Wednesday, 27 June 1934
Dáil Éireann Debate
Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £709,574 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1935, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí Oifig Choimisiún Talmhan na hEireann (44 agus 45 Vict., c. 49, a. 46, agus c. 71, a. 4; 48 agus 49 Vict., c. 73, a. 17, 18 agus 20; 53 agus 54 Vict., c. 49, a. 2; 54 agus 55 Vict., c. 48; 3 Edw. 7, c. 37; 7 Edw. 7, c. 38 agus c. 56; 9 Edw. 7, c. 42; Uimh. 27 agus Uimh. 42 de 1923; Uimh. 25 de 1925; Uimh. 11 de 1926; Uimh. 19 de 1927 Uimh., 31 de 1929; Uimh. 11 de 1931; agus Uimh. 33 agus Uimh. 38 de 1933.
That a sum not exceeding £709,574 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1935, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Irish Land Commission (44 and 45 Vict., c. 49, s. 46, and c. 71, s. 4; 48 and 49 Vict., c. 73, s.s. 17, 18 and 20; 53 and 54 Vict., c. 49, s. 2; 54 and 55 Vict., c. 48; 3 Edw. 7, c. 37; 7 Edw. 7, c. 38 and c. 56; 9 Edw. 7, c. 42; Nos. 27 and 42 of 1923; 25 of 1925; 11 of 1926; 19 of 1927; 31 of 1929; 11 of 1931; and 33 and 38 of 1933.
Minister for Lands (Mr. Connolly): The Land Commission Estimate for the financial year 1934-35 really stands by itself and is not strictly comparable with previous Estimates on account of the new situation created by the passing  of the Land Act, 1933, and the changes in land purchase finance that have arisen in consequence of the provisions of that Act. In previous years, the annual Estimate for the Land Commission used to average about £600,000, but this included an annual contribution to the British Government of £134,500 towards the charge for “Excess Stock” and “Bonus” created in the course of financing land purchase under the Land Acts prior to the Act of 1923, which contribution was discontinued in last year's Estimate. The original net Estimate for the year 1933-34 was, therefore, reduced £446,254 on a normal basis. To this had to be added, by Supplementary Estimates, successive amounts of £800,000, £1,420,000 and £57,000, making a grand total for last year of £2,723,254. The first two of these Supplementary Estimates were required mainly for the purpose of meeting deficiencies in the collection of annuities, due to the non-collection of the May-June gale of 1933; the third was necessary to cover certain unanticipated excesses of expenditure, particularly in regard to the improvement of estates. The great bulk of the sums provided in the Second Supplementary Estimate did not make any ultimate demand on the Exchequer or on the taxpayer, being really in the nature of a book-keeping transaction involving the transfer of moneys to and from the Land Purchase Annuities Fund. This item disappears from the Estimate for the current year, and represents the greater part of the total decrease as compared with last year.
A number of the sub-heads of the Estimate are for nominal or comparatively trifling amounts and I need not go into them all. Taking the more important sub-heads as they occur, I may explain, as regards Sub-head A, that the increase of £30,000 odd for Salaries, Wages and Allowances is due mainly to the increase of staff provided for the operation of the Land Act, 1933 —an increase in number from 761 to 830, or 69 extra officials, of whom 63 are in the Acquisition and Resales and Inspectorate, for the purpose of speeding up the acquisition and division of untenanted land. This increase is absolutely  necessary if we are to show the results which we desire in this direction. The increase of £6,000 for traveling expenses etc. under Sub-head B reflects the increase in the number of outdoor staff and the greater amount of travelling generally which will follow upon the Department's extended operations. Sub-heads C, D, E and G and H are much on the same lines as last year and do not call for any comment. As regards Sub-head F, the decrease of £15,500 is mainly due to the change of procedure for the recovery of arrears of Land Purchase annuities introduced by Section 28 of the Land Act, 1933, in consequence of which State Solicitors' costs will be largely cut out. It is difficult to estimate, with any degree of accuracy, for items such as these, but the estimated figure is a reasonable anticipation.
Under sub-head I, Improvement of Estates, the increase of £20,000 reflects the anticipated acceleration in regard to the division of untenanted land. It should be borne in mind that these improvement works provide employment for about 1,500 men in the summer months and about 2,000 in the winter months. The Estimate under sub-head (J) shows a decrease of £10,000 as compared with last year. It is particularly difficult to estimate ahead for this item, as it represents the balance between various outgoings and incomings, that is to say, the difference between the payments to be made in the financial year for interest on the Land Bonds representing the price of untenanted land acquired by the Land Commission, but not yet permanently disposed of, together with charges on this land, such as rates and herds' wages, totalling approximately £22,000, and on the other hand, such interest as may be derived from interest payable by allottees, grazing lettings, etc. which are estimated to produce £12,000. The halving of last year's estimate under this sub-head is largely due to the fact that as estimated income from allottees is reduced by 50 to 55 per cent., in consequence of the provisions of Section 16 (3) (a) of the Land Act, 1933, a corresponding reduction has been made in the provision under this sub-head for the  interest charge on Land Bonds issued in respect of the land concerned. The balance of the interest charge on these bonds is provided under sub-head R.
Under sub-head (K), the increase of £1,340 on last year's revised Estimate is due to the return to normal conditions in regard to the liability for interest on the land bonds issued in discharge of the liability assumed by the State in connection with the resale of Land Bank and “committee” lands. Last year's original estimate of £18,800 was reduced by £3,000 owing to arrears of annuities in certain Land Bank cases being funded under the Land Act, 1933, instead of being charged to this sub-head. While the amount of this saving was exceptional, the necessity is also avoided for making provision for arrears in the Land Bank cases likely to be closed during the year 1934-35, as such arrears have been funded or remitted under the Land Act, 1933, and this accounts for the estimate for the current year being as low as £17,140. Sub-heads (L) and (M) represent merely nominal provision and do not call for comment. A forecast under sub-head (N) is particularly difficult, except within wide limits. The original estimate for last year was £2,500, but only £1,000 was required and the saving was taken into account in a Supplementary Estimate. It is considered that £1,500 should be sufficient to meet charges arising under this sub-head during the current year. The estimate under sub-head (O) is also largely problematical. Up to the present, no charge has actually been made under this head, but owing to the increasing number of estates in which the purchase moneys have been allocated and the difficulty which might be experienced in recovering the amount required to redeem Land Bonds in cases where there was an over-issue of bonds the estimate has been increased from last year's nominal figure of £100 to £1,000 for this year, to provide for cases in which recovery may prove to be impossible. The difficulties which have been referred to in estimating the provision under sub-head (N) apply also to sub-head (P), under which the original  estimate of £2,000 for last year was found to be excessive by as much as £1,500. As a matter of prudence, however, a sum of £2,000 is again put down to provide for any contingencies under this sub-head which may arise in the current year. Sub-head (Q) represents merely a token estimate.
Sub-heads A. to Q represent those items which are at all comparable with last year's Estimates. In this year's Estimate a number of new sub-heads have had to be introduced mainly consequent on the provisions of the Land Act, 1933. The new sub-head R represents by far the largest item in the Land Commission Estimate, and, roughly speaking, may be said to represent in itself the main difference between the Estimates ante and post the Land Act, 1933. Deficiencies in the Land Bond Fund due to the revisions and reductions in land purchase annuities under the Land Act, 1933, must be provided for out of the Vote, and such provision will remain a permanent charge until the Land Bonds are ultimately redeemed. I need hardly remind Deputies, however, that this charge on the State Exchequer in respect of the Land Bonds issued under the Land Acts, 1923 to 1933, is more than offset by the retention for the benefit of the State Exchequer of the land purchase annuities receivable under the Acts prior to the Land Act of 1923. Deputies may be inclined to contrast the amount of £555,000 under this sub-head with the amount of £795,000 provided for a similar purpose in a supplementary estimate of last year. I may explain that the big difference between these two sums is to be accounted for by the necessity to provide last year for the moratorium which was granted in respect of the full annuities payable on the first gale of the year 1933.
