Seanad Éireann - Volume 100 - 24 March, 1983

Land Bond Bill, 1983 [ Certified Money Bill ]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. Hourigan: I am almost finished. One could go on indefinitely about land policy and land bonds. As a person engaged in farming and working very closely with the farming scene, I am convinced that we have not really tapped all our resources yet. The potential from farming is enormous, and I say this with a very firm conviction. Farming can do a great deal to rectify our present serious problems.

Reference was made yesterday to food imports. It is worth stating again that a great proportion of our food imports can be replaced by a greater utilisation of our land. That comes within the ambit of the [319] discussion this morning. Food imports are costing in the order of £600 million at present. A sizable proportion of that could be replaced by home grown produce.

Senator Smith referred yesterday to the question of added value. In the farming sector many of our exports are sent out in a very raw state or semi-raw state. That is an area which could provide thousands of extra jobs. We should be looking to agriculture to see what agriculture can do for us, rather than having this lack of understanding between town and country, between those on the land and those not on the land.

If we have a better understanding all round, which I am confident and hopeful we will get, there is a great deal that farming can do to resolve our problems. Those vested with the ownership and occupation of the land of Ireland have an obligation, not alone to themselves and their families, but also to the State at large to make certain that the returns from those farms are maximised. We do not have — and let us be very clear about it — many natural resources, and land is our primary one. There is no point in our talking in clichés about its importance unless we get down positively to do something about it. I am confident that, under the guidance and control of the Minister, Deputy Connaughton, we will see a new scene with regard to land structure in Ireland. Land structure is the basis on which we can begin to make headway. I very positively support this Bill.

Mr. Smith: I should like to congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment and to wish him very well in the onerous task which faces him. He comes from the west of Ireland where perhaps the problems of land tenure, land fragmentation, bachelorhood and an ageing population are endemic. Because he is personally familiar with those problems this will add impetus to his interest in evolving a changed system for the Land Commission and in how State involvement in assisting a new structure to evolve in agriculture can be enhanced.

[320] I find myself somewhat at a loss in considering a Bill which purports to make provisions which many speakers have said are not necessary. Generally speaking, in both Houses of the Oireachtas our difficulty is to get a Minister to come into the House and make provision for what is necessary. Here, for some extraordinary reason, we are making provision for what it is alleged is not necessary. Let us look at the figures in terms of acquisition of land and division of land over the past five or six years. For instance, in the mid-seventies we were acquiring somewhere in the region of 15,000 acres per year, and dividing somewhere in the region of 30,000 acres. We are now acquiring almost a negative amount of land, around a couple of thousand acres. The division of land commensurate with the lowering of the acquisition of land has declined very considerably. In the climate of a winding down of Land Commission activities I wonder why we are making further provisions.

I want to attack the Department of Finance to some degree because, having some experience in dealing with that Department indirectly, I am quite satisfied that there are a number of officials in that Department who view Agriculture as a Department who are not in need of any State assistance for further development. It is possible to find £1 million to top up statutory provisions for redundancy payments in Avoca. It is possible to find millions of pounds in redundancy money on top of statutory payments in many other State organisations and to dream up new layers of bureaucracy. When it comes to provision for the development of a major resource, as Senator Hourigan said, a resource which involves about 23 per cent of our population, and accounts for about 50 per cent of all our jobs including farming services, processing and jobs of that kind, when it comes to having a close look at how we can benefit and assist the development of this resource the Department of Finance leave an awful lot to be desired.

We are uniquely dependent on the land. We have not got much other wealth. It is estimated that about one-third of our land is under-utilised, and [321] Senator Hourigan referred to structural problems, fragmentation problems, and all the other elements which make up farming. Perhaps they account for the fact that so much of our land is under-utilised. In our current difficulties and with large numbers of people looking for jobs, what other State would look idly, as it were, on the non-usage of so much of our natural resources? What other Department of Finance would ensure that in the budget every effort was made to frustrate the development of that resource, while funds are found ad lib for other schemes without the same potential?

