Wednesday, 10 March 1948
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Moran: I asked the permission of the Chair to-day to raise this question on the adjournment in view of the failure of the Minister for Lands to give an answer either on Question No. 18 or the previous question. I would be prepared to give the Minister plenty of time to announce his policy, if he has a policy, for a migration scheme from the West to the Midlands and generally in connection with the problems that exist in the congested areas, except for some peculiar decisions that we have seen during the last few days from this new Government. What I and the people from the congested  areas are concerned about is that we may find that the Minister has now got to go back on all his previous statements on land policy in this country and that he is simply another leg of the Fine Gael octopus and, as Minister for Lands, cannot give his own views on the land question.
Mr. Moran: It is clear, at all events, in view of the decisions of this new Government during the last few days that the people in the West and particularly in the Gaeltacht have reason to watch what is happening. I noticed with some concern to-day the failure and the refusal of the Minister to reply to Question No. 18. It was a simple question to answer particularly in view of the various statements the Minister had made both in this House and through the country during the last 18 months. When the Estimate for the Department of Lands was under discussion here in 1945 the Minister who was then in Opposition spoke of the conditions in his own constituency, and said that in Mayo this land question was very serious. He said:
“I spoke last year on this Estimate of conditions in Mayo. I do not want to ask the Minister or the Land Commission to do impossible things, but, at the very least, a much greater effort by the Land Commission is needed than we have seen hitherto. At present it seems that things are no nearer a solution in this respect than ever.”
The Deputy is now the Minister for Lands himself and there is nothing to stop him from giving effect to the  views that he expressed both inside and outside this House on a solution for the congestion problem in the West. There is nothing to stop him from indicating to the House and particularly to the people in his own constituency, the amount of land that is available for the relief of congestion in the West, as well as the number of migrants that he can migrate from the West this year unless he is tied by the various bargains that have been entered into behind the scenes between himself and his colleagues, unless his hands and his outlook are tied. What concerns me about the Minister's failure to answer my question to-day is that, as far as the position of the migrants in the West is concerned, we may find ourselves in the same position. as we are in with the turf scheme.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Parliamentary Secretary will allow the Chair-to speak. The Deputy has a definite question here about migration schemes from the West. That has nothing to, do with turf schemes.
Mr. Moran: What I am concerned to ensure by raising this matter tonight is that the policy of migrating congested tenants from the land slums of the West is not slowed up by the present Minister for Lands.
Mr. Moran: I endeavoured to do that this afternoon by way of Parliamentary question and failed to get a reply. It is that which makes me apprehensive. If the Minister had stated to-day that he did propose to migrate a certain number, however small, from the West I would have been satisfied. I would not have so much uneasiness if the Minister had given an answer to the question that I put to him to-day as to whether, in  order to relieve congestion he was prepared to go ahead with the view that he had expressed to acquire more land in the open market in the West—to buy land.
Mr. Moran: If the Minister was prepared to acquire more land in the congested areas of the West the necessity would not then arise to migrate people from the land slums in the West to the Midlands. The Minister refused to answer either question. Is there some further bargain to throw the people in the land slums in the West to one side, or, to use a more popular expression heard in this House, to put the land policy, in connection with land slums in the West, in abeyance?
Some time ago the Minister stated in this House that there was no reason why his predecessor should not go ahead full blast with the relief of the congestion problem in the West. He said that should be done, and that the conditions that obtained during the war did not apply at the time he was speaking. The position has much improved since then, because I understand all the staff on loan from the Land Commission are now back. Therefore the Minister has got staff and, presumably, he has got plans. As a matter of fact the Minister, speaking here in the last debate on the Vote for the Department for Lands, said there was sufficient land in Mayo to solve the congestion there. He further stated that he himself would be able to solve it in one year. He is now in the saddle, he has the power and the staff, and there is no war to disturb him, but, with all that, he could not tell me to-day, and particularly he could not tell his own constituents, the number of migrants that he proposes to take out  of the land slums in the West during this present year.
