Industrial Alcohol (Amendment) Bill, 1946—Money Resolution. - Turf Bogs: Valuation Increases—Motion (Resumed).
Wednesday, 13 November 1946
Dáil Éireann Debate
That the Dáil is of opinion that the valuation of any land, turf bog or turf bank should not be increased by the operation of emergency legislation; and more specifically by reason of the taking or purchase of turf thereon by or for disposal through local authorities or through schemes intended to provide fuel during the emergency contemplated by the Emergency Powers Act, 1939; and that proposals for any necessary legislation should be introduced forthwith by the Government.— Risteárd Ua Maolchatha.
Mr. D. Morrissey: When the debate on this motion was adjourned on Friday last, I was trying to put before the House the grave injustice which has already been inflicted on a number of bog owners, and the grave injustice which, I presume, will be inflicted on every bog owner in the country with whose bog the local authority has had  any touch within the past six years. Up to the present, it would appear that the county in which most of the victims have been found is Tipperary, but if what the Minister says is true, that there is legal justification and authority for this action, that it is being done in accordance with law, then I presume that it will be extended to every county in the State, and similar injustices inflicted upon farmers or bog owners with whose bogs, as I have said, the local authority has come in contact.
Deputy Mulcahy, in introducing the motion, and I subsequently, put before the House a number of actual cases. Valuations have been increased by from 100 to 3,000 per cent. The Ceann Comhairle, quite understandably, looks at me in amazement. I was amazed myself when I first learned of some of the increases.
Mr. D. Morrissey: I know you are not, but you are showing quite understandable amazement that such a thing should happen in this country. I quoted one case on Friday last—I had the letter before me and I had, and have, in my possession the demand notes—where a man's rates were increased from 13/- to £39 12s. I want to emphasise that, if there is a legal right to do this in Tipperary, there is an equal right to do it in any other part of the State, and I presume that the county managers, backed by the State, having initiated this step, will carry it out in every part of the State. Therefore, this is a motion which is, or should be, of deepest interest to every Deputy, and particularly every Deputy representing a rural constituency.
So far as I know, and I was present at a discussion of this matter by a county council, the justification given for this action was that the county council took over part of the turbary during the emergency—in some cases, with consent and at a price agreed between the local authority and the owner, and in many cases, compulsorily, under the powers conferred by Emergency Powers Orders, in spite of the owner, and at a price fixed by the  local authority in which the owner had no say whatever. But mark you this: the county council in many cases entered upon a bog, proceeded to cut turf and then tried to save that turf— and this, of course, was quite understandable, particularly in the beginning of the campaign when very few people hardly knew anything about turf or about the cutting or saving of turf— and then found that in a great many cases it was hopelessly uneconomic for various reasons to cut and save turf on that particular bog. They finished there that year, having got the turf out at a very high cost, and did not go back there any more. In many cases, far from conferring a benefit on the local bog owner, they actually did considerable damage.
I quoted a case—and I could quote a number of others which I know of my own personal knowledge—of three acres of a good callow field with running water bounding it on one side, a field that was valuable at certain periods of the year to the owner for the grazing of cattle and a field on which neither in his memory nor that of his father, which went back for a long period, had even an attempt being made to cut turf.
The county council went in on that long, narrow field and they dug trenches this way and that, and then left it there, having discovered that it was a hopeless proposition from the point of view of producing turf. They left it there also as a completely hopeless proposition for grazing, and, as a matter of fact, that same man was unfortunate enough to lose one of his best working horses valued for £40 or £50 in the boghole and he found that he had no case in law and that there was nobody from whom he could recover.
I could give several other cases, but I suggest that if we are to countenance the adoption of the principle that if on part of his farm—and in many of these cases the bog was part of his holding—a farmer once in centuries, gets an opportunity of making a few shillings or pounds, or, if you like, a few hundred pounds, out of a property which was up to that time of very little use, beyond perhaps producing sufficient fuel for his own requirements,  the valuation officials are to be sent in to value it on the profit which it is alleged he is making from it, surely the next step is that if he experiments with some crop, hitherto ungrown, on an ordinary field on his farm and instead of making £50 or £5—take any figure you like—profit out of that acre of ground in the year, he makes five times that amount, the same principle will be put into operation and the valuation of that part of his farm increased. It seems to me that that is the principle.
I am not a lawyer, and do not presume to know anything about the law, but, whether I misunderstood or got the wrong impression, I have always heard—and I say this particularly in view of the fact that it is now stated that it is the intention, when the county councils are finished with these bogs, either to reduce the additional valuation or to wipe it out altogether— that there is no legal power to increase and certainly no legal power to reduce the valuation of land in this country. I may be completely wrong in that, but that is what I have heard. If there is any legal authority for what is now being done, and is apparently to be done on a much wider scale from this onward, I think we ought to have the section and the Act. Even if there is legal authority for it, I suppose they will have to go back a long way. It is a gross injustice.