The new sub-head S is required to provide for advances and bonus moneys remaining to be paid in the comparatively few transactions still pending under the old Acts of 1903 and 1909. Such requirements have heretofore been provided from the Emergency Fund, but are to be financed in future from the  Land Commission Vote. The sum of £25,000 should be sufficient to meet the total commitments under the Land Acts of 1903 and 1909, and as soon as these are disposed of this sub-head will disappear. The new sub-head T follows on the provisions of Section 14 (4) of the Land Act, 1933, whereby the Land Commission have to pay to the persons entitled thereto any arrears of interest in lieu of rent remitted, and also the full interest in lieu of rent accruing after the first gale of 1933 instead of the 50 per cent. thereof which they collect from the tenants. These liabilities are estimated to amount to £4,000 during the current year. The new sub-head U provides, pursuant to Section 17 (1) of the Land Act, 1933, for the payment by the Land Commission to the persons entitled to such ascertained arrears of rent and costs and expenses as are due from sub-tenants to their immediate landlords, of a sum equal to that part of the funded debt for which the subtenants are not entitled to credit under the terms of the Act. The round figure of £1,000 is put down to cover contingencies under this head.
Under sub-head (V) a nominal sum of £100 is put down to cover any deficiency in the Church Temporalities Fund by reason of the funding of revision of annual payments provided for by Section 18 of the Land Act, 1933. The amount of the actual deficiency will depend on the applications made by payers for revision of their annual payments and the orders made by the Land Commission thereon. It is probable that such deficiency will be counterbalanced by the reduction in one of the Statutory Charges on the Church Temporalities Fund (that is, the annual contribution to the Teachers' Pension Fund) and, therefore, only a token vote is necessary. With regard to sub-head (W), the sum of £48,000 should be sufficient to cover the cost of such warrants as may have to be issued each half-year to the county registrar under the powers of Section 28 of the Land Act, 1933. Sub-head (X) provides for any deficiencies in the Land Bond Fund arising from the extinction of the annuities on submerged lands, under  Section 37 of the Land Act, 1933, and the round figure of £1,000 is put down for the current year.
As regards the Appropriations in Aid of the Vote, the total amount for the current year is expected to be less, by over £25,000, than last year's revised figure of £155,930—which itself was less than the amount originally put down for last year by £16,000. The reductions occur mainly under the items Nos. 6 and 7, that is to say, excess annuities and the repayment of advances in respect of additional sums under Section 51 of the 1931 Act. The decrease in the receipts under both of these heads is mainly due to the revision of annuities under the Land Act, 1933. The excess annuities were reduced as from 1st May, 1933, so that the Estimate is 50 per cent. of what these annuities would realise in the current year at the full rates. The repayments by tenant-purchasers of “additional sums” have been halved for the November, 1933, gale, and subsequent gales, and, as in most cases, the final instalment will fall due on the first gale of 1934, little more than one instalment will be received in the current year. On the other hand it is estimated that about £8,000 will be received by way of repayments of sheriffs' fees paid in connection with proceedings under Section 28 of the Land Act, 1933, and this comes on as a new item under Appropriations-in-Aid.
As regards the general work of the Land Commission, I may say that with respect to the division of untenanted land under the Land Acts, 1923-33, during the past year a total area of something like 35,000 acres has been divided among 3,000 allottees. I have only approximate totals at present, as it takes some time to get in all the returns and to analyse and tabulate them in the office. The area divided is practically the same as in the proceeding year, 1932-33, and represents the best the Land Commission could do in the conditions prevailing, and with the staff available. During the last few months of the year 1933-34, since the new Land Bonds became available under the Land Bond Act, 1933, an additional area of 15,000 acres has  been acquired for division. The preliminary proceedings for acquiring untenanted land have also been pushed forward, and during the past year, ended 31st March last, an area of no less than 150,000 acres (on some 660 estates) has been inspected as to suitability for acquisition. This compares with an average area inspected during the previous five years of 40,000 acres per annum. This great increase is largely due to a new procedure adopted for speeding up the work generally. Arrangements are made for a concentrated “drive” in particular counties which need special attention, and a “flying squad” of inspectors is mobilised to the number of a score or so and allocated to a particular area, under the control of a divisional inspector. No effort will be spared by the Land Commission during the current year to acquire and divide the maximum area of land, consistent with the settled standards of justice to the owners, suitability of the allottees and efficiency in administration. The provisional figures I have received for the two months April and May are encouraging. Some 37,000 acres have been inspected, some 10,000 acres acquired, and some 13,000 acres divided.
As regards the other branches of the Land Commission, I need only say that the work is proceeding normally and efficiently. The Purchase Branch, which deals with the estates vested in the Land Commission under the Land Act, 1931, is occupied with the inspection of holdings, and the clearing up of the various matters in regard to rent, boundaries, occupancy, rights, etc., which have to be disposed of before the holdings can be finally revested in the tenant purchasers. The Collection Branch is in full swing again, dealing with the revised annuities now payable. The collection for the November-December gale was satisfactory in the circumstances. The Registrar's and the Examiner's branches are busy with the clearing of titles and the distribution of the purchase moneys of the estates, and the Accounts Branch is gradually making up the mass of financial adjustments necessitated by the land legislation since 1931. All the branches of  the Land Commission have to deal with a very heavy correspondence, amounting in the whole to over 200,000 letters received annually, apart from about 450,000 receivable orders received and dispatched twice yearly. Deputies, I think, understand the enormous volume of work that passes through the Land Commission. Frequently, we have complaints regarding delay in our operations. Land acquisition and division are, as Deputies know, difficult and tedious operations. Our staff are working at top pressure, and every effort is being made to obviate delay and to push forward the all-important work on which we are engaged.
Mr. Fionán Lynch: It is rather a pity that the Minister for Finance did not remain in the House to hear the remarks of the Minister for Lands towards the close of his statement, where he referred to the collection of the November gale and said it was satisfactory in the circumstances. That is a complete contradiction of something the Minister was trying to put across the House and the country when speaking on the last Vote, when he charged Deputies on this side of the House and people in the country with being engaged in a conspiracy no longer to pay rates and also annuities, when, in fact, from the Land Commission we get the statement that the collection for the last November gale was satisfactory. I have no doubt it was.
There are some rather striking features about the Estimates this year —not so much those to which the Minister referred in his statement as some others. He told us that under sub-head A there is an increase of £30,030 for salaries and £6,000 for travelling expenses. Normally, one should not fall out with that, in view of the passage of an Act that would involve a considerably increased volume of work on the Department. I am not going, at all, to adopt the line that used to be adopted here, very often by the present Ministerial Party when in Opposition, by setting myself out to criticise salaries as against the volume of work done by the Department.  It is an almost impossible thing to do, anyhow, because the Estimate, on the face of it, does not show exactly the ramifications of the work of the Department, and does not show on its face the necessity for the staff. But it is a striking thing that we should have an increased Estimate connected with travelling expenses and salaries and wages, amounting to £36,030 in all, while we have only an increase of £20,000 for the improvement of estates. I should say that that is the sub-head which should show, on the face of it, the work the Land Commission was doing, because improvement of estates would come in after the estates were taken over by the Land Commission and before they were allotted. £250,000 was put down presumably for the whole year as the normal yearly expenditure for the improvement of estates. That is a trivial increase upon what was the normal expenditure in the past. Last year we had the sum of £191,000 which was augmented by a sum of £49,000 brought in as a Supplementary Estimate, making £240,000.
One would imagine that if the Land Commission were operating full steam ahead, with the Land Act of 1923 in force, that that sub-head should have almost doubled itself, and should have reached something between £400,000 or £500,000 for the improvement of estates. In view of the small increase in the expenditure for the improvement of estates it is very hard to understand the increase of £36,030 under sub-head A, for salaries and travelling expenses. It is still more strange to find, as the Minister told us, that there were only 35,000 acres of untenanted land divided last year. That is practically the same as the previous year, and is certainly no greater than in any of the former years. If I remember rightly, the division of untenanted land used to be between 40,000 and 50,000 acres in years preceding last year. The Minister told us that last year only 35,000 acres were divided. I am afraid, therefore, that his flying squad is flying at a very low speed. Inspection of estates, with a view to taking them over by the Land Commission, is really not the thing that counts. There have always been in the Land Commission  thousands and thousands of acres inspected, awaiting being taken over for sub-division. The place where we would like to see the speed shown is in the division; not in the inspection branch. That speed certainly has not been shown in the past year. We hope that the new staff will show their form in flying during the coming year in that respect.