I want to know from the Minister if there is any reason for his being so shy in replying to this question. I want to know whether he wants to leave this question of migration in abeyance. I also want to know whether he has abandoned his policy of relieving congestion in the West by way of the purchase of land in the open market. Are there any powers which the Minister requires, if he does want an excuse for going back on his previous solutions of the congestion problem in the West?
If the Minister was frank, if he would tell me his difficulties, if there are in fact any difficulties, he would be deserving of a certain amount of sympathy. If he finds himself in the position, due to the new line-up, that he is not allowed to go ahead with the policy formerly enunciated by him, I would have a certain amount of sympathy with him. If he would indicate the limits that have been placed upon him in the Land Commission, if such limits have been so placed, the House and the country would understand the Minister's difficulty; but he assured us previously that it only required an energetic Minister in the Land Commission to remove the dust from the files and that he could solve the whole western problem in one year.
I want to know, as I am sure the people of Mayo want to know, before the year goes much further, what the Minister proposes to do now that he has power. There is not much use in the Minister occupying the position of all-powerful Minister for Lands if he is not prepared to indicate, and to indicate now, that he proposes to come to the relief of the congested tenants on the western seaboard.
I am afraid it will be much too late for the people down the West to start saying anything about this matter if they find that the whole policy in connection with the relief of congestion, which has been consistently pursued as a matter of State policy over a number of years, has been reversed, and that the Minister is in the position of being merely the tail of the Fine Gael dog and that in this case it is the dog that wags the tail. It will be too late  for us in the West if we find that this vital problem, which has always been a problem, has been put on the long finger or left in abeyance by the new Government.
The problem of taking the people from the West is a simple enough problem for the Minister, particularly in view of his statement that it only requires energy to solve it. I was surprised that the Minister would not say to-day what lands in the Midlands he will earmark for the congested areas of Mayo. The Minister is personally aware, and has pointed out on many occasions, the great hardship and suffering there are in the congested areas due to that congestion.
Nobody is more familiar with that problem in the West than the Minister, and, being familiar with that problem and living amongst the people down there, he must surely realise the urgency of dealing with the problem and must realise the uneasiness that will be felt by the people in the West in connection with changes of policy affecting this question of land to which we have heard expression given during the past couple of weeks.
I know that some of the people now supporting the Minister's Government are against that policy. I know that there is a very strong element amongst those behind the Minister who do not believe in that policy and who have always opposed it. That was always so, and I know that the Minister's former colleague, Deputy Cogan, has always fought it in this House, and, as recently as within the last fortnight, asked the new Minister for Agriculture for an assurance that land will not be further interfered with. It was, therefore, with feelings of further apprehension that I found the Minister to-day not alone refusing to commit himself on this question of migration but refusing to state what steps would be taken in connection with the further acquisition of land in the Midlands. The Minister was very voluble on this question when he was in Opposition, and, to give him due credit, I think he was sincere in his view that drastic steps should be taken to put an end to the land slum  problem, and I want to know now why he is shirking the issue and why he cannot even indicate the very beginnings of a small scheme for taking these unfortunate people from the West.
I want to know whether he is going to be swayed by the views of his former colleague in Clann na Talmhan, Deputy Cogan, and whether he is to be taken over, lock, stock and barrel, by the conservative element in the Fine Gael Party which now rules him. If we are to go back to the position which obtained before 1932, when migration was unheard of, we are getting back to a position in which the ranchers of this country, irrespective of the national need, are to be allowed to hold on, without any regard whatever to the desperate state of the congested districts in the West, and the quicker the country realises that the better and the quicker the people in South Mayo in particular realise it the better. I ask the Minister, having considered the matter now and having considered the implications of his failure to answer these vital questions in regard to migration from the West which I put to him today, to make some statement which will reassure the people in the congested areas in the West that they too have not been sold out by the new coalition Government, of which the Minister is now a member.
Minister for Lands (Mr. Blowick): I am afraid that I have been guilty for some time past of believing that Deputy Moran had a very bad opinion of me, but I have been convinced tonight that I should apologise to him. I am very glad to know that he has now come to the conclusion that I can do in 16 days what his Government failed to do in 16 years.