I think it will be admitted by Deputies who know rural Ireland fairly well that the most impoverished section of our agricultural community was, generally speaking, those who live close to bogs. I think I would be safe in saying that the five or six years of the emergency was the first time that they ever got an “even break” or an opportunity of raising themselves, if I might put it so, above the bog level. There were many valuable contributions for the welfare of this State and its community by various sections of the people during the last six or seven years. I am not so sure that one of the most valuable was not made by the people living by and near bogs. If the county councils went in on these bogs, if they made roads to these bogs and drained these bogs, it was not for  the sake of the farmers who owned the bogs. The roads were not made in their interest, but in the interest of the community. So far as I know, the community has no reason to complain.
I want to go further. If we are to get down to this question of getting back for the community, as it is put, some of the profits which certain people got; if we are to get after the profits that were made out of turf in this country, let us start at the right end where the big, easy profits were made. Every Deputy knows that as well as I do. Those of us who are acquainted with bog areas and live near them know that they certainly are not the most cheerful parts of our countryside, or that they are not the most valuable or productive, notwithstanding the fact that the people living there are often more industrious than those living on the good land. Perhaps they had to be industrious in order to eke out an existence.
I suggest to the House that it is their duty to be satisfied on this matter before they allow it to go any further. Up to the present, apparently, it has been a happy-go-lucky sort of affair. There has been no co-ordination about it. It just depended on whether the county manager wanted to do it or not. In some counties no action has been taken. It is notorious that where the greatest amount of turf was cut by local authorities no action was taken. In some counties it was only taken against two or three individuals. In others, like the northern part of my county. some 40 or 50 individuals have been penalised so far. If there is legal authority for it, and if there is to be any justice in it, why is it not being applied all round? Why are certain people being picked out? All people are supposed to be equal before the law. If it is the law that is being administered, it ought to be administered in a just, fair and impartial way. I do not know what case the Minister may make on this matter, but I think he will find it extremely difficult to justify what is being done.
 They should not waken up to this matter when it is too late. We have tried to put the position before the House as it has been given to us by constituents who have been affected. We have gone to some trouble to check as many of these statements which we received as we possibly could. It is a very serious matter. I hope the House will give it serious attention. I hope the Minister, if he insists on seeing this matter through, will be able to satisfy the House (1) that he has legal authority for it, and (2) that it is either wise or desirable to do it.
Mr. Blowick: From time to time most Deputies get demands from some of their constituents to approach the Commissioner of Valuation or the Minister for Finance to get the poor law valuation of their land revised or reduced where they think the valuation is excessive. I have been at the Valuation Office several times. I may have taken it up in a wrong way, but I have been told on more than one occasion that the valuation of a townland cannot be either increased or reduced. We have now been brought up with a rude shock against the fact that the Commissioner of Valuation can increase the valuation of a townland. But if the land owner or the bog owner attempts to get his valuation reduced, the amount by which his valuation is reduced must be spread over the townland, so that the valuation of the townland will remain as before. Whatever adjustment is made, the valuation of the townland must remain as it was before the revision.
Now we find that the Minister can increase the valuation of a bog. Already forms have been sent out to several people in my county and they cannot understand the matter. Up to this they were the owners of tracts of bog which were perfectly useless to them. Not alone that, but they were paying rent and rates for bogs which were just a death-trap for their stock. One man who has been asked to supply information told me that during the five or six years of the emergency he had lost 11 head of cattle in this bog. Now we have a situation in which, if a county council has gone in and  opened up a bog, they have made it still more dangerous for stock by cutting trenches of turf in any way that suited them and without any plan. Yet we find that bog owners are to be subjected to an increase of valuation and to increased rates.
These people gave their bogs freely because they were useless to them up to the beginning of the emergency. They allowed the county councils to cut the turf, when the case was put to them that failure on the part of the farmers or bog owners to supply sufficient fuel and food would probably mean our forced entry into the war, on one side or the other. These people responded in a wonderful way.
I regard this as a most vicious system. We find that the State has the power to increase valuation at will. When a particular farmer or tenant applies to have his valuation reduced, if he thinks it is excessive, he is told —and I am told—that the valuation may be reduced or altered within a townland but that after the revision, the townland as a unit must have the same valuation as it had. I do not know the first thing about the laws governing poor law valuation but I should like to know whether, in the case of the increased valuation of bogs, there will be revision of the valuation of the townland, or whether, to compensate for the increased valuation of a particular land or bog, the valuation of some other land or bog in the townland will be reduced so that, as in the case I have quoted, the townland will emerge at the same poor law valuation.