I now want to address myself to the question of the Land Commission.

An Cathaoirleach: I am glad.

Mr. Smith: I am glad I am satisfying the Cathaoirleach, because he is lenient to speakers in most debates. I trust that I am just falling into the same bracket. In spite of a lot of criticism, the Land Commission, have made quite a significant contribution to the development of Irish agriculture over a long period, taking into account the limited area at their disposal in terms of land structure. Less than 10 per cent of the land is available in the open market for free market forces to determine whether the State should intervene. Owner-occupancy is deeply rooted in our history. Attachment to the land and owner-occupation are of historical significance and are unique. It is difficult to know how the State can involve itself in trying to promote a change in terms of reducing that attachment and opening up a freer situation for the commercial, open and free market process, and also from the point of view of deliberate State intervention in the curtailment of the growth of large farms to the detriment of smaller units which could be made viable.

In terms of the country's desire to maintain as many families as possible in our rural areas, you can justify further State intervention and investment in all these areas, in spite of views held in the Department of Finance that we do not have the alternatives of off-farm employment. [322] We are finding it increasingly difficult to provide resources for suburbia, for traffic, for combating vandalism and crime. We are adding enormous costs. The cost of building a local authority house, for instance, in many rural areas is less than £20,000, whereas to provide a house in this city costs over double that amount. I give that as an instance of why we should try to approach the problem of land structure in terms of improving smallholdings and providing viable units to the limit of our potential.

Criticism has been levelled at the Land Commission as to how a viable holding is determined. In fairness, politicians will have to accept blame because we have tried to do two things at the one time. We claim we want to serve the greatest number of people in any given area, and this is sometimes detrimental to the selection of candidates with a greater development potential. All the statistics are available in the context of what is a viable unit. If you look at any information that can be dug up on reaction to new farming techniques, farm advice, increase in stock numbers, the development of better cow herds, more intensification, all of the evidence clearly indicates that somewhere around a 25 cow unit, and from there up, the real potential lies. I suggest to the Minister that, in our approach, we must be fairly practical and ensure that we are not giving a stay of execution for one, two or three years to farmers who obviously do not have the potential and, at the same time, we are unable to allocate enough land to farmers who can use it much more productively.

I want to refer briefly to the farm retirement scheme. We have to classify it as a failure. The fact that around 550 farmers have given over their farms under the retirement scheme, and that less than 25,000 acres have been divided amongst farmers, many of whom are not development farmers, reflects quite poorly on that scheme. A number of efforts have been made in the European Community to make the scheme more attractive, to get more EEC aid for it, but they met with fairly strong resistance on the Continent. It is not clear whether it is possible now to devise a scheme which would be [323] more attractive because, inherent in the question of farm retirement is the problem Senator Hourigan referred to earlier, the attachment to ownership, the fact that people do not want to avail of this scheme, having seen others who availed of it and seen their incomes decline compared with the incomes of farmers who either retained their holdings, sold them on the free market, or made other arrangements. It is with some reluctance that I say I am not too confident that it is possible to make progress in that area. I urge the Minister to carry on the fight at EEC level, to see that some attempts are made to exploit, as far as possible, the potential of the farm retirement scheme.

I also want to ask him and the officials in the Land Commission — since the acquisition and division of land have been in decline — to give some of their time to the division of commonages and matters of that kind. We have quite a number of commonages in the country. Many of them are not capable of being made productive, but quite a considerable number of them are. If groups of farmers got together it might be possible for them to increase the productivity of their holdings, but cattle movements on these commonages obviously have an adverse effect on the eradication of disease.

