Thursday, 13 January 1938
Dáil Éireann Debate
“To ask the Minister for Lands whether he is aware that the Land Commission have acquired from Mrs. Connolly, Flat House, Dunboyne, County Meath, the Mabestown farm, which was subject to a fee farm rent, and if he will state (a) the price paid Mrs. Connolly for the holding, and what deductions, if any, were made from such moneys; (b) the price paid to the landlord; (c) the names of the persons to whom the land was allotted, and the amount of the annuity fixed for each allotment; (d) the number of houses, if any, erected in connection with the sub-division, and the cost of construction of such houses; (e) the cost of any fences built, and any other costs arising out of the distribution of the lands; (f) the total all-in cost to the Land Commission of the acquisition and development of the lands for the allottees; and (g) the loss or profit made by the Land Commission in the acquisition and distribution of the lands.”
In his reply the Minister stated that the purchase price of the estate was £2,500, to which was added in aid of costs, £100, making a total of £2,600. The funds were allocated by the judicial commissioner as follows:—For rates and costs relating thereto, £44; for redemption of fee farm rent of £148 15s. 2d., £2,200—that is what the landlord got; for arrears of above rent, including income tax and costs relating thereto, £274; costs of sale were £77. The balance of the purchase money unallocated, which it is proposed to give to this tenant of 205 acres of the best land in Meath, is £5. It is not finally known whether she will get even that sum. There you have this splendid farm of land taken from this woman, and all she is to receive, after these various deductions, is £5. The lands were allotted to a number of allottees, whose names I need not specify, but the total of their unrevised annuities amounts to £129 13s. 10d. It is stated that the annual sums, representing the annuities of the various allottees, are subject to the usual  reductions of 50 per cent. under the Land Act of 1933. The Land Commission sanctioned the erection of five dwelling houses with out-offices on new holdings created on the allotment of the land and a contract has been placed for their erection at a cost of £1,490 of which £250 represents advances repayable by allottees. The Land Commission sanctioned sums of £178 for fencing, £367 for roads and £14 for a pump in connection with the allotment of the land. The resale price of the land apart from improvements expenditure was, I am informed by the Minister, less by £20 than the purchase price.
Does the Minister know that this woman's husband bought this farm in 1914, pre-war, for £1,600, that he worked it well and spent a lot of money on improvements? During the War he was offered £10,000 for it. On his death, he left it to his wife conditional on her paying certain debts. After her husband's death, in 1925, she put it up for public auction and she refused an offer of £3,000 for it. The Revenue Commissioners subsequently made her pay death duties on a valuation of £3,500. Having failed to sell the farm, she approached the Land Commission with a view to having the holding purchased under the Land Act of 1933. The place was then visited by inspectors. She was under the impression that the visit was in connection with her application to have the farm purchased. Later, she was informed that the Land Commission proposed to acquire the holding for sub-division. Finally, the land was taken from her and so far she has got no compensation whatsoever. The lands were divided and evidently the only compensation which she is to receive is the £5 which is unallocated, according to the Minister's statement.
The only description which I can apply to this whole proceeding is deliberate confiscation. I am sure that members of this House never intended, when the Land Act of 1933 was being passed through the House, that it should operate to the detriment of any citizen in this way or never thought that any citizen would be treated in this way, that a farm of 205 acres of the best land in County Meath would be taken from any person for the miser  able sum of £5. The Minister will notice that the rent was £148 15s. fee farm grant and that the new rentals, unrevised, are £120, so that the landlord received practically 20 years' purchase of what the Land Commission now considers a fair rent, or if the Minister likes, 15 years of the rack rent. In other words, the Land Commission can put out the tenant, the landlord gets 20 years' purchase and this poor woman gets £5. I want to know definitely from the Minister whether anything is going to be done for this woman. There is no use in telling me or telling this House that this is the law. If it is the law, it is bad law and the Minister would not stand for it, if it were his own mother's property that was involved. I would ask the Minister to go into this case and to see that this woman receives just compensation for the property taken from her, a farm of 205 acres of the best land in County Meath. I would strongly urge the Minister to reconsider this case and to see that justice is done to this woman.
Captain Giles: As one of the Deputies whose names are appended to this question, I wish to verify everything that has been said by my colleague in connection with this case. It is, no doubt, the hardest case brought before this House since land division started. Here is a widow who had plenty of sorrow through life and who should have the sympathy of an Irish Government in her advancing years. She is to-day the victim of harsh laws, unable to defend herself. Her husband bought this farm in 1914 and spent large sums in improvements. He was offered £10,000 during the War for the farm and after his death his widow was offered £3,000. It is difficult to understand what prompted the Land Commission authorities to act in such a barbarous manner. When the names of the allottees are examined, it is found that one is a Dublin businessman who, so far as I know, has no connection with the district and he does not even propose to reside on the holding. The only qualification he has, so far as I can ascertain, is that he is a brother, or at any rate a relative, of  an ex-Deputy of the Government Party. This lady has only a life interest in her present holding, which is heavily in debt at the moment. She had hoped to fix up her nephew in the Mabestown farm. When that failed, she asked the Land Commission to give her nephew a holding on the estate but it seems that request was refused. He was a man who supplied milk to the Dublin market and Mrs. Connolly has now to keep his cows for him on her farm.
