Committee on Finance. - Vote 34: Lands (Resumed).

Tuesday, 3 July 1973

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 267 No. 1

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[113] Debate resumed on the following motion:

That a sum not exceeding £5,627,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1974, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Lands and of the Irish Land Commission.

Minister for Lands (Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  , Cavan): Turning to the Forestry Vote, the total net provision for 1973-74 is £7,812,000, an increase of £313,000 over the 1972-73 provision. The increase of £313,000 stems largely from increased provision for wages and salaries of some £693,000 arising mainly from the impact of pay increases and price increases partly offset by a reduction of £160,000 in the grant-in-aid for land acquisition and by £216,000 expected increases in income from sales of timber. The following is the position regarding the individual subheads:

Subhead A—Salaries, Wages and Allowances—at £2,204,000 shows an increase of £331,000 over the provision for 1972-73. The increase is mainly due to the effect of pay increases, some increase in staff numbers and an increase in the provision for housing allowances due to a change in policy whereby foresters are now encouraged to provide their own houses. The effect of this can be seen in a reduction in the provisions for new buildings in subhead C.2.

Subhead B.1—Travelling and Incidental Expenses—at £459,000 shows an increase of £74,000 over the 1971-72 provision due mainly to increased travelling costs and an increase in miscellaneous expenses such as contract cleaning.

Subhead B.2—Post Office Services —at £67,000 shows a decrease of £2,000 on the 1972-73 Estimate. The reduction is due to a decrease in the charge for postal services, partly offset by increased costs arising mainly from the extension of forest telephone services.

[114] Subhead C.1—This is the grant-in-aid for acquisition of land. The balance remaining in the fund at 1st April, 1973, was £575,697. In view of the size of this balance I am providing in this Estimate a sum of £560,000 only, giving a total sum available for land acquisition for the current year of £1,135,697.

The gross areas acquired in the years 1971-72 and 1972-73 were 15,076 hectares, 37,253 acres, and 14,761 hectares, 36,474 acres, respectively.

Price agreement for the purchase of land for State forestry is becoming still more difficult to achieve and there is a trend towards a slower rate of closing of sales. The scale of land valuation was, in fact, increased during 1972 and some temporary easing of the difficulties of acquisition may be expected as a result. However, in a market where rising land values persist, it is very difficult to predict future acquisition prospects but Deputies can be assured that no effort will be spared to attain our targets for acquisition.

So far as availability of money is concerned, I should point out that the total of £1,136,000 available for land acquisition in 1973-74 is the highest figure made available in one year, so that the purchase of land will not be inhibited by lack of funds.

Subhead C2, Forest Development and Management, this is the main expenditure subhead in this Vote. The major provisions in the subhead relate to the raising of nursery stock in the State forest nurseries, the establishment costs of all new plantations including ground preparation and fencing, road and bridge construction, the development of facilities for public recreation in our forests, the purchase and maintenance of all forest machinery and the hire of suitable machinery from outside sources, the general cost of maintaining and protecting all our existing acreage of forest plantations, and, finally, the cost of such timber felling and conversion as we undertake by direct labour in our forests. The total provision for the current year at £5,527,000 shows an overall increase of £238,000 on the provision for 1972-73 and this arises largely from the cost of wage and price [115] increases partly offset by a reduction in building expenditure.

Turning to the individual parts of this subhead, the provision under C2.1, State Forest Nurseries, at £340,000 shows an increase of £46,000 attributable to wage and price increases. Provision is made under C2.2, Establishment of Plantations, for a full planting programme of 10,000 hectares, 25,000 acres, although the sum provided at £1,636,000 is only £25,000 in excess of the 1972-73 provision. Continued attention to the efficient use of resources has in this case largely offset the effects of rising wages and prices.

Under the heading of New Roads and Buildings, C2.3, the provision of £467,000 shows a decrease of £48,000 on the 1972-73 provision. The decrease is mainly due to a saving of £81,000 arising from a decision to encourage foresters to provide their own houses rather than to pursue a house building programme. There is, of course, a rise in the cost of house allowance which is included under subhead A, Salaries Wages and Allowances, as a result.

Provision of £826,000 under C2.5 for the replacement and maintenance of Mechanical Equipment for Forest Development and Management shows an increase of £124,000 arising partly from price increases and partly from replacement of heavy plant and machinery.

Provision for general Forest Management C2.6 at £1,725,000 shows an increase of only £14,000 despite an extension of 10,000 hectares, 25,000 acres, in the area of woods and plantations to 241,782 hectares, 597,443 acres, and other increased costs.

The provision for Timber Conversion C2.7 at £360,000 shows an increase of £14,000 attributable also to wage and price increases. The provision for Amenity Development C2.4 at £171,000 shows an increase of £43,000 on the 1972-73 provision. Deputies will be aware of the many areas of “open forest” which have been opened for public use in recent years. Facilities for public recreation and amenity can be provided in our [116] forests at a relatively low cost having regard to their value to our own people and as a tourist asset.

Most towns of significant size are now within easy reach of an open forest area be it a forest park such as Lough Key, Avondale or Gougane Barra, or a more modest development providing picnicking or other facilities or simply a pleasant area to walk through.

While we will continue to open new areas it is proposed that in the immediate future more emphasis will be placed on the provision of additional facilities for the visitor in areas already developed.

I feel sure that Deputies will be appreciative of the work being done by the Forest and Wildlife Service in this field and will endorse the modest increase proposed to enable the work to continue.

Subhead C.3, Sawmilling, at £79,000 shows an increase of £11,000 on the 1972-73 Estimate due to wage increases, increased running expenses and provision of new machinery and improved water supply.

Subhead D, Grants for afforestation purposes, at £35,000 shows an increase of £10,000 over the 1972-73 provision. The increase is in line with the increased scheme of grants for the private sector of forestry announced last year.

It is too early yet to measure the effects of the grant increases which were introduced only in the current planting season and are hardly likely to be fully effective until next year.

In view of the fact, however, that we have had almost 1,000 inquiries for further information and that already 150 applications have been made for advisory inspections, I am hopeful that the revised grants will have the desired effect of encouraging our farmers and landowners to lay down plantations and so improve the beauty and amenity of their holdings and at the same time add to their economic value.

Subhead E, Forestry Education, at £52,000 shows a decrease of £2,000 on the 1972-73 provision. Under the arrangements initiated last year the [117] first group of 14 final year trainees completed their course in March, 1973. A second group of 17 trainees will be due to complete their course in March, 1974, and a further group of approximately 14 trainees will be recruited early in the coming year.

Subhead F, John F. Kennedy Park, at £48,000 shows an increase of £2,000 on the provision for 1972-73, due to wage increases and an increase in development costs.