In the late seventies the Fianna Fáil Government made a number of proposals on the production of a new land policy. I urge the Minister to enshrine in the new land policy he is considering at the moment elements giving the balance of favour to small farmers. As he will know from statistics in his Department, in practice, practically all of the land that goes on the open market is purchased by larger farmers. The increase in the acreage of smaller farmers over 30 and 40 years has not been significant. Apart from the consequences of an action of this kind from a constitutional point of view — and that would have to be looked at — there is no point in having a system which allows larger farmers who already have enough land to compete in a situation which creates an unfavourable climate for smaller farmers.

Any new policy will have to have [324] enshrined in it a capacity to negative this aspect. When this statement was first made, many speakers were positively against any interference of this kind. I am entirely satisfied, on the grounds I have already stated, that the State should interfere in this way and give the balance of advantage to the smaller and medium-sized farmers who may be assisted by the Land Commission in the purchase of additional land. It is not necessary that the Commission or new land agency should be directly involved in the acquisition of this land, but they must have the power to ensure that more and more farmers, who already have viable holdings, are not allowed to eat up whatever land is available without due reference to the needs and requirements of smaller potentially development farmers who need this land much more urgently and who, if they are unable to acquire it, are in a run-down situation. That alone should make it urgent on any Department and particularly on the Land Commission to ensure that that does not take place.

I will just conclude my remarks by urging the Minister, since he is making this additional provision and since no land policy is likely to emerge within the very near future, to allow the Land Commission to acquire many more holdings than is happening at present. Land has now dropped to what one could perhaps call an economic value. We should take account of that and use the expertise that we have in the Land Commission, which in many ways is being wasted at present because of lack of initiative and lack of resources, to acquire land where is can be of assistance to smaller development farmers. I would urge him particularly to speed up the division of holdings already in the hands of the Land Commission because much of the criticism that has been levelled at that body, perhaps in a justifiable sense, has been about the long and protracted delays there can be in the allocation of land. I know that there are very many legal and other problems that can arise but it seems that the delays in the division of holdings are quite extraordinary when one considers that the Land Commission are not acquiring [325] land. I would ask him to urge his officials to speed up these procedures as the amount of undivided land in the hands of the Land Commission at present seems to be unjustifiable.

Mr. Durcan: I would like to join with other Senators in welcoming the Minister to the House. I would like to congratulate him on his appointment as Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture. The Minister comes to that office with tremendous experience and tremendous qualities. I wish him well and I know he will do service in an excellent way to the country. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Cathaoirleach on their unanimous election to their respective posts. As a new Senator I look forward to working with the Chair and to receiving guidance on matters of practice and procedure in this House.

I welcome the Bill in so far as it makes funds available in land bonds to the Land Commission and allows them to proceed with their policy of acquiring further land. That is their policy, it is what their policy should be and I certainly welcome the Bill for that reason. It is unfortunate, perhaps, that the land bond policy is continuing. The idea of land bonds is a little distasteful. People have a certain mistrust and a certain reluctance to deal with the Irish Land Commission so long as the commission pay for lands compulsorily acquired in land bonds. Nevertheless I accept, as the Minister said elsewhere, that the alternatives are not really available and at the moment we must proceed on the basis of land bonds.

I also compliment the Minister for his commitment to structural reform in the whole area of land policy. His recent statements indicate that the day of committees, commissions and reports has passed. We have reached the stage when we must have positive action particularly in the area of the Land Commission themselves. Their procedures are totally outmoded. While they have done tremendous work in the past and are continuing to do tremendous work, nevertheless it must be accepted that the actual procedures by which they implement [326] their policy are outmoded and unsuited to the age in which we live. I was also glad to hear other Senators refer to the matter of commonage division, and I will be referring to that in greater detail in a few moments. I know the Minister's commitment in that regard. I know he is aware of the tremendous problems, particularly in the western part of this country, with regard to the non-division of commonages.

