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Private Members' Business. - Cattle and Sheep Prices (Resumed).

Tuesday, 18 October 1966

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 224 No. 10

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Debate resumed on the following motion:

That Dáil Éireann condemns the manner in which the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries last January misled the farmers about future prospects for cattle and sheep and calls on the Government to take urgent steps to protect those engaged in the livestock industry from the immediate disaster that faces them as a result of the serious drop in cattle and sheep prices which has occurred at the same time as the farmers are being asked to pay [1444] increased rates and find their credit restricted.

—(Deputy Clinton.)

Mr. Crinion: Information on Brendan Crinion Zoom on Brendan Crinion When I reported progress last week, I was drawing a comparison between the relative merits of the 1955-56 period and the 1965-66 period. When one has regard to what the Opposition had been doing in 1955-56 — I am taking the market return for the price of cattle — one will see that it dropped in the 1955 peak period from 152/- down to 93/- in 1956. Taking the corresponding period this year and last year, it dropped from 169/- down to 126/-. The drop in 1956 was 38 per cent and, at the present time, it is only 25 per cent. Not alone had the Opposition been giving the farmers an exceptionally bad price, they really drove it hard on them because they dropped the price of wheat by 10/- per barrel, whereas last year our Minister increased the price of wheat by 10/- a barrel which gave an opportunity to a number of our farmers this year when we had a good harvest. They are significant features which show that the Opposition did not really consider what they were doing when putting down this motion.

We can also see the same thing with regard to the price of lamb on the market at the present time. The Opposition cribbed that the Minister was not doing enough for lambs this year but it must be remembered that the price of lamb is exactly the same on the Dublin market at the present time as it was this time last year.

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton Zoom on Mark A. Clinton Nonsense.

Mr. Crinion: Information on Brendan Crinion Zoom on Brendan Crinion Take the official returns of the market on 5th October this year and you will find that it was 146/9 per cwt, exactly the same as it was on 5th October last year. Therefore, it can be seen that the Opposition did not really examine the position when putting down this motion.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon Oh, boy, we did. We have the figures here and we will not see you for dust on the road when I quote them for you.

Mr. Crinion: Information on Brendan Crinion Zoom on Brendan Crinion It is through our Minister's intercession that we have [1445] the English market in lambs at the present time. It is guaranteed up to 5,500 tons. Not alone have we got that, but the Minister has seen fit to announce that the Government will back whatever is exported over and above the 5,500 tons of lamb into the English market.

Getting back to cattle—to show where we have been backed on the livestock markets—we have been guaranteed 25,000 tons on the British market and our Government are backing the British figures to our Irish factories, so that they are competing at the same rate as the other two people exporting abroad. When one examines this, it must be realised that the Minister—when he saw the price of cattle was falling so drastically on the Irish market in August—instead of sitting tight, went to the Government and got the Minister for Finance and his colleagues to agree to pay a subsidy on the comparable price in England. Never before had anything like that been done. As I have pointed out, when the Opposition were in power, they let it ride, let the farmer suffer the consequences and made it harder for him by dropping the price of wheat as well, whereas we hope to have the amount of money it will cost to supplement this export of beef and live beef on to the English market. We will see, with each succeeding week, how it is mounting up.

When you have a recession in the general market, you always have a downward trend in the cattle trade because if people have their wages cut back through short time and they have commitments like electricity, possibly hire purchase on television, cars and other fixed commitments, such as rent and rates, the only thing they can do is to reduce on foodstuffs and go for cheaper cuts. That is what has been happening. I saw a television interview recently with a housewife who said that, with the lowering of the wage packet, she would have to go for cheaper cuts of meat. That has been one of the factors.

We must also remember that the Minister was told yesterday, when he was in London, that what was suffered by the English farmers in regard to stores was much greater than what [1446] was suffered here. There are great fluctuations in some of the English prices, to the extent of 50/- a cwt., between the different markets. The market has been depressed to a certain extent when it was overloaded or over-supplied. A difference of 50/- is considerable.

We were told that the number of stores going into the English market in September, 1965, was something like 40,000. This year it dropped to 20,000. The reason for the sudden drop was that they went over completely to beef cattle. But for the agreement to pay the subsidy, it would be hard to think what would have happened to our cattle trade. The figure for live beef exports in September, 1965, was 7,000. That has gone up to 20,000 now, which shows that the subsidy and the support payments that the Government have been giving have been having their effect. If you go into a factory and leave your cattle there——

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon If they let you leave them in.

Mr. Crinion: Information on Brendan Crinion Zoom on Brendan Crinion They certainly will: I have never seen one refused yet. That is my own experience. They do their best to take all the cattle they can. They are working at full capacity. I have seen the three factories in my constituency and they are working at full capacity, and are doing a really worthwhile job for the Irish farmer. The farmers themselves have seen the value of the subsidy on cattle going into factories, and the benefit of these support payments which the Government have been giving.

I was pleased to learn from the Minister that the very useful trade we had some years ago—the boneless beef trade with the United States—has been opened up again. Since 1st October of this year, 3,000 tons of this meat have been exported to the United States at a value of approximately £1 million. The Department and the Minister must take a certain amount of credit for this market, because it was due to their intervention that it has been re-opened. It is a really sizeable and worthwhile market. The Minister has been prepared to travel to Europe to [1447] try to find markets wherever possible. We have seen the Minister——

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds The National Farmers Association put on the pressure.

