Far from the present radlib milieu the Irish Labour party in the early years of the state was arguably the greatest proponent of Catholic economic teaching.The following is the complete parliamentary speech given by William Norton TD in 1932 upon the nomination of De Valera as Taoiseach in which the former advocates for a more interventionist economic regime in line with economic teachings of Pope Leo XII and aspirations of the first Dáil. An almost forgotten historical figure Norton was a committed trade unionist an account of which can be found courtesy of the Communications Workers Union.

If we sit in this Parliament today, a Parliament representing the Irish Free State, we do so because the workers of Ireland during the troubled years through which we have passed rallied round the national cause and made it possible for this nation to win the measure of freedom which this nation has won. 

In the struggle to drive out the foreign invader, in the struggle to win for the people the liberty which no power has a right to take from the people, the workers of this country played a part which, I think, will always be remembered with pride and gratitude by the Irish nation. In that struggle, the workers of Ireland did not join merely for the purpose of exchanging one capitalist system for another. They joined in that struggle in the belief that the new Irish nation would enact a code of social legislation which would give to the plain people of the country a better measure of social justice than had been obtained under the alien capitalist system which they had sought to destroy. 

The National Parliament of 1919 made a pledge to the workers when it enacted the democratic programme of the first Dáil. When that programme was blazoned forth to the world we were told it was going to represent the new code of social legislation which would govern the relations of the Irish citizen to the Irish State. Here in this House for the past ten years the Labour Party have pleaded with the Cumann na nGaedheal Party, with the Government Party of the day, to remember the democratic programme of the first Dáil. 

We have pleaded year in and year out that the Cumann na nGaedheal Party ought to remember the pledges which, as part of the old Sinn Féin Party, it gave to the workers of Ireland. But we have pleaded in vain. We have pleaded with a Party and with a Government which has not been concerned with the interests of the plain people of the country. We have pleaded with a Party whose main interest was the interest of the rich, whose concern for the poor was a very poor concern indeed. 

William Norton (1900-1963): An Unsung Trade Union & Labour Leader -  Communications Workers' Union

Today, after ten years of pleading, we see them on the eve of going out of office. Having regard to their record towards the workers I think there will be no tears shed and no regrets expressed. So far as the Labour Party is concerned, so far as the plain people of this country are concerned, they can bid adieu to the outgoing Government with no feeling of regret whatever and with no kind wishes for their early return. 

We are on the eve of electing a new Government, and judging by the declarations of the leaders of the Fianna Fáil Party and by the protestations of the members of that Party, we appear today to be getting a Government which at least promises more hope to the workers of the country that it will tackle the social and economic problems—which press with so much rigour on the workers of the country,—than the Cumann na nGaedheal Party have shown a disposition to do in the past ten years. It is because we have hopes that the Fianna Fáil Party will live up to their declared policy, that they will endeavour to implement the promises they have given to the electors in social and economic matters, that the Labour Party is going to vote for Deputy de Valera as President of the Executive Council. What are the problems that we as a Labour Party are concerned with? 

The problem which transcends all others to my mind is the problem of unemployment. Here today we have the festering sore of 80,000 unemployed men and women willing and anxious to work, but denied the opportunity of work in the land that gave them birth. We say this is the biggest problem with which this country has ever been faced, and the statesmanship of any Government will be judged in ratio to the success which attends their efforts in placing those 80,000 unemployed men and women back into productive employment. 

There can be no effective solution of the unemployment problem except along the lines of developing our industry and our agriculture, and in taking every possible step to ensure that our home industry supplies the home demand for all those commodities which to-day we are compelled to import. 

I hope that the Fianna Fáil Party, constituting the new Government, will give ceaseless attention to the problems of saving our industries from extinction, to the problem of developing our agriculture, not merely in order to add to the wealth of the nation, but to provide employment for the tens of thousands of unemployed men and women who are today clamouring for the opportunity not merely to enrich the nation, but to live that life of frugal comfort which Pope Leo XIII laid down as the God-given right of every man and woman born into this world. 