Many people have been unfairly critical of the Land Commission. It is only fair when one is speaking on a Bill of this nature to pay tribute to the commission for the work they have done over the past century. They have, in effect, transformed the ownership of this land from landlords to a situation where we have individual holdings of land reasonably well distributed and reasonably well utilised. The procedures, however, by which they acquire land are not very fair and they have not been changed in the past 50 years. It is extremely unfair that the Land Commission have power to serve a notice of inspection on someone who is occupying land and that person has no opportunity to disagree with that notice or with the initial decision of the Land Commission to move in and to compulsorily acquire his holding until he comes before the lay commissioners.

The procedure is unfair in that anybody served with a notice of inspection who comes before the lay commissioners is, in effect, coming before a quasi-judicial body whose personnel by and large are drawn from former Land Commission officials. It is not altogether fair that somebody who is dealing with what is generally a family holding is faced with a situation where he is going into court and the judges in that court are drawn from former senior Land Commission officials. That is not in any way to suggest that these gentlemen are not carrying out their functions properly but nevertheless it creates distrust in the minds of people who have to come before them.

The procedures by which the court of the Land Commission deals subsequently with acquisition are outmoded. Somebody who owns land should have the opportunity of dealing with the Land [327] Commission on a normal vendor and purchaser basis. The actual sale and transfer of land should be dealt with in the way that any normal sale of property is dealt with in this country, but that does not happen. The procedures in this regard are absolutely outmoded. Furthermore, there is no appeal from the decision of the commissioners other than on a point of law, and that is unfair. Appearing before lay commissioners has been described as a little like going to law with the devil and the court being in hell. That is the way many people who have had the misfortune to come before the lay commission see the situation.

Reference has been made to the question of non-division of commonage. In my own part of the country, Mayo County, this is a considerable problem where a vast acreage of land is held in undivided commonage. Three-quarters, four-fifths or indeed 90 per cent of the common holders may agree and may be anxious to divide their commonage but if three, four, five or a small percentage of the total refuse, the division is not proceeded with. The Land Commission have powers in this regard and it is unfortunate that these powers have not been used or they have not been used to a great extent.

In the period 1973-1982 a little over 36,000 acres of commonage in the entire country were divided. That is over a ten-year period, averaging about 3,000 acres per year. In my own County Mayo, the total was about 11,000 acres and that indicates the importance of the problem in that county. The Land Commission must meet the farming organisations who are increasingly expressing concern about the commonage problem. If a situation exists where a majority, or a substantial majority, of holders wish division then procedures must be expedited by which division can take place under those circumstances.

Senator Smith referred earlier to the problems which exist in undivided commonages, that is, the problem of the spread of disease. There is also the other problem that if a commonage is undivided there is no incentive to any person with an interest in the commonage to [328] fertilise or to develop that land in any way. On the other hand, if the commonage is divided the individual has the opportunity of fertilising and looking after what is totally his own without anybody else having any rights over it. I accept that the commonage debate has two sides. Perhaps sheep farmers would not favour division under certain circumstances but there are many situations where division is needed and where to improve the productivity of the land generally the Land Commission should be taking steps to speed up that division proper.

The other question I would like to raise which I think is relevant to this debate is the whole question of the amount of land held by the Irish Land Commission, land acquired compulsorily or otherwise, and which the Land Commission have not actually given out to the farmers in the area in which this land is situated. I understand the amount of land so held is diminishing, but nevertheless it is an amount of land held by the Irish Land Commission. The Minister should indicate as quickly as possible that the Land Commission would, within a particular period of time, get rid of all land now held. This land is generally let by the Land Commission on the 11-month system which is unsatisfactory. Furthermore, it creates uncertainty and, more importantly, in rural areas it can create local tension. That is something which should be discouraged because land is a very emotive issue.

Allied to that is the question mentioned by Senator Hourigan and Senator Smith, namely fragmented holdings. I would like to see the Land Commission adopting a more positive policy, moving towards the farming organisations and farmers and indicating in a more positive way that they are prepared to do what they can to get rid of the situation in regard to fragmented holdings. This can create difficulties for people with regard to fencing, maintaining their land and looking after a holding that is spread over a number of places. The Land Commission should not wait for farmers to come to them to see if they can do something. The Land Commission with their expercia [329] tise and with their various powers should be moving out to the farming community themselves in a positive way.