Mr. Crinion: Information on Brendan Crinion Zoom on Brendan Crinion It is not expected that the Minister should travel abroad to try to sell cattle and beef all over Europe. The fact that he did shows that he was aware of the farmers' plight and was behind them and went out of his way to help them. The cattle trade is a completely private enterprise, but when private enterprise fell down, the Minister stepped in and got markets for them. We can expect more markets——

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton Zoom on Mark A. Clinton On a point of order, time is curtailed and I think the Deputy has spoken for his full time.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan He has another five minutes.

Mr. Crinion: Information on Brendan Crinion Zoom on Brendan Crinion I tried to get in on the last occasion.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey Zoom on Charles J. Haughey Are Deputies afraid of him?

Mr. Donegan: Information on Patrick S. Donegan Zoom on Patrick S. Donegan That is the Minister's best joke yet.

Mr. Crinion: Information on Brendan Crinion Zoom on Brendan Crinion Young cattle are the worst affected at the present time.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon Hear, hear.

Mr. Crinion: Information on Brendan Crinion Zoom on Brendan Crinion The Minister has arranged for 8,400 of them to be sold in Egypt, and it is reasonable to expect that, with our trade delegation, and with a bit of luck, we will have a chance of getting some more outlets for our young cattle. That will strengthen the trade. Last year the Egyptian trade steadied the markets, particularly in the South. Where would we be if the same thing had happened to us as happened to the English trade in relation to the EEC? It would have been very serious for us but for the Free Trade Agreement and the guarantee of right of entry for years to come.

To get back to the Minister's statement about 2,000 head of cattle going into Europe, the really significant factor [1448] is that he has broken down the barrier against imports of any beef except from EEC countries. He was able to get this amount into Germany. If they like our cattle, and if things work out right, we may be able to get more in. At least the barrier is broken down. We must remember also that that hit the English farmers because they used to sell heavy beef on the Continent.

I have always known that it takes more than one factor to upset the cattle market. It takes quite a number of other things to bring down the price of cattle. It is such a big market that there must be quite a number of factors before it is downgraded to the point where it has an effect on us. The Minister and his Department have done an amount of work this year in order to help the farmers to bring up their incomes. There was the 10/- per barrel increase for wheat. There was the guarantee in relation to barley. There was the ratification of the Free Trade Area Agreement in July. There were the support payments in May which were quite a sizeable sum for the dairy farmers in particular.

When the price of cattle became depressed, the Minister went out of his way and did everything possible to try to get export markets abroad. One every sizeable market was the one I mentioned, the boneless beef trade on the American market. Great credit is due to him because of the fact that he has been able to get the support of his colleagues in giving this amount of money to support live beef exports. This was never done in the history of this country, not even when we had a drop of 38 per cent. Never before has any Minister dared go to his Cabinet and ask for price support.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan That is a good note on which to end.

Mr. Crinion: Information on Brendan Crinion Zoom on Brendan Crinion Just this sentence: I am well aware how serious the position is for our farmers and how much more serious it would have been were it not for the Free Trade Agreement. I can honestly say that at present the state of the cattle trade and its future and what we can do to help it are our daily pre-occupation.

[1449]Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon Seeing that Deputy Crinion had the last sentence so carefully written out, may I congratulate him on having read it so well?

In the limited time available to us in a debate of this character, I do not want to go into the history of what has brought about this catastrophe with which we are now faced but if anybody wants to read that story, he will find it in volume 223 of the Official Report of July 8th, 1966, at columns 2461 to 2467. I ask Deputies to note the date. I then warned them of what was about to happen. I said that catastrophe was upon us and that nothing but the most vigorous action then would save the most vulnerable element in our farming community from a catastrophe greater than anything we had seen during the Economic War. Bearing that date of July 6th in mind, I now ask Deputies to turn to 12th October, 1966, when the Minister for Agriculture, Mr. Haughey, spoke on this motion. Today we had the valiant Deputy Crinion coming battering in telling us that the Minister was a young Lochinvar and had performed prodigies of foresight and resource. I ask Deputies to look at column 1151 of volume 224 of 12th October, 1966. Deputy Haughey, Minister for Agriculture, said that the present unfortunate decline in prices was not anticipated by anyone. The report continues:

I admit it was not anticipated by me. I admit that in May of this year I had no indication at all that this situation would develop, and neither had anybody else. Neither had anybody in the Fine Gael Party. Neither had anybody in the Labour Party.

Mr. Clinton: It was the Minister's job to have it.

Mr. Haughey: No later than June of this year——

Mr. L'Estrange: The Minister told the farmers they would get £7 more and they are getting £20 less now.

Mr. Haughey: ——We were receiving inquiries to ascertain that we would be in a position to supply the numbers we had contracted [1450] for in the Free Trade Area Agreement because some authorities in the United Kingdom were at that time worried about the supply position and were anxious that we should be in a position to meet our undertakings. In June of this year, therefore, there was no indication whatever that this situation was about to develop.

I have been Minister for Agriculture and I know the Department pretty well. I know the resources the Minister has at his disposal. They are incomparable in any Department of Agriculture in the world. They were not at my disposal. On 8th July, the Minister for Agriculture said he had no notice whatever and I said in this House:

I want to sound a note of warning to Deputy Moore——

I was speaking ironically as Deputy Moore represents a Dublin constituency——

who has kindly come in to join us, to Deputy Geoghegan from Carna who is here vigilantly watching the interests of the Gaeltacht ... of a very serious development in the agricultural industry.

