IRELAND'S ECONOMIC TROUBLES
(FROM AN IRISH CORRESPONDENT.)
TIlE economic situation in Ireland is doubly serious, for while prosperity is at a low ebb the political stability of the country is jeopardized. In the North unemployment has reached so grave a pitch that one man in five of the wage-earners in many Belfast industries is out of work, and unrest has manifested itself, obliging the Northern Government to proclaim a Labour. demon- stration. Shipbuilding languishes, and the linen industry, which was so splendidly organized and developed in the past century, seems unable to recover from the recent slump. In the Free State, unemployment does not come before the eye in so conspicuous a form as in the industrial North, but it reaches even more serious pro- portions. Recently published statistics reveal something of the hidden plight of Southern farmers Sand business men. TIlE economic situation in Ireland is doubly serious, for while prosperity is at a low ebb the political stability of the country is jeopardized. In the North unemployment has reached so grave a pitch that one man in five of the wage-earners in many Belfast industries is out of work, and unrest has manifested itself, obliging the Northern Government to proclaim a Labour. demon- stration. Shipbuilding languishes, and the linen industry, which was so splendidly organized and developed in the past century, seems unable to recover from the recent slump. In the Free State, unemployment does not come before the eye in so conspicuous a form as in the industrial North, but it reaches even more serious pro- portions. Recently published statistics reveal something of the hidden plight of Southern farmers Sand business men.
During the first six months of the present financial year Free State imports, compared with the figures for the same period last year, have -fallen from thirty- three million pounds odd to thirty Million pounds odd. Exports have fallen from twenty-one and a half millions to slightly over eighteen millions. In six months there has been an adverse trade balance of over twelve million pounds. This indicates a state of grave depression. Revenue and expenditure for the same period show the State itself threatening to run at a loss. Revenue for these six months has been 112,389,296, against /12,748,355 in the same period last year. Expenditure has been 112,043,161 against last year's 111,748,400. Thus revenue has fallen by £359,059 and expenditure has risen by £294,761. Continuance of this tendency would render Mr. Blythe's task in balancing next year's Budget awkward.
There is one extraordinary feature in the returns to date. It is not the industrial depression in Britain which accounts for the unsatisfactory tilt in Free State trade as it accounts for the adversities of Ulster. It is in the agricultural returns that we discover the source of the Free State's losses. The figures for the six months show the Free State cattle exports to have fallen from just over seven million pounds last season to just over five million pounds in this. Here, in a single item, we find the cause of two million pounds of adverse balance. Exports of sheep, pigs, bacon and butter reveal similar discrepancies between the figures for the first half of this year and for the first half of last.
Now, bad times in the past have seen tillage declining and the cattle trade improving. For a century and more it has been the complaint of Irish patriots that bullocks were thriving in the place of men. To-day tillage throughout the Free State has almost ceased. Farmers declare that With labour so dear and grain prices so bad tillage cannot possibly be made to pay. But while thousands of acres fomierly under the plough are now under grass, we find the raising of stock not increasing but declining as rapidly as tillage itself. Irish land is becoming derelict. Near the gates of Dublin you may see wide expanses of good land given over to thistles.
The explanation of this is hard to discover. In Ireland we have a habit of seeking, not explanations, but persons on whom to fasten blame ; and blame is heaped gener- ously by different groups on the farmers, on labour, on the revolutionaries and on the Government. The true causes, however, are more complex. Within the past month two significant statements have been made, from -which the real drift of Ireland's economic troubles may be discerned.
First, a leading firm of exporters of dairy produce took large spaces in the daily newspapers to publish an appeal to the creameries throughout the land. They declared that Irish dairy produce was unable to compete • favourably in the British market owing to the habit of creamery managers of holding up delivery to catch petty gains in market prices, whereby reliability of supply and of quality was sacrificed. Produce, said the advertisers, was sent to market in a careless and unclean fashion, and if the Irish trade was to recover there must be a complete reform throughout the cream- eries.
The second case occurred at a meeting of Cattle Traders' Association, which was attended by the chairman of the corresponding body in Northern Ireland. A letter was read asserting that whereas British purchasers display the fullest sympathy with Ireland, they pay better prices for Canadian than for Irish beasts simply because they are sure of getting sound carcasses. It was agreed by the Association that the surrender of Ireland to Canada in the British market was wholly due to injuries which Irish beasts snffer in the miserably inefficient transport services. The animals are badly treated and they are so delayed in transit as to lose two pounds a head in value between Dublin and Liver- These intimate examples show how Ireland is awaking to the fact that businesslike countries like Canada are gaining the markets which, by slip-shod ways, she is losing. The Shannon dispute luridly demonstrates the difficulties under which the country labours. For three weeks work has been delayed by a labour boycott., Wages of- 32s. a week with lodging for unskilled labourers - are rejected, although migratory workers are glad to go from Donegal and -Mayo to Scotland for as little. Germans who have unloaded the ship bearing materials have to work under -military protection. Be the scheme good or bad, and be the wages adequate or not, it 'is obvious that mob action by the unemployed who prefer . the " dole " to what they consider underpaid work must react on the whole country's sense of security.
• - Again, in Dublin, the Commissioners having given a street-cleansing contract to a French firm in order to introduce modern and efficient -methods—although- there • would be no introduction by French labour—the Cor- poration employees prepared to walk out and bring all public services to a standstill. This unprovoked strike was averted only at the last moment when the citizens had prepared to replace the strikers. Meanwhile the impression grows that any undertaking whatever that is started will have to battle its way through a strike and afterwards to put up with slovenly and unconscientious service. In a word, enterprise every-4 where is discouraged by the low state of national morale.
That, in short, is the difficulty that besets the Free 'State Government. It cannot compel a farmer to break in a field of which he doubts whether he will be able to get the produce to market ; it cannot set a gaffer over every squad of labourers. Its own position weakens its hand, notwithstanding the settlement of the Boundary question. The Free State financial settlement with Britain still has to be made, and no one knows how it will affect the State's resources. The feeling that the politica/ settlement still lacks finality makes it impossible for President Cosgrave to impose the vigorous unity Of movement on the people which came spontaneously before the political split from the strong personalities of the leaders now dead. Mr. Cosgrave's Government being a balance of forces which lack common motion, there is dissatisfaction among many of his supporters at the policy forced upon the country by others.