Location: Flemings Hotel. Private meeting.
The ACTING-PRESIDENT moved:
"That the salary of the Secretary to the Commission of Enquiry into the Resources and Industries of Ireland be increased to £500 per annum as from 1st March, 1920."
This motion had been tabled in consequence of a request from the Commission.
SEAN O'MAHONY (Fermanagh, South) seconded the motion.
In reply to questions by JOSEPH MACGUINNESS (Longford) and PROINSIAS O FATHAIGH (Galway, South), the ACTING-PRESIDENT stated that the present salary of the Secretary was £350 per annum and that it was likely that the Commission would take two years to complete its work.
R. SWEETMAN (Wexford North) was of opinion that the Commission would sit for five years at least, or more likely for ten years. The Ministry had now widened the scope of their enquiries and he was strongly of the view that the present arrangement would in effect give semi-ministerial powers to the Commission. It would be well that the Dáil should recognise that.
The MINISTER FOR FINANCE stated that he held very strong views about this Commission. The Commission was tinkering with the question. It was sitting now for some time and there was not yet an ad interim report on the resources of Ireland.
Propositions were being received from all parts of the country involving the utilisation of the country's deposits. The Commission should be working on these problems. He would undertake to do in one year what the Commission was going to take five years to do. If they had to wait for five years or ten years for a report as to the mineral resources of Ireland they would miss the opportunity now available for developing them. Information regarding the extent and possibility of these mineral deposits was a matter of urgency. Every place where there were mineral deposits and every place where there were likely coal mines should be reported on. Areas containing valuable deposits should be taken over by County Councils and other Public Bodies and worked under the supervision of the Department of Industries; the idea being that they would become the property of the State so that they could not be exploited by private syndicates, as had happened in other countries.
If this Commission was going to sit for five years, then they must get a Commission that would report in twelve months. The thing could be done if they meant to do it. At the same time he desired to support the motion for the increase of salary.
D. KENT (Cork East) agreed with the remarks of the Finance Minister. While they had money they should use it to the best advantage. He stated that there was a mine near Kanturk in which there were very valuable coal deposits.
The ACTING-PRESIDENT stated that the Commission was at present working on coal and minerals. They had first taken up the question of Food Supplies. An idea had gone abroad that the Dáil were going to finance certain undertakings. The Dáil could not undertake the working of mineral deposits with the resources at present at its disposal. The whole loan of £250,000 would not be sufficient to work two coal mines. If the coal and other deposits, of which Mr. Kent spoke, existed, it was the business of the people to endeavour to attract capital to work them. He believed that in two years' time the Commission would have completed its work. If the Commission was not going on satisfactorily it would, of course, be their duty to end it.
SEAN MACENTEE (Monaghan South) said that since the Commission was appointed the Members of Dáil heard nothing from them, and unless they went around the country in the wake of the Secretary they could get no information. An ad interim report on milk production had been issued and was on sale before some of the Members were aware that it was being issued. He suggested that Members should get advance copies of all such reports.
R. SWEETMAN (Wexford North) said that it was a pity that a greater number of the Members did not attend the Commission. With regard to the method of issuing reports, his opinion was that they should take a very comprehensive view of the country's resources and this would take some time. Some reports would be out quite soon. The report on coal deposits, which would be a very valuable one, was in course of preparation.
The FINANCE MINISTER stated that the Ministry were almost as much out of touch with the Commission as the Member for South Monaghan. Both the Fishery and Agricultural Departments had found great difficulty in getting certain information which they required for their work.
C. COLLINS (Limerick West) said that the Deputies who were in close touch with their Constituencies could get more information in these districts than they could from the Commission. As one who had been up against the difficulty of finding money for practical purposes he would object very strongly to the proposed increase of salary to the Secretary of the Commission. He did not think there was any impression prevailing in the country that the Dáil were going to find money to finance undertakings. What they did think was that the Commission would afford suggestions and advice.
SEAN MACENTEE (Monaghan South) asked whether they would have a guarantee that the Secretary of the Commission would keep the Members of the Dáil in touch with the doings of the Commission. Any report issued should, as a matter of course, be forwarded in advance to the Members of the Dáil.
The ACTING-PRESIDENT, replying, stated that every Member of the Dáil should be supplied with a copy of the report on milk production, and with copies of every report issued by the Commission. He believed that the Commission was doing invaluable work, and to expect results from a Commission with so much work upon its hands in so short a time was expecting too much. He remembered Commission after Commission coming to Ireland, but not one of them ever got down beyond the crust as this Commission was doing. It was all very well to say that there was coal in variour parts of this country, but there was coal and coal—there was valuable coal and there was also coal that could not be worked profitably.
The MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS complained that the report on milk production did not contain any practical suggestions. There was evidence taken at Dingle on the subject of the Fishing Industry, but he did not see that it helped very much. He agreed that the work should be tackled immediately. They could not afford to wait for two or three years. He was not against the increase of salary, but something should be done for it.