I pointed out how Deputy Paddy Smith with the best intentions had started the heifer scheme and how I had said that we would be faced with the most unprecedented collapse in the price of cattle that this country had ever seen and that urgent measures must be taken then. I warned that this was creating an acute problem in the congested areas of Ireland. I said:

We are now joined by Deputy O'Connor from Kerry ... I think Deputy O'Connor will confirm what I say.

Mr. O'Connor: I do not agree.

Mr. Dillon: Has the price of young cattle not gone back?

Mr. O'Connor: Not cattle in forward condition.

Mr. Dillon: I said that strong forward cattle are fairly good.

[1451] Mr. O'Connor: At 12 months and 18 months. Advanced cattle are at the highest price they ever reached.

Mr. Dillon: Do not let us quarrel. Deputy O'Connor will tell us what he knows; we will tell what we know.

I want the House to listen for a moment and wake up to the plain, inescapable facts that are in front of us. It is not enough for Deputy Crinion to tell us that fat lambs on 12th October made 147/6 in the Dublin market. This day 12 months, they made 150/- and this day two years, they were worth 173/-, 26/- a head more than they are worth today. Deputy Crinion always looks like an innocent but he is not as big a “gom” as he likes to pretend he is. He knows as well as I do that a large part of the lamb trade in this country is the store lamb trade: the fat lamb trade is a relatively specialised trade. I doubt if I exaggerate when I say that the price of store lambs is down by 30/- a head. Am I exaggerating if I say that the price of horny ewes off the Connemara mountains is in the order of 25/- a head?

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan Zoom on Fintan Coogan The Deputy is right.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that they are on offer at 25/- a head. I know a man who offered them and could not get 25/- for them. Am I exaggerating if I say that Galway sheep are down from £1 to 30/- compared with what they were last year? I know I am not exaggerating because I am speaking from personal experience.

I stood in the fair of Ballaghaderreen last Monday week and I sold there a black Aberdeen Angus Shorthorn cross heifer for £47. A conservative valuation for the same heifer this day 12 months would be £65. I got £47 after a fight that 40 could take part in, and I did not get paid until half-past one because the man did not mark her until one o'clock, although I had been selling her since eight o'clock in the morning. She was a suckled calf. I sold her twin, a bullock, for £53 at the same hour after [1452] standing in the fair for 4½ hours. I would have had men running after me offering me £70 for him a year ago and I would not have sold him for less than £72. I have a Parliamentary salary and a Ministerial pension to go home to. I have a shop to go home to and selling a couple bullocks off my farm, which is only 50 acres, will not make or break me, but coming from that fair I passed neighbours who were born and reared and are today rearing families on farms of ten, 15 or 20 acres, and I assure the Minister that I saw them standing there with cattle of less than one year of age. They were not what you would call forward cattle: they were average cattle off poorish land. It was not a question of getting a bad price; it was a question of not getting anyone to bid for them.

I saw a woman go to a fair at Frenchpark—ask Deputy Dr. Gibbons —to get the money to pay her rates. She brought a cow to the fair. I do not know how much she got for the cow but when she had paid her rates, all she had left was 50/-. This day 12 months I sold suck calves for between £20 and £25 a piece. A good whitehead at the time was going £26. I assure the Minister that those calves are worth between £5 and £12 for a choice one today.

I am not exaggerating. I am speaking from my own experience when I say that a yearling, a calf which has not shown a permanent tooth, this day 12 months was selling at £30 to £40. The price of the same beast is anything from £17 to £30, and hard to find a buyer. I am not here to lambast the Minister for Agriculture. I was Minister for Agriculture for a long time and if things have not greatly changed, whether one was born in the city of Dublin or in County Mayo or County Monaghan, one is not long in contact with one's responsibilities in that Department without beginning to bear compassion for the people who live on the land. I know the endless strife and struggle the Minister has to get something extra for the farmers and damn little thanks he gets for it.

I am not making the case to the House, I do not attempt to make it, [1453] that the Minister for Agriculture is indifferent and callous, but I do make the case that he has proved himself egregiously lacking in foresight and I charge against him to his face if he were concerned to promote the interests of the small farmers, he would be doing a much better job by stopping this galloping around the country to parties and publicity stunts.

The Minister may find the burden of his Department a heavy and a thankless one. It has been that for anybody who ever took it on. There is relatively little glamour about it: it is all hard work and damn little thanks for it. However, it is work in which a man may take a pride, work through which he feels he will leave something after him. Above all, he will feel he is working for one of the most defenceless elements in the community, the small farmers. This is not to say that I do not sympathise with my colleagues Deputies Farrelly, Sweetman, Hogan of South Tipperary who represent the wealthier farmers in the country. I sympathise with them because I know men in Limerick and in Cork, in areas east of the Shannon, who suffered heavy losses this year, who kept cattle who were nothing but guests on their lands and not even paying guests during the past 12 months.

It is a hard thing. I shall be quite frank about it. A man who has sustained a loss this year keeping 200 cattle and getting nothing for them can, however, go down the country to replace them, paying very little for the replacements, and if he loses this year, he will get it back next year. I do not think the Minister understands the other side, the problem that hits me and other representatives of the congested areas. I have spoken about farmers north of the Boyne and west of the Shannon. I do not think the Minister for Agriculture understands the despair, the absolute desolation that strikes those farmers when they bring out their yearlings, offer them for sale and cannot find a buyer at any price.