The park, while still in the developmental stage as an arboretum and forest plot area, continues, nonetheless, to attract large numbers of visitors annually. There is little doubt that as the park is developed there will be a steady increase in the number of visitors who come to use its scientific, research and educational facilities as well as those who come merely to enjoy its recreational features.

Subhead G, £107,000, relates to game development and management and provision for the current year represents an increase of some £13,000, mainly to meet rising costs. The main expenditure under the subhead is on grants to regional game councils to assist game development schemes throughout the country. These schemes, which are formulated and operated in consultation with the Department's advisory staff, cover a variety of activities including restocking programmes, habitat development and control of predators. Some financial provision for tourist projects, such as the provision of shoot facilities for visiting sportsmen under a scheme sponsored jointly by my Department and Bord Fáilte, is also made available under this subhead. The final elements in the subhead relate to game development in a number of State forests and other minor expenses affecting the game development programme.

I am glad to say that the system for dealing with game councils' schemes has been substantially improved in recent years in consultation with the National Association of Regional Game Councils and I look forward to a continuation of the harmonious relations which have been established with that organisation as a step [118] towards improving and accelerating the game development programme.

Each year a Game Birds Protection Order is made setting out the open seasons for the various game species and also defining “no-shooting” areas or sanctuaries. The 1973 order will be made by me at an early date. This means that it will appear somewhat later than last year but the extra time will permit the current year's breeding success to be more fully assessed and should eliminate the need for an amending order such as had to be made last year. The number of sanctuaries established throughout the country to date stands at 26 but I hope to be able to add a few more to this network under the forthcoming order.

As I have already mentioned, my Department and Bord Fáilte are jointly engaged in stimulating the development of shooting facilities for visiting sportsmen. A scheme is in operation whereby grants are made available to assist projects catering for out-of-State “guns”, subject, of course, to the maintenance of high standards of sportsmanship. In this sector, however, there is a very clear need for strict control over people who come here to shoot—not only in relation to the numbers coming and the shooting pressure which they would exert but also as regards the actual places over which they shoot and their general attitude to shooting in Ireland. There can be no welcome for visitors—and particularly large groups—who arrive here for game shooting without first having made bona fide arrangements for their shooting holiday: certainly any hotel or agency who might wish to give the impression to outsiders that there is an abundance of free game shooting in this country will get no encouragement from me, nor to my certain knowledge, from Bord Fáilte.

Subhead H—is a grant-in-aid to finance a comprehensive national programme for conservation. This year, a further £100,000, or a repeat of last year's provision is proposed. As the Book of Estimates shows, expenditure under this subhead is not confined to the Forest and Wildlife Service; for which operates in conjunction with [119] example, a substantial allocation has been earmarked for the establishment by the Department of Education of a field study centre in Country Donegal.

In addition to the establishment of sanctuaries to which I have already referred, the Forest and Wildlife Service has a number of important projects in hand in the wildlife conservation sector. The most important of these is the development of a major national Wildfowl Reserve on the North Slob, Wexford, with the Greenland Whitefronted goose as the predominant feature. Already much development has taken place and some essential buildings are at present in course of construction. The possibility of a formal opening ceremony next spring is under consideration but this will depend largely on progress on building work. The development of Portumna Forest as a wildlife park, in which deer will be the main—but by no means the only—attraction, was commenced during the year, A more modest development is taking place on another forest property at Lissadell, County Sligo where the primary concern is for barnacle geese. In all of these developments the objective is not merely the obvious one of species conservation but, perhaps more important, the creation of facilities whereby the public can see and enjoy our wildlife in circumstances which will be educational as well as recreational.

The research and educational aspects of wildlife conservation are continually expanding. Some research projects, for example on native oak woodlands, deer, pine marten, et cetera are undertaken by Forest and Wildlife Service personnel while other aspects for example, grouse, mallard, peregrine falcon, squirrels, et cetera are entrusted on a commission basis to outside agencies. In addition, some financial assistance has been made available to conservation organisations in connection with their survey and census work on numbers and distribution of certain species of wild birds. In the educational sphere, a mobile exhibit depicting some ecological aspects of the work of the Forest and Wildlife [120] Service makes an annual itinerary of post primary schools and agricultural shows; an annual series of weekend residential courses at Avondale, aimed at affording youth leaders an opportunity of improving their knowledge of wildlife conservation, is now a regular feature; an information service for the public, in the form of handouts, brochures and other suitable literature is being gradually developed.

On the subject of wildlife conservation generally I should perhaps say that it is quite clear to me, even from my short association with the Department, that the existing statutory framework is completely inadequate to permit a comprehensive programme to be undertaken and there is no gainsaying the need for up-to-date legislation if worthwhile progress is to be made in this very wide field. As I indicated to the House recently, there are, in fact, draft proposals for such legislation in my Department and I am at present studying these with a view to making an early submission to the Government in the matter.

Subhead I—Agency, Advisory and Special Service—at £60,000 shows an increase of £14,000 on the 1972-73 provision. The main element in this subhead is the timber technology research programme being undertaken by the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards on behalf of the Forest and Wildlife Service. The increase arises mainly from increased salary costs of institute staff.

Subhead J—Appropriations-in-Aid —at a figure of £1,486,000 shows an increase of £216,000 in estimated revenue over the estimate for 1972-73. Sales of timber at a figure of £1,383,000 account for £195,000— most of the increase anticipated. The increase reflects partly the increase in the quantity of wood coming on the market and partly provision for an increase in timber prices which have been very buoyant in recent months.

In my predecessor's speech on the Estimate last year reference was made to the Forest and Wildlife Service's programme budgeting system. This system was further developed during the year and the computerbased management information system [121] programme budgeting furnished monthly reports on the cost of manual operations in the forests together with the outputs achieved under the various operational headings. Considerable benefits in planning and control continue to derive from programming budgeting and its ancillary techniques.

Everyone is aware of the value of the forest as a source of raw material and wealth and in recent years the public has become more conscious of the forest's potential for recreation and amenity and of its resource use in the conservation of wildlife. The major enemy of our forests is, of course, fire. Every year through carelessness, thoughtlessness or wilful selfishness hundreds of acres of forests —in which the Irish taxpayer has invested many millions of pounds—are destroyed by fire. With the destruction goes not only a loss of hard cash but of amenity and wildlife potential also.

During the last year—and in particular the last few months—when our forests were particularly vulnerable because of late growth and drying winds—damage was very severe. In the year 1972-73, 292 fires were reported in the vicinity of State plantations. Ninety-five of these actually entered the plantations and destroyed 1,300 acres valued approximately at £40,000. The greater part of the damage occurred in March when 950 acres were destroyed. Already in April and May of this year a further 630 acres have literally gone up in smoke so that some £63,000 worth of damage has occurred in less than three months. Admittedly in the prevailing conditions forests were particularly vulnerable at that period. For the most part, however, these were fires which could have been avoided by a little foresight and care.

