Gareth Jones

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The Enigma of Ireland (vi). 
The Western Mail - November 11th, 1933

How Long Can Free State Maintain the Economic War?

Reserves That Were Built By Mr. Cosgrave

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 the other.  

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.  

The economic war has led to a large increase in the number of persons receiving poor-relief - an increase of 27 per cent. over last year.  

Prices of industrial goods have risen on account of the tariffs placed upon British products.  

“A motor-car costing £300 in England,” a friend of mine told me, “costs about £400 here on account of the high duty placed upon it.”  


The greatest 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!’  

Another 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!”  

If the 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

Poultry 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.  

The farmers’ 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 Ireland.  

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, and vegetables.  

Acres producing 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.  

This tillage 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.  


Mr. de 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.  

Irish peasants 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.  

He will 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.  

That the “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.













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