One may speak to a young fellow contemplating emigration to Manchester or Birmingham. One may ask [1454] him has not his father got a good holding of 40 or 50 acres. He will laugh in one's face and say: “Do you think I want to stand from 8 o'clock in the morning until 2 p.m. at a fair in Ballaghaderreen with my hat in my hand to everybody who passes up the road and who will not even speak to me? Do you think it is a pleasure on the way home to find the neighbours leaning over their gates saying how sorry they are that I am bringing my cattle home again? I would sooner work in the tunnels.”

It is a heartbreaking experience. However, it is useless our coming in here to tear strips off the Minister. That is too easy. We all agree there is a crisis and what people want to know is what are we to do to meet it. I shall tell the Minister what he should do and if I were Minister for Agriculture in the morning, I should do it or resign. I always say it is foolish to look backwards except when one looks back to learn. I spoke on matters of finance today and my mind went back to 1929, 1930 and 1931, which I remember vividly.

I was in America when I was a boy and at that time there was full employment. When I went back, I saw men standing on the street corners in New York saying: “Brother, can you spare a dime”? I saw a great nation brought to its knees, an atmosphere of black despair spreading all over the country with the fearful tragedy of the banks closing. It was the practice then to put savings in small local banks. Then Roosevelt was elected. Mind you, Hoover was no fool: he was an able man but he was “a lame duck”, and there were the three awful months from November to March when Hoover was “a lame duck” and Roosevelt was too cute to do much about it. He wanted Hoover's memory to stink in the nostrils of all Americans. I never forgave him for that. However, when Roosevelt came in, he grasped the nettle and saw the root, but he promptly closed every bank, big and little, for a week. He said: “Stop, boys; let us get our breaths. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Now there is panic spreading among [1455] the small farmers of this country. We must arrest this panic and there is only one way to do it; that is to convince them that we have the power and the will. If I were Minister for Agriculture tomorrow, I would insist that every acre of land in the possession of the Land Commission would be placed at my disposal for conacre. I would insist on being given authority to take as much conacre as I deemed it expedient to take, and I would insist on co-operation from every institution associated with the Department, including the Faculty of Agriculture in the University and the Agricultural Institute. I would mobilise all our resources and send out the buyers of the Department of Agriculture to every fair in the north, the north-west and the west of Ireland to buy up all the cattle that had as yet no permanent teeth at £8 per cwt.

That is the only way you will stop it. If you do that now, you will restore confidence. People will believe the Minister when he says: “Hold on; there are better times coming”. The Minister was furious with Telefís Éireann when they ventured to publish a statement by the leader of the NFA that the NFA doubted the Minister in advocating that small farmers should hold on. He said: “So solemn was my advice, so great was my position and prestige, I felt justified in saying to Telefís Éireann: `Take any qualification of my recommendation off the air. You are helping to demoralise the people' ”.

Very well. If what the Minister said was true, let him prove it. Let him go out and buy the cattle. He cannot lose. He said himself that every small farmer with ten, 15 or 20 acres should hold them and things would come right. If the Minister loses 10/- or even £1 a head in buying 500,000 of them, it is less than could be lost in the Potez aeroplane factory and he would restore confidence in every small holding. For all we know, if the Minister's prognostications come true, he might not have to buy any cattle at all.

I do not underestimate the Minister's difficulty, and I do not want to ask him to do the impossible, but I [1456] ask him to believe with me that it was not necessary for Roosevelt to close all the banks in the United States. He could have let all the weak ones go to the wall and the more of them that went to the wall, the stronger the strong ones became. He knew that. What he wanted to do was to restore confidence, to get the people facing the right way again.

I want to warn the Minister that this is one of the most revolutionary moments in the history of rural Ireland. He could start, and he is in great danger of starting, an exodus from the land. I know the Minister's difficulties. He was reared in and around Dublin, and it is intensely difficult for a man who was born and reared in and around Dublin to understand what farming in the west of Ireland, in Monaghan, Cavan or Donegal means. I want him to understand that if those people suddenly became persuaded that it never can work, the whole area will become denuded and they will abandon the land. That would be a fearful catastrophe for our people and for the country.

Some people here will say: “Were things not just as bad during the Economic War?” They were, but there was this difference: we sold cattle during the Economic War for much less than what they are selling at now, but there was always a feeling at the back of your head that if this old gentleman would only get sense, go to London and do what we told him to do three years ago, the whole business would be over. Ultimately he did, and the nightmare was over. We knew the cause of it and we knew that all that was necessary was a political decision and the whole horror was over. What is wrong now is that the people are beginning to wonder has the whole livestock trade collapsed. I cannot answer that. I do not know. If you had asked me 12 months ago was it possible for any political authority in this country to destroy the livestock trade, I would have said: “No. The 1948 Trade Agreement hitched us firmly to the guaranteed price in Great Britain and nobody can break us.”[1457] The astonishing thing is the present Government seem to have done it and by a series, I think, of fallacious decisions and misfortunes for which they were not entirely responsible, with special reference to the adverse weather conditions last year.

The Government can retrieve in some measure the disaster which has come upon us, but it requires courage, imagination and resolution, and they can do not only that useful service but they can do more. They can restore to the minds of our farmers the knowledge as well as the belief that the Department of Agriculture is their Department, that the Department of Agriculture is their servant, and once that is achieved, he could open a whole vista for the pilot schemes and the parish plan, and create new confidence and hope among the small farmers related to practical reality and not to fantasy and dreams.