In many cases bogs were cut up by the county council and the bog owners did not grumble because they realised that they were making their own little sacrifice, during the emergency, to keep the country out of the war. In some cases, at least, the bogs are totally cut away. Even the Minister knows quite well the value of a cut-away bog. It is absolutely useless without the expenditure of a life-time of draining and reclamation, and even then it is only very poor quality stuff.
In other cases, principally in Mayo, where by dint of the labour of the owners, their families and their forefathers, they have tilled and cultivated  the surface of the bog and made it tolerably good grass-land, according to the locality—in some cases it was the best grazing land that they had—the county council had power to go in, under Emergency Powers Orders, and cut out that bog and they did so ruthlessly in some cases without regard to the fact that they were taking away the farmer's means of living. It was just the same as if they went into my grass-land and carted away the soil and the sub-soil. The farmer can cultivate his land in time of emergency and can rob the fertility of the soil to produce essential food but when the period of crisis is over the farmer can take steps to restore the fertility to the land. The turf can never be restored. It would take many thousands of years to do that. We find that the Minister steps in and viciously attempts to increase the valuation of bog that was useless prior to the emergency and is still more useless now by virtue of the fact that its one value has been cut away and there is nothing left but a few inches of turf mould or marl or whatever the sub-soil may consist of.
I ask the Minister to make a definite statement on this matter. He has taken power, or the power is there already by some previous Act that was passed close on 100 years ago in the British House of Commons, to increase the valuation of bogs simply because a few farmers have made a few pounds, and only a few pounds, out of it, a meagre living at best, during the emergency years. Does he also take unto himself power to increase the valuation of poor quality land which inexperienced tillage inspectors under the Department of Agriculture specified as arable and where, perhaps through sheer compulsion, the farmer by his labour and by heavy dressings of farm-yard manure and whatever little fertiliser was available, succeeded in growing a patchy crop? Does he also take unto himself power to do that, because, if he has authority and power to increase the valuation of bogs simply because use was made of them during the emergency, I say he has also power to do the other thing and I should like to hear what he has to say on that subject.
It is obvious that if the Minister is  accepting responsibility now for increasing the valuation, he should accept responsibility for the loss in stock that occurred up to this in useless bogs. Will he accept responsibility for the losses in stock in future that are definitely attributable to the cutting away of the bogs, leaving dangerous trenches and holes in the bogs?
This is a very poor recompense for the first people in the country who helped to preserve our neutrality, under God. It is a vicious system. All that will be gained in any county by the increase of rates is negligible and it should be beneath the Minister and the Government to do it. It is very poor recompense and if we are ever involved in an emergency again, which God forbid, it is very poor encouragement to those who will read the debates on this particular motion to make any sacrifice for this country. If any two classes in this country are responsible for preserving neutrality, it is those who gave unselfishly and produced fuel and food. These are the people who deserve our gratitude and, since the last shot was fired in the war, I have not heard one word of congratulation or thanks for either of these sections of the community from any of the Government benches.
Mr. Keyes: I support the motion. What I intended to say has been said by Deputy Blowick in his closing remarks. I think it is a most ungrateful thing on the part of the Minister to make this attack upon the bog owners who unquestionably made a very loyal contribution in a period of great stress. Even if it were to be considered an advantage to the Exchequer, it could be very easily waived as a gesture of appreciation of the efforts made by the bog owners during that period of crisis. But, apart from being ungrateful, it does not seem to make sense. It is a very nonsensical approach to the problem. You are going to have increased valuation on bogs that have been cut up. I am aware of some of the places referred to by Deputy Morrissey, which are adjacent to my constituency. Where there was a bog there is now a lake. The county councils went in and cut the turf and  left lakes and bog-holes and trenches and the place looks battle-scarred.
It seems a senseless proposition to increase the valuation of these places for all time. If there were to be a contribution extracted from bog owners, one would think it would be in respect of the amount of turf they sold and, if they did sell a certain amount of turf in any one year or two years, why not tax the profits they made on the turf? Of course, if that were the case, you would be taxing profits on turf rather than bogs and as Deputy Morrissey said, it would be inequitable. There are many people in the community who could be taxed for the profits they made on turf but they are not the people who out it or the people who own the bogs. The get rich quick methods of a lot of people are notorious throughout the country. They used the emergency to get away with it. The unfortunate owners are now going to have a permanent increase in their valuation. Deputy Morrissey has given us some of the figures. I know some of these cases. He mentioned one case where there is an increase from 13/- to £39. That is an impossible impost. It is inequitable, unjust, ungrateful and senseless. I appeal to the Minister to give ear to the appeal that is being made and not to persist in this because, if it is the intention to have an increased valuation, bogs all over Ireland should he revalued. It is not the bogs that have been cut away, but the bogs that have not been cut away, that should be revalued. Why start revaluing in places where the sacrifice was made and the turf has been taken away and the place left in a morass? It should be done on a general basis. It does not seem to be an equitable proposition and there would not appear to be much gain in it for the State but it will impose a crushing burden on the individual, and as Deputy Blowick has said, if we are ever again faced with an emergency— and with all the efforts of the United Nations Organisation, we cannot guarantee that we will not be—the Government would get little response to its appeals. The Government should bear in mind that those who were necessary during the  last emergency to contribute their voluntary efforts in meeting food and fuel shortages should get a fair requital. This is not a fair requital. It is unfair. If the Minister were to approach it reasonably he would abandon the proposal and give ear to the motion tabled by Deputy Mulcahy and thus earn the gratitude of bog owners and of all right-thinking people in the community.