The Minister spoke about sub-head F and talked of the decrease there being due to the fact, if I understood him rightly, that there was a cut in State Solicitors' fees, which reduced them from £21,500 to a sum of £6,000. Of course, one must read that with sub-head W, where you have a sum of £48,000 set down in connection with proceedings under Section 28 of the Land Act of 1923. There was £24,000 provided last year by a former Estimate. We take it that £48,000 therefore may be normally the whole of the expenditure under Section 28 of the Act of last year; but, while we are gaining by doing away with State. Solicitors' costs to the extent of £15,500 we are piling it on at the other end in sheriffs' fees to the tune of £48,000. It is to that sub-head especially, rather than any other sub-head of the Vote I would like to address myself. I think it is right the Dáil should be given some information as to how that section is being operated. Last year when the Land Bill was under discussion, and especially when that section was being discussed, as it was for several days, many Deputies from the Labour Benches gave it a half-hearted support. They said they were satisfied that it would be used only very sparingly. I think that some of them had convinced themselves, being very easily convinced, because they wanted to be convinced, that there would be some type of adjudication in the Land Commission before the extraordinary power given under Section 28 of the 1933 Act would be brought into operation. I remember Deputy Davin, in his innocence, in reply to some remarks of mine regarding that section, saying that the head of the Collection Branch of the Land Commission would act as a buffer between the sheriff and the  annuitant. He would not believe me when I told him that the job of the head of the Collection Branch of the Land Commission was not to act as a brake on the sheriff but, on the contrary, as an accelerator. That is how it has turned out. That is the job of that official. We should like to find out how exactly that section is being operated. Who sends out these warrants? On the face of it, it would appear that some junior clerk, sitting in a back room in the Land Commission, is sent up a list of persons in arrear and out go the warrants in sheaves to the sheriffs. We should like to hear that that is not so, but that is how the section appears to be administered.
This is a new power given to the Land Commission. The ordinary procedure previously was that the State Solicitor was sent a list of annuitants in default, persons who, in spite of various warnings, had refused to pay. The State Solicitor then sent his own warning to the annuitants, stating that he was about to bring them before the court for the purpose of obtaining decrees. Frequently, that had the result of making the annuitant pay. At any rate, the annuitant had an opportunity of going before the court and making whatever case he could. Last year, the Oireachtas took away that privilege from the annuitant. They removed the buffer between the Land Commission and the annuitant. who had an opportunity previously of putting his case before an impartial tribunal. Now, the Land Commission is both creditor and judge at the same time. They have, of course, the power, but Deputies of different Parties were, I think, led to believe last year that the use of this new power would be very rare, indeed, that it would only be resorted to in the most extreme cases. So far as one can see, it is now a portion of ordinary Land Commission routine. It is a daily occurrence now to have sheaves of these warrants sent out to the under-sheriffs or county registrars, as the case may be, in the various counties. Immediately, a certain amount of costs—on some occasions a fairly heavy amount—is imposed on the annuitant. I suggest  that if the Land Commission do not cease the use of the power conferred on them by this section of the Act of 1933, they should, at least, resort to it only on very rare occasions. Personally, I am of opinion that they should abolish the use of this power entirely. As was pointed out last year when we were opposing this section, county councils possess this power, as also the Revenue Commissioners. I pointed out then that county councils never used their power in this connection. They always bring defaulting ratepayers before the court before they put in the sheriff. So far as I know, the Revenue Commissioners have abandoned the power they had in that respect. For some years before we left office, the Revenue Commissioners were accustomed to resort to the courts before putting in the sheriff. It remained for this Government to extend that power to a Department which affects the lives of a great part of the population of the State. There is a further reason why the use of that power should be suspended at least for a period. It is well known to the Land Commission that the legality of their action in regard to this whole matter is sub judice. It is known to the Land Commission that there is a case pending in the courts in which the annuitant is contesting the legality of Section 28 of the Act of 1933 and, indeed, of the whole Act. I think that it is monstrous that the Land Commission, seeing that there is such a case pending in the courts, should continue gaily to issue these warrants to sheriffs and county registrars. I know that many supporters of the Government are keenly disappointed and dissatisfied with the operation of this section. I remember reading a report of a meeting of Kerry County Council last year at which the most vocal in opposition to this procedure were supporters of the Fianna Fáil Party. In fact, one member of the county council—a lady, who is vice-chairman and a very prominent Fianna Fáil supporter—tried to throw all the blame on the old die-hard members of the Land Commission. The poor Minister, according to this lady, did not know anything at all about  what was happening. Fortunately, the debates on the Land Bill of 1933 are in existence. The Minister stood out strongly for this section and refused to allow a free vote on it. It is not the die-hard officials of the Land Commission who are responsible; it is the Fianna Fáil Government, who brought forward that section last year and insisted on pushing it through the Oireachtas. There is grave dissatisfaction at this procedure and I am extremely sorry that Deputy Davin and other Deputies who spoke on this section last year are not here at present. It would be interesting to see whether their innocent eyes have not been opened by the operation of the section. In view of the fact that proceedings are pending, it is a scandalous thing for the Land Commission to continue to take advantage of the power conferred on them by that section.
Mr. McMenamin: It is difficult to review the work of a Department whose ramifications are so extensive. There are one or two matters which I want to mention by the way. I get a number of complaints as regards applications in connection with the sub-division of estates. I know that there is considerable difficulty about these matters. I know, of course, that there are vested estates and non-vested estates, and that when people writing up from the country are making applications, they do not always distinguish between the two. That causes considerable difficulty in the Land Commission. With regard to that particular branch of the work there are serious complaints about the delays that take place. I feel myself that if the people gave more detailed particulars it would help to minimise the delay.
I would like to have from the Minister particulars of the amounts collected as a result of seizures made by the sheriffs or the county registrars under the present procedure, and how these compare with the amounts collected under the old procedure. Has the new procedure been found more efficient, and have the arrears come in more quickly? When the Land Bill was going through the House I  ventured to express the opinion that they would not come in more quickly under the new procedure. However, I suppose it is difficult to test that because, so far, the new system has not got a fair trial. Certainly the new system is putting people in a very difficult position. They are now told, after the prescribed notice is sent out, that if the annuities are not paid within a limited period a seizure will be made. Notice to that effect is sent out by the sheriff or the county registrar. When the Land Bill was going through I expressed strong objection to that. I would like to know how it is working. Many cases of real hardship must occur. A bailiff, for example, may know that when he goes to make a siezure the occupier of the land may not have a penny. He may meet with the case of a man with a wife and small family or a case, say, where the husband is dead and the widow is there with a small family. In cases such as these a seizure is made. Under the old procedure the State solicitor could take any sum that the person concerned could pay, as an instalment on the amount due. I would like to know how this part of the Land Act of 1933 is being administered. In my opinion it is going to cause endless trouble, and will inflict terrible hardship on many people. Could the Minister say if the major portion of the money is given to the sheriff's bailiffs, or what amount of it is given? Is the difficulty in recovering it steadily increasing?
I would also like to have an explanation from the Minister of the statement he made to the effect that the collection, under the circumstances, was satisfactory. I want to contrast that statement with a statement made a little earlier this evening by the Minister for Finance on another Vote. He made a statement to this effect that the well-to-do people, members of the various county councils and others carried on a wilful and deliberate plan against the collection of land annuities and of rates, and thereby brought about a condition of affairs in the country where he, the Minister for Finance, had to come to the aid of the ratepayers in making an advance of £300,000 out of the Guarantee Fund  for the current year. These are two rather curious statements made within half-an-hour in this House by two Ministers, and I would like to have them reconciled. My opinion is that, as far as my constituency is concerned, the collection is very good under the circumstances. I believe that the payments under the various Land Acts have, under the circumstances, been excellent. I did not hear of any serious default or any attempt at default either as regards the payment of rates or of land annuities. I take this opportunity to refute the statement made here this afternoon by the Minister for Finance. I think his statement was a gross libel on the people he was referring to. It is quite easy to make a general statement of that sort, but the Minister made no attempt whatever to prove it. Deputy Lynch drew attention to the fact that in the only case where steps were taken, that the court trying the men charged with that offence found them not guilty.