A great old bishop of this country compared the destitution of our people as my father, Lord have mercy on him, looked down upon them in the Square of Ennis in 1881, with the prosperity that had dawned upon them when I looked on them in 1951, and he said to me: “What do you think brought that change?” And I said: “My lord, I think it was the Land League and the shorthorn cow.” If I had to answer him today, I do not know what I would answer, but tomorrow I would like to add: “The Department of Agriculture, whoever the Minister may be.”

Mr. Cluskey: Information on Frank Cluskey Zoom on Frank Cluskey The reason this motion is here for discussion is the severe drop in cattle and sheep prices which has taken place in a comparatively short space of time. We know that farmers, and particularly small farmers, who listened to the prophecy of the Minister for Agriculture when he spoke in this House in relation to the Free Trade Agreement thought that when this Agreement was in operation, they could look forward to an increase in the price of their cattle of anything from £5 to £7 per head.

This motion is in the names of some 21 Fine Gael Members of this House. [1458] When the Minister was getting the Free Trade Agreement through the House, he relied mainly on the benefits which he said, and which Government spokesmen said, would accrue to the agricultural community. The Labour Party are the only Party in this House who opposed the Free Trade Agreement, and it is quite obvious to us, as I am sure it will be to the small farmers whose representatives are still plodding their way to Dublin, that Fine Gael are engaging in political expediency, because they were just as misled as the small farmers who believed the Minister.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon Did the Deputy not hear me reading my speech of July 8th?

Mr. Cluskey: Information on Frank Cluskey Zoom on Frank Cluskey Unfortunately even the Deputy's colleagues would not listen to him.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon The Free Trade Agreement had nothing to do with this.

Mr. Cluskey: Information on Frank Cluskey Zoom on Frank Cluskey The small farmers are in the sad plight they are in today because the Minister, during the discusion in this House of the Free Trade Agreement, stated quite definitely that once the agreement came into operation, farmers could look forward to an increase of from £5 to £7 per head for cattle. Fine Gael must have agreed with the Minister. If they did not, why did they sit there, including the 21 who had this motion down, and allow the Free Trade Agreement to be put into operation without exercising their democratic right of voting against it?

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon The Free Trade Agreement had nothing to do with this.

Mr. Cluskey: Information on Frank Cluskey Zoom on Frank Cluskey There is no question in the world that the only people and the only Party who were not misled were the Labour Party, who voted against it.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish Zoom on Brendan Corish This Trade Agreement was to settle the cattle trade for all time.

Mr. Donegan: Information on Patrick S. Donegan Zoom on Patrick S. Donegan Keep your sights.

Mr. Cluskey: Information on Frank Cluskey Zoom on Frank Cluskey We will keep our sights against any enemy of working-class people, be they in the industrial [1459] or the agricultural field. We believe the small farmers can best be catered for by the Labour Party.


An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan Deputy Cluskey should be allowed to make his statement without interruption.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully Zoom on James Tully He should be, indeed.

Mr. Cluskey: Information on Frank Cluskey Zoom on Frank Cluskey The Minister stated that the price of cattle will go up from £5 to £7. In fact, the price of cattle has gone down anything from £10 to £20. As one standing up to speak immediately after my friend, Deputy Dillon, I shall not attempt to describe the plight of small farmers in present circumstances. Deputy Dillon has described it most eloquently and I do not think there is anything I could add except to say that we in the Labour Party truly appreciate the unfortunate position that these small farmers find themselves in as a result of believing the statements made by the Minister during the course of the debate on the Free Trade Agreement.

Last Wednesday evening, in the debate on this motion, the Minister said that there were many factors which contributed to the adverse effects on the cattle trade and he said that they were factors which it was not possible for him to foresee and which it would not be possible for anyone else to foresee. He quoted the very severe autumn. He said that one of the factors that contributed to the fall in prices was the seamen's strike in Britain. He went further and said—I quote from Volume 224, column 1147 of the Official Report of 12th October, 1966:

The coming into force of the higher common agricultural policy prices in April of this year dealt this valuable and important trade of ours a very severe blow indeed and, as I say, probably more than any of the other factors I have mentioned was instrumental in contributing to the very severe weakening of cattle prices which took place here from June onwards.

[1460] The Minister attributes most of the blame for the severe fall in cattle prices to the EEC regulation which came into operation in April of this year. Yet, in May and June of this year, the Minister again stated in this House that the farmers could look forward to a very substantial increase in the price of cattle once the Free Trade Agreement came into operation in July. Can the Minister explain how he could state in May and June that the farmers could look forward to a very substantial increase of from £5 to £7 in the price of cattle when an action had been taken in April, one to two months previously, by the EEC countries which he now claims, as I have just quoted, was mainly responsible for the fall in cattle prices? That is something that I find it very difficult to understand. The House and the farmers are entitled to an explanation from the Minister, who is directly responsible.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan Zoom on Fintan Coogan He would not know the difference between buttermilk and beastings.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully Zoom on James Tully He does not have to shoe horses but he knows all about cattle.

Mr. Coogan: Information on Fintan Coogan Zoom on Fintan Coogan I was referring to the Minister, not to the Deputy.