We are sometimes criticised for not spending more money on protective measures. I must point out, however, that sums in excess of £300,000 annually are spent on the safeguarding of plantations. Such expenditure includes the provision of firelines and water supplies, co-operation with farmers who are moor burning, payments for firewatching and advertising aimed at [122] warning the public of the dangers. There is a limit to what can reasonably be spent in protecting the widely spread State plantations and further substantial increases in such expenditure would, in my view, be subject to the law of diminishing returns and would not be justified.

Forests which are normally located in remote areas far from water supplies and with limited road access must continue to depend largely for their safety on the common sense and goodwill of their owners—the citizens of this country. I would urge again that the forests are there for economic benefit and public enjoyment. We must not endanger them through carelessness in lighting of fires or discarding of cigarettes or matches.

To the hill farmer I would say: if you feel you must burn to improve grazing, then follow the simple rules of notifying the Garda and your local forester in writing. Co-operate with your local forester in fixing a suitable time and date to do the burning, thus enabling him to have staff on hand to cope with the fire danger.

I would like to give an assurance that any farmer who follows these simple rules and who burns under arrangements with the forester even if his moor burning should, unhappily, get out of hand and cause damage to a State forest need have no fear that any action for damages will be taken against him by the State. Failure to follow the rules can, however, involve fines and heavy damage claims.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  I think I am right in saying that the Department of Lands was the last Department discussed here during the previous Dáil. This was in December, 1972, and for that reason one would not expect a protracted debate at this stage. However, the capacity of Members of the House, particularly rural Deputies, to express their views especially about the Land Commission is virtually unlimited and therefore I have very little hope that we will get away with a brief discussion on this occasion.

At a time when I thought that this Estimate would not be reached I put down questions to the Minister on some major aspects of the work of [123] his Department but since the Estimate has been reached we have an opportunity of bringing the situation up to date for the benefit of all interested, not merely Members of the House. At the outset, I should like to say that whatever remarks and suggestions I make are intended to be helpful to the Minister and his advisers. The Estimate speech by the Minister is to a large extent a report on what had been settled about the end of the financial year when I was Minister although the present Minister had already made one significant change. That is the inclusion of Longford, Cavan and Westmeath in the congested areas and he has undertaken to bring in an order under section 4 of the 1965 Act to give effect to this proposal.

I have no objection to this and consider it reasonable and perhaps, in the circumstances, somewhat predictable. I do not think any Members on this side of the House will have any objection either. Since last December we have been, and continue to be, to some extent in a quiet period, because all our thinking is necessarily dominated by the fact that we are members of the EEC and that the draft directives mentioned by the Minister on modernisation of farms and on incentives to leave farming will radically affect the work of the Land Commission and ultimately the whole land reform programme as it operates on the lives of individual farmers, especially in congested areas.

I was glad to learn from the Minister's reply a couple of weeks ago that some progress has been made in drafting these directives. I now learn from the Minister's statement that it is not expected that the drafts will be finalised before 1974. That this is so does not reflect any inactivity on the part of the Minister or his officials because this is primarily a matter for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. The function of the Department of Lands is a relatively minor one at the negotiations stage although the function of the Land Commission and the Department in the implementation of the directives when eventually finalised will be anything but minor. The Land Commission [124] will then become the major instrument for the due implementation of these vital directives.

It is not unfair to say that this gives point to what I said almost four years ago as regards the amalgamation of the functions of the Land Commission under the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Speaking on this Estimate last December Deputy Cooney now Minister for Justice said—perhaps he was wondering aloud:

Is there any point in ever saying anything in this House? Does anybody ever listen? Are we merely talking in a vacuum?

It seems to me that the logic of what I have been saying is inescapable: so, whether in a vacuum or not, I beg leave to repeat it now and to say that when it comes to the implementation of the EEC directives in regard to farm modernisation that inescapable logic will be hammered home inexorably.

Today we had the Ministers and Secretaries Bill, Second Stage, the main purpose of which is to set up a new Government Department, the Department of the Public Service. I know that this will yield immediate benefits to the Civil Service. That is taken as obvious and I do not wish to sound catty when I say that. The creation of a new Civil Service Department obviously creates opportunities for a very large number of jobs, not to mention the consequent filling of vacancies elsewhere. I wonder to what extent will the new Department be able to exercise its influence to prevent the duplication of effort which appears to me to be inescapably involved in the future if you have a Department of Land's official taking particulars from each individual farmer in a particular locality to decide whether or not he is the sort of person who should have a farm development plan, while on his heels there would be another official from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries who would be concerned to protect his function in the matter of grants for this, that or the other. Inasmuch as he has, or will have, the power to recommend to his seniors whether this person should get a grant, he would feel that he also should have a say in [125] the decision as to whether a person was suitable to become a development farmer. Are we going to have two officials from two different Departments, each with a proportion of a share in a decision about an individual farmer's future, and the possibility that these officials will disagree? Is this a sensible situation to allow to develop? Is there anything we should do in this hiatus period to try to obviate such a happening?

I wish to make it clear that I am not suggesting that the Land Commission should cease to be an independent body. I am not suggesting that the reports of an official from any Department, once they reach the commissioners' desks, should not be subject to the independent determination of the commissioners on the same basis as has obtained since the creation of the Land Commission many years ago; I am saying that duplication of activity among officials is something we must try to avoid. I assert that there is very little evidence that anything said about this matter over the years has had any effect whatever. The Minister should do everything in his power to prevent the development of a situation in which there would be yet another internal fight between two Government Departments, involving still more waste of public funds. If democracy is to survive, it is already in enough danger from bureaucracy. It is not our function now, when we are trying to gear ourselves towards efficiency in our farming methods in order that we can compete with our counterparts in Europe, to make life difficult for those who wish to continue farming.

The importance of the EEC directives is bound up with the development of an EEC regional policy. I am pleased that the Minister has reiterated in his speech the proposition that I so often put to the House, namely, that it is not possible to solve the social problems, especially of the poorer rural areas of this country, with land alone. I thank the Minister for including his very positive statement of his own attitude. It is a statement which goes to the root of the problems of his constituency and of mine and also of similar areas in this country. Following [126] on that, there is the determination that we should be able to offer to those who leave farming an alternative, reasonable livelihood in their own locality or province or, at the very worst, their own country.

The Minister referred to his decision to include as congested areas Counties Monaghan, Cavan and Longford, and said that in two of these counties the population declined in the inter-censal period 1956-1961. One of the other counties where population has declined is Mayo. I am discussing regional policy in the EEC, not because the Minister for Lands has any responsibility in regard to its formulation but because the attempt by the Minister and the Land Commission, however successful, in regard to the reorganisation of land in these counties, and the implementation of the land reform programme, cannot yield the full results required, which are the stabilisation, first, and then the increase in the population of the counties, two of them mentioned in the Minister's speech. This cannot be done unless a vigorous regional policy is adopted and unless those of us who represent those areas are quite firm that special attention will have to be paid to these areas in the implementation of the regional policy.