If there was a campaign such as that referred to by the Minister for Finance, why was not the law put into force? In my opinion the law should be put into force against all law-breakers. If it was not put into force, then the Minister for Finance and his colleagues are guilty for anything that took place, if there was any default in that particular direction. I want to say that so far as I know there was no such campaign and that the people made as good an attempt last year under the difficult circumstances that existed—everybody knows what those circumstances were and there is no need for me to go into them now—to meet their obligations as in any previous period. Recently, I was speaking to the Secretary of the Donegal County Council. I asked him what was the amount of the collection in that county. I cannot remember the exact figure he gave me, but he told me that the collection of the rates was practically as good as in any other year. I take it that the same remark would apply with regard to the land annuities. I think that it ill befits a Minister to use the privileges of this House to slander people in the way that the Minister for Finance did. It is rather strange conduct. It was only  last week that I had to draw attention to a statement made here by the Minister for Industry and Commerce with regard to another matter.
The Minister for Lands in his opening statement gave a number of figures. I was not able to follow all of them, but could the Minister state now the number of acres that the Land Commission had on hands a year ago as compared with the present time? I understood the Minister to say that the Land Commission had acquired 35,000 acres of untenanted land last year, and had allocated it to 33,000 allottees.
Mr. McMenamin: I would like to have some information as to the nature of the land that was given to these 3,000 allottees. It seems to be a very considerable amount of land, and from the figures it would look as if portion of it would be of a very poor character.
Mr. McMenamin: With regard to the improvement of estates, I think that much more could be done in that direction than has been done. Things are in a very confused state now, because we have this position that a lot of the work hitherto done by the Land Commission is now being done by the Board of Works. At the present time people find it very difficult to know whether, when making certain types of applications, they should write to the Land Commission or to the Board of Works. Very much of this Land Commission work and kindred work is now being done by the Board of Works, and people are puzzled at times as to which Department they should approach. I should also like to know what the arrears were at the end of the last financial year—that is of the amount payable under the Land Act of 1933. With regard to work on bogs, all of which was done hitherto by the Land Commission except some relief work, I should like to know whether that is entirely transferred to the Board of Works and if the Land Commission have entirely divested themselves of work in connection with bogs.
 There is another matter that is becoming very acute, and that is where turbary attached to holdings on certain estates is becoming exhausted. The Land Commission, having full power under the Land Act to take control of bogs, are providing turbary on bogs on adjoining estates. Cases have arisen and are arising every day in connection with holdings transferred by will, say, to the son of another farmer. That son may not be of age or may not be in a position to take up the holding given to him by the will. As I say, the bogs are being divided and allotted and, in some cases, the inspectors are refusing to allot portion of a bog to a holding on which there is no occupier at the moment. If that policy was adopted it would, in my opinion, be very unfair. Even assuming that the person to whom the holding has been bequeathed is going to sell it, if there are no turbary rights attached to it, it would be practically worthless. On the other hand, if he intended in two or three years' time to reside there, it would be a very great hardship to find that there was no turbary attached to it. I do not know whether the Minister has yet considered that aspect of the question, but it has arisen in many cases and will become acute. The matter will require consideration at an early date, before all the bogs are divided up amongst those in occupation of holdings on which the right of turbary does not exist at present.
There were also a number of estates, particularly in the County Donegal, in the hands of the Land Commission, which have certain fishery rights attaching to them. One such estate was that through which the River Ownea passes. I was informed there recently that the fishing rights on that river, which had been reserved, had been given up—that they had been deserted, as it were, by the Land Commission or the Government. In fact, I think it was stated in this House that they had been voluntarily given up in pursuance of the decision given in the Erne Fishery case. I do not know whether it was wise or proper to do that without having a decision in the matter.
Mr. Donnelly: I do not know that there is any Minister entitled to as much sympathy and consideration as the Minister for Lands. Everyone of us knows that all over rural Ireland at present the one thing that really matters is land division. Anyone who is in touch with his constituents, particularly in the area I represent, knows that that is so. As the Minister has put up here, and as I think Deputy Lynch, to some extent, put up also, it is all right to say that so many acres have been inspected. As Deputy Lynch stated, it is not really the inspection that matters but the division of the land and the speed at which it is divided. I have found in my constituency that an amount of criticism takes place locally as to the type of individual who gets land. There is quite a lot of adverse criticism. When one remembers the three sections of the community who are interested in land division I admit that it is very difficult for the Minister and his officials to please everyone. We know that the applicants for land include the landless men, the uneconomic holders, and another section of the community that, in my opinion, has been badly overlooked for a considerable time, that is, the evicted tenants. I think there was a discussion about them on the Land Bill. I would ask the Minister, when he is replying, to say something under that heading, more particularly in regard to the constituency of Leix-Offaly. Any Deputy acquainted with the trouble that went on during the land war knows what took place at Luggacurran. People there still rightly call themselves the wounded soldiers of the land war. There are some of these people or their descendants still without land. They are still looking for land and, in many cases, apparently there does not seem to be much prospect of getting back the original holding or an alternative holding. These are people who are worthy of some consideration.
Deputy Lynch mentioned something about a discussion that took place in Kerry, and said that the statement was made by some Fianna Fáil supporters, that the blame for the warrants being sent out did not lie so much with the Minister, but that they emanated from  the old die-hard type of officials down there. I trust that that type of official does not exist to any great extent in the Land Commission at the present moment. The people of this country have nothing in common with that type whose hearts, to my mind, are not in a lot of the work they do. Any Deputy who goes down the country will hear complaints from the average constituent. No matter what attitude they adopt in politics, they all join in one thing, and that is condemnation of the delay in the division of land. The Minister, I am sure, will admit that that is perfectly true, as he knows from the number of deputations and correspondence received. While I have a certain amount of sympathy with officials, and would like to support them, I am afraid that in the past the Land Commission were not free from something which merited the condemnation of the average tenant in the country. I do not want to give any quotation. It would not serve any useful purpose. Deputy Lynch mentioned this and tried, in some degree, to exonerate the old type of official I am referring to. I cannot go as far as exonerating them altogether. I believe the old tradition and prejudice still lingers, though not to any very great extent. I hope the time is rapidly approaching when they will not be there.
Mr. Lynch: My reference was to one specific thing only—the administration of Section 28 of the Land Act of 1933. It was on that the discussion at the county council arose. Surely the Deputy is not suggesting that it was due to any old official down there, when it was the Oireachtas that passed Section 28 in spite of our protests.
Mr. Donnelly: Unfortunately, you mentioned the type of old die-hard officialdom that was in the Land Commission. If you like I will give you the quotation and it will, perhaps, bear out your argument much better than you can push it yourself. I will show it to you afterwards. As regards Deputy McMenamin's point about the collection of annuities, I am certain that the annuities were paid in Donegal and the rates also, just as in the case of Mayo. Deputy Cosgrave was not in the House  the evening this matter was referred to, but I will again assert that there is a conspiracy and there is a plan, and people have been told not to pay their annuities or their rates. I read a quotation from the papers of the speech made by Deputy Minch at Monasterevan, advising the farmers of County Kildare to pay neither rates nor annuities, and we know what happened in Naas; we know what happened as a result of advice of this kind. That state of things does exist. The speech is on the records of this House. All Deputies have to do is to go down and read the Debates in the library. The Deputy tried to explain it away a day or two afterwards, but I do not think the explanation was very satisfactory.
I hope the Minister will assure us that very much greater speed will be observed in the matter of land division. As regards Offaly, in the southern portion of that county—and I think the Minister knows it himself—there is at the moment a very serious situation existing, due to delay in the division of land. That might lead to unpleasantness; later on it might lead to things that nobody wants. If these delays can be avoided, they ought to be. If there are not enough inspectors or officials, why not appoint more? I think the division of land and the placing of the people on the land in an economic way is a question that transcends in importance any other question in this country.
Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: In the speech which we have just heard there was contained the very extraordinary statement that persons have been told not to pay rates or annuities. That is not a fact, so far as this side of the House is concerned. Persons have not been told by any one connected with our Party not to pay rates or annuities. On the contrary, people have been told officially—and it is the official view of the Party—that every one of them in a position to pay rates or annuities should take that course. I have said, however, on many occasions, and I say it here again, that as long as this economic war goes on the people should not be asked to pay  rates or annuities. At the present moment the farming community, and especially the smaller farmers, are tremendously impoverished. Some of them have been plunged into actual ruin by this economic war. We say the Government should alter evisting legislation to this extent, that during the continuance of the economic war neither rates nor annuities should be legally payable or legally demanded from the people. That is our policy. As long as the law sets out that annuities are payable, as long as the law sets out that rates are payable, then so long shall the people pay their annuities and their rates. The rates and annuities in those circumstances must be paid, but we do submit that legislation ought to be altered in common justice.
Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: I say that people there are paying and they are really not in a position to pay; but I will explain the position further to the Deputy. If a Mayo man has money in his pocket he will pay his debts. It is the tradition of the county. That is the Mayo tradition and it will take a great number of years of Fianna Fáil Government to stamp out that tradition. I sincerely hope it will take many more years than ever Fianna Fáil will govern completely to demoralise the Mayo people and make them change their habits. The Fianna Fáil Government are doing their best, as everybody is aware, to demoralise the Irish people.
Deputy Donnelly talked about old types of officials, about people not doing their work. I do not think that, without definite, clear facts, an attack should be made against officials. So far as I know the officials of the Land Commission, I have always been of the opinion that they have difficult work to do. So far as my experience goes, I am aware that the officials of the Land Commission are endeavouring to do their best. Nobody in the position of inspector in the Land Commission could give universal satisfaction. If he divides a single farm  there will be 100 applicants and only ten can get land. Then you will have ten men who are probably ungrateful and you will have 90 who are disappointed. That will happen to the end of all time and it is unfair to blame the officials. On the question of speeding up divisions, I know some farms which have been acquired by the Land Commission in my constituency and a little more speed in the matter of their division would be desirable. But at the same time I would not like to see land broken up at the speed of an express train, as it were. Land division is a big thing. Great numbers of claims have to be considered and decisions have to be reached as to whether land will be given to persons in the immediate vicinity or whether persons will be brought a distance to get it. If there is a mistake made in the division of a farm that mistake cannot be put right; once it is made, it is made for all time and, therefore, Land Commission officials should take a reasonable time. Sometimes they take more than a reasonable time.
Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: They should certainly take a very reasonable time and not act with undue haste in the division of land. There was another thing that Deputy Donnelly said, and it rather surprised me. He said that the Minister had a very difficult job in connection with the division of land. I sincerely hope the Minister does not personally intervene in the matter of the division of land.
Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: It was suggested by Deputy Donnelly that the Minister has a very tough job. I sincerely hope the job is so tough that the Minister or any other person prominent in politics cannot interfere with the officials in the matter of land distribution.
Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: The Deputy may be familiar with Madagascar, but I cannot say that I have ever been there. Only one issue arises on this  Land Commission Vote to which I wish to give special attention, and that is the way in which the annuities are now being collected. There is power given to the Land Commission to collect annuities. It has been tried and it is an absolute and entire failure. I am not going to argue as to the legality or illegality of it. That is a matter that is being tested in the courts and upon which a decision will be given. But I think it a very strange thing that while this matter is pending, while this question is being argued in the courts, the sheriffs or the county registrars, as the case may be, are getting instructions to go on with their collections of annuities and their seizures. That appears to me to be a very strange course for the Government to adopt—a very strange course indeed—because, remember, there is always an alternative. The correct course for the Government to adopt, in my opinion at any rate, while this matter is going on; while it is under discussion in the courts; while it is sub judice, is to go back to the old correct method of collecting debts—to go to the courts to collect them. For the life of me I cannot see, whether this action was pending or not, why this wretched innovation, which is wrong in principle and which works out wrongly in practice, is still being hung on to by this Government. It is their child, I admit, and they seem to love it, but in my opinion it is a horrible little brat, and I sincerely wish they would cease to have any affection for it.
I have seen a great number of these notices myself. Several persons have brought them to me. I should say that I have seen at least five or six of them in which the notice was addressed to a person who is dead. Now, seizures will be made upon that. I know of one case, which may be of interest to the Minister, where proceedings were brought some years ago, and they were dismissed on the ground that the person whose name appeared in the civil bill was dead. Yet, in that very case, notice has been sent out in the name of that particular individual who was dead and a seizure will be made for the debt in that case. It is an illegal seizure. An  action for illegal seizure will have to be brought. There are other cases, where real hardship comes in, where the courts have got full power to put a stay upon execution if they are satisfied that the defendant cannot pay. They have full power to make the amount payable by instalments. There are very harsh cases indeed, cases in which, inevitably, the courts or any court would exercise that power, and the Land Commission, whether they know the facts or not—and I suppose they cannot know them—are not exercising that power.
I will give one example of a man who came to see me and asked me what on earth could be done in his case. He was a man with a smallish piece of land. It was not well stocked at any time. He had, I think, five or six children and his wife had died a short time before. In order to get the funeral expenses he had to sell the last cow that he possessed, and he had only two or three calves upon the little farm at the time. That is a case in which any court would give time. The Land Commission will not give time. They simply come along; that man has got his notice, and the sheriff will be down upon him to seize whatever little stock he has on his land—two or three calves —and, I suppose, the furniture in his house. The man cannot pay. As I say, in order to pay his wife's funeral expenses he had to sell the last cow, and that man will not get a moment's time. Is that fair? That is the way in which the machine is working and that is the way in which a machine must work. There is no way in which the Land Commission can test things of that nature. I can assure the House that I have had the matter investigated, and the story that man told me is absolutely the truth. What is to be done? The only thing to do is simply to write to the sheriff and tell him the facts. The sheriff will inform you that he has got instructions from the Land Commission and that the matter is not in his discretion at all, and there you are. No matter in what difficulty a person is; no matter how poor he may be; no matter what calamities may befall him—and calamities may befall  the hardest working member of the community—yet there is a relentless machine insisting on payment up to the moment, or else seizure, with the consequent expenses attached to seizure.
Surely to goodness, experience should have shown the Government that Section 28 is hopelessly bad and that they should abandon collection under it and go back to the other old and certainly legal method. I am not going, as I said, to discuss the legality or illegality of Section 28 now, but nobody can question the legality of collecting debts in the way in which they used to be collected—collecting them in the courts, where any individual who has got a grievance, such as that the wrong person has been sued, can come forward and say that he is being sued for somebody else's debt. There is another case which is pending, as a matter of fact, in County Kildare. I merely mention the fact because this case has become rather famous on account of other proceedings arising out of the seizure. It is a case where a notice was sent to an uncle and his nephew's cattle were seized, the nephew never having received any notice at all. If a thing like that happens and a civil bill is served, the real owner of the land has a right to come into court and say: “This is not my debt.” Here, however, there is an automatic procedure and the defendant has no method of doing anything. He has got simply to sit down and endure it. He is completely at the mercy of a machine.
I am not saying one word against the officials, and I hope that what I say cannot be construed in any way as being an attack on the officials of the Collection Branch of the Irish Land Commission. I want to make that particularly plain. I am certain that the officials in the Collection Branch of the Irish Land Commission are working this Section 28 as well as Section 28 can be worked; but neither the officials who are there now, nor any new officials, nor any other men that have ever been born, if put into the Collection Branch of the Land Commission, will be able to work Section 28 without inflicting tremendous injustice  on a very considerable number of persons in this country. Why the Government are sticking to it I must certainly say I am at a loss to know.
Deputy Donnelly said that he would be interested to hear the Minister in reply on certain points, but I would be particularly interested to hear him in reply on what is the case that can be made on Section 28, and whether that Section 28 must be taken in every single instance, and that the old law, which is undoubtedly admitted law, and not doubtful law, is not to be invoked at all.