Minister for Finance (Mr. Aiken): Deputy Keyes is, I think, rather carried away by the exuberance of the speeches that have been made in support of this motion. The speeches seemed to me to be directed for the main part towards catching a few votes here and there throughout the country.
Mr. Aiken: I would point out that this is actually an expense on the Exchequer—this valuation of bog lands when they come into production of turf for sale. As far as the Exchequer is concerned it would be much better if this particular law did not exist. Now, what is the law? Deputy Morrissey wants me to quote the law in regard to the revaluation of bogs. This is the law and this is the relevant section—Section 12 of the Valuation (Ireland) Act, 1852:
“For the purposes of this Act the following hereditaments shall be deemed to be the rateable hereditaments; viz., all lands, buildings, and opened mines; all commons and rights of common, and all other profits to be had or received or taken out of any land; and in the case of land or buildings used exclusively for public, scientific, or charitable purposes, as hereinafter specified, half the annual rent derived by the owner or other person interested in the same, so far as the same can or may be ascertained by the said commissioner of valuation; and all rights of fishery; all canals, navigations, and rights of navigation; all railways and tramroads; all rights of way and other rights or easements over land, and the tolls levied in respect of such rights and easements, and all other tolls: provided always, that no turf  bog or turf bank used for the exclusive purpose of cutting or saving turf, or for making turf mould therefrom, for fuel or manure, shall be deemed rateable under this Act, unless a rent or other valuable consideration shall be payable for the same: and provided also, that no mines which have not been opened seven years before the passing of this Act shall be deemed rateable until the term of seven years from the time of opening thereof shall have expired; and no mines hereafter to be opened shall be deemed rateable until seven years after the same shall have been opened; and mines bona fide reopened after the same shall have been bona fide abandoned shall be deemed an opening of mines within the meaning of this Act.”
Mr. Aiken: It is the Act upon which bogs are valued when the owners rent banks or cut turf for sale. If the owner cuts the turf for his own use there is no valuation put upon the bog as such. But, once it becomes a valuable property, where the owner either lets the banks each year for a consideration or cuts turf for sale, then the Valuation Commissioner—if the matter is reported to him by the secretary of the county council that such owner has commenced to cut turf for sale—has no option under the law but to make a revaluation. The initiative in this case does not lie with the Minister for Finance, or with the Minister for Local Government, or with the Commissioner for Valuation. It lies with the local authority.
Mr. Aiken: If they are doing their duty, yes. If it is reported to the county council, the county council in turn will report it to the Commissioner for Valuation and the commissioner must then send his valuers to value the bog. All this weeping and gnashing of teeth over the poor bog owner is just sheer nonsense. Deputy Morrissey quoted a case where a valuation went from 13/- to £39. What did  that mean? It meant that the person who had rather a useless tract of land, which was worth only 13/- in rateable valuation, was getting at least £150 a year out of that 13/- valuation and, perhaps, more.
Mr. Aiken: The valuation is normally about 27 per cent. of the amount of rents taken in, or turf sold from the area. If, therefore, the valuation is £39 the owner is getting, roughly, £150 a year; not only does he get it for the year but he gets it for three years before that. It has to be the average of £150 before a valuation of £39 is placed upon it.
Mr. Aiken: Three years. The gentleman Deputy Morrissey was so perturbed about had got at least £450 from his neighbours for the turf or for the right to cut turf. I know one case myself where a man bought the side of a mountain for a few pounds as a “shoot”. The emergency came along and the community built a road into the bog, improved the mountain road and then paid the owner 30/- a bank. He got as much for a couple of banks as he had paid for the entire bog.
Mr. Aiken: A most dangerous principle, as you can see. The ratepayers built the road and they had to give him 30/- for the bank. Naturally, the ratepayers are very anxious that the county council would do its job and see that the owner, in turn, pays his fair proportion of the rates.