Mr. Cluskey: Information on Frank Cluskey Zoom on Frank Cluskey The Minister mentioned a very important matter last week, not in this House but outside the House. He referred to the establishment of a meat marketing board. A great deal could be done to expand exports of dead meat. For every obvious reasons, it is far more desirable that we should concentrate on the expansion of the dead meat trade rather than on exports of live animals. Exports of livestock are important for purposes of the balance of payments but there are other aspects of our economy which can be catered for to a larger extent by an expansion of the dead meat industry. For instance, the employment content of exports of live animals is practically nil whereas exports of dead meat affect directly butchers, butchers' porters, loaders, transport workers, persons engaged in the skin and hide [1461] industry, and persons engaged in industries associated with offal, and so on. There are so many that it would be impossible to think of all of them offhand. This is an aspect of exports that has been somewhat neglected by the Department. I do not think it has been wilfully neglected but the Minister is inclined to see difficulties as being insurmountable when, in fact, they are not insurmountable.

I asked a supplementary question last week arising out of the Minister's reply to a question put down by Deputy L'Estrange with regard to the shipping of live sheep to eastern countries. I asked the Minister had any effort been made to establish a market for dead meat in these countries. Apart from the very desirable employment that would arise from dead meat exports, there is the question of the considerable unrest that exists with regard to the conditions associated with the export of live animals to these countries. The conditions may be very warm and the facilities available on board ship may not be the best.

The Minister countered that there were insurmountable difficulties in regard to religion. I know there are difficulties in handling food, particularly meat, to meet with religious requirements. But I remember the occasion when the Jewish community in this country made a gift of food to Israel shortly after the establishment of that State. In order to carry out that, they brought rabbis from various European countries, who supervised the killing and dressing of this meat. I believe there could be a substantial market in these countries for meat in various forms. It need not necessarily be carcase meat; it could be tinned meat. The Minister could be usefully employed looking further into the question of the dead meat trade to some of these countries.

I should like to comment on the announcement that 2,000 cattle are to be exported to Germany. I think it is only fair to say that this came as a bitter disappointment to the small farmers because of the build-up given to it by the Minister in the previous [1462] two or three days. He led the people to expect an announcement which, if it did not cure their ills, would at least give them some relief. The Minister is an intelligent man. He must know that the export of 2,000 cattle to Germany or anywhere else is not much consolation or help to the small farmers who find themselves in the position that they must sell at this point. I am not so concerned about the people to whom Deputy Dillon referred, those who can hold out or those who can sell without its meaning disaster for them. I am talking about those who cannot hold out, who must have money now. I am concerned with those who, irrespective of what price they will get for these cattle, must let them go. These are the people to whom the Minister gave false hope last week when he made, with such a fanfare, the announcement that 2,000 cattle were to be exported to Germany. It does not give us in the Labour Party any consolation to say now “We told you so”, but the fact is that we did tell you.

Mr. Donegan: Information on Patrick S. Donegan Zoom on Patrick S. Donegan In the few minutes left to me——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan Ten minutes.

Mr. Donegan: Information on Patrick S. Donegan Zoom on Patrick S. Donegan ——I should like to say a few things in relation to this motion put down in the names of 21 Fine Gael Deputies. Let us be fair and say at the start that there has been a recession in beef prices and that this must have its effect on the cattle trade. But the purpose of this motion is to prove here what the Minister did wrong. In the few minutes left that is what I intend to do. I intend to say what the Minister did he should not have done and what he did not do he should have done.

First, quite a while ago, not so long after he became Minister for Agriculture, it was well known in cattle circles here and in Britain that we were sending store cattle to Britain whose TB records were not standing up to the tests made here. We know what happened afterwards. Certain people were found to have indulged in the nefarious practice of associating with those very few veterinary surgeons who were prepared to [1463] give certificates when the cattle were not in fact clear of TB. Those people should have been locked up, and it was the job of the Minister to see that they were. I was in Chester at that time with a well-known cattle exporter from this country. An importer from England could tell us at that time that Irish store cattle were becoming unpopular. I came back and placed that information at the disposal of the Minister's Department. It was the Minister's job to see that that practice stopped but he did not do it. That is the first reason why he was wrong.

The second is this. When the Free Trade Agreement was passed by this House he talked ad nauseam about the advantages in relation to the selling of fat cattle; that we were suddenly going to get certain premiums on small amounts of beef we had not got before. He said the Government would make good the deficiency on any extra beef sent and pay the subsidy. Is the Minister aware that last week in Scotland, as reported there in a farming paper, it was proposed at a meeting of the Farmers' Union that Irish store cattle be boycotted because we were competing with the traditional beef trade in Scotland for the Scottish farmer? That is a matter of bad public relations. The Minister is the man who prides himself on his public relations and more than anybody else indulges in public relations. He flies from Germany to Spain, from God-knows-where to God-knows-where else, and 90 per cent of that is in the interest of building up the image of Deputy Charlie Haughey. Let us remember that even last week, when he announced his meagre 2,000 cattle to Germany and left here for the airport, he forgot to tell the House he was on his way to Spain and had to send word back to the Press Gallery.

Let us also remember that at the time he became Minister for Agriculture his predecessor had just instituted the heifer scheme. We in Fine Gael had been adumbrating a heifer meat subsidy for three years. Our plan was completely different from that produced by the Minister's predecessor. [1464] The Minister arrived at the start of that scheme and was enthusiastically laudatory of it. The Estimate of the Department was that in the first year there would be an expenditure of £300,000 but there was spent £1,900,000, because the scheme was badly constructed. All the adventurers who had the money, all the very large farmers who wanted to get in on the £15 per head, went straight into heifers, which they would not ordinarily have done, got their once-and-once-only grant of £15 per cow and got out again.