Mr. Keyes: I should like to reiterate fervently the appeal that Deputy Donnelly made for a speeding up of the division of lands. We had been led to hope that under the new Bill of 1933 more speed would have shown itself in the division of land. While I am prepared to admit that a good deal was done in County Tipperary, it only whets our appetite in County Limerick for the same speeding up there. We have huge tracts of rich grass lands in County Limerick, held by persons with not less than 500 or 400 acres, giving very little employment, and with even that employment decreasing every day. We have a growing population of people who are prepared to work the land and to make a living on it, and who, in the absence of that, have no alternative employment to turn to. The agitation is getting intense, and, while people are not anxious to see the old methods of the past emulated, it is only natural to expect that if there is not more speed in the division of these lands you will have illegalities and illegal actions taking place. I strenuously appeal to the Land Commission to concentrate on this matter of the division of land. If they have not enough officials, let them, as Deputy Donnelly suggested, get more officials. There is no more urgent problem, in my opinion, before the country to-day than the breaking up into economic, fair-sized farms of these large ranches and the placing there of people in substitution for the grass ranchers who are not pulling their weight. Deputy Lynch has been in great trouble about the attitude of the Labour Party. I, too, regret that  Deputy Davin is not present, but in view of what has happened since the passing of that Act, I am inclined to think that the Government were prophetic in taking the power of direct action to themselves in dealing with persons who failed to pay their land annuities. The Deputies on these benches are in full sympathy with the annuitants, and not one of us would inflict hardship where it can be avoided, but we cannot afford to have a general slacking off in responsibility for the payment of these moneys. The specious argument has been put forward from the Opposition Benches that they did not advise people not to pay the annuities. We have that reported again and again by Deputies opposite. It is only the difference between tweedledum and tweedledee as to what they say; they said that if people were not able to pay, that is what Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney said—
Mr. Fitzgerald-Kenney: What I said was that the legislation should be so changed as to make the land annuities not payable and rates not payable in the present circumstances of the agricultural population.
Mr. Keyes: I am afraid we will have to get an independent trained lawyer to interpret directly what is the actual intention and the actual message conveyed by the Deputy and what is understood by the present position where other people say that people should not be asked to pay at this juncture.
Mr. Keyes: It has followed on the suggestion of Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney that pending court action as to the legality of Section 28, the Government ought to revert to the old position. I am not a lawyer but I would be inclined to believe that I would be prejudicing very seriously the decision in the court if I ran away from what I decided last year.
Mr. Keyes: One would be inclined to believe that previous to this direct method there was never any hardship inflicted on annuitants. I distinctly remember on one occasion when the courts were there to deal with these debts that 18 wagon loads of horses and cattle were taken off lands in Ennistymon. These lands were left as bare as the strand at Lahinch; the people who owned these cattle did not have a bob left. That was done under the regime of the last Administration. I do not think that the officials of the Land Commission are such terribly hard-hearted people in contradistinction to the court officials that they would unduly harass those annuitants. These officials in the Land Commission have as much responsibility to determine the state of the country as the court officials. I am not inclined to think that they would harass or that they are harassing any of those people. I am very glad that the Government has a weapon at its disposal to counteract what has been happening in the country, something that is aiming at the paralysis of the collection of these annuities.
I repeat again that my one complaint is that sufficient speed has not yet been attained in the matter of the division of estates. It is not inspection that is wanted; it is division of the estates. I have in mind the case of an estate of 400 acres offered by the landlord to the Land Commission at an agreed price. That matter is still pending and we need not expect that there is any reasonable hope that it will be completed in the next five months. I could understand the delay if there were difficulties about the price but here is a case where the landlord has offered his lands and the Land Commission has accepted the figure. Still the landlord can get no reply as to when the estate will be taken up and divided. That is happening at a time when there are all round that estate hundreds of people with hungry eyes waiting for a division of that land. There are workers there who are anxious to work that land and earn a useful living from  the soil that is going practically derelict at the moment.
Mr. Haslett: I think possibly the records of the Land Commission will show that I have sent as many annuities to the Land Commission as any Deputy in the House both on my own behalf and in the course of my business, so that I want to show that I have no sympathy with the story that is being told as to the instructions or advice given to the people not to pay their annuities. I want to give one or two instances of how the Act is worked. The Deputy who sat down has said that the Land Commission are just in as good a position as the courts to know what the condition of the annuitants is. I do not want to be throwing bouquets at the officials of the Land Commission. I know they have a difficult task to perform. But how could a man attending to his business in an office in Dublin know anything about the condition of an annuitant down the country? It would be impossible. The President said in this House that where an annuitant was not in a position to pay he ought to be given time or some sympathy should be shown him by the Land Commission. There is one annuitant whose case I want to mention to the House. To begin with, this man is an applicant for a blind pension. His annuity last December was £2 0s. 6d. The bailiffs were sent on to the land to seize; for that £2 0s. 6d. they took an old cow and a calf. This is the story of the expenses of the claim; 10/- for a car; 20/- for a lorry; 20/- for the bailiff. The cow and calf had to be kept for five days and nights before they were ultimately dealt with and the fees for the five days and nights were £1. The total demand which that man was asked to meet was £7 0s. 6d. for a debt of £2 0s. 6d.
That is a case which if it had been decided in the court or a decree sought in the court, I feel some time might be given, or the man might realise his position before these expenses were piled up. There is another case of which I know, where the annuitant on account of the economic situation found that the land would not pay the annuity and the rates. A neighbouring  farmer was doing a kind act for this woman and her children. While working the land for her his horses were seized for the woman's debt. That was perfectly legal. These are things in which direct action, such as we have under this Act, happens. I feel if the matter had been dealt with in the old way these things would not have happened. I do not want to throw stones, metaphorically speaking, at the officials of the Land Commission. I agree with Deputy Donnelly that they have a good deal of difficult work to perform. I know a little about the division of land. Our county is not a very congested county, but I do know that there is a difficulty in getting things settled. At the present time, it is not easy to select proper people, people who will be able to work the land economically. I think some of the Deputies forget that it is not everyone who can be put on land. If a person has not some little experience of the working of the land it is asking for trouble to hand him a tract of land and expect him to make good on it. Some of us who have been on the land all our lives cannot make headway on it at the moment, and it is not wise— and the Land Commission realise it—to take a townsman or some person who never had any experience, and put him on a piece of land and expect him to make good there. To come back to the question with which a number of the Deputies have dealt, I think it would be just as well if some local investigation could be made before putting expense especially on small annuitants.
Mr. Lynch: Before the Minister rises to conclude, I wish to put a few questions to him. It is quite possible that he may not be able to answer them now, but he could send the answers to me afterwards. He made no mention in his statement of these reclamation schemes in the Gaeltacht: the Cloosh Valley and the Maam Valley schemes, and there was one other. He did not say whether these are being continued or whether there are any similar schemes being embarked upon. I think there was also a scheme in the Belmullet area of a different type under which persons were given so much  money for reclamation work carried out by themselves. I should like to know what is the position with regard to these. I also want to ask—and this is the type of question that the Minister may not be able to answer at the moment—if we can have the number of acres of land which the Land Commission have actually acquired, as distinct from land which has been inspected. My third question is what is the approximate date on which this addition of staff, for which we are voting £20,000, was made. If he has the figures, the Minister might also say what is the number of warrants actually issued to date by the Land Commission to under-sheriffs and county registrars, and whether any of these annuitants have made any representations to the Land Commission, before the actual issue of the warrants or subsequent to the issue of the warrants, and whether these representations have received any consideration and, finally, whether licences for the export of fat cattle to enable them to pay their annuities have been issued to any of these annuitants who have made the case of inability to sell beasts with a view to paying their annuities.
Mr. Beegan: There are two matters to which I would draw the attention of the Minister. The first is with regard to building grants. During the régime of the past Government very generous grants were given to certain individuals, while others on the same estates were passed over. There was also a difference in the amount of grant given to particular individuals. The same is true to-day, and there are cases where a particular allottee is given £200 to build a house, while another allottee received £160 or, perhaps, £150. I think there should be a levelling up in this matter and a standard grant fixed. It would obviate a considerable amount of the confusion and dissatisfaction that prevails if the grants were given on a standard basis. The other matter has to do with the acquisition of land. I know that in County Galway, at any rate, a number of large holdings are held by people who are paying neither annuities nor rates. This is a considerable hardship  on the industrious, hard-working people who are penalised in their rates for the people who are paying neither one nor the other. I think it would be well if returns were got from county councils all over the country with respect to persons in possession of holdings of that type, and if such holdings were to be the first to be acquired and taken over for division, leaving these people just as much as they would be able to pay for, whether it be one, three or five acres.