Reference was also made to the farm retirement scheme. It is unfortunate that that scheme has proved so unsuccessful in this country. As the scheme was initially understood, there was an incentive there for elderly farmers to get rid of their holdings and to make land available for younger and more progressive farmers. Certainly in the west where holdings are small and where elderly farmers getting rid of holdings did not have other substantial resources, the major disincentive to involving themselves in the scheme was that on receiving money for their land they found they were no longer entitled to receive the old age pension on reaching normal retirement age. Something should be done to make that scheme more attractive to farmers who intend to retire.

Senator Hourigan made reference to the question of stamp duty in relation to the availability of land. This Bill is about making money available to allow the Land Commission to acquire land. The situation with regard to stamp duties should be examined. It has a certain effect on the non-availability of land for farmers who could be productive. Current levels for ordinary land sales were set in 1974. The thresholds which were then set are no longer relevant in view of increasing value. It imposes an additional burden by way of stamp duty on somebody purchasing land. More importantly, the changes made in the budget of 1982 which abolished the pre-existing situation whereby transfers within a family were subject to 1 per cent stamp duty rate adds a further disincentive. It creates an incentive to somebody holding land to continue holding it until the land passes on death. Then, unless a claim can arise for capital acquisitions tax, no tax is payable to the State. There is an incentive at the moment not to part with land until death.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I do not wish to interrupt the Senator but I think there is a division in the other House. Does the Senator wish to continue without the Minister?

[330] Mr. Durcan: I will adhere to normal practice.

Professor Dooge: May I take advantage of this opportunity to repair an omission this morning? I intended to suggest that the House should adjourn from 1 p.m. to 2.15 p.m. for lunch in view of the fact that we may have a late sitting. May we take it that that is agreed?

Mr. Durcan: I was referring to the question of stamp duty and the abolition of the 1 per cent levy, irrespective of family transfers, introduced by the 1982 budget. That budget and the Finance Act, 1982, also introduced a situation whereby total exemption would apply for a period of two years in respect of a transfer by a farmer to his son or to somebody who would take over from him provided the transferee was under 25 years of age and had received a certificate from an approved college of agriculture. I submit that this situation is totally unrealistic in the west where, first, the traditional transfer age has been above 35 years of age and, secondly, where there are many sons who are above 35 years of age and who are willing to take over and, furthermore, where the situation exists that very few people attend colleges, agricultural colleges of any kind. I ask the Minister to see if his colleague, the Minister for Finance, in this year's Finance Bill can do something to ensure that that provision is modified in some acceptable way.

Senator Hourigan referred to the change in this year's budget in relation to the abolition of stamp duty relief on marriage settlements. Again, that is unfortunate. Perhaps it is something which the Minister might consider before introducing the Finance Bill. Heretofore there was a very definitive incentive for a farmer to settle land on a son and daughter-in-law bearing in mind that no stamp duty would be payable but that situation no longer exists. It is unfortunate and it brings about a situation where land will be less freely available to young people.

Reference has also been made to the [331] 1965 Land Act. There is one aspect of that Act which it is relevant to raise and that is the provision in section 45 which gives the Land Commission power to insist that their consent be given before land is purchased by a non-national. Because of our membership of the EEC, of the provisions of the Treaty of Rome and the right of establishment which non-Irish farmers can claim when they purchase land in this country, it is important that the Land Commission establish and indicate definite policy in this regard. My experience would suggest that there has been a certain lack of clarity from the Land Commission on this matter. People are not altogether clear on their approach.

