Enigma of Ireland (vi).
Mail - November 11th, 1933
How Long Can Free State Maintain
the Economic War?
Reserves That Were Built By Mr.
By Gareth Jones
The Irish Free State is a
nation at war. You do not hear the roar of big guns nor the rattle of
machine-guns, for the weapon is more subtle; it is the weapon of the tariff, and
it is being used with force by the two combatants - the British Government and
Mr. de Valera’s Governnent.
The first shot
in the war was the refusal of Mr. de Valera in 1932 to pay land annuities to
England, and since then each country has set up barriers against the goods of
What have been
the results in Ireland? The economic war has gravely affected exports,
which declined from £80,000,000 in 1931-32 to £56,000,000 in 1932-33.
This, in turn, hits Irish docksmen and Irish sailors, and in the first nine
months of this year nearly 700 fewer ships used the port of Dublin than in the
same period of 1932.
war has led to a large increase in the number of persons receiving poor-relief -
an increase of 27 per cent. over last year.
industrial goods have risen on account of the tariffs placed upon British
costing £300 in England,” a friend of mine told me, “costs about £400 here
on account of the high duty placed upon it.”
FARMERS HIT THE HARDEST
loss, however, has been among the farmers, who have been called “the crippled
soldiers of the economic war.” The cattle situation is disastrous.
Prices have fallen so steeply that it no longer pays either to breed or to graze
cattle. A distinguished Irish statesman told me that he had heard of a
1,200-gallon-a-year cow in calf which was sold for £8!
A comparison of
London cattle prices with those of Dublin shows how the Irish cattle trade has
sunk. In the middle of October in London the average price per cwt. live
weight of fat cattle was 35s. 4d., whereas in Dublin in was 22s. 3d. No
wonder that the cattle breeders are wailing, and no wonder that one of the
greatest sports of modern Ireland is the smuggling of cattle over the Free State
frontier into Ulster, whence they can be sent free of duty to England!
This is a
source not only of profit, but also of humour, and provides the humorous
magazines with a store of jokes. One of the first cartoons I saw on
arriving in Ireland was that of a road outside a Customs house, along which was
rushing a motor-car containing a farmer-smuggler at .the wheel and as its only
passenger a cow with a muffler around her neck. The farmer shouted to the
Customs officer: “Don’t stop me, officer. My cow’s got a very bad cold and
I’m taking her to the vet!’
ingenious cattle-smuggler is reputed, according to a humorist of authority, to
have approached a shortsighted Customs officer with two cows which he had
decorated with bonnets, ear-rings, and shawls. “It’s quite all right,
officer,” he said. “It’s only my wife and my sister!”
cattle-farmers are the worst hit, the sheep and pig producers are also suffering
severe losses. At Carrickmacross Fair pigs were sold at 25s. a cwt.
farmer-cottagers in Wexford who formerly sent boxes of poultry through Rosslare
to London, now have their market severely cut down by the economic war.
What of the
horse-breeders, that proud clan of Irishmen who have produced so many Derby
winners? Lovers of sport will regret to hear that they are losing
thousands of pounds on account of the duty upon horses going to England, and
they fear a serious deterioration in the quality of stock.
plight, however, is not entirely without its bright side. The fall in
prices has led to poor families buying meat, butter and eggs, or consuming the
products which formerly went to England.
One comment I
heard on this was: “In our village we are eating butter and eating meat, which
we rarely did before.”
In the towns
the tables of the poor have also been enriched by cheap agricultural products.
But this cannot last long because great losses will lead to decrease and, in
time, to a grave shortage of live stock, thus sadly lessening the wealth of
What is Mr. de
Valera doing to save Ireland from the dire consequences of the economic war?
He alms at making Ireland self-sufficient. He wants the links with outside
world to grow smaller and smaller. To carry out this aim he wants to
transform the agriculture of Ireland. He believes that cattle play too big
a part in the Irish farmer’s life, and, therefore, he plans to turn Ireland
from a land where livestock is preponderant to a land of wheat, oats, potatoes,
livestock, he states, support fewer people than wheat land. He believes
that even without the economic war the market for cattle would be more and more
restricted and thus proclaims a tillage policy.
policy is, I believe, a mistaken one. The quality of the land is bad for
wheat and the climate is unfavourable. Tariffs on wheat will increase the
price of bread. And with a reasonable policy towards Great Britain there
is still a great market left for livestock.
A WISE POLICY
Valera’s land policy is, however, more sound, and his conception of peasant
proprietorship is a wise one, as anyone who has noticed the stability of France
on account of her peasants will agree.
living in utmost misery in overcrowded areas are to be settled on farms in less
populated areas. Large estates which are uneconomic are to be divided,
with compensation to the owners, and converted Into family farms.
To make Ireland
immune from outside influences, and thus to be better able to withstand the
economic war, Mr. de Valera aims at building up the industries of Ireland and to
protect them by a wall of tariffs.
encounter here great difficulties, for artificially nurtured industries have in
many of the new States of Europe led to a serious financial plight, and in the
long run to unemployment.
I do not think,
therefore, that Mr. de Valera’s triple plan - tillage, land policy and
industrialization - will suffice to overcome the damage of the economic war, and
I forecast many economic storms in Ireland.
“war” will lead soon to a collapse I do not believe, because the wealth of
Ireland is far greater than we on this side of the Irish Channel imagine.
Big profits out of high prices during the war, a thrifty population, the wise
financial husbandry of Mr. Cosgrave, and sound banking methods have led to the
accumulation of large reserves which can last for years.
But Mr. de
Valera’s Government is squandering these reserves, the country is living on
capital, and the losses of the farmers are mounting up. Therefore,
although the economic war may last for long, its final result will be a serious
a lowering of the Irish people’s standard of living.