De Valera follows up disclosures on Irish workers' problems
MR. de Valera's vigorous denunciation of the overcrowded living conditions to which many Irish workers on rearmament projects in the Midlands are subjected, has excited considerable interest and public comment in Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and other industrial centres concerned.
The Irish Premier's speech at Galway last week followed recent disclosures in THE CATHOLIC HERALD of August 24 that the housing problem in these cities was growing more acute every day, and was arousing the "deep concern " of Catholic social workers because of the incidental "religious and moral dangers " involved.
In the course of his speech, Mr. de Valera said: " In one city where there was already an estimated shortage of 60.000 houses, over 100.000 new workers have come— half of whom are Irish—for whom no proper accommodation has been provided."
The figures quoted by Mr. dc Valera are substantially the same as those contained in THE CATHOLIC HERALD report already mentioned. although the Prime Minister went no further than to attribute them to a " trustworthy source." Further, he has since answered charges of " irresponsibility" levelled (among others) by the Mayors of Coventry and Wolverhampton.
In Birmingham the general reaction of the public authorities is that neither they nor the employers have any direct responsibility towards Irish workers who are being exploited since, in some cases. the exploiters are themselves Irish.
The city's transport undertaking, with 1,000 Irish workers already on its payroll and 1,000 more vacancies to fill. is one of the public concerns which is shouldering its own part of the housing problem.
The Transport Manager has stated that he is satisfied with the lodgings offered by his department. They are, he declared. inspected in advance, and close liaison is maintained with the Minister of Labour.
" But we do not accept responsibility for the private lives of our workers," he added. "While we are assured that lodgings recommended are satisfactory, we know that workers often move elsewhere. We have considered providing hostels, but have decided against it." On the other hand, a member of the Young Christian Workers, who was employed by the Transport Department until recently, presented another side of the picture: " On paper. the Department is doing all it should until one looks below the surface," he said.
Most of the conductresses come from Western Ireland — Galway, Mayo and neighbouring counties. They are ill prepared for the moral atmosphere they find in Birmingham.
" On the purely material side they find that their awkward hours do not fit in with the families with whom they are living: they often come to the depot without breakfast, and cases where their money is pilfered in their lodgings are not uncommon."
This Y.C.W. member saw the remedy in the provision of Catholic hostels similar to that maintained by the Sisters of Charity in Prinzip Street.
The local branch of the Y.C.W. has done some extremely useful work on its own account as regards the general housing problem. In one area a dossier of all lodging houses was compiled, with the result that vacancies for 100 workers were found in recommended houses.
A common reaction is that Irish workers are responsible for the conditions in which they live on the grounds that " if they spent more, they'd get better accommodation." In view of the general housing shortage, this popular assumption is largely false.