think he is entitled to do so, and good luck to him. If we want to become fully involved in European politics and in the development of Europe, I do not think, because we are a small nation, we should play only a small part in such development. On the contrary, I think we have a great deal to offer Europe. If we have a Minister who wants to throw himself into the pool, so to speak, and try to lead Europe into prosperity, I think we should give him our full support, and I would say the criticism levelled at him by the Opposition spokesman was in bad taste.
We have had our Dublin Summit— I do not think we want to call it “Summit” any more, but a meeting of heads of State. We have had the political performance of Mr. Wilson who came over as an actor rather than a politician in order to get certain extra benefits for Britain so that he could go back and tell his Parliament and his people that they may now stay in the EEC. I never believed at any time that Britain's withdrawal was to her advantage. Unfortunately the British Prime Minister was playing politics with the whole question of Europe. Reading Mr. Richard Crossman's diaries in The Sunday Times one gets the distinct impression that Mr. Wilson was in favour of Europe as far back as the mid-sixties. However, I am not interested in the British position, but I am glad that our position was clarified inasmuch as if Britain withdraws we shall not follow suit. I do not believe the British people will withdraw from Europe, because a policy of isolation for Britain at this point would be disastrous for her economy. I do not believe the £ would survive nor do I believe British industry would be able successfully to overcome the trade barriers which would be erected against  it. I am sure the British people will give a clear-cut decision in favour of staying in Europe when the referendum takes place, and this is something I would personally welcome.
There is a tendency of drift within the EEC. The slight malaise was brought on by the high level of inflation and by the critical employment situation throughout Europe which developed after the oil crisis. There has been a tendency to doubt the strength of Europe. I believe that the Dublin Summit will have served as a launching pad for another economic takeoff in Europe, a restarting, if you like, of our economic engines. With the anti-inflation policy which has been pursued by Germany and now being pursued by France, I believe that within the next 12 months there will be a return to a satisfactory growth pattern throughout the Community which, of course, will be of great benefit to Ireland.
Everybody admits we are going through a hard period of unemployment here. It is difficult to pinpoint how it happened. A certain amount can be attributed to the oil crisis, but it is not easy to forecast when we shall come out of the valley period. I thought a few months ago that we would have started a solid economic recovery early in the New Year, but I am now inclined to think that we shall see a substantial reduction in unemployment in the next few months.
There should be a great debate concerning a vital matter, that is, the value of the Irish £. We are in an unprecedented state of inflation. Last year the consumer price index increased by 20 per cent and this year it is expected to increase by a similar amount. We have two problems: are we going to preserve the value of the £ as we know it now or are we going to put employment as our first priority, pursue an anti-inflation policy and thus rejuvenate our economy. I have not heard many arguments put forward by economic experts, who should evaluate the alternatives that face us. We are living in very unusual times. There are great social changes coming. This upheaval of the last year  will mean a restructuring of our society which may benefit us as a country in the long run.
The question of whether we preserve employment or the value of the £ as we now know it is a very interesting one and I should like to see it aired more in public. The establishment of a regional fund was a step forward, something we sought. We receive £35 million over a period and I hope this will be increased in coming years. It would be interesting to know in what areas this money will be used. Will a particular area be treated as an underdeveloped area or will the fund be used over the whole of Ireland? Will it be used for specialised industries or to improve the infrastructure of the country, such as roads, harbours, piers and so on? These questions are not yet answered but they deserve to be answered and discussed here.
One aspect of the present situation is unfortunate. The Dáil gets a twice yearly report on developments in the European Community, and the one now under discussion is the fourth report. This is quite proper and it is fair to give credit to those who produce the report which is an informative document covering various policy fields within the Community. It gives us an opportunity here of airing our views on any area of the EEC. We hear many voices, the farmers through the farm organisations and the industrialists through the Confederation of Irish Industry, all giving their own pronouncements on EEC developments. But what I miss is a voice from the universities where we have many able people but they seem locked up in their ivory towers. The universities, with their specialised facilities, should have produced a paper discussing the development of the EEC, the institution and the various policies and effects on our society. The universities should be seen as an independent, neutral, expert body and I am disappointed to have heard so little from them on the EEC and its effects here.