The result was, because the Minister made no provision for the purchase of the stock cattle from the traditional supply areas in the West, there has been nobody there to buy them. The men in the east who have gone across to this scheme—I am one of them myself—no longer go to Tuam or to the fairs of the West and no longer are there as good customers. Let us remember that this was done by the Minister. These people were fooled once and once only and they are coming out. What is the proof? If the Minister looks at the June figures in front of him now, he will find that there are 33,000 fewer heifers in calf in this country as compared with the same period last year, representing a drop of 17 per cent.

If the Fine Gael scheme of a smaller subsidy on all heifers, whether or not there was an increase, had been put into operation, there would have been a gradual increase in cattle numbers; there would have been a gradual increase in fertility by the application of fertilisers. That could have produced the cattle trade as we know it, in expansion. It could have produced the trade for the cattle in the west of Ireland that was traditional there. The trouble is that the Minister never sat with his father in Tuam or in Athenry; the Minister was never given two cheques and told to go out and to buy two cattle and that when he came back, he would be told whether he had paid too much or too little for them. These are experiences which the Minister lacks. These are the reasons he has failed and failed dismally, no matter [1465] how well he can put himself across in the modern field of public relations. I have instanced one particular facet of that, in which his over-enthusiasm to advertise himself resulted in grave material loss for the Irish farmer. Let us remember, also, that he is the man, who, when there are farmers marching to Dublin from every county in Ireland spent the colossal amount that was spent on a one-quarter page advertisement in every national paper in this country to prove that he is giving millions to agriculture in this country.

Let me say, in conclusion—I have only two minutes left—that the position is that every major industry in this country is now involved in Government expenditure. Industry and Commerce is involved in it; Agriculture is involved in it; the very tariff system in industry is involved in it. Health, Social Welfare—you can count up these millions if you like but they are not benefits that are going to citizens. They are the necessary spending by the Government of the citizens' money that is gathered in taxes, rates and rents. They represent expenditures that are necessary but they are not free burses or subsidies for the citizen. It proves only that more and more each day and more and more each year there is Government interference in the affairs of the State, in the affairs of the citizen and in the major industries. You cannot charge up £54 million to the farmers as they are marching to Dublin because they have not even enough income to subsist upon and get away with it. The Minister's public relations have failed. He has failed in his knowledge of agriculture. His manner of guiding and protecting agriculture demands, as I said 12 months ago, that he should resign.

Mr. T. O'Donnell: Information on Thomas G. O'Donnell Zoom on Thomas G. O'Donnell In the brief time left at my disposal, it remains for me to sum up some points in this motion tabled by the Fine Gael Party. We condemn the manner in which the Minister for Agriculture has misled the farmers about the future prospects for cattle and sheep. We ask the Government to take urgent steps to protect those in the livestock industry from the disaster which faces them. This is the second [1466] occasion in the space of a few months on which the Minister has found himself faced with an agricultural crisis. This is the second occasion that we in the Fine Gael Party have had to table a motion to force him to take action. This is the second occasion the farmers of this country have had to leave their homesteads to protest and to demand their rights at the seat of power here in Dublin. This is a terrible state of affairs. I will go so far as to say that the present crisis is another milestone, if not the final milestone, on the road to the total extinction of the small farmers in this country. Earlier this year, the Minister mishandled the milk dispute. He has now, in the present cattle crisis, given a very striking demonstration of his total lack of understanding of the economic and social problems of our major national industry.

There need have been no picketing of Leinster House last May, nor need the farmers of Ireland be marching to Leinster House now if the Minister for Agriculture had taken the action which it was obvious should be taken and taken it in time and if the Minister had heeded the advice and the representations by representatives of the farmers' organisations.

In the course of his speech here on Wednesday last, the Minister went to some extremes to find excuses for the present problem. He referred to the closure of the EEC market. He referred to the financial difficulties in Britain. He referred to the shipping strike and to other factors. He was very careful to omit to refer to the facts of the situation. The facts mentioned by the Minister were undoubtedly contributory to the present situation but he omitted to mention the £15 headage grant which succeeded in increasing the cattle numbers in this country and I am very proud that I opposed it vigorously in this House. He took steps to bring about an increase in the cattle population and, at the same time, took no steps whatsoever to rationalise the marketing of our livestock. For the past three or four years, time and time again, demands have been made for the establishment of a meat marketing [1467] board. The Minister ignored those calls and now, when the gun has been put to his head, he announces that he will establish a meat marketing board.

Another failure on the part of the Minister was that, in negotiating the Free Trade Agreement some months ago, he did not bargain and try to insist on some clause being built into that agreement which would link our cattle prices with those obtained by the British farmer. There should have been some built-in safeguard. The points made by Deputy Clinton in opening this debate and the points made by other speakers can be summed up by saying that it was bad management on the part of the Minister, it was lack of foresight, it was failure to appreciate the situation that was developing.

I submit that, long ago, when this present situation became apparent, the Minister should have taken the steps which, panic-stricken, he has been taking for the past week. The Minister should have sought a meeting three months ago with his counterpart in Britain and endeavoured to secure markets instead of having to go around now with his cap in his hand. The only result so far, which he announced here last Wednesday, is 2,000 cattle to Germany, a completely ridiculous figure in the present situation. It will not alleviate the plight of the farmers in any way.