The ACTING-PRESIDENT stated that the object of the Commission was to report as to where the mineral deposits and other resources existed and the best means for working them. He did not agree with the Deputy for North Wexford that the Commission would sit for five years, and he did not agree either that its labours could be concluded in twelve months. It should be borne in mind that there had never been a geological survey of this country. This Commission was trying to do the work of a geological and industrial survey.
The MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, continuing the debate, pointed out that every Member of the Dáil should have got a copy of the Milk Production Report. It was quite evident that some of the Commissioners and their Secretary did not quite understand what their functions were. There was one Member of the Commission present—the Member for North Wexford—who had told them that the Commission was going to develop into a semi-ministerial body. He should like to have an explanation of that statement. From what had been referred to in the course of the debate it was quite clear that the Commission actually regarded themselves as a Ministry. They had passed a resolution to the effect that certain documents and minutes of evidence acquired by them should not be accessible to anybody except the Commissioners, with the result that Mr. Etchingham could not get a copy of the evidence taken in the course of a fishery enquiry in the South to enable him to carry on his duties. He wanted this report for a certain purpose, and the Secretary, acting under a certain resolution which the Commission had adopted, could not give it until after the request had been submitted to a meeting. He believed that the work Mr. Figgis was doing was worth £500, but he objected to increasing Mr. Figgis's salary when the salary of the Members of the Ministry was only £350.
P. O'KEEFFE (Cork North) moved an amendment:
"That the original motion be deferred until next meeting of the Dáil and pending a report from the Commission."
M.P. COLLIVET (Limerick City) seconded the amendment.
Professor EOIN MACNEILL (Derry City and National University) said that the investigations of the Commission were being directed on two lines. One was as to what resources existed and the other was as to what practical steps could be taken to utilise them. There was a difference of opinion regarding the exact powers of the Commission. The matter was discussed at a meeting of the Standing Committee and as a result it was referred back to the Ministry to decide whether the Commission should report as to the practical steps necessary to utilise the various industrial power resources of the country.
The Chairman of the Commission took a rather limited view of their province. If unsatisfactory reports had been issued it was because of this limited view. It had since been made clear to them that they are empowered and expected to go beyond a mere scientific report as to what materials and resources there were and to do everything short of getting into the business of establishing industries. That was the present view of the Commission. If copies of the reports were not sent to the Members of the Dáil it was owing to a mistake.
The ACTING-PRESIDENT stated that he moved the adoption of the motion in accordance with the unanimous resolution of the Commission and he was in full sympathy with it. He believed that Mr. Figgis was worth more than £500 per annum to the Commission.
There was evidently some prejudice against Mr. Figgis, but whatever he was or was not, he was a very hardworking man, and the salary of £500 now proposed was probably equal to £250 before the war. It was a mistaken analogy to compare his salary with that given to the Ministers.
After further discussion the amendment was put to the House and was negatived on a vote of 18 for and 20 against.
PADRUIG O MAILLE (Connemara) moved a further amendment:
"That the salary of the Secretary to the Commission be increased to £450 per annum."
This was not seconded.
The MINISTER FOR DEFENCE moved a further amendment:
"That the salary of the Secretary of the Commission be raised in common with the salaries of the Ministers to £500 per annum."
T. MACSUIBHNE (Cork Mid.) seconded this amendment.
J.J. WALSH (Cork City) raised the point of order that this motion could not be introduced without notice, but was over-ruled.
The MINISTER FOR FINANCE asked the Minister for Defence to withdraw the amendment. It could be subjected to a good deal of criticism.
The MINISTER FOR DEFENCE refused to withdraw.
The ACTING-PRESIDENT submitted that the Speaker could not accept a motion to increase the salary of Ministers which did not appear on the agenda. This motion did not appear and was therefore irregular.
The SPEAKER said that he had already ruled the amendment in order.
T. MACSUIBHNE (Cork Mid.) asked permission to withdraw from seconding the amendment.
The MINISTER FOR DEFENCE said that in order to relieve the situation he would withdraw his amendment on condition that it would be brought forward at the next Session of the Dáil.
JOSEPH MACGUINNESS (Longford) moved to amend the original motion by substituting therefor, "that Mr. Figgis be given a bonus of £100."
PADRUIG O MAILLE (Connemara) seconded the amendment.
The amendment was put and carried by 14 votes for to 11 against.
The ACTING-PRESIDENT thereupon rose to withdraw the original motion altogether from the consideration of the House.
The amendment was put as a substantive motion and defeated on a division by 18 votes against to 11 votes for.
After further discussion as to the position thus created, The Speaker submitted the original motion introduced by the Acting-President for a "yes" or "no" decision. On a division the voting was 17 votes for and 15 against. The original motion was therefore declared carried.