Mr. Aiken: Before I leave this I want to say that the valuation placed upon a bog from which turf is sold or upon which banks are let is placed on the basis of the previous three years' takings. The owner can at any time move to have his rateable valuation reduced, and can have it reduced if he can show that his income from the bog has been reduced. If his income ceases altogether then the valuation upon the bog ceases altogether. I  think it is only fair and equitable that the ratepayers in any county—Tipperary, or Mayo, or Limerick—so long as they are compelled to pay rates for the houses in which they live, or for the lands which they own, or the other hereditaments in their possession have a right to see that the law is carried out and that the owners of such bogs should pay their fair and equitable share of the rates. If the bog owners do not pay then their neighbours have to pay. In counties where the county councils have not moved to get new valuations made the other ratepayers in such counties are paying more rates than their fair share.
Mr. Aiken: The county manager and the county councils have been urged by the Minister for Local Government to see that there is a fair and equitable distribution of the rates burden on the community; and the county manager or rate collector who ignores a new bog development, where turf is cut for sale, is failing to do his duty just in the same way as if he failed to report a man who had built a number of new houses.
Mr. Aiken: He did not issue any instructions. He issued a circular letter to the county managers some years ago. I have not got the exact date but it was some years ago, so far as I remember. The law has not been changed since Deputy Mulcahy was Minister for Local Government. He has got very excited about it, but the same law was in operation when he was Minister.
Mr. Aiken: It was a very good job we were cutting turf and growing wheat on the scale we were when the war broke out. If Fine Gael was there up to 1939, with their fingers in their mouths, waiting for wheat to come from the ends of the earth and from England, to meet that emergency, we would be in a poor way.
Mr. Aiken: Deputy Keyes stated that we were increasing the valuation of bogs permanently. That is not true. I pointed out that the law is that the owners of bogs concerned can move to have the valuation reduced if their incomes are decreased. It is not a permanent increase and is not, as one Deputy called it, “a crushing burden.”
Mr. Aiken: Relate that to income. I would be quite prepared if I had a mountain or a bog worth 13/- to have my valuation increased, if I could get £450 out of it by paying £20. I think it would be an excellent bargain. Take the case of one particular bog, the valuation of which was increased very much more than from 13/- to £39. In this case it was increased from 2/- to £50. What did the owner get out of it for paying rates on £50 valuation? The rates amounted to £33 3s. 7d. He got £1,033. That was not a bad bargain. If he had not paid the £33 3s. 7d. the neighbours or labouring people in the adjacent village who gave him the £1,033 would have to shoulder his rates as well.
Mr. Aiken: Deputy Mulcahy at least went to the trouble of swotting a lot of questions and figures about the matter. Deputy Keyes did not pay the slightest attention to it. On the basis of an exaggerated case made by General Mulcahy, Deputy Keyes went on to describe this as unjust, inequitable and a vicious policy. He said that we were imposing a crushing burden on the owner. If Deputy Keyes wants to impose the same crushing burden on me, and if he gives me £1,033 for a payment of £33 3s. 7d. I am prepared to take it any day he likes. There are other cases. There was one case where the valuation was raised to £70 but the owner's receipts were £1,284. I state quite deliberately that the community that paid these people these sums of money are entitled to see that the law is carried into effect, and that county councils and county managers do their jobs by reporting these cases, and having them revalued during the time they are drawing these rather large sums of money. If they do not do that, then they are asking their neighbours to shoulder these people's rates as well as their own.
Deputy Morrissey and, I think, Deputy Mulcahy talked about the great disimprovement that was caused on certain lands which county councils entered compulsorily for the purpose of getting turf. They said that no compensation was given the owners. If that is the case, the owner was not looking after his business.
“The council of a county acquiring compulsorily land under this Order, shall pay, by way of compensation, to every person having an interest in the land such sum as fairly represents the diminution in the value of such interest occasioned by  the exercise pursuant to this Order of, as the case may be, any right of turbary over the land or any right to prepare or store turf thereon.”
Therefore if a council took over land to cut turf or to prepare or store turf on it, the owner was entitled to claim such sum as fairly represents the diminution in the value of his interest. The owner in question, if he were not satisfied with the offer of the county council, could have the matter submitted to arbitration and be entitled to the award of the arbitrator.
Mr. Aiken: That is all very well, but if Deputy MacEoin wants to pay the rates of these bog owners, he is quite at liberty to do it, but I do not think he is entitled to force, against the law, the rest of the ratepayers in County Longford to do so.
Mr. Aiken: He can make his own speech and I am entitled to make mine. Deputy Keyes talked about a cut-away bog having become a lake. If that bog has been cut away and become a lake, all the turf must have been taken out of it.