The Labour Party claims that this nation, organised as a community, must recognise its definite obligation to provide work for the men and women who are at present unemployed and failing the provision of work there must be adequate maintenance provided for our unemployed men and women. 

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I hope the Fianna Fáil Party will have sufficient sense of humanity to recognise the inherent honesty and the economic soundness of that claim. If they do that, they will earn the gratitude of 80,000 unemployed men and women, and they shall obtain the support of the Labour Party so long as they travel along that road. Let me refer to another vital problem concerning the nation, namely, the problem of housing. The Labour Party has for many years urged the establishment of a national housing council for the purpose of providing the houses that the people require. During the past ten years we have seen the housing problem dealt with in a piecemeal, huckstering fashion. No apparent, wholehearted effort was made to solve the problem, but just dribbling along from one small piece of policy to another. No vigour, no energy and no real appreciation of the magnitude of the problems was shown, and no display of capacity to solve the problems was given. Today, this country needs approximately 40,000 houses to satisfy its housing wants. 

We have in this country all the factors necessary for the provision of houses for our people. We have the unemployed craftsmen capable of building the houses. We have the people looking for the houses. We have in considerable quantities, Irish house-building material available for the erection of the houses, and we have the assurance of the Cumann na nGaedheal Party, who would not say anything except what is correct, that this country can borrow all the millions it wants to finance any scheme of productive work; so, with all the factors present in this matter, we ought speedily to go ahead with the work of providing houses for our people so as to rescue them from the dens of ill-health in which they are condemned to live to-day. They are living in dens of ill-health where the dreaded scourge of tuberculosis has burned into the bodies and souls of men, women and children, blighting their minds and dwarfing their bodies and preventing all healthy growth. 

I hope Fianna Fáil will give earnest attention to that problem, not merely providing our people with decent houses but, also, for the purpose of enabling the housing problem to make its contribution towards the solution of the unemployment problem. In this House some years ago Deputy T. Murphy moved a motion designed to secure an inquiry into a scheme of providing widows and orphans pensions so that the widow left with a number of helpless children will not have to depend upon the charity of her friends or relatives or upon some charitable organisation, or else end her days in the county home, but might lead her own life not merely in respect of herself but that she might be able to provide some decent means of livelihood for her children, who are going to be the citizens of to-morrow. 

The Cumann na nGaedheal Party succeeded in shelving that motion, but we hope that the new Government will give early attention to the necessity for providing a scheme of widows and orphans pensions so as to remove from this State the reproach that it is one of the few nations in Europe where a scheme of pensions is not provided for the widow who is left with a few helpless children. The transport problem is another problem that vitally concerns the Labour Party. Thanks to the neglect of the past ten years, that problem has got into an exceedingly bad tangle. The nation has lost heavily during the past ten years by the failure on the part of the Government to regulate the growth and the development of transport. 

The wasteful cut-throat competition, especially of the last two years, has been ruinous to the nation, has been ruinous to her transport industry; and unless something is done at an early date the transport problem threatens to become one of the biggest problems with which the nation will have to deal.

 All kinds of services— railway, bus, canal—are engaged to-day in a death struggle, each striving to exterminate the other. And the Government looks on with apparent helplessness while this uneconomic competition goes on, instead of doing as any enlightened Government would long since have done—stepped in and controlled the development of transport, the ordering of transport, and done something effective to provide a proper system of transport, a system which would be profitable for the transport industry and which would serve the needs of the people in a much better way than the transport system of this country is serving the needs of the people to-day. For the last few years we have seen the extent to which a very important Irish industry is heading towards extinction. 