In the absence of a university forum —if you like—I suggest that money be provided for the establishment of an Institute of European Studies  which should be a non-political, expert body, not a massive institute but capable of employing or commissioning experts to produce papers on various aspects of EEC policy. This would fill a gap in our information on EEC development. Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas receive “cart-loads” of documents weekly from the EEC in large, brown envelopes. I admit I put them aside rather quickly and I do not think I can be blamed for that because they are very technical, specialised documents. There is a gap in our appreciation and criticism of the EEC which since it is not being filled by the universities could be filled by the establishment of the institute I have mentioned. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary's comments on this.
I am interested in the development the EEC are undertaking in association with outside countries and also in the various agreements undertaken with what is, perhaps, described as the Third World, the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, the agreement in Lome. I agree that Ireland has a part to play in providing assistance to Third World countries but there are some countries relatively well off. In the case of any trade agreement which develops between, say, New Zealand, Australia, Canada or the Argentine —especially New Zealand and the Argentine which are strong competitors of ours on the European meat market—we should voice our opinion clearly that the Irish provision should be protected. At the Dublin Summit one of the problems which emerged from the British position was the situation in relation to cheese and butter exports from New Zealand. I am not very interested in developments in New Zealand but I am interested in the protection of the European market, if at all possible, for Irish products and I object vehemently to any importation of meat from the Argentine or any other source, into European countries. The greatest advantage the EEC offered us and which we accepted was the advantage of a high-priced European market for our meat and other products. Every step should be taken by our Ministers to protect  our interests and we should fight very strongly against opening the European market to imports of meat products from these other countries.
Before leaving the matter of agreements with countries outside Europe I believe we should not be too interested in developing trade with countries from which we import substantially more than we export to them. We should, where possible—and if we are strong enough, it should be possible—concentrate on bilateral trade agreements ensuring that we export to various countries amounts similar to what we import from them. I am talking particularly about the East European bloc. Our imports from them are substantially greater than our exports to them. Also, although we are members of the EEC we should not neglect the American and Canadian markets which can be very strong markets.
Assuming that a policy of open international trade is pursued, and that a protectionist policy does not emerge in those countries, we should keep our eye on those markets, and make sure that all our eggs are not in one basket. We should be aware of the advantages which lie in America and especially in Canada which is a developing, strong, industrial nation.
Dumping of goods from Far Eastern countries, such as Taiwan and Japan, in the EEC has come to my attention. There is the perennial question of the definition of dumping, but I am satisfied that goods are being sold in Ireland from those countries at uneconomic prices, at prices which are damaging to the development of certain industries, such as the leather industry in Ireland. We should put our foot down. I do not see why we should allow these cheap imports to come in from Taiwan and Japan. We owe nothing to those countries. We owe it to ourselves to protect and develop and foster our own industries where at all possible. I understand that there may be technical reasons within the EEC agreement which make it difficult to stop this dumping. Stronger steps  should be taken to protect ourselves from Far Eastern dumping.
The political developments within the EEC are interesting. As a member of the Council of Europe I am familiar with the question of Cyprus. The Turkish invasion of Cyprus was an act of war and of aggression. Unfortunately, it was allowed to happen because the American Government and the British Government stood idly by. This was most unfortunate. The situation now emerging in Cyprus is that the Turks have literally drawn a border across the island and intend to annex the prosperous northern part of the island for use by Turkish Cypriots. This will lead to a long-term war-like situation on the island because I do not believe that the Greek Cypriots who are to be pushed to the south will live in peace under those circumstances.