The Minister dealt with the factors which, in his opinion, led to the present situation and, having made his historic announcement that he had secured a market for 2,000 cattle in Germany, went on to refer to certain short-term measures. Two or three weeks ago at Question Time, I asked the Minister a question, which has now become known as the famous question: would he advise the farmers to hold on to their stock, or not, and he advised them to hold on. He said that there were adequate credit facilities available. He undertook personally to see to it that any creditworthy farmer who needed credit from the Agricultural Credit Corporation would obtain [1468] it. The position is that most small farmers, given even unlimited credit facilities, cannot hold on to their cattle over the winter.

The Minister might also examine into another factor in relation to the Agricultural Credit Corporation: he should find out how many farmers in recent months have received solicitors' letters and notices of prosecution from the Agricultural Credit Corporation because of delay in the payment of instalments due. As a practical step, I would ask the Minister now—another instalment will become due in November—to make representations to the Agricultural Credit Corporation to give these farmers a chance. I have seen a couple of these solicitors' letters.

In my opinion, the position is very serious. Last Wednesday the Minister offered no solution to the problem. Admittedly, he has been attempting to secure new market outlets for our livestock but the net result has been nil. Deputy Dillon put forward one suggestion and one possible solution to the problem. The Minister has come up with no solution at all. It is easy to condemn the Minister and it is easy to be critical in the present situation, but we, in Fine Gael, did not table this motion in an attempt to minimise the difficulties involved. Our motion is one of censure on the Minister for Agriculture for not doing his job. I do not know whether or not it was the fault of the Minister's advisers in not advising him properly as to what was happening, but anybody familiar with rural Ireland cannot but have been aware that the position was becoming extremely difficult, particularly in relation to the smaller farmers.

This year has been a particularly difficult one. There was a 50 per cent drop in calf prices earlier in the year. There was an extraordinarily bad spring with heavy livestock losses. A couple of pence per gallon was given for milk. Cattle prices have now dropped on an average of £15, or more, per head. How does the Minister think the small farmer will survive in the present situation? At this eleventh hour, I ask him to do something, even to adopt drastic measures possibly, to [1469] try to save the small farmers from the disaster which undoubtedly faces them.

I believe this “cattle crisis”, as it has now come to be known, is a logical outcome of the unsatisfactory agricultural policy pursued by the present Government, a policy which in the Second Programme for Economic Expansion relegated agriculture to second place, a policy which omitted agriculture from the NIEC, a policy which, in 1965, drove 15,000 people [1470] from the land and a policy which, every day, is driving hundreds more from the land. I want the Minister now to realise the situation, to face up to it, and to make up his mind that the farmers have had enough of it. Their patience has worn out and feeling is running very high. Before it is too late, the Minister should face up to the facts, formulate a realistic agricultural policy, or resign.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 45; Níl, 61.

Belton, Luke.
Belton, Paddy.
Burton, Philip.
Byrne, Patrick.
Clinton, Mark A.
Cluskey, Frank.
Coogan, Fintan.
Corish, Brendan.
Cosgrave, Liam.
Costello, Declan.
Creed, Donal.
Crotty, Patrick J.
Desmond, Eileen.
Dillon, James M.
Dockrell, Maurice E.
Donegan, Patrick S.
Donnellan, John.
Dunne, Thomas.
Esmonde, Sir Anthony C.
Farrelly, Denis.
Fitzpatrick, Thomas J. (Cavan).
Gilhawley, Eugene.
Harte, Patrick D.
Hogan, Patrick (South Tipperary).
Hogan O'Higgins, Brigid.
Jones, Denis F.
Kenny, Henry.
Kyne, Thomas A.
Larkin, Denis.
L'Estrange, Gerald.
Lyons, Michael D.
McLaughlin, Joseph.
Murphy, William.
O'Donnell, Tom.
O'Hara, Thomas.
O'Higgins, Michael J.
O'Leary, Michael.
Reynolds, Patrick J.
Ryan, Richie.
Spring, Dan.
Sweetman, Gerard.
Tierney, Patrick.
Tully, James.


Andrews, David.
Blaney, Neil T.
Boland, Kevin.
Boylan, Terence.
Brady, Philip.
Brennan, Joseph.
Brennan, Paudge.
Breslin, Cormac.
Calleary, Phelim A.
Carter, Frank.
Carty, Michael.
Childers, Erskine.
Clohessy, Patrick.
Colley, George.
Collins, James J.
Corry, Martin J.
Cotter, Edward.
Crinion, Brendan.
Cronin, Jerry.
Crowley, Flor.
Cunningham, Liam.
Davern, Don.
de Valera, Vivion.
Dowling, Joe.
Egan, Nicholas.
Fahey, John.[1471]Mooney, Patrick.
Moore, Seán.
Moran, Michael.
Nolan, Thomas.
Faulkner, Pádraig.
Fitzpatrick, Thomas J. (Dublin South-Central).
Flanagan, Seán.
Foley, Desmond.
Gallagher, James.
Geoghegan, John.
Gibbons, James M.
Gilbride, Eugene.
Gogan, Richard P.
Haughey, Charles.
Hillery, Patrick J.
Hilliard, Michael.
Kenneally, William.
Kennedy, James J.
Kitt, Michael F.
Lalor, Patrick J.
Lemass, Noel T.
Lemass, Seán.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lynch, Celia.
Lynch, Jack.
McEllistrim, Thomas.
Meaney, Tom.
Millar, Anthony G.
Molloy, Robert.[1472]Ó Ceallaigh, Seán.
O'Connor, Timothy.
O'Malley, Donogh.
Smith, Patrick.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Clinton and L'Estrange; Níl, Deputies Carty and Geoghegan.

Question declared lost.

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