Finally, reference was made to the Land Registry and to delays which legal people can occasion with regard to transfer of land and this can cause a certain hardship. It is important that the Minister should take steps to ensure that additional personnel are employed in the particular section of the Land Registry that deals with cases which cause particular delay. The case which can cause most delay is one where somebody has acquired possession to land titled by virtue of long possession. These cases can take many years to deal with and this, in effect, can hold up the actual title to land and can make somebody's occupation and tenure of land very uncertain. The transfer of land could be speeded up if the Land Registry were given the personnel to expedite the process.

Finally, I support the objective of the Bill which is to increase money available for land bonds. I support the indicated policy of the Minister of State and I wish him well in carrying out that policy.

Mr. Mullooly: Even though he is not in the House at the moment due to the division in the other House, I would like to congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment and I would like to wish him well in his Department. It is indeed appropriate that the Minister responsible for land policy should be from a west of Ireland constituency. In no part of the country are the problems associated with [332] land more acute than they are in the west. I refer especially to the problems of congestion, fragmentation of holdings, under-utilisation, short-term letting and lack of mobility. Probably in no part of the country is the traditional attachment to the land stronger than it is in the west. I wish the Minister every success in formulating policies which will tackle and come to grips with these problems.

The purpose of this Bill is to raise the limit from £105 million to £130 million on the amount of land bonds which may be created to pay for lands acquired by the Land Commission. I realise, however, this does not mean that an additional £25 million in land bonds will be created since it is the Minister for Finance who will decide the actual amount of bonds that will be created. In this connection I would like to ask the Minister two questions. First, have bonds up to the existing limit of £105 million already been created or is there any spare capacity there? Secondly, what amount of the additional £25 million which is being acquired by the amount of land taken up by commitments already entered into by the Land Commission? We are all aware that the amount of land being acquired by the Land Commission has been declining in recent years.

At this stage I would like to put on record that in the west, and particularly in my own county of Roscommon, the Land Commission over the years did a lot of good work in the relief of congestion and also in eliminating fragmentation but in recent years the commission have come in for a lot of criticism. I do not believe that all this criticism was justified or deserved. Like everyone else; from time to time I have criticised certain decisions and actions of the Land Commission but to be fair, we must give credit also for the very good work for which the Land Commission were responsible.

It now seems to be generally accepted that the Land Commission, as we knew them, are on the way out. However, it is going to take a long time to replace them or restructure them and give them a new and meaningful role in the development of agriculture. It could be years before we see the emergency of whatever new agency or body will replace the Land [333] Commission. In the meantime, especially in the west the Land Commission should continue to be involved in the acquisition and redistribution of land, particularly where the redistribution of such land would result in the elimination of fragmentation. Fragmentation of holdings, as has been referred to by other speakers, is one of the greatest obstacles to progress towards increased productivity in many parts of the west. That is why I would be much happier if the Bill before the House proposed to raise the present statutory limit to £150 million instead of £130 million. Every day there are farms coming on the market in the west which, if purchased by the Land Commission, could be used to solve some of the land structure problems of which that part of the country has more than its share.

As Senator Smith said, at the moment the price of agricultural land is at an economic level. The Land Commission should be taking advantage of the present realistic prices for land to acquire land when the opportunity to do so presents itself. As far as I am aware it has not been stated what rate of interest the bonds which are being issued in the coming year will carry. This is very important in relation to a suggestion I am now going to make to the Minister.

Coming from the west of Ireland, I am sure the Minister is well aware of the reluctance of many farmers, especially elderly farmers, to accept land bonds as payment for land. In fact, in many cases such farmers would be prepared to accept a cash price less than the market value of the land bond. If the rate of interest on the bonds which are to be issued over the coming year is sufficiently attractive, I cannot see why the Land Commission could not release small blocks of these bonds on to the stock market at regular intervals in order to be in a position to provide a cash alternative to those vendors who are not prepared to accept bonds. It should be possible to do that without depressing the market. If the rate of interest is attractive there will be plenty of customers for any bonds sold in this way.

