Revenue Over the Years 1932 - 1940
The State's first major international event was the Eucharistic Congress in June 1932. Dublin, thronged with foreign participants, also drew many first-time visitors from rural Ireland. Revenue rules on imported motor vehicles were relaxed for the Congress. That year at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, Pat O'Callaghan won another Gold for hammer throwing and Bob Tisdall also achieved Gold for Ireland in the 400 metre hurdles.
Count John McCormack's melodious tones had barely faded from the Congress when the Economic war with the UK took centre stage. The new Government's withholding of land annuities to the UK resulted in the imposition of 40% duty on cattle and 30% on other Irish agricultural imports to the UK-- a devastating blow to the State, so dependent on agricultural exports. Subsidies, payable by the Department of Agriculture, were introduced for exported livestock, on foot of certified Customs'; documents.
An'Emergency Imposition of Duties Order', hurried through the Oireachtas, imposed duties on most UK, NI and Commonwealth goods. Smuggling, confined mainly to sugar in the earlier years, became an attractive each way bet. There was particular concern about livestock declared for export, availing of State subsidies, later smuggled into Northern Ireland and later again smuggled back into the State. Revenue staff on the Land Frontier, who risked life and limb, merit the highest praise for curbing the flood of illegal activity.
Already understaffed, Revenue's work load increased enormously. The simplification of tax legislation, being undertaken by a Revenue committee, had to be postponed. Extra staff, recruited from open and internal competitions, saw the first major move from C&E Indoor to the C&E Officer grade. The loaned UK staff, who had helped set up Irish Revenue, were now returning home. Many of the staff, including Maurice Walsh, who had transferred from the UK administration, were now retiring. In the Taxes area, new grading structures were introduced.
The late Buddy Kirwan, a 1932 C&E recruit, told of his first posting to the land frontier. A colleague told him that he'd know Swanlinbar when he saw people hanging over half doors waiting for the new Officer.
Shadowed by world depression, this was also a time of dreams - dreams of a self sufficient Irish State. A positive effect of the Economic War was the stimulation of non-agricultural industry. Seán Lemass, Minister for Industry & Commerce, set about providing industrial jobs. Low cost State funding for Irish industry was available from the Industrial Credit Corporation, established in 1933. Over a two day period, in January 1935, an aluminium factory was opened in Nenagh and a cutlery factory in Newbridge. Several UK companies set up in the State and, where private industry failed to act, the Government established semi-State bodies, including the Sugar Company, Bord na Mona and Aer Rianta.
The following year alcohol factories were set up at Cooley (Louth); Carrickmacross (Monaghan); Corroy (Mayo); Labbadish and Carndonagh (Donegal). Providing employment in disadvantaged areas, they manufactured spirits from potato starch and were under Revenue control to ensure that no unauthorised alcohol was spirited away. Mick Hamell, a young 1932 recruit, was one of the first C&E people in Cooley.
While Revenue had a hands-on role in the alcohol factories, it also had functions in protecting other industries. Control and operation of Quotas and licences, issued by the Department of Industry & Commerce, required intensive Revenue input. Computerisation was further away than the portable radio. Most parishes had a few dry-battery radios around which crowds gathered on All-Ireland days. Delia Murphy was the darling of Irish firesides as she sang The Spinning Wheel on wind-up gramophones in 1935, the year Elvis Presley was born.
Rock and roll could describe rural Ireland during this period when rocky soil was cleared, rolled and ploughed under the Government's Tillage Plan. It was not roll-your-own but grow-your-own as parts of the country tried to cultivate tobacco. Revenue controls were introduced for tobacco growers. However, hopes for a tobacco road in Carlow or Wexford did not materialise, the climate being more suitable for the Old Bog Road.
Restoring parity to old age pensions, the Government also introduced limited unemployment assistance in 1933, and the widows and orphans pension two years later. Revenue had a pivotal role in these, not only in collecting the funds for them but also printing the relevant books and orders. Old age pensions, removed from C&E in 1935, were placed under Revenue Investigation Officers until the Dept. of Social Welfare was set up twelve years later.
Change was literally in the air in 1935 when Rineanna on the Shannon Estuary was selected for the State's first transatlantic airfield. Under the consultancy of aviator Charles Lindbergh, work commenced in 1937. The previous year, Aer Lingus had made its maiden flight from Dublin's Baldonnel to Bristol. These developments entailed new Revenue procedures and staff to work them.
That year, the first US flying boat landed at Foynes, Co. Limerick, later to become an important landing place. J.B. Kelly and the late Dan Corcoran were there to ensure observance of Revenue procedures. As Foynes watched flying boats, the world watched the unfolding saga of Britain's King and Mrs Simpson.
Dark clouds gathered over Europe as the Spanish Civil war took a new twist with the infamous bombing of the people of Guernica. Our new Constitution, Bunreacht na h-éireann, came into force on December 29th, 1937, renaming the Free State as Éire. The Economic war ended with the 1938 Anglo Irish Free Trade Agreement. The land annuities issue was resolved. The UK agreed to a settlement of £10,000,000 and the State received back her ports.
Revenue's Board, unchanged since 1925, saw Commissioner Ó Nualláin retire in 1937. His replacement was Timothy Cleary. A native of Birr, Co. Offaly, Cleary had transferred from the UK C&E to the new Revenue head office where he was actively involved in many major issues. Two years later when Chairman O'Brien retired, Commissioner Carey replaced him. The new Board member was Tipperary man, Liam Ó’Domhnaill, Assistant Secretary in the Estate Duty Office. A lover of the Irish language, Ó’Domhnaill was very involved with the Gaelic League.
On September 3rd, 1939, England declared war on Germany. The previous day, Irish neutrality had been announced. The Emergency Powers Act, 1939 came into immediate effect, allowing the Government make Orders authorising and providing for controls, restrictions and prohibitions on imports and exports. To conserve foreign exchange resources, only essential commodities could be imported. Export controls were to ensure sufficiency at home.
In this period, known as The Emergency, the Department of Supplies was set up to deal with rationing and other wartime measures. Many Revenue people were drafted into the Departments of Supplies, Defence or Posts & Telegraphs for postal censorship work. Bill McGarry, then District Inspector in Waterford, recalls having the additional duty of County Commissioner during the Emergency. Reporting to the Department of Supplies, his role was to form parish councils and set up a network of contacts to ensure maintenance of essential services in the event of invasion. Exportation of documents, photographs or recording machines was entirely prohibited. Neutrality rules entailed the deletion of any reference to the war in incoming mail. Over 30% of C&E staff were transferred to other Departments because of the decrease in shipping.
Rationing placed tea and flour on every smuggler's list. Coffins of smuggled tea were not unusual. The smuggler became the chief mourner when his hearse and tea were seized. Clashes between smugglers and Customs were commonplace. In 1940 the infamous Battle of Dowra, on the Leitrim/Fermanagh border, took place. Revenue crews from Blacklion and Glenfarne intercepted over one hundred men with donkey loads of smuggled flour. Unwilling to part with their bounty, the smugglers used cudgels, boots, stones and fists in the ensuing struggle. Most of the flour was destroyed in the fray and some Revenue people were injured.
A small time flour smuggler, years later, at a Border Post, boasted of his clever escape. "I'm done for, I thought, as I heard the Customs' car. But then I had a brainwave. Putting my arms around the flour, I pretended I was courting and the Customs just drove past." "What sort of flour was it? asked the young C&E official,