Dáil Éireann - Volume 34 - 21 May, 1930
Private Deputies' Business. - Vote 55—Land Commission.
Minister for Finance (Mr. Blythe) Ernest Blythe
Minister for Finance (Mr. Blythe): I move:—
That a sum not exceeding £423,981 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Irish Land Commission (44 and 45 Vict. c. 49, s. 46, and c. 71, s. 4; 48 and 49 Vict. c. 73, s.s. 17, 18 and 20; 53 and 54 Vict. c. 49, s. 2; 54 and 55 Vict. c. 48; 3 Ewd. 7, c. 37; 7 Ewd. 7, c. 38 and c. 56; 9 Ewd. 7, c. 42; Nos. 27 and 42 of 1923, 25 of 1925, 11 of 1926, 19 of 1927, 31 and 41 of 1929).
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands and Fisheries (Mr. Roddy) Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands and Fisheries (Mr. Roddy)
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands and Fisheries (Mr. Roddy): The Land Commission Estimates for the financial year 1930-31 show a nett increase of £88,605 on the preceding year. I may say at once that £66,000 of this increase is in respect of operations under the Housing (Gaeltacht) Act, 1929, which is included in the Vote for the Land Commission, so far as expenses for grants and staff are concerned, provisions for loans under that Act by the Commissioners of Public Works being made in the Estimates for Local Loans. It will thus be seen that the nett increase for the Land Commission proper is £22,605. But of this £14,470 is accounted for by a reduction in the Appropriations-in-Aid, so that the actual nett increase in the items of positive expenditure on the service of the Land Commission is only £8,135.
I shall deal with the various sub-heads of the Estimate seriatim, but as in introducing last year's Estimates I went fully into the scope of  each, and Deputies are doubtless familiar with their implications, it is hardly necessary again to go into lengthy explanations of the standard items. Under sub-head A— salaries, wages and allowances— there is a decrease of £1,130, due to slight variations in the staff. Each year there are necessarily some changes due to retirements, deaths and promotions of officials, but the number of the staff and the amount of estimate under this sub-head are practically the same as for the previous year, and do not call for special comment. Under sub-head B—travelling expenses—there is no change, as the amount of £32,000 has been found adequate for the outdoor staff employed. Under sub-head C—incidental expenses—there is an increase of £80, due to increased payments to chainmen, etc., for lockspitting lands and turbary. Under sub-head D—office of the Public Trustee—the slight increase is due to normal salary increments for the clerical staff.
Under sub-heads E and F combined—solicitor's branch and incidental expenses connected therewith —there is a decrease of £85, due to minor staff changes. Grants under the new Gaeltacht Housing Act are introduced under sub-head G1—and out of a total estimate of £60,000, £57,000 is allocated for dwelling houses, the balance being for poultry houses and piggeries. Salaries and travelling and subsistence allowances for the Gaeltacht Housing Act staff are introduced under sub-heads G2 and G3—and together add £6,000 to the Estimate. In view of the extent and importance of the operations arising out of this Act, I am sure Deputies will agree that this is a very reasonable amount for staffing.
The Housing (Gaeltacht) Act provides for the making of grants up to a maximum of £80 for the erection of new dwelling houses, and up to a maximum of £40 for the repair of dwelling houses. With a view to improving the economic conditions of the Gaeltacht the Act also provides for the making of grants up to a maximum of £5 for new poultry  houses and piggeries, and up to £2 10s. for improvement. In cases where the maximum grant is considered insufficient a loan which must not exceed the amount of the grant may also be given. The Act stipulates that preference must be given to families who habitually speak the Irish language, and amongst these a preference must also be given where the greatest overcrowding and worst sanitary conditions prevail. The total amount to be made available under the Act is £250,000 and of this three-fifths are to be spent in districts where the average Poor Law Valuation (excluding valuations over £20) is £1 1s. or less. Up to date almost 9,000 applications have been received. Four inspectors have been appointed and have been engaged examining the applications, so that, as far as possible, the most urgent and deserving cases should be the first to receive attention.
The inspectors will be sent to the country within the next few days to begin their local investigations, and although many of the applicants will, I am afraid, be disappointed, I hope that as a result of the operation of the Act a very considerable number of those who are now badly housed will find their conditions much improved, and these, after all, are the people for whose benefit the Act was passed.