I ask the Government what they intend doing in this case. Are they going to do the dirty work for which we cursed Cromwell in days gone by? This woman is now left with a load of debt which she can never clear off. Her farm was taken from her and she has not received one penny compensation. I would ask the Minister why she was not offered an alternative holding if this holding was required for congestion. I live in County Meath and I am quite satisfied that if there was congestion in that area there are tens of thousands of acres between Dunboyne and the Hill of Tara, large ranches, which could have been divided for the relief of congestion. The very fact that the present Government can bring migrants into County Meath from other parts of the country proves that there is no congestion in that county. I would ask the Minister to give this case his earnest and serious consideration. Large land holders in this same area were allowed to sell their farms about the same time this farm was taken over. I want to ask the Minister why they were allowed to sell their farms and she was not. They could sell these farms by public auction, and the Land Commission did not bother to know whether they sold them or not. It is a funny state of affairs to see the landlord in this case getting every penny, while the unfortunate tenant gets practically nothing.
I am not one of those opposed to land division. In fact, I have fought for the last 20 years to get the ranch land of Meath divided amongst the people and to establish more people on the land. I stand for the same policy to-day, but I do not stand for doing Cromwell's work in 1938. If it is necessary  that the Land Bill should be amended, to prevent cases of this kind occurring, I hope it will be amended immediately, because it is not an isolated case. I am going to bring up an identical case—in fact, it is one of more severe hardship—which is pending in Meath. I would ask the Minister to stay his hand. In fact, I will mention to him at a later date the farm to which I refer, so that he will stay the Land Commission from doing this injustice to those unfortunate people. I know the Minister is one of those good-hearted Irishmen, and that when he is told about a grievance he will certainly do his best to rectify it. I would ask him in God's name to give this lady some consideration, and not to send her into her grave with a pile of debt around her neck.
Mr. Gorey: Before the Minister replies, I should like to say that I do not know whether the procedure which the Land Commission adopted in this case is down in any section of any Act. I think it is more a policy than anything else, and that that policy is being pursued regardless altogether of the right of a tenant on the holding. Tenant right has been established in this country for many years, and this Government by their operations seem to be ignoring that tenant right.
Mr. Gorey: Then I will not go into it further. When the Government set out in this case to do State work, in the interests of the State, they did it at the expense of the individual and not at the expense of the State. If the State in their wisdom—I have no objection to their doing it—decide that certain land should be acquired, they ought to do it at the expense of the State and pay the people who occupy the land the market value of it. It is very easy to be generous at the expense of the individual. This individual or any individual in a similar position is denied the rights of citizenship. She is denied her rights under the Constitution. I want the Minister to look at  that aspect of the policy, before pursuing it in this direction or any other direction.
Mr. Fagan: I should like to refer to one matter which I forgot to mention. Is the Minister aware that this woman who took this farm was told by her husband to pay certain debts? Those debts have now been transferred to the farm on which she is at present, and she has only a life interest in the farm. I do not think it is a big farm, and I am told that the transfer of those debts leaves her with no income whatsoever.
Minister for Lands (Mr. Boland): I have no knowledge of the last matter to which the Deputy has referred. This farm may have been well worked in years gone by—I do not know anything about that—but when the Land Commission went to inspect the farm they found it was very much neglected. It was non-residential; it was set in grazing. No employment was given, except to the herd. The drains were overgrown with weeds, and there had been no manuring and no tillage done. I think that will be admitted. The owner objected to the acquisition. The objection was disallowed on the grounds that the farm was not being run on proper lines of husbandry; that it was non-residential; and that that being the case, the Land Commission were entitled to come in and take the farm. There was an objection raised in regard to price. The Land Commission fixed a figure of £2,192, and that was appealed against. The Appeal Tribunal raised that amount to £2,500, and costs were allowed to the owner of the farm. As far as the Land Commission has been able to find out, the lady was making practically nothing out of that farm. The outgoings were about equal to the rent she was getting from lettings. As far as they could discover, she was making practically nothing at all. The land was acquired and divided.