This point was brought home to me recently when I was on a deputation in regard to the extension of a pig cooperative which is at present based in County Mayo. It was stated that the ultimate decision in regard to it and all other similar projects for the development of the pig industry in this country, would be made in Brussels. I contest this statement, no matter how distinguished the person who makes it, and I contest it, I hope, with the support of the Minister and his colleagues in the Government, and of everybody who has the interests of the balanced development of this country at heart, for it does seem to me that these projects, provided they are inherently sound, which are based in the areas I have mentioned demonstrably require special help from the Government and from the EEC, should have priority, by the insistence of the Government and of those of us who represent those areas, over projects equally soundly [127] based, which, however, happen to be located in the more fortunate parts of the country which are already doing well.

I am not prepared to accept the proposition from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries or from anybody else that ultimate decisions in matters so vital to our success, to the retention of our people and to the development of our farming prospects in the poorer counties rest solely with people in Brussels. I do not accept it, and I hope the Minister does not accept it. I know that he sees the logic from his own point of view of trying to insist on special measures of this kind, because otherwise he, like all his predecessors, will come into this House year after year with a report of progress, yes, but not with a report which envisages simultaneously setting up farmers in a way that they can hope to make a decent living and at the same time offering no diminution of population in the areas from which those farmers come.

Early in his speech the Minister pointed out that a change was being made this year in regard to the money made available for cash purchases of land, that these are for the first time being treated as a capital item. I am not boasting about the fact that I was responsible for persuading the Fianna Fáil Government to set aside £1 million for this year for cash purposes, because goodness knows it is only a start, but at least it is a start. It is a significant step forward, and as well it was surely sensible that this money should be put under the capital and not the current heading where it has anomalously rested for so many years. I hope that the Minister will be able, when he comes to battle with his Minister for Finance later on, to have that £1 million significantly increased for next year. I do not have to argue the merits of that development with him. It is a pity that Deputy L'Estrange is not here tonight after all the hard work he did trying to persuade me when I was over there that this was the fit and proper thing to do.

There was one other question that [128] occurred to me. A statement was made by Deputy Bruton, I think, last year about the official policy of his party. He was at that stage a member of Fine Gael; he is a member of a National Coalition now, so, perhaps, we can absolve them. I think it was Deputy Bruton said it was the official policy of his party to set up a rural development authority. Would the Minister be kind enough to tell me, not necessarily in reply but at his convenience what the present position is in regard to the establishment of such an authority and, if it is to be set up, what its likely functions will be.

The question of the control of the right of foreigners and others to purchase land has been discussed at length in this House in recent years, and I pointed out last year that the emphasis has now shifted from foreigners to natives. Again, last week or the week before Deputy James Gibbons articulated the fears of the farming community that speculators, businessmen, solicitors, barristers, veterinary surgeons, everybody and anybody other than a person who has been in farming—are buying up more and more of the land without which the farmers themselves cannot hope to have holdings of sufficient size to guarantee them the parity of income with those very people which is envisaged in the philosophy of the EEC.

I pointed out then, and the Minister repeated two weeks ago, that this is a very difficult problem and one which appears to raise constitutional difficulties, and I know that the officials of the Land Commission themselves are very reluctant to extend their powers so that they would have a say in every sale and proposed sale. I appreciate the reasons for this reluctance, and I can only say that they will be aware —and the Minister, in his capacity as a solicitor before his appointment, will be very well aware—of the increasing tendency to sell land privately without the benefit of an auctioneer, advertising, and through direct negotiation, thereby presenting the Land Commission with a fait accompli presenting the neighbours, who had their hopes pinned, perhaps, on certain local land [129] becoming available sooner or later, with a fait accompli, and preventing the Land Commission from using the section 40 procedure which was designed in the 1965 Act to prevent sales taking place in areas and circumstances where the Land Commission deemed it right and proper that the holdings should be acquired for the relief of congestion and the improvement of the farm structures in those areas. Solicitors, increasingly nowadays, are approached by two people who have already made the bargain and they are told to finalise the contracts. The Land Commission, while still having certain powers over the purchaser of the land are not, as the Minister knows, in anything like as strong a position as if they got in in time through use of the section 40 technique. I am not pressing the Minister to make a final statement on this matter when he replies to this debate. It would be unreasonable to ask him to do so. It is a very complicated matter and one which requires a great deal of thought.

We will, if we are to give practical effect to the EEC directives, when they are in operation, particularly that in regard to farm structure, have to have some greater powers than we now have to prevent still more land from falling into the hands of people who do not require it for the purpose of making a living. The distinction ultimately surely is between the person who needs land in order to enable him to make a living and the person who does not need it but, of course, would have a dimension added to an already successful life. In the last analysis we must consider the person in need as against the person who can afford to add the dimension of pony riding for his children, fishing in the stream and so forth and that the time has come when we should strengthen the legislation, in whatever way it is possible to do so, to achieve this end while at the same time doing the best we can to avoid running into constitutional difficulties. I can assure the Minister of practical support from this side of the House in the preparation of any proposals to deal with the situation I have outlined.

I should like to say a word about the farm modernisation scheme. We [130] all know that the retirement scheme in the 1965 Act did not work. It was well meant and it had precisely the same philosophy as the envisaged EEC directive. It did not work because farmers in that age group have such a deep attachment to land that even when they are tottering on the edge of the grave they are determined to hold on to what they possess. No matter how good the incentives in the new scheme I am still dubious about how effective it will be because those same farmers are just as determined to hold on to their possessions. I sincerely hope I will be proved wrong and that land will, in fact, be released as a result of this directive, and people in this age group will retire if they are unable to carry on and release land to the young and ambitious farmers of the country. Habit dies slowly, particularly with people of that age group, and, of course, there is no question of compulsion, no question of the EEC, this Government or any government seeking to compel these people to give up their land.

It seems a great tragedy that, particularly in the congested areas about which we all talk so much in this House and about which we are all so genuinely concerned, so much land is left lying idle, accumulating rushes, almost totally non-productive and at the same time in the hands of people who for humanitarian reasons the Land Commission cannot touch. There are, perhaps, hundreds of such areas in the congested districts of this country. I hope, when the directive on incentives to leave farms eventually sees the light of day, these people will also see the light of the national interest and the light of the interests of the youth of this country rather than their own selfish determination to hold on to what they have.

I should like to say a few words about the Forestry Estimate. Has there been any noticeable improvement in the applications for private planting following the increases announced last year? I am very happy to note that almost 1,000 inquiries for further information were received and 150 applications made for advisory inspection. I hope this trend will continue.