I refer to the flour milling industry. We have seen the tendency for foreign control to come in here not merely for the purpose of securing the ownership of Irish mills but also for the purpose of extinguishing the Irish mills and making Ireland a free, unrestricted market for the surplus production of British mills. Within the last few months we have seen that problem accentuated by the continued spread of the activities of the British combine in this country. To-day there are very few Irish mills under Irish control. The foreign combine, the British combine, has come into the country and is swallowing up the ownership of one mill after another not merely for the purpose of owning the mill but for the purpose of preventing the mill being used for the milling of Irish or imported wheat. 

Fianna Fail Election Poster 'Workers' (1948). — Google Arts & Culture

All that is done so as to provide a ready market for the surplus produce of Britain. The effect of doing it will be to cause more unemployment amongst our people, to render the nation poorer by taking from the nation the instruments of wealth production which are resident in our mills to-day. Whatever cause there may be for importing foreign wheat, there is no cause for importing foreign flour. And we hope that shortly after this election takes place the Fianna Fáil Party will give evidence of their intention to hold Irish industry for the Irish people by putting some curb on the activities of this foreign combine which is wreaking such destruction on our flour milling industry to-day. Within the last few years we have seen the application, on an increasingly rapid scale, of tariffs to industry; and some of us are of the opinion that with the application of tariffs to industry there has not been sufficient protection extended to the consumer. 

Every day in the week there are glaring cases of the most shameless profiteering taking place in this city. You have only got to take milk as an example, where the wholesaler receives 1/1 per gallon for his milk and the people in the city to-day are paying 2/8 for the same milk. You can also see evidence of the gross profiteering that is taking place in the supply of vegetables in the Dublin market. 

I hope the Fianna Fáil Party will take steps at an early date to establish a Food Prices Tribunal, as was recommended by the Food Prices Committee of some years ago, so as to put a curb in these hard and difficult times on the rapacity of these shopkeepers who are not content with a reasonable profit but who want to exact an exorbitant profit at the expense of the suffering and misery of the poor. There may be a question as to the effectiveness and efficiency of a control of prices, but even a fifty per cent. efficiency in the matter of controlling prices will do something to save the poor from the rapacity of some shopkeepers who exist in the community to-day. 

Only one word more, a Cheann Comhairle, and I will conclude. In future the only hope, in our view, for the solution of this country’s difficulties will be a progressive economic and industrial development. I hope the Fianna Fáil Party are going to assure us that future economic and industrial development will not be along the lines of unrestricted capitalism plus tariffs. I hope instead that they will endeavour to introduce a new conception of industry, a conception of industry which will take the form of planning the ordered development of our industries and introducing into industry the humanising factors which are absent from industry to-day. 

The worker must not be regarded as a tool for the creation of wealth or for the making of profit. Without him it is impossible to run industry, and the Labour Party will claim in this House, no matter how long or how short this House may last, that the workers on whose energy and skill industry is run, must be taken into consideration in the direction and the control of that industry. We make a plea for the introduction of humanising factors into industry. I hope Deputy de Valera, as the new President, will give us his assurance that he stands for that kind of industry rather than for the soulless capitalism which exists to-day. If this nation is going to prosper, if its people are going to prosper and be happy, that can only be done by the Government regarding it as its duty by every means in its power to build up the resources of the nation, to strengthen it industrially and economically. 

We in the Labour Party will not regard the prosperity of this nation either by the pomp or pageantry of our army or our judiciary. The prosperity and the happiness of this nation will not be judged by that kind of pomp and pageantry. The prosperity of this nation and its people will be judged by the standard of happiness and the standard of economic comfort which our working-class people enjoy. That is the only standard by which the prosperity, the real prosperity, of any nation can be judged, and I hope the new Government will use all its energies and all its resources, all the wealth and all the wealth-creating instruments within the country, in the endeavour to build up an Ireland which will be an example to the world, an Ireland wherein every man and woman who renders service to the nation shall be guaranteed by the nation a full, free, and happy life.

Rewriting the history of Ireland's economic revolution

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