I do not know whether it is a fact that a Dublin businessman was given some of the land. I should be very much surprised to hear that that was so, but as I had no intimation that such a point would be made, of course  I cannot answer it. As Deputies are aware, the allocation of land is not a matter for me. I will inquire into it to find out whether there is any truth in that statement, but it is the first I have heard of it. The land was given to a number of people. I might mention the reason why I did not read out the reply yesterday. Deputy Fagan himself will admit that it was a very long and detailed answer, and I do not think he could have done himself justice in regard to it unless he had an opportunity to study it. Deputy Dillon of course, as usual, suggested that I was trying to suppress it. I was not trying to suppress anything. The land was divided amongst 14 allottees. Four of those were small holders in the vicinity. They had their holdings enlarged. The herd was given a holding. Five landless men were provided with holdings, and in addition four accommodation plots were supplied to cottiers in the district. I think that was making good use of land which had been very much neglected.
Mr. Boland: I am not in a position to say how the landlord got the land, or how any other landlord got it. What I do know is that, if that land had been worked in the manner in which Deputy Fagan tells me it was  worked by the lady's husband, the Land Commission would not have interfered with it. They found it neglected, the drains overgrown with weeds, no manuring, no tillage, and set at a price which scarcely gave any return. The actual loss to the lady in question, therefore, must have been very little. She had been getting very little out of it for years past. We consider it is bad policy to have big farms of that kind neglected in that way when there are people in the neighbourhood anxious and willing to work the land if they can get it. The land was divided. I am very sorry that the lady should be put in that position, but there was no way out of it. If the land had been properly worked it would not have been interfered with. I am also given to understand that this lady has no children, and she has at present other lands comprising 202 acres, the valuation of which is about £186.
Mr. Boland: She may be up to her eyes in debt; I am not aware of that. What I do know is that she still has 202 acres. As I say, she has no children, and, judging by the way the farm had been worked, I do not think there is very much hardship. If the land had been properly worked it would not have been interfered with at all, but we do not like to see farms going derelict like that.
Mr. Fagan: Would the Land Commission in future not take into account that, in a case where the husband dies, the widow may be in bad circumstances for a few years? While I agree that if land is not properly worked it should be divided, I think the Land Commission should have considered the fact that this lady's husband died recently, and that it was a special case. I think the Land Commission should devise some machinery whereby the landlord would not get all, while the poor tenant who has been working all his lifetime gets nothing. The machinery should be changed.
Captain Giles: I know this farm thoroughly, and while in the last few years it may not have been worked as it should be worked, it has to be considered that after her husband's death this lady was involved in a long and costly lawsuit which took practically every penny from her. Were it not for that, this would be a model farm. She also lost £500 fighting the case at the time the Land Commission took it over. Her husband was one of the most model farmers in Ireland.
Captain Giles: It may have been let for about five years, because the husband has been dead for seven or eight years. At the same time, there was a large farm in the same area which should have been divided, but it was allowed to go for sale by public auction while the Land Commission came down and took this lady's farm. If she were allowed to sell that farm by public auction, surely she would have some money out of it to-day?
Mr. Boland: I will inquire into such cases, but I must say that where farms are in that condition, not worked, non-residential, and generally neglected, the Land Commission is going to acquire them and divide them amongst the small people in the district who are willing to work the land properly, and give what they consider a fair price for such farms. Naturally, I should like that special consideration should be given to the case of widows, but where land is not worked and neglected, as I have said, the Land Commission is going to acquire such land and divide it.
Mr. Linehan: There is one point I should like to make. I thoroughly agree that, if lands are neglected, they should be acquired and divided amongst those who will work the lands, but does the Minister say that the fact that lands were neglected under such circumstances as have been submitted by the two Deputies here justify what is nothing else but absolute confiscation such as has occurred in this case? Suppose that these lands were put up for public auction, surely there should be some value to be got out of them? Even if they had been neglected for the last ten years, still, at public auction, there should be some value for them and in cases like that, even though there may be every justification for the Land Commission to take over the lands, surely it is not right that the immediate tenant should be left penniless while the landlord gets 99 per cent. of the amount fixed by the Land Commission. I say that that is point-blank confiscation by the Land Commission, and nothing else.
Mr. Linehan: It would appear then that, notwithstanding all the Land Acts that have been passed by British Governments and Irish Governments in the past, there is absolutely no protection for the tenants' interests in cases of land held in this way under fee farm grants. Is that the position?
Mr. O'Leary: Does the Minister suggest that this land was taken because it was not worked in a proper way and was let for grazing? Will the Minister deny that a lot of the land that has been divided has been allowed by the tenants among whom it was divided to fall back into grazing again?
Mr. Gorey: Would the Minister try to get for our information what was the value on the land as segregated from the improvement and building value? I do not ask the Minister to give me that information now, but I should like him to try to get the information for us. He could give it to me privately, if he wishes. I am talking about the land value as segregated from the improvement and building value.
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