Mr. Bartley: With regard to the Cloosh Valley Scheme, I should like to remark that the people of Connemara and the Gaeltacht are 100 per cent. opposed to it. I think it would be well if the Minister—I do not know whether he has the figures now—published the figures in connection with the cost of this scheme. Everybody is against it, down there, anyway, and they regard it as throwing money literally into the bog. While crops have been produced in the place, what the people down there want to know is what those crops have cost. The general feeling is that when the Government subsidies are withdrawn, these people will no longer remain there. They have been subsidised in various ways, one of the methods being the supplying of free lime. There is any amount of lime available, and a very good lime kiln was built some years ago by the Land Commission at Oughterard. It has been reserved entirely for the Cloosh Valley Scheme to the exclusion of all other people who want lime. I would ask that where this lime was available, as it is in Oughterard, it should be made available to all smallholders. It is very much required in places like Connemara.
Mr. Connolly: I shall endeavour to cover the various points that have been raised by the different Deputies, and I think it would be advisable, as a preliminary, to indicate what was the actual position of the collection of the annuities at the last half year gale, which was the period I referred to in my statement. The actual position at 25th April is that the amount collectable at that time was £1,219,513— that is the November-December, 1933, gale—and the amount collected up to 31st March was £855,561. The arrears at 31st March were £363,952, being the equivalent of 27 per cent. Since that time, notices have been sent out and the sheriffs have been active with regard to the collection of the arrears of these annuities. There has been a great deal of talk and a great deal of complaint with regard to Section 28 of the Land Act. I might content myself with simply pointing to the fact that it is the law, that it was embodied in the Act accepted by the Dáil and accordingly passed into legislation but there was every good reason and justification—and I think Deputy Lynch and Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney will agree when they come to consider it—for adopting this method. I remember that in the first year in which we were in office, when returns from the Land Commission were being considered, one of the great hardships the Minister felt with regard to arrears and the position of the annuitants was the enormous percentage that had accumulated in respect of costs.
It was felt that in many cases the costs far exceeded the amount of the annuity, or the arrears of annuities, and it was felt that the tenants or the annuitants had a very definite grievance in the way that these costs were accumulated. I am satisfied that in the introduction of the system of having these collected by the sheriffs in this direct way there was no other purpose than the reduction and elimination of those costs. Now, what is the position? Prior to the passing of the Land Act, 1933, proceedings against defaulting tenant purchasers were taken by State solicitors by way of civil bills. The solicitor's costs were measured according to the following statutory scale:—Under £2, the costs amounted to 11/-; between £2 and £5, the costs amounted to £1 3s.; between £5 and £10, the costs amounted to £1 11s. 6d.; between £10 and £15, the costs amounted to £1 19s. 6d. In addition to the solicitor's costs, the defaulter was liable to the sheriff's costs, made up as follows: (a) A lodgment fee of 2/6 where the debt amounted to £2 or under;  4/- where the debt was over £2 and under £5; 6/- where the debt was over £5 and under £15; 7/- where the debt was over £15, and (b) poundage at the rate of 1/- in the £. Where warrants are issued under Section 28 of the Land Act, 1923, the solicitor's costs are cut out, and the defaulter is liable to pay the following to the sheriff: (a) 1/- costs of issuing letter applying for payment; (b) lodgment fee; so that, if he gets in touch with the sheriff within 15 days, his total costs, irrespective of the amount of his annuity, will be 1/- plus the lodgment fee. The lodgment fee is as follows:—2/6 where the debt is £2 or under; 4/- where the debt is over £2 and under £5; 6/- where the debt is over £5 and under £15; 7/- where the debt is over £15. If the defaulter pays within 15 days of the date of the sheriff's letter he is liable for 1/- plus the lodgment fee. After 15 days he is liable for 1/- in the £ as well. The Land Commission must lodge with the sheriff with each warrant the appropriate lodgment fee. Where the sheriff succeeds, repayment is made to the Land Commission. Where he fails, the Land Commission lose the lodgment fee. The number of warrants issued under Section 28 of the Land Act, 1933, amounts to 52,508, and the lodgment fees amount to £11,221. Of this sum, the sheriffs have to date recovered £1,393, which has been paid to the Land Commission.
That answers quite a number of the questions and the discussion that took place with regard to Section 28. I think that if one does not adopt purely a lawyer's point of view—if one is looking at it from the point of view of economy, and from the point of view of the annuitant—one will realise that there is a very considerable saving. I must confess that I was very much worried and humanly depressed over the amount of costs that did figure in the assessment of the arrears of annuities when we used to be considering them at the Executive Council. I think a very considerable percentage of the arrears was built up with such costs as were worked out on the basis I have mentioned. I think, in all the circumstances, Section 28 is a good section,  and I do not think it inflicts any hardship. Arising out of Section 28 it may be argued, and it has been suggested here, that a man could go to the court and make his plea in court. He could ask time for payment; he could ask the court to give him a reasonable time, pointing out that in a few months he might be in a better position to pay, and so on. We have no evidence here that the sheriffs are not doing that. As a matter of fact, we know that the sheriffs are quite willing to be lenient, and to make arrangements with any of the people who come and explain their position. The Deputy knows, probably better than most of the Deputies in the House, how impossible it would be for the Minister to interfere with this matter of collection. I do not want for a moment to introduce the arguments that have been made here, one Deputy stating that there is no such thing as a campaign against the payment of annuities, and another Deputy stating that there is. I think there is. I have always thought there is, and I do not see how anybody, unless he is utterly blind or prejudiced, could agree that there was not a campaign on in certain areas, but it is worthy of being pointed out here that those poor counties— Deputy McMenamin referred to the County Donegal and Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney referred to County Mayo—are the counties that have paid. We find that the payments have been withheld in the very richest parts of the country, and in many cases by people who have benefited more from the Land Commission activities than the people in other parts. The very individuals who are digging themselves in and refusing to pay are the people who really are in a position to pay. However, as I say, I do not want to enter into that controversy at the moment. I merely stress the fact that those poor counties have paid, and paid splendidly.
Mr. Connolly: Deputy Lynch has referred—and quite reasonably referred —to the increase of £36,000 in salaries and travelling expenses, and he contrasts that with the increase of only £20,000 in the sub-head for the improvement of estates. There was for last year a Supplementary Estimate, and this has got to be borne in mind under sub-head (J). The increase in sub-head (J) as against last year's original Estimate amounts to £60,000, and I want to assure the Deputy and the House that I will not hesitate for a moment to come into this House if I want £100,000 for improvement in the division of land. I think that is the job of the Land Commission, and that we cannot get it done too quickly. We do think that the division of land is a serious business. Our inspectors have got considerable difficulty, first of all, in selecting and inspecting the land, and then seeing that there is a proper scheme, so that the people who are put on the land are people who will work the land on the lines on which we want it worked, in other words, in the proper method of husbandry. As regards the expenditure on improvement works, which would naturally follow on wider and wider distribution of land, the Deputy or any other Deputy need not worry about that, because if we need more money to get that done we will come in here and ask for a Supplementary Estimate. The position at the moment is that there is really a jump from £190,000 to £250,000 for that annual expenditure on improvements. If the Supplementary Estimate which was introduced last year is kept in mind, it means an actual increase of £60,000. Deputy Lynch stated that it was division—that it was more than inspection and acquisition. There is only one reason for inspection and acquisition, and that is to give us the land for division. The Deputy, I think, will admit that it is only after inspection and acquisition have taken place that we can proceed to divide. Now that I have  dealt with the sheriffs' position, I would like to make clear one point. Deputy Lynch is under a misapprehension when he said that there was a statement that the sheriffs' clause would only be used in the most exceptional cases. So far as I know, there was no such statement made on the part of the Minister. However, I have dealt with that, and pointed out why this method was adopted in preference to the old.
