May 14th 1932 Pioneer spirit found along the Border


BACK PAGES:THE FIRST Fianna Fáil government’s budget, introduced in May 1932, imposed 43 new tariffs on imported goods (as well as tax increases) and was welcomed by supporters for putting an end to the “evils” of free trade and creating jobs in protected Irish industries, writes JOE JOYCE.

It also, of course, boosted an emerging smuggling industry which proved more durable than many of the protected manufacturers of the day. A “special representative” of The Irish Times went to the Border to see how the customs officers were dealing with the new regulations two days after their imposition and his report appeared in today’s paper in 1932.


The pioneering spirit of the frontiersmen, of whom we read in the books (now dutiable) of our youth, has come to Ireland, and I found ample evidence of its presence along the Free State-Northern Ireland Border.

At every frontier station preventative officers, surrounded by groups of immigrants from Northern Ireland, were trying to elucidate the many intricacies of the 43 new duties imposed under Mr MacEntee’s Budget on Wednesday last. “Have you got anything to declare?” became “What have you got?” “Is that a new bike?” “Have you been across with that cart before?” and only common sense in applying the duties and good humour on the part of the officers avoided many unpleasant passages-at-arms with the farm-hand visitors and others entering the Free State. Virtually every article brought from North to South across the Border is now dutiable, but, despite my efforts to be charged duty, I was only definitely in trouble when I arrived with a sheet of corrugated iron, borrowed from a builder in Northern Ireland . . .

The corrugated iron needed no declaring; it declared itself with a crash to an officer who was busily engaged in cancelling a duty on sanitary earthenware which had been printed in his list before Mr MacEntee decided to be lenient with Seán Citizen.

Then came the difficulty. “What is its value?” demanded the officer. I had forgotten to ask my friend, and was compelled to confess my ignorance. After considerable parleying a flash of inspiration came to a junior officer, who telephoned to a builder in a neighbouring town, and gave him the measurements and weight, and was told the price. “Ten per cent duty, please: imperial preferential rate applies to this lot,” remarked the officer, who now thought himself on safe ground. “It’s not worth it,” I replied, and back I went to Northern Ireland with my “corrugated iron, galvanised; sheets one, building, for the use of.” I crossed the Border a number of times on vehicles ranging from a dilapidated cart pulled by an aged donkey, to a new, but muddy, bicycle – for which I was not charged duty.

With the ass and cart I was sent from the frontier post to the nearest customs office with instructions to get a pass and have a seal put on the shaft . . . After filling in several forms, the driver whom I accompanied was handed a pass to bring “one cart, ‘farm’, into the Free State, provided that he was on his lawful occasions and was using the cart for the transport of goods, which must be declared separately, and, if necessary, duty paid thereon.” The harassed, but obliging, officer then preceded us to the street with due solemnity as befits a civil servant and, after winding several inches of wire around the shaft of the cart, placed a lead seal upon it, which he impressed with an unintelligible, but, nevertheless, imposing, mark. This, we were told, would allow us to bring the cart into the Free State whenever we liked by an “approved road”.

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