[131] The Minister mentioned in connection with the overall subject of forestry, which depends ultimately on the acquisition situation, that his Department is experiencing increasing difficulty in persuading people to close sales. This will be a continuing problem because of the increase in the value of land, including land which a few years ago would have been regarded as completely valueless or, if not completely valueless, virtually of no value. Since the acquisition programme will determine the success or failure in future of this very vital service, perhaps the Minister would tell me what has happened in regard to a proposal of mine some time ago that a simplified procedure should be adopted for acquision purposes. When I first raised this matter I was told by the legal section that it appeared to be impracticable, in fact, impossible.

My idea was that the forester would go along to the person who had signified his willingness to sell, would bring a piece of paper with him setting out the essentials of the contract and the owner signifying his willingness to go ahead, both would then sign, the piece of paper would be lodged with the county registrar or some responsible person or institution and, at the expiration of a stated period, a short one of four to six to a maximum of eight weeks, in the absence of claims against the fund the money would be paid to the apparent owner who was the vendor. I continued to press for a system of this kind and was finally told that it was, in fact, practicable and possible and the legal section were working on the formulation of proposals to implement the scheme.

I hope that they are going ahead with this because if such a system were in operation it would give a great boost to the acquisition of land for forestry purposes since the vendor would know he was going to get his money within a very short predictable period. I pointed out that in my experience and in the experience of everybody involved in the acquisition of land, particularly land for forestry purposes, in 98 per cent of cases the [132] person who said he was the owner was, in fact, the owner. He might not have his name registered but he was the beneficial owner. There might be an equity against him by someone living in New Zealand or New Jersey, but this claim would never be made. The percentage of cases giving rise to any real dispute was miniscule and my idea was to capitalise on that situation while, at the same time, providing machinery through advertising and lodgment of funds which would protect the genuine claim. In such cases when a notice appeared the money would not be paid and the ordinary court machinery would be used to decide whether or not the claim was legitimate. In all other cases the vendor would be paid in a short time and would, therefore, be able to prepare his plans for the development of his farming operations on the basis that a given sum of money would be there to be used at a certain date. It is not much use going to a bank looking for money and saying one has sold a particular piece of land but one does not know when one will be paid; it might be this year, next year, two, three or five years' time. The bank manager in such circumstances will say he is sorry that he cannot give the applicant the money but, if the applicant can tell him that he will have the money in two months' time, then the bank manager will be able to do something for him. That is the difference between the farmer who can organise his business on a sensible basis for whatever period it may be and the farmer who has to go back and start all over again.

On the subject of legal procedure, if I understand the position correctly —if I do not, then the Minister will tell me I am wrong—the Examiner's Branch has statutory authority and cannot be shifted without legislation. It is fair comment to say that at the time the Land Commission was set up and the Examiner's Branch given the responsibility of vetting titles which came into the Land Commission machine the Land Commission were after huge estates, farms of 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 acres. The situation has completely changed now. There are very few, virtually [133] no big estates left now and the Land Commission are operating, particularly in the congested areas, in the Minister's county and in mine, on quite small parcels of land, the big estates having been taken over 40 or 50 years ago. These small cases could be dealt with as cash cases by the solicitor's branch of the Land Commission. The raison d'être of the Examiner's Branch has ceased to exist. As well as that, we are vigorously abolishing things like quit rents and tithe rents. The Minister had his progress report in regard to these. It is time he did away with it and hurrah for the day when we see the last of it. This will simplify the work of the legal section. We will no longer find an owner being asked if there are quasi-tithe rents in a ten acre farm somewhere in the west end of Cavan. If I may digress, I am sure the Minister will not fall for the recommendation which he will find in one of the policy reports on his desk that the Land Commission should cease to concern themselves with farms under a certain valuation and size. I cannot remember what the figures are, perhaps 30 acres, 20 acres or thereabouts. I am sure the Minister will not fall for that, even though Dr. O'Donovan spoke here and ridiculed the Land Commission going after an estate, of some seven, eight or nine acres in Galway, Mayo, Clare or Cavan. It is absolutely vital to the continued success of the Land Commission that they should not merely have the power to do so but that their policy should be to go after these small farms and at the same time give every incentive and encouragement to the people concerned, thus obviating the necessity for Land Commission activity by doing the work themselves.

The Land Commission should not have to go in and buy smallholdings but it is important that they should have the power to do so and when necessary it is equally important that they move in. The success or failure to acquire perhaps 40 or 50 acres in five small pieces may mean the success or failure of the entire re-arrangement scheme or the ultimate aim to [134] provide farmers and their families with a decent livelihood.

Coming back to forestry, another question raised here last week, or the week before, was in regard to game legislation. Of course I thoroughly agree with the sentiments expressed by the Minister about the necessity for this legislation and that it is overdue. I do not care very much what people say, but I should like to give the history as far as my tenure of office is concerned about wildlife legislative proposals.

I inherited a situation in which a Bill was virtually ready, and a very short time after I was appointed the Bill was, in fact, ready. It had gone through all the usual stages of submission to other Government Departments and so on. I wish to thank my predecessors and the officials concerned for the comprehensive work done before my time on the preparation of that Bill.

The Bill was rejected by the Government—this would have been late in 1969 or early in 1970—and the major row that developed was in regard to responsibility for environmental conservation. To try to resolve the difficulties, the Government set up an inter-departmental committee who met and deliberated over a very long period in an attempt to resolve the question of environmental conservation. They ultimately reported, but before they reached agreement I gave instructions that the preparation of the alternative Bill was to continue and that the draft proposals were to be finalised in respect of a couple of outstanding issues of disagreement between representatives of the Forestry Division on the one hand and other Government agencies on the other.

Speaking on this Estimate last December, Deputy Haughey raised serious doubts about the wisdom of the decision at that time that the Department of Local Government should have primary responsibility in the environmental field. I am sorry I do not have the reference to Deputy Haughey's speech, but it was on the Estimate for the Department of Lands [135] last December. He pointed out that the main instrument of the Department of Local Government in the exercise of their functions in regard to environmental matters would be the local authorities and he went on to say:

We all know our local authorities have such a variety of commitments and are subject to so many social pressures that conservation and the control of the environment may not receive in their scale of priorities the place they urgently need. I have had some previous experience that this is the case. ... We may very well drift into a situation of paying lip service to the conservation ideal without making enough practical effort to achieve it.

