Emergency Powers Act
Following the Anglo-Irish Agreement, 1938, the Irish government obtained access to the British government’s preparatory work for emergency legislation in to control the economy in the looming war.
The Emergency Powers Act, 1939 provided that the government could by emergency order do anything necessary to deal with the emergency. This is to include
- control of rail, roads, ports and aerodromes,
- maintenance and regulation of supplies and services,
- regulation of any form of property,
- power to amend statute law,
- restriction on movement of persons including powers of arrest and detention,
- financial and monetary policy,
- air defence,
- measures to protect public safety and order.
The legislation was short supporting Act implemented by hundreds of Emergency Powers Orders made under the legislation. The legislation provided for “Henry VIII” type clauses with power to suspend the operation of, amend or disapply any enactment. In effect, the orders were not subject to scrutiny by the Oireachtas. A majority could annul it, but otherwise it remained effective.
The rationale for comprehensive emergency legislation lay in the uncertainty about the effects of prospective conflict, even if the State was not directly involved. It was said to be impossible to foresee all the detailed powers the government might need in the circumstances
The Emergency Supplies branch of the Department of Industry and Commerce was established in 1938. Its purpose was to anticipate and assess the organisation of Ireland’s supplies if a significant European conflict developed. It was to control the transport movement, distribution, sale, purchase and consumption of all goods.
The Ministers and Secretaries Act was amended in 1939 to establish the Minister for Supplies/ Departmental of Supplies as a separate government Department. The Minister had power to control all prices and profits in Ireland, including a wide range of industry. It had extensive powers to police the domestic market.
In 1939 about two thirds of Ireland’s imports came from the United Kingdom and nearly all exports were to the United Kingdom. The Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement of 1938 had put economic relations back on a normalised footing.
Ireland did not have its own Merchant Navy. They were 141 registered steamships and, just 56 ships of oceangoing standards, registered in the State. A significant number of the 141 registered ships transferred to the United Kingdom prior to the war.
The British and Irish Steam Packet Company was the largest and most important ship company in Ireland, although a low percentage ownership was held by Irish residents. Only 5% of ships in Irish ports were Irish owned.
Coal, petroleum, wheat, maize and timber were key imports for the economy. Many British registered ships were requisitioned as part of the war effort by the UK Board of Trade. A German blockade was likely. The British Ministry for Food requested that the British merchant vessels be allowed use Irish ports, which would have alleviated pressure for supplies. However, the move would inevitably have led Ireland into the war or lead to the bombing of ports.
Ireland faced a severe shortage of supplies, in part arising by way of coercion to pressurise Ireland to join the war on the allied side. In 1940, a total economic blockade followed against Germany cutting off Continental Europe from world food supplies. Further trade restrictions with Ireland, were imposed in 1941. The circumstances led to the formation of Irish Shipping in 1941. It secured 15 ships, many of whom were foreign vessels inactive in Irish ports.
The bulk of Ireland’s shipping involved importing grain from the United States and the Lisbon trade route. For the most part, the trade with Britain was restricted with limited and occasional exceptions. Occasional exceptions to trade restrictions arose on an ad hoc basis. Barter type arrangements existed in relation to certain commodities, including in particular food and beverage. There was a degree of bargaining between the Department of Supplies and British Departments in relation to food and beverage in return for imports required in Ireland.
The Department of Supplies instructed manufacturers and importers to maintain six months reserve stock of supplies with soft guarantees against loss. Pressure was put on banks to reduce interest rates, largely unsuccessfully.
The Department of Supplies imposed a monopoly on imports. The Department of Supplies, established central importing bodies on its own initiative, including the non-profit Tea Importers (Éire), Ltd., established in 1941.
The Department did not assert full control over industries but did impose monopolies in respect of certain commodities. It used various tactics with particular manufacturers and providers in order to increase and preserve stocks and supplies. T
he Department maintained pressure in relation to supplies and also in relation to the prevention of inflation and price control. Emergency powers orders sought to limit profits. For the most part however control was exercised informally. Full rationing was introduced in 1942 when the shortages became most pressing.
Several trade associations and prominent figures were convicted for breach of emergency legislation. The secretary of a key trade associations was jailed for insider trading. Sanction and fines were imposed on several large firms for dealing in sugar without licenses.
The number of licences granted to foreign manufacturers was reduced to almost nothing. In the 1930s, the Control of Manufacturers Act had been largely circumvented due to failures of domestic enterprise in particular areas.
Control of Economy
Pricing was policed and subject to prosecutions. Pricing orders were made and there were a number of imprisonments for selling over the controlled price. Numerous businesses were subject to licensing.
Petrol was rationed and private motoring was banned. Limitations were put on commercial journeys. Petrol consumption fell by 75% between 1940 and 1943.