Under sub-head H—contributions for excess stock, &c.—the charge is fixed at £134,500 annually. Under sub-head I—payment under Section 11 (7) of the Land Act, 1923—there is the considerable increase of £9,100 following on the larger amount of Land Bonds advanced for State contribution to the standard price and for cost funds. The increase under this sub-head reflects the expenditure in vesting tenanted land.
Under sub-head J we come to the important question of the improvements of estates, &c. In view of the widespread national benefit of this expenditure, Deputies of all parties will doubtless be glad to see an increase of £4,640 appearing under this section. As I explained in the  recent debate on the Supplementary Estimate for improvement expenditure in respect of the year 1929-30, the original improvement estimate for that year was £161,650, and the supplementary addition of £45,010 made a total under this sub-head of £206,660. But from this has to be deducted a sum of £13,000, representing an administrative saving on other sub-heads of the Land Commission Vote applied to improvements, making a nett total of £193,660 for the year 1929-30. Thus the estimate for an expenditure during the coming year of £211,300 for improvement of estates, etc., represents really an increase of £17,640 under this sub-head. I think Deputies quite understand that it is necessary for the Land Commission to expend money on the improvement and rearrangement of holdings sold or being sold under the various Land Acts and on the equipment of untenanted land acquired, and divided with houses, fences, roads, drains, etc., and that a considerable portion of this expenditure is ultimately recovered by way of land purchase annuities charged on the lands, so I need not repeat what I have elaborated on previous occasions in this regard. I may point out, however, that the Estimate of £211,300 includes £11,300 in respect of such items as purchase of tenancies on the Congested Districts Board estates (£10,000), workmen's compensation (£1,200), and nurses' cottages in congested districts counties (£100), leaving a sum of £200,000 for improvement works.
Under sub-head K—advances to meet deficiency of income from untenanted land purchased under the Land Acts, 1923-29—there appears an increase of £3,000, but this was one of the sub-heads on which a saving was made during the present year and applied to estate improvements. The original Estimate for the year 1929-30 was £13,000, which was subsequently reduced to £9,000. Though the area of untenanted land acquired has increased, there has in recent years  been an improvement in the income received from lands held pending division, and the Estimate of £12,000 should be sufficient to cover temporary deficiencies in income arising from the difference between gale days and dividend days, etc.
Under sub-head L—moneys required for the purposes of Sections 42 and 46 of the Land Act, 1927, to pay interest at 4¾ per cent. on the capital deficiencies arising on the resale of lands in Land Bank Estates and Committee cases there appears a decrease of £8,000, but this was also a sub-head on which a saving was made during the present year and applied to estate improvements. The original Estimate for the year 1929-30 was £38,000, which was subsequently reduced to £29,000. The reduced Estimate of £21,000 for the coming year is mainly due to the dissolution of most of the co-operative farming societies and the resulting decrease in the charge for arrears of instalments of annuities. The sum of £21,000 comprises £7,000 for Section 42 (Committee) cases, and £14,000 for Section 46 (Land Bank Estates).
The sums estimated for in the remaining sub-heads are comparatively trifling. The charge for telegraphs and telephones (sub-head M) remains the same. Under sub-head N—which covers the difference between the face value and the market price of Land Bonds sold for redemption of Government charges on lands acquired by the Land Commission under the 1923 Act—there is an increase of £500, intended to provide for claims against the purchase moneys of resumed holdings, for arrears of payment in lieu of rent, and other contingencies. The sum of £100 again provided under sub-head O to cover loss on unoccupied holdings is practically a token figure.
With regard to appropriations-in-aid, the decrease of £14,470 is mainly due to the expectation of a smaller receipt in respect of the “excess annuities” payable on holdings situate on estates purchased by the Estates Commissioners and the Congested Districts Board resold since  the passing of the Land Act, 1923, at enhanced prices due to expenditure on improvements. The Estimate under this sub-head for the year 1929-30 included accumulations of previous years.
I think that covers all I need say on the financial side of the Estimate. As regards the general work of the Land Commission, satisfactory progress has been made during the past year, and I have every reason to expect a continued advance during the coming year. The following round figures indicate the present position of land purchase.