I do not for a moment wish to take away from the Department of Local Government such functions as are appropriate to their work, in particular in regard to pollution at sea and matters clearly pertaining to planning. Far be it from me to purport to take away from the Department of Local Government any of their legitimate functions. I share Deputy Haughey's concern in respect of the decision that the Department of Local Government should have prior responsibility in the environmental field. I share that concern for the reasons that the Deputy put forward so cogently in his speech last December. He went on to say that he had personal experience to back up his views. I believe that this will be the experience of hundreds of people who will find that in the scale of priorities of the Department of Local Government and because of the pressures mentioned by Deputy Haughey, conservation will be something they will talk about but will do nothing to bring about its achievement. I speak, of course, about those matters which are outside the direct ambit of the Department of Local Government but which, in my view, should be more properly within the ambit of the Forestry and Wildlife Service of the Department of Lands or, perhaps, some other Department. It has been my opinion for a long time that the most appropriate body to have the [136] main responsibility for environmental and conservation matters is the Forestry and Wildlife Service of the Department of Lands, and that a Department consisting of forestry, fisheries and conservation would represent a logical unit. Perhaps those who will be taking over the Department of Public Service might consider it worth their while to consider that proposition.

I put forward these views because of the obvious direct involvement of the Forestry and Wildlife Service in certain aspects of conservation, because of their demonstrable success in the operation of the policies of the service, in particular, with regard to conservation and because Local Government, through the local authorities, are too close to the problem of conservation, the environment and pollution to be able to observe them with dispassion. The Forestry and Wildlife Service are not too close to them to do so and, armed with a broadly based national advisory committee—I stress “advisory”—they would be the best instrument to operate a coherent conservation policy; that is, of course, if we are serious about environment and conservation.

I hope that I will not be accused of being anti-civil servant, or of being anti-bureaucrat, if I repeat what I said earlier in a different context. The way that the civil servants battled out of their towers like medieval knights to protect and expand, if possible, the small bit of a foothold they had in the conservation area was a shame and a disgrace and they will continue to do so unless the Minister and the Government, perhaps with the help of the new Department of the Public Service, will bring these people together and say: “Do you realise that the more important thing is to achieve a public objective to which both Governments have been committed?”.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): Surely the Minister of any Department is responsible for the policy of his Department. Although Deputy Flanagan may not realise it, he seems to be making an attack on civil servants and they are not responsible for policy.

[137]Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  I propose to continue, along the lines on which I have been speaking and to reiterate——

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): On a point of order, I am perfectly satisfied that Deputy Flanagan does not realise what he is doing.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  I always realise what I am doing and will not accept that from the Minister.

Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  (Cavan): Really, the Deputy should be attacking the weak political head of a Department who allowed this to happen.

Mr. S. Flanagan: Information on Seán Flanagan  Zoom on Seán Flanagan  I propose, with the permission of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, to continue along those lines and to say that when there is obdurate determination on the part of officials to hold on to any foothold they have in any particular field and then to try to expand that foothold at the ultimate expense of the achievement of declared policy, it is a sad state of affairs and that it is necessary to set up a Department of Public Service. The facts set out, argued and adumbrated in the Devlin Report justify the statements I have made. I express the sincere hope that in the future it will be possible for Ministers and, indeed, for Governments to exercise more direct ways of achieving the objectives of agreed public policy. I will leave it at that.

There is very much more that I could say on this Estimate but I have been talking for too long so I propose to sit down very shortly. However, before concluding I would like to pay tribute to the officials of both the Lands and Forestry sections of the Department for their co-operation with me during my term of office and to say how deeply I appreciated at the time, and continue to appreciate, their sincerity, their dedication and their devotion. I have always thought that the officials in the Lands section have, by the nature of their work, a more difficult and less rewarding task than officials in the other section because, as the House knows, it is impossible to satisfy people in relation to the division of land. No Minister, however angelic he might be, and no officials, however celestial [138] might be their ideas, will ever satisfy the people where the acquisition and division of land is concerned. On the other hand, people engaged in the creation of forests, beautiful forest parks and sanctuaries are doing work which adds to the enjoyment of daily life, particularly the lives of the children. It is a great source of satisfaction. This does not take away from the fact that they deserve every possible praise for the quality of their work and for their dedication and devotion. I have no doubt that the Minister will have the same experience and I wish him well in the discharge of his obligations.

As I said at the beginning, so far as land is concerned we are now and will, to some extent, continue to be, in a hiatus, a sort of hyphen of history, until the EEC directives are first finalised and then put into operation. When that happens it will be a very exciting time indeed. The first few years of the operation of the directives will bring about tremendous changes not just in farm structure but in the structure of the lives of the people. I have no doubt that the Minister will find the discharge of his office during that period immensely satisfying. I wish to say that whatever help I can give from this side of the House towards the realisation of the shared objectives I will give. Whatever criticism I will offer will be constructive and will be directed towards the ultimate achievement of these objectives. If on the other hand, I think that these objectives, some of which I have mentioned, are being lost sight of or not being actively pursued then I will say so.

Mr. Esmonde: Information on John Grattan Esmonde  Zoom on John Grattan Esmonde  The Department of Lands and its Forestry Division have always had political connotations, party and otherwise, so far as rural constituencies are concerned. The Department does not deal only with the areas or parts of the country that may be of immediate interest to the last speaker or to the Minister, the areas of smallholdings and congested areas. I should like to say to the Minister that there are plenty of congested areas in my constituency in which there are smallholdings and [139] holdings obviously below a viable level. I understand the question of what is or what is not a viable holding has been mentioned and debated in this House before but I can find no reference in the Minister's speech to what is the present policy of the Land Commission in relation to what is a viable holding. Fifty acres in one part of the country could have quite a different connotation to fifty acres in another. Land varies, climate varies and this has an effect on the cropping system and farm management procedures in different areas.

So far as my constituency is concerned, I should like to mention a matter now, for fear that I might overlook it, which is of considerable concern. That is the matter of the Forth mountain in Wexford where moderate and small holders have traditionally had the right to graze. In recent times either the Department of Lands or the Forestry Division or their agents proceeded to take steps to fence off part of this mountain. I regret to say that I asked for information on that matter quite some time ago and I was promised it but I have no information to date on what the position is. I would ask the Minister to state what is the policy or the intentions of the Department in regard to the Forth mountain. There are about 200 acres involved and quite a number of moderate and small holders are interested in this matter. If the facts given to me are correct my advice to the Minister and his Department would be: “Hands off the Forth mountain”. I may not have been given the correct information but the people who approached me seemed to be very perturbed about the situation and they asked me, as a Deputy for the constituency, to ascertain what the position is. I would prefer if possible if the information could be communicated to me earlier in the event of this debate not being completed in the near future.

All Deputies, except strictly urban Deputies, have had experience of the matter of the acquisition of land. This is a matter that is often fraught with a considerable amount of strong feelings. [140] I have the feeling, perhaps mistakenly, that those making decisions about the acquisition of land have not taken into consideration the fact that it is a native Government that is acquiring land not from foreign landowners but from Irishmen who have lived on the land, families who have owned land and have worked the land. Therefore, when the decision to acquire lands is made it is very wrong that the people should be paid in land bonds, land bonds which have shown over a considerable period of time a chronic tendency to depreciate. If people's lands are being acquired they should be compensated in such a manner that they can put the compensation they receive into something else and can keep pace with inflation and the depreciation of money.