A major obstacle affecting the mobility of land is that we have not at the present [334] time an acceptable farm retirement scheme. The farm retirement scheme which we had, and which at the moment is suspended or at least partly suspended, was a failure. It did not achieve what it was intended to achieve. That was not solely because the financial incentives in the scheme, the level of the premium and the pension were not sufficiently attractive. It was not an acceptable scheme simply because if a farmer who was an old age pensioner and had a medical card and the other small perks that go with the old age pension gave up his land under the retirement scheme he lost all these small perks when he retired. No matter what new retirement scheme the Minister may decide to introduce, I can tell him, and I am sure he knows, it will not be acceptable unless these small perks which cost so little but mean so much are safeguarded and guaranteed not to be withdrawn from any farmer who would propose to retire under such a scheme. An acceptable retirement scheme would make a greater contribution to the transfer of land from elderly persons to people who are capable of using it more efficiently and more productively than any other mechanism which the Minister might devise.

In the west the elimination of congestion and the creation of viable holdings were always regarded as a desirable goal or objective. This was the objective of the Land Commission policy of acquisition and division. I agree that this process had its faults: invariably, as other speakers said, it took far too long. Sometimes there was a gap of ten to 12 years between the time the land was acquired and its subsequent division. Surely this process could have been dealt with in every case far more expeditiously? We read in our history books that the Flight of the Earls took place on 14 September 1607 and after they had left their lands were confiscated. A scheme of plantation was prepared that involved 500,000 acres, extending over six counties. I am sure that allottees had to be selected, estates of various sizes had to be drawn up, rents had to be decided, agreements had to be entered into, marginal lands had to be excluded and yet we are told that the [335] scheme of plantation was ready in 1609, less than two years later. Surely there must be a lesson there somewhere for the Land Commission.

If the procedure could be speeded up I am convinced that acquisition and division are the best approach to relieving congestion. Those who feel that this procedure should be discontinued are advocating other mechanisms. If I recall correctly, one suggestion that has been made is that a priority register should be compiled and that farmers on this register should be aided selectively to purchase additional land. Who would decide what farmers would qualify for inclusion on such a list? Who would decide which of those on the list would be aided in a particular situation if there was more than one interested? The Minister should think long and hard before including any proposal like that in any new land policy which he may introduce.

Another suggestion made is that group purchase of land should be the mechanism to replace acquisition and division. In my opinion, group purchase is neither realistic nor feasible and could lead to nothing but trouble. My main reason for believing this is that farms are not of uniform quality and that the problems which would arise in apportioning land and price among the members of the group would be insurmountable.

I conclude by suggesting to the Minister that while change and reform are desirable and indeed urgent in many aspects of existing land policy, not everything that is there at the moment should be discarded. In the meantime, while we are awaiting whatever new land policy will be introduced, I would appeal to the Minister to use his good offices to ensure that, as far as the west of Ireland is concerned, the Land Commission will continue to be provided with the necessary resources to enable them to continue to be involved in the acquisition and division of land. I support the Bill and I am grateful for the opportunity that it gave me to make these few points to the Minister.

Mr. Ferris: First of all, before commenting [336] on the Bill before us, I want to avail of the opportunity to congratulate a member of the staff of the House on his appointment as Assistant Clerk of the House. In the order of speakers I did not get the opportunity, on behalf of my party, to welcome him to the House. I have experience of him in other capacities in the Houses of the Eireachtas and have no doubt that he will be able to fulfil the duties he now holds with extreme competence. I would also like to express my best wishes to his predecessor, Mr. Frank Geoghegan, who has been promoted to another post. He was always of the utmost help to all of us in the House. I extend to both officers our best wishes. The same would apply to the Minister of State in his new appointment. As a Member of this House for a number of years he contributed much to the business of this House and I am glad to see him coming back today as Minister of State in a Department in which he has a specific interest and a lot of expertise. His predecessor in that post, Senator Smith, this morning made an excellent contribution on this Bill. It is good that people have an absolute interest in the brief they hold in Government.