As regards untenanted land (including holdings acquired by resumption or exchange and Land Bank and Committee lands), over 340,000 acres have been acquired by the Land Commission under the Land Acts, 1923-9, and offers have been made or the lands gazetted in respect of a further area of nearly 150,000 acres, making a total of nearly half a million acres of untenanted land acquired or in definite process of acquisition. That represents roughly about half of the estimated total available area of untenanted land in the Saorstát suitable for division under the Land Acts, 1923-9. Considering that the Land Commission were not in a position to begin the practical acquisition of untenanted land under the 1923 Act until the year 1925 owing to the preliminary difficulties to be overcome, I think that represents a very remarkable achievement for six years' work with the staff available. The alleged dilatoriness of the Land Commission has recently become quite a popular catch-cry, but those who are so ready to criticise have really no conception of the enormous amount of survey, inspection, administrative, clerical and legal work involved in the purchase, improvement and resettlement of half a million acres of untenanted land. The relief of congestion is a tremendously difficult problem, and in no other country has it been treated with so much courage, skill, energy and success as in Saorstát Eireann. In this connection, the provision of additional land by means of reclamation  schemes is now engaging the earnest attention of the Land Commission, in view of the success attending the early experimental efforts in this direction, and it is hoped during the coming year to undertake fresh schemes of reclamation in addition to the development of those already instituted.
In addition to the extension of the area of arable land so badly needed in the congested districts, these reclamation schemes provide employment for a considerable number of persons during the winter months and are becoming a factor of great economic importance to the tenantry concerned. The reclamation work includes the rearrangement of commonages (often necessitating a great deal of tact and patience on the part of the Land Commission inspectors), drainage, fencing, planting, tracing with lime and making approach roads, as well as the erection of necessary buildings. The principal reclamation schemes in progress are, in County Galway, the Cloosh, Oorid and Maam Valley schemes; in County Mayo, the Ballycroy and Erris schemes, and in County Donegal, the Rosses scheme, and reclamation work in other districts is in contemplation.
Of the 340,000 acres of untenanted land actually acquired by the Land Commission under the Land Acts 1923-9, over 250,000 acres have been already divided among some 12,200 allottees. As I stated in the Debate on the Supplementary Estimate last February almost the entire allotments during the past year have been made on purchase agreements and not as in previous years on temporary convenience lettings which would subsequently have to be converted into allotments on purchase agreements before they could be vested in the allottees in fee simple. As the time and difficulty in putting an allottee into permanent and legal possession of his parcel of land is much greater than putting in an allottee on a temporary basis, it is excellent work on the part of the Land Commission staff to have divided some 50,000 acres of untenanted land on  purchase agreements during the past year. This is quite apart from the division of untenanted land on Congested Districts Board Estates, the returns for which are not yet available, as they are kept on a different system. The addition of the untenanted land divided by the Land Commission since 1923 on estates which had been purchased by the congested Districts Board and the Estates Commissioners would bring the total area of untenanted land divided since 1923 to well over 400,000 acres—a very creditable record.
From the financial point of view the Land Bank Estates have now been practically disposed of, 41 of the Co-operative Farming Societies having been dissolved while the remaining 7 will be dissolved very shortly. The total capital liability under Section 46 (b) of the Land Act, 1927, in respect of the 48 societies amounts to approximately £346,335, of which the State liability will be approximately £167,252 (or 48 per cent,. of the total). The future continuing charges on the Land Commission Vote will therefore be 4¾ per cent. on £167,252 equivalent to £7,945 per annum. For the year 1930-31, in addition to this annual charge on the capital liability assumed by the State, there is a charge under Section 46 (a) of the Land Act, 1927, for arrears of annuities in the 7 cases not yet dissolved, amounting approximately to £6,065. This explains why the amount for Land Bank cases under sub-head L of the Land Commission Estimate for the year 1930-31 is put down at £14,000. In future years it will be reduced to £8,000.