Mr. Aiken: I have explained the law in the matter. I am perfectly satisfied that the ordinary ratepayers, who have paid dearly for the right to cut turf, or for the turf that was cut and sold by the people referred to by Deputy Mulcahy, would like to see these bogowners shouldering a fair proportion of the rates of their county. People who have had to buy turf do not want to pay the rates for these bogs after having paid for the turf and after paying through rates and taxes for the building of roads into these bogs to enable them to be developed. They do not want to shoulder the rates of these people in addition. As I said in opening, there is nothing in this but expense for the Exchequer. The Exchequer has to pay salaries and expenses of the valuation officers who are called in by the county council to do this job of revaluation. The law is there and when we are called upon to do that work, the Valuation Office is accountable for it. They have no option.
Mr. D. Morrissey: The real burden on the ratepayers is caused by the fact that the county councils have had to carry enormous overdrafts to finance these turf schemes. They have had to pay 4 per cent. on the overdrafts.
Mr. Aiken: That is another's day's work. Over and above what the ratepayers of a county have to bear on foot of turf development is this rate which should be paid by the owners of the bogs. The Deputy cannot get out of that.
Mr. Aiken: In conclusion I want to say that there is no injustice involved in this matter. It is altogether just and proper that the people who have gained substantially out of turf development should pay an equitable share of rates. It is all done when at the request of the county council the Valuation Office fixes a new valuation——
Mr. Bennett: The Minister has depicted a new section of war profit-mongers, of get-rich-quick merchants— the men in the bog. When I was a boy—that is a good many years ago—I saw Irishmen caricatured in two different ways. In one type of caricature, a young man was depicted with a pig either on a lead or with the pig marching through his cottage door. The other type of caricature was in some way connected with a bog. A donkey was shown with two panniers or two baskets of turf on the way to the market or the caricature was connected some other way with the bog. The Government have already “extinguished” the pig. We no longer see caricatures connected with the pig and now they are doing their best to do away with the bogman. If it had not been for the advent of the war the bogman would nearly be extinct now; but in case there would be any chance of his surviving after the war, the Government, through their instruments, the managers and local bodies, are going to put him out of existence.
This motion does not concern me in my county so far, and there are Deputies from other counties whom it does not concern either, but I was rather horrified by a suggestion made by Deputy Colley, who must have inside information, that a beginning had been made in Tipperary and the intention was to go on to other counties, so I expect Limerick will get a “dart” one of these days. I am speaking with some knowledge of this matter, because I was in Newport in County Tipperary not very long ago and I saw some of  these profit-mongers to whom the Minister referred. These are men to whom the Minister, seven, eight or ten years ago, would have been referring in very sympathetic terms as downtrodden members of the Irish race, but just because they had a year or two years of prosperity, they have suddenly developed into war profiteers.
Deputy Blowick referred to the real profit-mongers and we all know them and we all know that the millions made out of turf were not made by the men in the bogs. The Minister himself will know of cases near Government Buildings in which more money was made in one day in connection with turf than the bog-man made in a year. I peregrinated into Newport through four feet of water. The bogs of which the Minister's tools have increased the valuation, so that rates which were 13/- are now £40, were wide expanses of water. I saw no bog, but I saw a sea for four miles, and some of this land was land which the Minister's tool or instrument in North Tipperary——
Mr. Aiken: I want to say further that the Commissioner of Valuation acts under the law in this matter, that there is no right of interference by the Minister and that the owner concerned can appeal to the courts against the commissioner's valuation, if he so desires.
Mr. Bennett: If my remark was rather strong, I withdraw it. The remark may have been somewhat extravagant, but it was not incorrect. The Minister, ten minutes ago, having refuted the idea that the Government were even indirectly responsible for the increased valuation, said, when pressed, that the managers were urged by the Local Government Minister to see that the proper rates were paid. How can the Minister think that any Deputy will not infer from that that the managers got a nod at least from the Minister to see that those valuations were increased? The managers, being in the position in which they are, and being—to use the crude language  the Minister does not like—the tools of the Minister for Local Government, because they are nothing else and every Deputy knows it, had no option but to accept the Minister's nod and increase the valuations.
Mr. Bennett: Because the Minister has not yet acted in their counties. The perception of some of the managers is not so keen as that of the manager in North Tipperary and they have not yet seen the nod, but they will be encouraged by what happened in Tipperary, by the speech of Deputy Colley and by what the Minister now says to proceed with all haste as there is no longer any fear of the matter being brought up in debate here.