A matter of general complaint in my constituency is the delay before land is re-allocated or vested in owners. It seems to have been the policy, so far as County Wexford is concerned, to hold on to the land as long as possible and to get as high a rent as possible. There is the feeling in Wexford that the land acquired by the Land Commission is being used as a source of income. People feel that it is being utilised by the Land Commission in its capacity as a landlord and not in its capacity as a Department of State trying to assist farmers with small holdings and that the rents obtained from these lands are being utilised for the assistance of farmers outside of County Wexford.

As a Deputy from Wexford I have strong feelings on this matter. I feel that if the land of my constituents is acquired and is held by the Land Commission and high rents are obtained, that money should go back into the farming land in Wexford. This business of holding on to land for an undue length of time has had the effect that every contractor or man with any machinery literally tills the heart out of such land with the result that when it is being allocated it is run out. It has been heavily tilled and not properly manured or fertilised. This means that when this land is allocated to a farmer he starts with a handicap of run-down [141] land. I cannot see what the reason is for this long delay in re-allocation of land.

Another matter that I should like to put on public record, and I hope note is taken of it, is that a lot of people who have applied to the Land Commission for an allocation of land seem to believe that if they take 11-month lettings from the Land Commission they are improving their case, helping themselves up along the ladder of priority, to obtain an allocation of land from an estate held by the Land Commission. This is a complete falsehood and I should like the Minister to make it clear that whether a man bids for a letting of Land Commission land or not has nothing to do with the final decision of whether he gets an allocation from the estate concerned.

I feel that this situation has had the effect of inflating the price of land. I have heard of prices paid per acre for land taken on the 11-month system from the Land Commission and I cannot see where one halfpenny profit has been made at the end of the day. These people take the land in the hope that it will better their case with the Land Commission. The right person to put the record right in this matter is the Minister for Lands.

I have been told recently that there is a fear in so far as the Forestry Division is concerned that some timber put on sale on a commercial basis may not have been cut at the right season. I should like the Minister to look into that particular aspect of the Forestry Division's activities.

The position of the commissioners of the Land Commission has, for a long time, been a bone of contention. At present there are four commissioners. I should like to make it clear that I am not levelling any personal criticism on any individual commissioners. I feel that it is not right, and it does not look right, to have the secretary of the Department of Lands a commissioner. This attitude, and judgment, has been quite freely expressed by people outside of this House. In so far as the function of the commissioners is concerned I should like to see that, when land is acquired and objections [142] are put in by the person whose land is being acquired, those objections are heard by an independent tribunal.

Human nature is such that a man cannot detach himself from his previous judgment. In many cases one of the commissioners has been involved in making the original decision to acquire the land. We like to observe democratic procedures and I hope that when people talk of democracy in this country they are not just paying lip service to it. The present procedure in the Land Commission, in my view, is not democratic. I think that it is subject to any possible error that could be made by virtue of human nature. If I was a commissioner and I decided to acquire a person's lands and that person came in with his barrister or solicitor to present a case objecting to that acquisition——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  The Deputy will appreciate that the commissioners are in the same position as a court.

Mr. Esmonde: Information on John Grattan Esmonde  Zoom on John Grattan Esmonde  I am dealing with the procedure on this matter. I appreciate the concern of the Chair but I am advocating a change in the present set-up. The Land Commissioners are not a court of record in the normal sense of a court.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  That is a matter that would require legislation and, as the Deputy is aware, he should not advocate legislation on an Estimate.

Mr. Esmonde: Information on John Grattan Esmonde  Zoom on John Grattan Esmonde  This is a matter of policy and something which the Minister should entertain. This is the opportunity the Deputies have to make a case on matters such as this.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  The position is that it is matters of administration of the Department which are being reviewed at the moment by the House.

Mr. Esmonde: Information on John Grattan Esmonde  Zoom on John Grattan Esmonde  This deals with the everyday acquisition of land.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  What the Chair is concerned about is the position of the individual commissioners as such in their capacity as being in the nature of a court.

[143]Mr. Esmonde: Information on John Grattan Esmonde  Zoom on John Grattan Esmonde  I have made it clear that I am not levelling criticism at any individual commissioner or anything of that nature.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  There is a procedure in this House if people are identifiable. In this case they are identifiable and the Deputy should not engage in either praise or criticism of them.

Mr. Esmonde: Information on John Grattan Esmonde  Zoom on John Grattan Esmonde  I will deal with the procedure of the court. The procedure of this court is that somebody makes a decision and that court virtually hears the appeal again. This is an incorrect procedure to adopt. It may have been an easy procedure to conceive when a lot of land was being acquired. I believe that when one comes to the question of land now being acquired, with its value and the amount involved, there should be a completely independent body to deal with objections. The position is that the court, in my opinion, is trying to defend itself. This, I believe, is a wrong procedure, legally speaking. As a lawyer, I believe it is very faulty.

So far as the Land Commission are concerned, it appears that in the day-to-day business the Minister in many cases acts merely as a rubber-stamp to a greater extent than applies in other Departments. The Minister lacks everyday administrative powers concerning the acquisition and disposal of land. This is undesirable in that matters of policy might be difficult to change when decisions are made by people other than the Minister.

In my dealings with the Land Commission I have had every assistance, kindness and co-operation and a good understanding of the various situations that arise in my constituency from the inspector involved in my area——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Denis Francis Jones  Zoom on Denis Francis Jones  The Chair would like to appeal to the Deputy not to speak either in praise or blame of identifiable people.

Mr. Geoghegan: Information on John Geoghegan  Zoom on John Geoghegan  First, I should like to congratulate the Minister on his appointment. He has a difficult task facing him but he will have a fresh [144] approach to all the problems that confront him and I wish him well.

We have had a very elaborate statement from the Minister but it is the same kind of statement that is circulated to Deputies each year. It is time for some Minister to take a step forward, to point out to us where activities are taking place rather than merely refer to subheads. For instance, the Estimate should explain the area and location of plantations and similar matters.

I should like to ask the Minister what is being done about the programme of migration from the west to the midlands, from north to south, or from the south to the midlands. I should like to know the position in this regard. The Minister comes from a county where it might be considered that land was scarce. Perhaps he would like to see some migration from his own county so that the Land Commission could sub-divide the land among local congests. Up to a few years ago families in my constituency were given land in Counties Meath, Kilkenny and Wexford and 99 per cent of those people settled in the areas and prospered.