I voiced my opinions very strongly on the Political Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe when this question was discussed. I did not get very far because the big nations did not want to upset what looked like a short-term settlement. The long-term prob-terms which will emerge from the existence of the border, and which we in Ireland would perhaps be more aware of than many other nations, will be a constant source of aggression and trouble in that area. I do not believe the EEC did enough to avert that situation. I have been watching it quite carefully in Europe. The big powers have done nothing. They just let the situation slide and, in the meantime, the Turkish forces have entrenched themselves even more solidly on the island. Because of the distance from Cyprus to Greece Greek forces are not in existence, nor can the Greek Government bring any influence to bear on the situation.
The guarantor powers did nothing. The British did nothing and they should have done something. The position of the Americans on the whole problem of Cyprus is very much open to question. I was in Greece last December on an official visit from the Council of Europe. The Greek people are satisfied that American involvement was quite strong in the overthrow of the Makarios Government,  and they think that perhaps the CIA assisted in the assassination attempt on Makarios. The Americans are in pretty poor standing in Greece. That is not the only place where they are in poor standing, but I saw it there at first hand. The question of Cyprus is a sad one and the EEC did very little about it. They are to be condemned for not trying to avert this situation which has led to the creation of another border.
The political situation in Portugal is giving concern. The overthrow of the dictatorship was welcomed. The forces of the left which are very evident in Portugal now are skating on thin ice. There is no doubt that the existing ruling parties in Portugal, even though they are facing an election in a few weeks' time, intend to hold on to power. This gave rise to the abortive attempt earlier this week at a coup d' état by certain forces within the army. The democratic situation in Portugal is very delicate and I doubt very much that the coming elections will be successful. They are in for a difficult period in Portugal. Again I get this awful feeling that the EEC are not that much interested in getting involved with the situation in Portugal, any more than they were interested in getting involved in the Cyprus situation last year.
On the question of Greece which was also referred to in the report, the association the EEC had with Greece, which was suspended in 1967 when the dictatorship took over, has now been restored. The re-establishment of democracy in Greece has been welcomed. I witnessed this at first hand. I was rapporteur on behalf of the Council of Europe on the readmission of Greece to the Council of Europe and I was over there with a delegation last December. The Greek people have come through a very dark period. The torture centres were very evident. The people who were tortured are very happy that that period is over. The re-establishment under Karamanlis of a conservative Government has been welcomed in a country which is quite active politically and which is quite used to having confrontations between the left and the right.
Mr. E. Collins: Yes. They successfully established a parliamentary system. Their elections were successful. This was a very interesting experience for me. It was a very good example of how a nation can fight a dictatorship, overthrow a dictatorship, and successfully get back to a system of democracy. There will be changes in the Greek democracy. Political patronage was rife under the old pre-1967 Government. Karamanlis is a very brave premier. He is trying to establish a sound parliamentary system and a sound system of democracy in Greece. He deserves our support. The EEC welcomed Greece back as an associate member very soon after the Karamanlis Government took over.
There is not much point in my starting to speak about the EEC-Arab dialogue because I want to deal with it at length. It is very interesting that a number of countries are now very rich in money terms, very wealthy in terms of money, but very poor in terms of natural resources apart from their golden egg, the oil. We should now ensure that whatever business we can do with the Arabs is done quickly, efficiently and effectively. Whether the Department of Foreign Affairs can undertake this mission or not, I do not know but certainly there should be some Government agency there trying to establish bases, trying to establish channels of trade. There is no point in developing it further now as the debate will be adjourned in ten seconds' time.
In regard to the general political situation in Europe, we are now coming out of a dark period of unemployment, of stagnation, if you like. We have regained confidence in ourselves as a community and we have regained confidence in ourselves as a nation. We can look forward to the next few years as a period in which there will be further economic development, further social development within the Community. I move the adjournment of the debate.
|Last Updated: 14/09/2010 21:01:13||Page of 56|