Dáil Éireann - Volume 3 - 18 May, 1923

DAIL RESUMES. - THE ADJOURNMENT.—LABOUR AND GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Deputy Johnson has given notice of a matter to be raised on the Adjournment. We can only take notice, I think, of one matter to be raised on the Adjournment on the same evening.

Mr. JOHNSON: On a point of order, surely there may be more reasons than one why the Dáil should not adjourn. The motion to adjourn invites a Deputy to say that there are good reasons why the Dáil should not adjourn. I may have one reason, and I may ventilate that reason, and another member might have another reason. Surely he is entitled to ventilate it?

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: If Deputies desire to discuss a motion for Adjournment, they can discuss it on an amendment, for example, that the date of the adjournment be changed.

Mr. O'HIGGINS: I move the Adjournment of the Dáil.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: This question is very important. When is the Adjournment being moved to?

Mr. O'HIGGINS: Until Monday week at 3 o'clock.

Mr. HUGHES: I second the motion

CATHAL O'SHANNON: Why not Wednesday?

[1136] Mr. LYONS: I suggest Tuesday week.

Mr. JOHNSON: On that motion, which is the main question, I want to give reasons why we should not adjourn at all. The reason I raise this question is that I want to give the Assistant Minister for Industry and Commerce an opportunity to explain the Government policy in regard to the importation of men to do Government work in time of a strike and under conditions which are, I allege, a breach of the terms of contract under which that Government work has been entered into. The immediate matter in question is a strike in the establishment of Messrs. O'Gorman Brothers, coach-builders, Clonmel. I understand this firm is engaged on several Government contracts, including the building of two limousines for a high official. The facts of the case are, broadly, that since the resumption of work in this establishment, which took place at the end of certain military activities in the neighbourhood, a new system of managing the works has been introduced. The firm has been encouraged and assisted by Government work of considerable value. Some two or three months ago a new foreman was appointed, and with the new foreman was introduced the new policy. Men were required, and the unions concerned were asked to supply them. Men were sent from different parts of the country, amongst them the very best men in Ireland in coach-building; men were also brought from London. It was found that some of these men were brought to Clonmel and allowed to work for a week, a fortnight, or three weeks, and dismissed for no reason stated. At this time, and up to the present, men living in Clonmel, coach-builders who had actually served their time in the firm, have been idle and standing waiting for work—competent men, as I say, who had served their time in the works, while men were brought from all parts of the country. Not only that, but the head of this firm, a frequent advertiser in London papers, has been over several times to London to interview men. He brought these men to Clonmel, and shortly afterwards dismissed other men belonging to the town who had been engaged in the works. This sort of work culminated in a dispute, the immediate cause of which was the refusal [1137] of the manager or the proprietor to interview the union officials in the presence of the local official of the union who had worked in the shop, on the assertion that this local official had threatened the employer. The allegation was denied, and the man in question was prepared to prove its untruth. The refusal of the firm to meet the local official was the immediate occasion of this strike on the part of the coach-builders in this establishment. Since that day there has been a regular run of men from London into this establishment—non-union men, men whom we all designate blacklegs and strike-breakers, who have come deliberately and knowingly for the purpose of breaking the strike. We are not asking the Government to intervene in the matter of this strike between the firm and the men, but we are asking them not to allow Government work to be carried on under conditions which are a distinct breach of the Fair Wages Clause under which the work has been undertaken. The conditions under which the work has been undertaken are, that the work shall be carried on according to the conditions of the district. These conditions include the terms approved of and agreed to by reputable firms and associations in the industry and reputable employers or association of employers in the industry in the district. This practice of bringing in men from London to do work on Government contracts, or on private contracts, while men in the same business and of equal capacity, certainly of average capacity, as good men as Ireland has been able to turn out, ought not to be encouraged, but ought distinctly to be discouraged. If it is not to be discouraged on Government contract work by the Government for whom the contract is being undertaken, then it will be discouraged very effectively by the men of the town of Clonmel and by the public generally. The introduction of strike-breakers, and non-union strikebreakers at that, from across the water will not and ought not to be tolerated. I am raising the matter to-day in the hope that by doing so publicly trouble of a very unpleasant kind will be averted. If the dispute between the firm and the men is to be allowed to pursue its ordinary way, well and good; but on work of this kind, if a firm that is undertaking Government contracts is to be allowed [1138] to work at these contracts by labour brought in from England at great expense and living in the establishment of the employer under conditions such as I have indicated, it is not going to be for the health of the State, and may not be for the health of anybody concerned. As I have said, I raise the matter in the hope that trouble of a kind which we would all deplore may be avoided. The men trained in Ireland at this work are amongst the best men to be got anywhere; the men that have been sent to O'Gorman's by the union concerned— craftsmen of very high skill—are amongst the best men to be got anywhere. They have turned out the best work that has ever been produced in the country. For some reason that nobody has been able to explain, the new policy of the firm has been to change these men frequently and to introduce men from across the water who have been used to doing a different kind of work in a different way entirely from that customary. As I say, the firm itself has had the training of apprentices to the coach-building; it has turned out efficient coach-builders; it sees these men standing idle on the streets of Clonmel whilst it goes to London to bring over other men to do the work for the Irish Government. It is not a pleasant thing to contemplate, and I hope something may be said here this afternoon which will help to avoid the difficulty that is inevitable if this practice is to be allowed or encouraged.