The winding up of the Land Bank estates has proved to be a very difficult undertaking, involving a detailed examination not only of the lands and their ownership but of the security for deposits and their allocation, as well as an investigation of the previous financial arrangements of the societies and the recovery of moneys due to them. As regards the resale of these lands, 26 estates,  comprising a total area of 6,239 acres, have been already resold to purchasers for a total price of £94,737, and arrangements are well advanced for the resale of the remainder. Good progress has also been made in dealing with the “Committee Cases.” In 70 cases, comprising a total area of 20,843 acres, the lands have been vested in the Land Commission for a total price of £377,492, of which the liability undertaken by the State represents £127,560 (or 34 per cent. of the total). For the year 1930-31 the charge on the Land Commission Vote in respect of interest at 4¾ per cent. on the latter amount will be £6,059 (to which has to be added £396 in respect of the transfer of liability from the annuity payers. to the State in a Section 38 case); so that the amount of £7,000 estimated for allows for interest in respect of the State liability for further advances to be made during the first half of the year.
As regards tenanted land under the Land Acts, 1923-9, 11,346 holdings, comprising a total area of 432,000 acres and representing a total price of £3,882,000, have been vested in the Land Commission (of which 4,567 holdings, comprising an area of 165,500 acres, were vested during the past year, showing a continued increase in the rate of vesting). In addition, nearly 16,000 holdings, comprising a total area of 540,000 acres, have been provisionally gazetted preparatory to vesting, and will be vested as soon as objections to Provisional Lists have been disposed of and outstanding matters, such as the provision of turbary, drains and embankments, retention and rearrangement of holdings, &c., have been settled. Every effort is being made to simplify procedure so far as is consistent with legal requirements, and to organise the available staff so as to secure the maximum output and avoid any unnecessary delay, and I hope that each year in future will show a cumulative increase in the rate of vesting. It is too soon yet to recap much benefit from the provisions of the amending Act of 1929, but their  effect should be felt during the coming year.
Steps are also being taken to allocate and deal with estates on a county basis in future, and this system will allow more co-ordination between the outdoor and indoor staff in regard to local conditions, and will enable cognisance to be taken of counties which are backward as regards unvested holdings. In dealing with estates of tenanted land under the Land Acts, 1923-9, the work of the Land Commission had necessarily, up to the present, to follow the order of the lodgment of maps and schedules of particulars by owners over the whole twenty-six counties of the Saorstát, as there was no means of regulating this, and the earlier lodgments were first taken up.
As regards the completion by the Land Commission of proceedings which had been initiated under the Land Acts of 1903 and 1909 but not completed at the date of transfer, the Land Commission has, since 1923, in respect of direct sales between landlord and tenant, vested a total area of over 438,000 acres in 14,400 purchasing tenants, involving advances amounting to over £3,600,000, and in respect of the resale of estates which had been purchased by the Estates Commissioners and the Congested Districts Board vested a total area of 836,000 acres in 26,700 purchasers on resale for a total resale price of £4,875,000. The direct sales between landlord and tenant under these Acts have been practically completed and, as I stated during the recent debate on the Supplementary Estimate, special attention is being paid to the question of completing as soon as possible the resale of estates purchased by the Estates Commissioners and the Congested Districts Board. Steps are also being taken towards the vesting in fee simple in the allottees of the parcels of untenanted land divided under the Land Acts, 1923-9, but this will necessarily occupy some time. To sum up, vesting operations as apart from the division of untenanted land, the Land Commission has vested since 1923 under the  various Land Acts a total area of some 1,706,000 acres representing over 52,000 purchasers for a total purchase price of £12,357,000. The area invested during the past year was 310,000 acres for a total purchase price of £2,193,000, representing 10,000 purchasers.
[An Ceann Comhairle resumed the Chair.]
Mr. Fahy Mr. Fahy
Mr. Fahy: I wonder whether it would be possible for the Parliamentary Secretary to give us the vital figures in that report so as to get them circulated to-morrow, or whether he would tell us if they are available. It would be very important in discussing the Estimate to have the leading figures of that report. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke so fast that it was impossible to take them down.
Mr. Roddy Mr. Roddy
Mr. Roddy: I would like to circulate the figures if it can be suitably arranged. I move to report progress.
The Dáil went out of Committee. Progress reported.
Dáil Éireann 34 Private Deputies' Business. Vote 55—Land Commission.