Dáil Éireann - Volume 3 - 10 January, 1922
LABOUR DEPUTATION RECEIVED
THE SPEAKER THE SPEAKER
THE SPEAKER: In accordance with the wish of the Dáil this morning, the deputation from the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress will be here now.
The Labour Deputation consisted of: Messrs. Thomas Johnson, Secretary; Cathal O'Shannon, Acting Chairman; Thomas Foran, General President I.T. and G.W.U.; O'Farrell, R.C.A.; Cullen (Dublin); Nason (Cork); Carr (Limerick); and Larkin (Waterford).
MR. THOMAS JOHNSON: Mr. Speaker, and Deputies of the Dáil, my first duty is to thank you for the privilege of allowing us to address you on these matters which were referred to in my letter. We realise it is a privilege for us to come to address you; but we feel that we are, perhaps, in a somewhat exceptional position, inasmuch as we might have had the right to address the assembly had we considered, at the last election and the previous election, it was in the interests of Ireland that we should have gone forward as a Labour Party to seek representation in this Dáil (hear, hear). The Executive of the Labour  Party was in session yesterday and reported from various parts of the country as to the situation as affecting working people in these various parts of the country. We had been following the discussions here. We knew the situation as well as the newspapers would tell us the situation, and we decided that, in the circumstances, it was desirable that we should seek an interview—to seek to meet you, at least, as a delegation officially representing three hundred thousand organised workers in this country. Our delegation represents all the various towns: Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Dublin and other towns, as well as some of the agricultural districts of the country. I said we had refrained from contesting elections in the interests, as we thought —as we know—of national solidarity in the face of the enemy; in the face of the enemy of Ireland and the enemy of the working class— the capitalist imperialism in operation in this country. We had reason to know—we had documentary evidence to prove—that in the minds of certain very high officials of the British Government there were hopes and beliefs, and their conduct was founded on those hopes and beliefs, that we would sometime in the struggle split off from the national movement. That was one of the factors—a very important factor which determined our action at the elections. As I have said, we had followed the debates intently, and we could not but feel that with the stress of the war, the critical periods, and the difficulties of administration, both the Government and the Deputies seem to have forgotten—in the stress of political issues—to some extent, that there was a social problem at home. There are at this time probably one hundred and thirty thousand men and women walking the streets, unemployed. Tens, and twenties, and thirties of thousands of these have been only intermittently employed for the last year, or one-and-a-half years. In every country in Europe all such people have been forced to agitate more or less violently against the powers that be. But the feelings of solidarity with the nation which permeate the working class in Ireland have tended to restrain any action which they would naturally take. We were in the position that we could not agitate with the British Government on such matters as social conditions. We dared not agitate because of the critical nature of the situation—we dared not agitate against the Irish Government. The times have developed; circumstances have developed. Those times have passed and we are in the situation to-day that a very large proportion of the population is at its wits' end to know how things are going to move. Thousands of children are hungry and naked, huddled together like swine in their so-called houses. In all parts of the country we hear cries of desperation, cries of: “What is going to be done for us?” These murmurs presage, in our minds, something like the tremors of an earthquake, and unless something is done rapidly—something effective —there will be a grave situation developing in this country that will be a problem for even an old-established government, let alone a new one. The working classes in Ireland have taken a full share in this national struggle (hear, hear). Individually and collectively the workers have borne their part (hear, hear). They are prepared to do it again when the need comes. But I would like to say that, in so far as they are conscious of their purpose—and that applies to the greater part of the men who went into this fight for freedom and for Ireland's nationality—they went into the fight for freedom for the men and women of Ireland individually (hear, hear). Freedom from bondage to wage slavery, freedom from bondage to the machine, freedom from bondage to capitalists and financiers in Ireland or in other parts of the world. We feel, and they feel, that there must be something done immediately to lessen this burden that they are suffering. I say there are one hundred and thirty thousand unemployed up and down the country. Farmers have their complaints, their grievances, their terrible trials at the moment. Merchants have their complaints  and grievances about bad trade, et cetera. They can speak for themselves. They have the means to keep body and soul together. The workers, for whom we speak, have not the means unless someone sees fit to give them employment. Twenty thousand of these men— more than twenty thousand of these men—are agricultural labourers; men who ought, at this moment, be preparing for next year's harvest. The problem that faces you and that faces the country is: that probably one million acres of land have gone out of cultivation during the last couple of years. A million acres of land gone out of cutivation! We have held, and rightly held, suspicions of the perfidy of England. We are aware of the risk, the danger there is that, when the time comes, when the opportunity serves, anything that has been promised will be withdrawn. I want to suggest to you, Mr. Speaker and Gentlemen, that the best safeguard—the only real safeguard—in this country, is an ample, home-grown food supply (applause). What you are allowing to be done is that that food supply is not going to exist. You are going to be dependent on overseas food, and a blockade of the ports will bring Ireland to her knees. It is imperative, in our view, that the land of Ireland must be tilled for the purpose of national defence. Incidentally, it will mean the employment of the men capable of working the land (hear, hear). During recent years Labour in Ireland has developed a new consciousness of its position in social economy. The workers have seen, and do see, that the land of Ireland, the resources of Ireland, are capable of keeping the people of Ireland in reasonable comfort. It is for those who have power to organise those resources, the natural resources and the human resources, to provide these people with the means of living a decent life. The workers are not prepared to go back to or continue the low standard of life which they have lived in the past. I want you to bear that in mind very carefully. The workers are not going to be content to go back to the standard of life they lived prior to 1914. Where attempts are being made, as they are day by day in all kinds of industries and occupations, to degrade that standard of life, it means that the workers are going to resist by whatever means they may think best. The patience of the workers, of the people, of the poor unemployed, and the wives of the unemployed, is becoming exhausted. We want to impress on you this: there is an insistent and immediate need for these problems to be tackled—the problems of unemployment, tillage, housing—and they will not brook delay. It will not do to allow them to wait on political exigencies. These are social problems that must be dealt with at once. We realise fully all the difficulties of the situation. We are fully aware of them, and are prepared to make every allowance for those difficulties. But we want to impress on you members of the Dáil—the Government of Ireland— that this is a problem which is your responsibility. You are responsible to see that this problem is dealt with and tackled effectually. If it is not so done the people will rise and sweep you away, as they would sweep any government away that failed to do its duty to the common people (applause).
MR. CATHAL O'SHANNON: A Chinn Chomhairle, agus a lucht na Dála, is mian liom buidhchas a ghabháil libh i dtaobh gur leigeabhair don Toscaireacht cúis an lucht oibre do chur os bhúr gcóir. Níl a thuille le rá agam ach aon fhocal amháin. Nuair a cuireadh Poblacht na hEireann ar bun, dubhairt sibhse, lucht na Dála gur le muintir na hEireann saidhbhreas agus talamh na hEireann. Níl uainn anois ach go gcuirfeadh sibh é sin i bhfeidhm.
PRESIDENT ARTHUR GRIFFITH PRESIDENT ARTHUR GRIFFITH
PRESIDENT ARTHUR GRIFFITH: Before the delegation leaves, I want to thank them for putting before us here, their views. I want also to say I fully agree with what they say. The workers of Ireland have taken their full share in this fight for Irish freedom (hear, hear). I want also to say I understand perfectly, and I know, this question of unemployment, and I may say we are  prepared to appoint a Committee to meet Mr. Johnson and his co-representatives to try and deal with this question (hear, hear).
The Labour Deputation withdrew.
Dáil Éireann 3 LABOUR DEPUTATION RECEIVED