Mr. Bennett: I withdraw it in the original instance in which I used it, but I am not withdrawing it as I used it on the last occasion, because I used it also earlier to-day when speaking to the Minister for Local Government. I said then that there is no such thing as local government and that all we have is the tool of the Minister who acts in the Minister's name. I do not intend to withdraw it because he exists, and everybody knows it. It is altogether beside the question for the Minister for Finance to say that the people's representatives in the local bodies are the people who did this. They had no more to do with it than I, who had nothing to do with it. To add one calumny to another, he said it was the ratepayers. Did any Deputy ever hear of a ratepayer begrudging the man in the bog the couple of shillings he makes? Did anyone ever hear of a ratepayer in any county being so mean as to begrudge the bog-man  making a few pounds once in a lifetime? The Minister never worked in a bog, and I doubt if he knows what a slean is, except when he sees the Taoiseach putting his foot on one down in Clonsast, but some of us know what a slean is and know what the men who produced the turf had to do to get the turf out on the bog road at 16/- or 17/- a ton, turf which eventually reached the cities—in a watery state because they put the hose on it—at £3 4s Od. a ton. Everybody knows where the bulk of the profit went and it did not go to the man on the bog.
We have now gone back and taken advantage of an Act of 1853 Victoria and we ought to put another wreath on the statue outside Leinster House. We have gone back to this Act to oppress the unfortunate bog-man in Ireland. I warn Deputies to be careful of the way they vote because, while it is the bog in Tipperary, which is now a lake, which was increased in valuation, their time is coming. The Minister read out part of the Act and the position seems to be that if any Deputy finds gold or silver on his land, he will be caught. Will the Minister tell me if sand or gravel is a mineral? I have always been led to believe it is. There is sand and gravel in my area, and if I develop it and make a few pounds in one year, is this dreadful statute of Queen Victoria to be used against me?
This Act under which the Minister's tool is proceeding is an Act of Victoria 1853, the implications of which nobody was aware of until this year. We all thought that if these obsolete Acts of an alien Government were not wiped out, they would not be operated by a Government such as that in office to-day. We were once told to burn everything British but her coal, and it would be no harm if we burned this Act. The Minister blamed Deputy Mulcahy for not operating it, but I do not believe Deputy Mulcahy knew it existed, or perhaps I do him less than justice in saying that, because he is too wide awake not to have known of its existence.
Mr. Bennett: He learned more than he knew before. When the Cosgrave Government was in power and Deputy Mulcahy was Minister for Local Government, I never knew there was in existence an Act of 1853 Victoria under which an unfortunate bog holder could not only have his valuation doubled, but raised 500 per cent. We are not done with Queen Victoria or her successors yet. They are very near and dear to us when it suits our purpose. This is a case where it suits. I would not be surprised when I go to Newport next if the cry is: “Up, Victoria,” instead of “Up, Dev.”
Mr. Bennett: It is so serious that the only way you can kill it is by ridicule. Ridicule is the best way to kill things like that. Eventually, ridicule even got the Fianna Fáil Party into office. The people put them there as a result of ridicule. However, at the next election they will hear about the bogs and the bog holes. When the Cumann na nGaedheal Government was in office, one of the ablest politicians of the Fianna Fáil Party said to me: “You will be beaten at the next election.” When I asked why, he said: “We will have the propaganda and when we get in we will stay in for 20 years because we will keep the ball rolling.”
Mr. Bennett: My fear is not so much that my valuation will be increased, but that I shall have no redress. The Minister said I could appeal to someone. When the bog is worked out, I  can appeal to somebody or other to get the valuation back to normal again. That means that when there is no turf there you can get the valuation reduced. The ordinary small ratepayer is not so learned in the law or in the operation of the law as to be able to extract from the local authority the extra rates that he had paid. He will not find the operation too easy. If this Act is to be applied at all, it should logically be applied to gravel pits and sand pits. Deputy Blowick referred to other matters which, I think, were rather outside the Act.
Mr. Bennett: There would be just as good a case for operating the Act against the man who, in the 1914 war, sold a bullock for £50 which he bought for £20. There would be just as good a case for raising his rates and rent, but it was not done by the British Government. Even when we made 6 or 7 times the profit we ever made in our lives, they did not raise the valuation. If we had a Fianna Fáil Government in office then they would have done it. But we had an honest, straight British Government who gave us a fair crack of the whip. They did not put up the valuation of the land or the bogs. There is a grave danger that the rates on sandpits and gravel pits, etc., may be raised. Then there is the question of compensation. Where a man has been injured as a result of the conditions of the bogs worked by the local authorities, what redress has he?
I know one case in my county which illustrates the reverse side of the picture. I know of a bog on which there was very little turf. The present owner of the land got the farm in a fairly good state of preservation because his father had expended between £500 and £1,000 in reclaiming two fields. These fields were in pasture for many years until the turf scheme came into operation. The county surveyor served notice on the owner and proceeded to cut turf there. He scarified these two fields which cost  nearly £1,000 to reclaim. In fact he cut the whole place to ribbons as a result of lorries running over it—not alone the two fields that were reclaimed, but the whole farm. Eventually he gave up the task as a bad job. I think the man got some compensation for the turf taken, but he is hardly likely to get any compensation for the damage done to his land, although it will take many years to bring it back to its former condition.