Most sectors were subject to rationing. Prices and margins were controlled. Requirements were made to keep supplies to certain levels in anticipation of further deterioration in the earlier years of the War. The measures were difficult to implement as the government refused to guarantee the cost and losses arising.
The Department spent considerable effort combating unacceptable commercial behaviour and racketeering. In situations of constrained supplies, black-market dealers could demand grossly inflated prices. The Emergency Powers Orders sought to control prices. However, the black market circumvented rationing and the imitation of supplies for those able to pay market prices.
The early months of the war saw significant increases in pricing of key essential commodities including sugar, tea and fuel. Price controls were introduced without full rationing. The Department sought to use voluntary cooperation and persuasion to control supplies.
Maximum Prices Orders were made. They were constantly changing due to rapidly changing conditions during the war. Coal became rationed in January 1941, fuel oil in March, kerosene in April and turf in August 1941. Full rationing was introduced by 1942. Earlier rationing had been voluntary based on persuasion.
Numerous orders were made through the emergency period with an average of 150 per year from 1940 to 1943.
Expenditure not essential to the war effort was curtailed. An Economic Committee was established with a view to determining what normal activities could be suspended or restricted in order to release personnel for emergency work.
A wide range of cutbacks were proposed. Government expenditure was to fall by almost a third. In particular, local loans, housing grant loans, unemployment payments, unemployment schemes and agricultural grants were severely cut back. Approximately 2,000 public servants were to be made available for public emergency work. Ultimately, the government did not have the will to implement the full range of the proposals.
A policy of intensive increase in agriculture and in particular tillage was implemented. It was proposed that unemployed persons be directed into working on agricultural, and in particular on the tillage campaign.
More refined measures were put in place for the reduction of unemployment assistance. Distinctions were made between areas on the western seaboard with higher unemployment and other areas.
The proposals for winding down housing grants and restrictions on the provisions of local loans funds for housing were watered-down.
A particular problem was the interruption of the supplies of imported raw materials. Substitution by home products of imported industries, was only possible provided raw materials or semi manufacture goods could be imported. The supply of fuel impacted many industries. Petrol was rationed. The lack of bitumen affected public works of road repair. Tar was substituted but reduced quantities only could be produced.
A Department of Supplies was created to plan economic requirements. However, the control of the economy remained largely with the Department of Finance.
Key issues tackled included food supplies, essential commodities, regulation of external trade, censorship, counterespionage, control of communications, publicity, coast watching, monetary affairs, transport and military measures
Rationing necessitated the issuing of the ration books and a census of stocks, production and supply. Registration night May 1942 involved a registration of almost the entire population and the issue of ration books. Wheat rationing was introduced in May 1942. Bread, clothes and footwear became controlled shortly afterwards, as was butter and soap in the late 1942. Private motoring and sale of heating appliances were banned later in 1942.
Tea had been subject to earlier rationing in 1941 where members of local security forces had assisted in registration of households.
The Department relied on the Garda Síochána and Customs in the administration of rationing. An inspection branch staffed by inspectors, many of whom were, customs officers and inspectors were established through the country. Inspectors exercised powers to make surprise visits to shops and retail outlets to ensure compliance.
Prosecutions were taken through the state solicitors. Numerous prosecutions were brought to the District Court, most commonly for selling at excess prices, not selling to persons registered as local customers and failures to keep records. Many rationing violations were reported by the public and were the subject of prosecutions.
Nearly a thousand prosecutions a year were undertaken for breach of the rationing regulations and orders. Some prosecutions where taken before the Special Criminal Court against large-scale black marketers. Some significant penalties were handed down. The District Court varied in their approach, some being relatively light while others imposing significant fines.
Energy & Resources
See the separate sections in relation to turf development during the war. Turf production was greatly increased, to substitute for the reduced availability of coal. Grain Importers Ireland, a state company sought to try and secure supplies of grain. In most areas the Department did not seek to establish and substitute itself but sought to exert pressure on the incumbent suppliers.
Haulbowline Industries Ltd., large scrap merchants in Cork and Western Supply in Achill were damaged in delays in granting licenses. They exported a significant percentage of their scrap to British Iron and Steel. Pressure was maintained on scrap merchants to maintain supplies. A lack of chemicals and machinery hampered agriculture.
Electricity and gas were rationed in 1941. The infamous Glimmer Man inspector regulated gas and electricity and was subject to popular derision.
Irish Dunlop was pressurised by the government to import extra supplies of rubber in late 1939 but without a government guarantee, refuse to do so. The supply situation ultimately deteriorated with the outbreak of war in the Far East and full British export prohibitions. Rubber supplies were cut off completely. The import of bicycles and bicycle parts plummeted by almost 90%. Combined with petrol restrictions it made the bicycle critical. Bicycles and bicycle parts were rationed.