ASSISTANT MINISTER for INDUSTRY and COMMERCE (Mr. J.B. Whelehan): The position at the moment with regard to this dispute at Clonmel is that the Ministry of Industry and Commerce has been approached by both parties to the dispute with a view to a settlement and as I shall very likely be called upon to intervene with a view to a settlement, I do not think I should at the present moment say anything which might tend to prejudice the chances of an early settlement of the dispute. Deputy Johnson, however, raised questions which, apart altogether from this dispute, I might, perhaps, refer to. He stated what might be accepted as a general principle, that it is very undesirable, and is not at all likely to meet with approbation, to import labour from any country, more particularly in times like the present, [1139] when unemployment is so rife here in the Saorstát; that is very undesirable and is not to be commended, and it will not be encouraged. I wish to state that as a general principle. I do not purpose saying anything at all with regard to the dispute in Clonmel, because at the present moment we are in touch with both parties with a view to an early settlement.

CATHAL O'SHANNON: I would like to move, formally, as an amendment to the motion for Adjournment, that the Dáil do adjourn until Tuesday week. I would like to ask the Ministry if they can make a statement of policy now with respect to the control of certain combines——

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: Is this an argument in favour of adjourning until Tuesday week?

CATHAL O'SHANNON: Yes.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: I do not think so. Is the amendment seconded?

Mr. LYONS: Yes, I beg to second.

AN CEANN COMHAIRLE: The question then is “That the Dáil do adjourn until Tuesday week.”

Mr. JOHNSON: I am going to oppose this amendment, quite frankly, on the ground that it is not desirable that the programme which the Dáil has made should be altered. If the Ministry thinks and has made up its mind that it is desirable for the Dáil to meet on Monday [1140] week, I would ask my friend to withdraw his amendment. If the Ministry has taken the responsibility of saying that next week should be free, but that we should meet upon the following Monday, then I say we ought not to seek to alter that choice, and we should fall in with the intention of the Ministry on a matter of that kind, because they know the amount of work to be done, and they have made up their mind that it can be done satisfactorily, having given the holiday next week. Let the responsibility, then, be upon the heads of the Ministry.

CATHAL O'SHANNON: I am as anxious as Deputy Johnson not to disarrange the programme of the Ministry or the Dáil, but I think, on the previous ruling on the matter of urgency, I should have drawn attention to and asked for a statement of policy of the Government. I will not press the amendment, because I am sure it would be carried by the Dáil.

Mr. O'HIGGINS: The earlier the Dáil can meet and the sooner we meet, the sooner we can meet the urgent matters which are troubling Deputy O'Shannon.

CATHAL O'SHANNON: I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question: “That the Dáil do now adjourn until Monday week next at 3 p.m.,” put and agreed to.

The Dáil adjourned at 6.30 p.m.