Deputy McMenamin raised various points. He also referred to the delay in the sub-division branch. We have to remember we only got the Land Act in October, 1933. We also had some delay in getting the Land Bonds Act into operation, and these two factors held us up, to some extent, until later on in the year. We feel we have now got the machine at our hand. We have increased our staff during last year, and it is quite likely, and it is on the tapis at the moment, that we will still further increase our staff on the sub-division of land. I realise perhaps more than most members of the House the acute pressure there is for the sub-division of land and, so far as I am concerned, I want to see that worked out to the maximum. Various other points were mentioned by Deputy McMenamin. I do not know whether I followed them accurately or not. He spoke of the division of turbary and where turbary that had been attached to a freehold was exhausted. I cannot speak offhand, but if Deputy McMenamin will bring any particular case before us we will have it looked into. Deputy McMenamin also referred to a matter of improvements. He does not seem to be quite clear as to whether these improvements were carried out by the Board of Works or by the Land Commission. Broadly speaking, if land is improved by a road or a bridge, and it is vested in the owner, the Land Commission. do not touch it. Where the land is not vested the Land Commission deal with it themselves. It is true that in a good many of the relief works carried out by the Board of Works, some work that may be of use to the land, and may save the Land Commission expenditure, takes place, but the  Deputy will have no difficulty in informing himself which Department is responsible. In the main the Land Commission, deliberately, avoids cutting in on relief works, and tries to confine its activities to its own work on estates. I think that is good policy. It is good policy to have one Department looking after relief works and doing it properly. The Deputy raised a question with regard to fishery rights. I would like if he leaves that over for me to look into. There is an important legal matter involved, I think, and I do not propose to reply to him at the moment.
Mr. Connolly: No, but the Deputy referred to it in connection with certain holding of fishery rights in connection with land. Deputy Donnelly referred to evicted tenants. That is always, of course, a burning issue in connection with the division of land. The position we take up is this: where an evicted tenant has continued as an agriculturalist, whether as a farm labourer, or small holder, he is definitely in a category for consideration when land comes to be divided. Since I came to the Land Commission I have had experience of other types of evicted tenants. There is the type who is heir to an evicted tenant, whose father, or grandfather, had been evicted off the land. He, perhaps, has drifted into city life, and such work as it offers. He feels that on account of the eviction that took place in his grandfather's time he has a claim upon the land. I may say quite frankly we do not consider such cases. What, we suggest, is an evicted tenant worthy of consideration, is a tenant who, when put on the land is able to work the land and who has some prospect of making good on the land and has a definite claim as an evicted tenant or heir to an evicted tenant. These people are quite high up in the category of potential allottees that are considered by the Commissioners. Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney raised a question of speed in the division of land in Mayo. I think we have at present some 12,000 acres in division in Mayo.  We have had a drive, and we expect to complete that drive, and to have the scheme put forward as quickly as possible. He, also, mentioned a case being decided in the court and suggested that we should suspend all operations in connection with the collection of annuities in the meantime. I would like Deputies, like Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney, and others to realise the danger of making that suggestion in this House.
Mr. Lynch: May I interrupt the Minister? Surely he has misunderstood what Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney said. What he stated was that the Minister should cease to proceed in this method of collection of annuities, and went on to refer to the old method and to the ordinary way of collecting the annuities through the courts. He did not suggest abandoning that so long as the law is as it is.
Mr. Connolly: I suggest the law stands as it is and Section 28 operates, and I think I have made a pretty good case under Section 28 on behalf of the annuitants themselves. The Deputy referred to a case in the courts. I do not want to discuss it; it is sub judice. That case and possibly one other are two cases that have emerged out of something like 450,000 cases of annuities to be collected each half year. I think, whatever might be said, that is a reasonably small percentage in all the circumstances.
Mr. Connolly: Yes, I have heard of a test case. There are certain difficulties at times in the Land Commission with regard to knowing exactly who is the registered owner and the proper person. That is not due to any fault in the Land Commission. It is entirely due to the fact that sometimes when a person dies and the estate passes on to somebody else—it may be a small estate—we would know nothing about probate, probate in that case not having arisen. But the fault, in that case, does not lie with the Land Commission but with the other people concerned. I mention that because Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney stressed the point that applications for annuities  had been addressed to the wrong persons.
Then, with regard to the Cloosh, Ballycroy and Donegal reclamation schemes, I do not know what to say exactly about these. I have seen the scheme at Cloosh and analysed the position and it seems to be a reasonably good scheme to me. I have raised recently certain points in connection with these schemes and I am having them examined by the Department of Agriculture. The main question involved is that of the cost of fertilisers. The big issue in the Cloosh scheme is that there is very definite hostility in that area and, whilst I have no desire to yield to any prejudice—if it is a prejudice—at the same time, I have no desire to run my head against a stone wall and try to force a whole community to work a reclamation scheme of which they do not want to get the benefit. That is the position. The scheme at Ballycroy has not, I believe, been quite so successful as Cloosh but, strange as it may seem, it appears to have appealed to the people in that area. At the moment, I am not in a position to say definitely what will be the ultimate fate of these schemes. Houses have been built at Cloosh and these houses are occupied. In so far as that has gone, it will be completed, but the question arises whether we should pursue further activities by way of a wider extension of that scheme. I should like to see that done and I should like to assure myself and be in a position to assure the people in that area, as well as Deputies, that the scheme was going to be a success. I believe there is every indication of success at the moment. I should like, however, to be still more satisfied with regard to the annual cost of fertilisers in order to arrive at a conclusion as to whether or not that scheme would be worth pursuing and expanding in that area. I shall be able at any time to let the Deputy know the latest information the Land Commission have on the matter.
 These are not matters with which the Minister deals. It must be remembered that in all these matters the Commissioners, sitting as a commission, make these decisions. The Minister has the responsibility for indicating policy and for seeing that policy is carried out. If any instance of this nature is brought to my attention by any Deputy, I shall have it investigated and see what can be done. Deputy Keyes raised the question of division. The main burden of the story to-day was an appeal for speeding up the division of land. No Deputy is more anxious for rapid division than I am and I hope to have that division driven through as quickly as it can now be done. Deputy Keyes referred to estates of 400 or 500 acres in Limerick. I know that there are estates of that acreage, and bigger acreage, in a great many counties. It is just such lands that we shall be going after, always provided that we think that division is essential, that there is congestion in the area and that the people holding the lands are not using them in the best interests of the people. If we take the case of a stud farm or a huge grain cropping area, where a great deal of employment is given, if the owner of the land is working it to the limit in the interests of the people and in the interests of employment, then that is a case for consideration and all the economic factors will be considered. But where these lands are held by people who will not change their method of development or their use of the land, then, definitely, the Land Commission is going out after those lands and is going to get them. That is the set policy. I have, I think, dealt with most of the points raised. If there are any matters outstanding or any points which I have not made perfectly clear, I shall be glad to give a fuller explanation by letter or otherwise.
Mr. Lynch: In view of the number of warrants issued—52,508—I should like to know if the Land Commission made any enquiries from the sheriff or otherwise, before issuing the warrants, as to the ability of the annuitants to pay. The number is so enormous that this seems to be taken as a matter of routine.
Mr. Connolly: We do not do that and I do not know where the work of the Land Commission would stop if we started to make inquiries in the different districts. I would be inundated with requests from Deputies to take into account the circumstances of defaulters. In sheer self-defence and in defence of the whole organisation, I have had to say that I do not interfere with the Collection Branch. The Deputy will realise what it would mean to have a letter from each one of 58,000 defaulters as well as letters from Deputies and others. Even Deputies would not have as good—or as bad—a life as they have at present if this innovation were made.
Mr. McMenamin: I omitted to mention a matter on which I should like to have some information. I refer to the planting with grass of Dunfanaghy and Horn Head. I wonder if any progress has been made in that connection. The matter has been under consideration for over a year. The sand is encroaching very rapidly and destroying the other land. During the summer, I noticed an additional stretch of land which had been destroyed by the sand.
Mr. Connolly: I am glad the Deputy called my attention to that matter because I have been discussing it with the inspector of the Land Commission who is particularly interested and who is an expert on reclamation. I am not in a position at the moment to say what his decision will be but I am hopeful that we will be able to plant these grasses, with the object of saving  the area around Dunfanaghy. I know the area well and I shall see what we can do.
|Last Updated: 17/05/2011 13:36:51||Page of 22|