The question of Ireland’s right to a share of the manufacture of munitions of war and the capability of this country in helping towards maintaining a sufficient output to meet the necessities of the forces at the front, has for some time engaged the attention of commercial men and factory owners, and as result of concerted action, practical steps are now been taken which it is hoped will, in time, lead to the full equipment of a National Shell Factory in Dublin and several subsidiary works throughout the country. Preparations for the establishment of the National Shell Factory in Dublin have been made for some time, and while much of the initial work was pushed forward, it was felt that strong representations to the responsible authority was desirable in order to press for a completion of the work and a little more official energy in meeting Irish claims to a share in the manufacture of munitions. Ireland, as a matter of fact, prior to the outbreak of the war, had always a grievance against the War Office in its policy of partial exclusion of Irish contracts for supplies of all kinds necessary for the troops stationed in this country, and an agitation carried on for some time by the Irish Industrial Development Association for fair treatment for this country in giving Irish firms and contractors an opportunity of competing on equal terms with firms on the other side of the Channel, was successful in so far as having Irish claims in this respect admitted. There were difficulties, however, in the way of having these claims met, chief of which was the absence of a military receiving depot in this country to which samples and supplies might be sent for examination and testing. Heretofore Irish firms competing for army contracts were obliged to send their tenders with samples, etc., to England, from whence they were sent back again to Ireland, and needless to add, the expense, loss of time, and other drawbacks which this red-tape involved militated greatly against the success of Irish contractors. The establishment of a receiving depot in Ireland which would remove all these drawbacks was being urged with every promise of success when the war broke out, and since then, of course, the War Office has had matters of much more urgency to engage its attention. Now, however, the possibility of the project materialising has again been revived by the efforts made to have munitions of war manufactured in this country. Lately a deputation, representative of the commercial and manufacturing interests of the country, waited on Mr. Lloyd George, Minister of Munitions, for the purpose of making representations to him on the producing capacity of this country of munitions of war, and Mr. John Redmond, in the course of his remarks introducing the deputation, referred to the importance of establishing a Receiving Depot, not only for munitions, but to cover all things required by the army. Although Mr. Lloyd George made it plain that this Department had nothing to do with general supplies, still the importance of such an establishment was touched upon by several members of the deputation. The main object of the latter, however, was to lay before the Minister of Munitions the amount of machinery available, and the capacity of this country in turning out munitions of war. The equipment of a National Shell factory in Dublin, a National Fuse factory and Shell factory for Cork, and several other subsidiary works were advocated by the deputation, whose proposals were purely business ones, and not at all concerned with politics, and in addition were inspired by, amongst other considerations, a desire to help in the output of a sufficient supply of munitions.
Many of those manufacturers whom the deputation represented, have contracts for military supplies which expire in June, and they were prepared to lay down extra machinery at their own expense if assured of a continuance of these contracts, as well as afforded an opportunity of engaging in the production of other supplies. This offer is a very fair one, and discloses a commendable spirit of enterprise on the part of those concerned. An important point alluded to by Mr. Redmond also was that plant laid down for the manufacture of these munitions could in the future, be converted to commercial uses, and would be a valuable asset in the rapid development of the industries of this country, to which we all look forward at the close of the war. But even when the present war terminates, we are not assured of that peace and freedom from strife and trouble to which we all aspire. There may be still trouble, and violent times ahead of us in this country, and the existence of fully equipped factories capable of producing different kinds of war munitions may be regarded as an advantage or the reverse according to the manner in which the events of the future take shape, and the particular outlook which one has on the possibility of such developments. In viewing the immediate objects of the deputation from the standpoint of this country’s claim to a share of the fabulous sums of money poured out in the manufacture of munitions in England, Scotland and Wales, it is inconceivable how these claims can be further honestly ignored, when it is remembered that while our resources in taxation have been carefully attended to and every possibly penny exacted, little or none of it has found its way back again in the shape of wages for workers employed in the production of warlike supplies. According to the statement of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who was one of the deputation to Mr. Lloyd George, Ireland, under present taxation, is contributing at the rate of £30,000 a day for the privilege of forming part of the Empire, while, according to an answer given to a question on the subject recently in Parliament, about £150 a week is spent in Dublin on war wages.
Mr. Lloyd George wanted to know if skilled labour was forthcoming in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere, and the reply to the question showed that so far from Ireland obtaining any return in employment or benefitting financially from Government outlays on war supplies, she was actually being impoverished and depopulate. The Lord Mayor said in reply to Mr. Lloyd George’s query that there were sufficient craftsmen in Dublin, and that in the last four months seven thousand people left in Dublin alone to seek employment in munitions works in England. These people had left voluntarily, lured by the prospect of remunerative employment that they could not get at home. But what about the victims of the Government Departments which, instead of providing employment for the workers who had rendered faithful service to them and the State, have been deliberately and callously deprived of the means of working for their livelihood on different pleas of retrenchment and other exigencies of the times. We all know how men of real worth in subordinate positions, and doing practical work in the Departments in which they have been engaged, have had their services dispensed with, while men holding sinecures in higher places continue to enjoy generous salaries. Recently at the Curragh a number of labourers employed at quarrying, road-making, &c., several of whom are married men with families, and most of whom have many friends and relatives serving in the army, were ordered to join the colours under pain of instant dismissal, and on refusal, were paid off on St. Patrick’s Eve, and their employment terminated. And yet we are assured that compulsion or coercion will not be tolerated in this country, which has given such a magnificent response to the call for men for the army and navy.
It is pitiable, indeed, that despite all the eulogies bestowed on Irish heroism and self-sacrifice, it should be made to appear by this arbitrary treatment of a number of poor labourers that the British army was reduced to such straits in order to get Irishmen to serve in its ranks. We do not know how far the deputation to Mr. Lloyd George has succeeded in inducing the Minister of Munitions to give a share of the work to Ireland, but we hope that in common justice to the men on the Curragh who have been disemployed without reasonable cause, they will receive from those to whom the control of munitions work in this country is entrusted, that consideration to which they are entitled in case they apply for work in the event of local works being started, or else that the work which they have been accustomed to perform will be restored to them. In the matter of machinery of an up-to-date character for the production of munitions in this country, the manufacturers will, it is expected, be assisted by the Government, and should the Munitions Minister’s professions of sympathy materialise in thus aiding this country to be equipped for meeting the industrial needs of the future, the prospects must be most encouraging. Meanwhile we do not see why such military centres as the Curragh should not receive portion of this equipment, and a share of the work executed locally, thus providing much-needed employment for civilians and those who have been rendered idle, and those who belong to a class which, not alone forms the bulk, but the backbone of the army.