The Forestry Division should take some interest in the roads leading to the plantations. They are transporting heavy machinery through local townlands and, as a result, the roads are impassable for the local people; in particular, car owners cannot use the roads because they are broken by the heavy machinery. Local people find it difficult to go to Mass or to the market. The Forestry Division should arrange that the roads are repaired immediately damage is caused by the heavy machinery and ensure that the local people can use them. I am sure the Minister is aware of the width of the machinery that is used. They sink on the two-wheeled tracks and, as a result, the local farmer who owns a small car cannot use the roads without causing damage to his car. The Minister should ensure that the Department of Lands repair any damage to these roads.

With regard to the distribution of land, in some cases the Land Commission [145] have had land for 20 years and have not sub-divided it. It is all very well to put down a question to the Minister asking him when the Land Commission will rearrange certain estates; the answer or the excuse given is that it is expected that more land will become available so that a greater portion can be given to the people. I am sure the Minister will agree that it should not be necessary to wait 20 years to do this.

I beat a track to the Minister's predecessor and I am now pursuing it again in regard to one serious defect in the Forestry Division, as I see it. They take over land for forestry, fence it and plant it and after a few years it is overrun with foxes. Local farmers may keep sheep for breeding purposes, and the sheep is a very valuable animal now in EEC conditions, and yet a farmer who may have seen five to ten lambs with the sheep in his field at night may find nothing left the following morning but the sheep. I am sorry to have to say this but let me make it clear that I gave examples of what happens to the Forestry Division and described the plight of the farmers from Cong, County Galway to Cong, County Mayo. Forestry workers were prepared to trap these foxes but I got no co-operation whatever. The people of the area got no co-operation and if it did not happen in the last few months of the year, as far as I am aware, a fox trap was never set to catch the foxes so that the farmers could at least have the young lambs to sell later in the year in order to make a livelihood. While it was Cong that was mostly involved in the last few years I fear this trouble has spread throughout all the West at present.

I once suggested that immediately the Forestry Division took over a mountain side, for afforestation before planting it they should go where the foxes have their dens—this would be well known to the local people and to the foresters there—and set them alight, ensure there would be no cover for them and where possible close any dens they found with stones or otherwise. This would not cost much but [146] would save many young lambs in the locality, save the farmers money and save fowl for their wives. It has now reached the stage when farmers' wives cannot rear poultry in areas near afforestation. I should like action to be taken on that matter.

Where there is afforestation and, by accident or otherwise, fire occurs and young trees are burned, perhaps two or four acres beside a main road— it may involve trees of four, six or eight years' growth—I think something should be done shortly after these trees are burned, to pull them up or cut them in the ground so as to take the bad look off the forest. Perhaps they are left for some purpose, to show the public the damage the burning caused and the result.

Many years' ago on this Estimate I asked if any maps were kept either in local authority offices or in the offices of the foresters which would show, in the event of fire, the location of lakes or rivers so that when a fire occurred and a fire brigade arrived they would at least know where to get water. Naturally, there is no piped supply along the roads where the forests are and I think it is essential this information should be available to the fire brigades so that they could put down a hose without loss of time and save the remainder of the forest. The burnt trees, as I said, should be taken away so as to get rid of the bad appearance. A black and bare tree standing eight or ten feet high with beautiful young trees around it, one must agree, is not a pleasant sight and should be eliminated.

I understand the Department of Lands is responsible for the building of new roads into turbary plots throughout the country. The roads are provided with money from the Department but when they are completed they seem to be nobody's baby. There should be some arrangement between the Department and the local authority, between the Department and the Department of Local Government or between the Department and the Department of the Gaeltacht to ensure that these roads would at least be repaired when necessary so that people who have to travel miles to cut turbary [147] would be able to use them to take out turf by lorry or tractor. I speak particularly of the roads that have to be used by people in the parishes of Carraroe, Lettermore and Lettermullen who must go some 20 or 30 miles when they want to cut turf. As a result of the continuous cutting of turf and the soaking of water from underneath part of the road sinks and perhaps trucks or tractors cannot get over it in the following year. These roads do not all require a major job but some repairs are required to keep them in a satisfactory condition so that lorries and tractors can travel over them to bring home the turf for the people who need it for their winter fires. In the Gaeltacht the Department of the Gaeltacht generally come to the rescue, but they do not do so quickly. The state of disrepair of the roads may only come to the notice of the people who go in in March to prepare the bogs. The damage may have occurred in December or November. The people have turbary rights but they do not visit the bogs until March and it is then that they find that parts of the roads have subsided and that no trucks can get in. There may be only one or two spots like that on a road. There should be some arrangement about this between the Department of Lands and the Department of the Gaeltacht. In non-Gaeltacht areas the Department of Local Government look after the roads with the help of the local authority. The local authority do all repairs but the money they get for these repairs may come from either the Department of Local Government or the Department of the Gaeltacht. The roads should be repaired quickly so that the people can get their turf out when the weather is dry.

The Minister should give us more local information. He mentioned a few places of scenic beauty such as Gougane Barra and the Kennedy Memorial Park. It is vital to country Deputies to know about local beauty spots and also about the forests and how they are getting on. Are the forests a failure in some areas or are they doing well? What is happening? I myself often see the Cloosh Valley [148] area. What information have we for the people about this area? What is happening the young trees which are being planted in all the forests? Are they the right type of tree? Should a different type of tree be planted? I do not mind whether spruce or any other kind of tree is planted; I only want to know should any alteration be made. Is there any danger of any of the trees toppling over? Has any toppling over taken place? I remember asking questions about places offered to the Forestry Division for afforestation and the replies given indicated that the bog was too deep for planting. It was said that there was fear of toppling if trees were planted. Are the trees showing any signs of falling over after they reach a height of 6 feet? How are they developing? There is an area of afforestation in Cloosh Valley. It stretches over a wide area around Lettermore na Coille. I keep an eye on this area. Is it going to be a success? What will happen there eventually?

Great strides in afforestation are being made in the west. There are forests in Glann, Ross, Derryclare, Ballynahinch, Knockboy, Glenarud and Derreen. There should have been something in the speech on this Estimate telling us whether these forests are a success. What future programmes for afforestation exist? How many acres have the Forestry Division? Have they enough land to carry on with? Have they been offered land for forestry purposes which the Land Commission or the Forestry Division have not looked at yet? When people offer land for forestry purposes they are not told whether it will be accepted or otherwise. I know of cases where land was offered for forestry purposes and it was five or six years before a decision was taken in regard to it. If a person has to wait five or six years for a decision in regard to land offered for forestry purposes he can get uneasy and say: “I offered it to the forestry people and they have not had the courtesy to tell me whether they are going to take it or not”. There should be some agreement reached within two months. The title could be fixed up after that. The matter should not be left two or three years. The Department [149] should not say: “We will take it, but we do not know when we will take it”.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.


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