Mr. Blowick: We will hear a little more about the migration policy before we finish, if the Deputy will stay quiet. The Deputy seems to be very concerned about migration from the West of Ireland now. If he had exerted half the pressure or given half the  assistance to my predecessor in office which he now seems to be devoting to the land question, the problem of congestion, in our constituency particularly and along the western seaboard, would, perhaps, not be as bad as it is to-day. I wonder what explanation Deputy Moran has to offer for the position, after 16 years in office, in which, out of 2,860 migrants since 1935, only 451 came from the West to the East.
Mr. Blowick: The Deputy knows as well as I know that the worst forms of congestion are to be found along the western coast from Donegal to Kerry, but, out of 2,860 migrants since 1935, Fianna Fáil saw fit to bring only 451 from the worst congested areas.
Mr. Blowick: The Deputy put a sufficient number of questions while on his feet. The time is long and he will get plenty of time to put down any questions still troubling him. I have been Minister for Lands for 16 or 20 days at the outside, yet Deputy Moran wants me to relieve immediately the whole land problem of South Mayo. The first thing I might draw the Deputy's attention to is that I have other congested counties to consider and congests in any other county must get the same consideration from me as those in my constituency. Heretofore, I could speak for the constituency of South Mayo. Now the responsibility of the congests in all other constituencies  is mine to take care of, and it is my duty to do my best for them, whether my period in office is long or short. That is the first thing the Deputy should realise.
Secondly, during the course of his speech the Deputy asked what the position is now. I wonder if he will plead ignorance of the fact that there has been a complete close down on land acquisition for a number of years past, particularly in the eastern counties, where there is more suitable land available than in any other part of the country. The position in the acquisition of land is now that there are only one or two holdings suitable for occupation in the Midlands. After 16 days' office, does Deputy Moran blame me for that—or does he blame my predecessor and the Fianna Fáil Government? As a result of the complete and total failure of the last Government to deal with the land problem and their hostility to this question, the Land Commission now has to start anew. Deputy Moran, being a solicitor and having the carriage of sale of land, knows exactly what it is to acquire land, to change over and take possession of it, to build suitable houses on it, to fence it, and finally to choose the correct type of migrant or other person to take over that holding. There are only two holdings east of the Shannon to-day available, after Fianna Fáil's term of office, yet the Deputy stands up here and expects me to wave a magic wand in the air and provide a solution to the whole thing, after my predecessor in office, and particularly the Fianna Fáil Government, left me an empty bank and an empty shell.
I want it to sink into Deputy Moran's head that, since 1935, of 2,860 migrants, only 451 came from the most congested areas in this country. Did Deputy Moran ever use his influence with my predecessor in office to settle this land question?
Mr. Blowick: Very good, Sir. I know of no bargaining, but Deputy Moran might be better used to bargaining than I am. On the Order Paper are two questions — one from Deputy Hilliard and one from Deputy Moran. Deputy Moran asks if I am going to continue the policy of bringing migrants from the West to the East, to “continue the policy”, mark you. The policy has been stopped under the last Government.
Mr. Blowick: Land acquisition has been closed down in seven out of the 26 counties, leaving only one or two holdings in the Midlands available to-day when I took over office. Am I responsible for that or is the last Government?
Mr. Blowick: Deputy Moran wants to know when migration is going to be continued. Right under that, Deputy Hilliard has a question down asking me if I mean to discontinue it. Presumably, in the Fianna Fáil Party there are two Deputies, one of whom professes to be out for migration and the relief of the West, while the other is afraid of his life that migrants will come into his county.
Mr. Blowick: No matter what Deputy puts down a question to me or asks me to stop migration, or a question that carries that implication, he is not going to get any heed. The question of congests will receive my first consideration and while I am Minister for Lands I will do all I possibly can to relieve the terrible congestion, which Deputy Moran knows as much about as I do and which I considered in the past and still consider to be a blot on our country.
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