I do not believe that any Fianna Fáil Deputy made any demand on the local authority or on the Government that the unfortunate bogholders' rates should be increased. I do not believe there is one farmer in my county or in the County Tipperary who made any demand that the rates should be increased on these unfortunate bog holders, who for very many years have been the worst off people in this country, because for a period of six or seven years—once in a lifetime—they made a few pounds by their exertions in producing an article at a fair price that kept this country going—not the inflated price of £3 4s.—which the unfortunate citizens of Dublin have been paying for watered turf. The turf was not in that condition when it was produced by these men.
This old Act should never have been operated. No Deputy with any sense of justice would have made the demand which the county manager is making on small ratepayers in the County Tipperary. If Deputies have any spark of decency in them, this motion will be carried by a large majority.
Mr. Cogan: It is very opportune that this motion should have been brought forward, because, while it has been stated that there are only five or six counties in which valuations have been substantially increased, and only two counties in which they have been substantially increased, it is well known to every Deputy that the officials of the Department of Local Government are moving in regard to practically every county and are not only personally investigating the returns from the various bogs used during the emergency, but have issued forms to hundreds and perhaps  thousands of bog owners asking for particulars of their income during the past three years. In my own constituency I know that bog areas have been invaded by inspectors during the last few months. One particular farmer informed me that he had pulled one inspector out of the same bog hole three times. But he told me his conscience would not compel him to pull that inspector out a fourth time. I would advise the Minister to count his inspectors at the end of the year and see if they all returned safely.
In Wicklow valuations have been increased or new valuations created during the past two years to the extent of £99, but that is only a small beginning. The inspectors are only now really getting busy. In one case in which an increase was enforced I happen to know the circumstances. It is the case of a small farmer owning a piece of mountain and bog. This man had ruined his health by reason of the fact that he took part in the operation to which Deputy Bennett has referred, that is, the taking of the British Government out of this country. His health was completely broken down and he was struggling to live and rear a family on his small patch of land. The county council demanded the right to cut turf on his land. He refused because he believed, and rightly believed, that they would injure and lower the value of his property but the county manager, of course, resorted to his compulsory powers and proceeded to enter upon the bog and cut it away. As a result, the valuation was increased last year by £33. I think his total rate was actually increased by £26 because, in regard to bog valuation, there is no abatement in respect of the agricultural grant either in its primary or supplemental divisions.
This raises an important question. Is a bog not land? Is not it agricultural land? Is turf not agricultural produce? In the various statistics that are fired at our heads by the Minister, turf is classed as an agricultural product for the purpose of showing the value of the output from agricultural land. But, apparently, for the purpose of raising valuations, it is  classed as a mineral. I do not think that classification is correct. I do not think the Minister is interpreting this ancient and venerable Act properly. I feel with Deputy Bennett that if this interpretation is put upon the Act, there is nothing to prevent the Government or the valuation authorities from going after sandpits, quarries and other operations of that kind.
Again, the Minister falls back on the fact that he is simply carrying out the law as he found it. Surely the Minister will admit that the Government has power to initiate legislation and to amend laws that are unjust and unfair. When all the laws that have been enacted, re-enacted and amended, since the Fianna Fáil Party came into power are taken into account, I do not think anyone will suggest that the Government has been in any way timid or shy in introducing legislation and, if it is necessary to introduce legislation in order to prevent this injustice from being done, I think that legislation should be promptly and immediately introduced. Here you have a section of the community who have been always wronged and trampled upon, people living in backward bog areas, people who have never been able to make a decent income, who have never enjoyed the decent amenities of life, who have always suffered the greatest hardships in inclement years, storms, and so on. We remember the great snowstorm of 1933 when numbers of my constituents in the bog and mountain areas, at the risk of serious injury, had to try to save their stock. These are the people who are singled out now from the hundreds of thousands of war profiteers as the villains who ought to be penalised and punished and from whom additional taxation ought to be collected in respect of whatever small return they secured during the war years.
The Minister has stated that if he and his Department had not moved in this matter, the neighbours of those bog owners would intervene and demand that he should move. I happen to know bog areas well and I can assure the Minister that there is no demand from any section of the ratepayers, particularly from any section of the  rural ratepayers, for intervention and increase in valuation. No rural ratepayer would demand that there should be an increase. From the point of view of self-preservation he would not encourage an increase of his neighbour's valuation, knowing that the same weapon could be used at any time against himself.
Mr. Cogan: The resources of civilisation are not limited and the acrobatics by which the Minister can exploit ancient and venerable Acts are almost without limit. If there is no Act of Queen Victoria which the Minister can call in to penalise those who have no bogs, he may go back to the reign of Queen Anne or to good Queen Bess.
|Last Updated: 18/05/2011 15:51:38||Page of 53|