My maiden speech in 1975 was on this Bill. One should never repeat oneself in this House. We have had land bonds since 1975 and the attitude of farmers to them has not changed over that length of time. It is a pity that, with the present and seemingly continuous constraints on finances, we are unable to get away from the concept of land bonds as compensation for land acquired either by compulsion or by negotiation. Even though at present the value of land bonds is quite attaractive to their holders, it is quite true that in the past that was not the case and there was quite a lot of difficulty in reaching agreement when the only method of compensation was land bonds. I am quite sure that if cash compensation was readily available, not alone would agreement be reached much more quickly, but the actual end cost to the commission would be possibly much more realistic and prices of land would not have been inflated, at public auction and otherwise, as happened over a number of years.

[337] Now that the price of land is levelling out, it is a pity that the Minister and the commission feel that the acquisition and redistribution of land have gone as far as they should under the present aegis. The Minister feels that new concepts are required. I totally agree with new concepts being required: however, the commission should not feel that the Houses of the Oireachtas agree to any slowingup is what, in fact, is their function — the acquisition of land for resdistribution to people in need of land. Young people, in particular, are now coming on the market seeking land who are experts in that field and who will benefit enormously from the new ACOT farming certification programme which, happily, has been assisted by the Youth Employment Agency. At the end of that project over four or five years the number of competent young people seeking land and seeking the assistance of agencies such as the Land Commission will place a tremendous demand on the commission to set about their work in earnest in trying to ensure that much non-productive land is acquired and distributed quickly and readily.

Complaints are continuously made to those of us in public life that the commission for one reason or another — and often the reasons seem to be valid — appear to hold on to land for inordinate lengths of time, running to ten or more years in some instances. This is a pity, as land let by them on a leasing system does tend to get run down, on the basis that the people have no hope that they will ever get that land in a distribution system. If it does not go to them there is no hope that it will go to a relative who would work the land and the heart seems to go out of soil if there is not a caring attitude. People will only care for something when it is their own property or when there is a likelihood in the future of the land becoming their property.

It is frightening that, at this time of restrictions on credit in farming and the level of cost input vis-á-vis the price index, the Land Commission can hold, as they now do, something like 100,000 acres of valuable land. It is time that the commission really set about the task of [338] distributing that land to counter the fragmentation of holdings, and try to ensure that people's livelihoods are protected and that the management of their holdings becomes easier.

I have always admired the commission simply because they have the power of acquisition. When people talk about changing the commission for some other agency, I am always worried, in these days of conservative attitudes, particularly in regard to our land, that perhaps in trying to initiate new legislation the Houses of the Oireachtas might be slow to give the powers to a new agency that the Land Commission have at present. I would like to feel that the commission would be rejuvenated or restructured but with retention of their present powers of acquisition and redistribution.

The Twomey Estate in Farnacliff in my area is one recent instance in which the Minister has been directly involved. There are problems caused by the person who purchased the estate not now requiring it and, because of the standard of price set, the Commission not being able to acquire it. Many smallholders in the area would benefit from redistribution of this land, but the Minister has shown new foresight in being prepared to make available to a group of people in the area Land Commission staff as liaison officers to try to overcome the problems on the ground, without actually acquiring and redistributing the estate. The people themselves could form a co-operative in its acquisition and the Land Commission would proffer their advice, assistance and technical staff. It would be an excellent idea to apply more readily the agencies and powers vested in the Land Commission in cases where local agitation follows land being up for sale by public auction and where the Land Commission find it is not an area in which they can formally get involved.

Senators Mullooly and Smith have talked about commonages. From a disease eradication point of view, extreme care has to be taken with land that is treated as commonage, whether it be on mountainsides, in the Phoenix Park, or land held under the aegis of the Board of Works and being used on a commonage [339] basis. The Land Commission must get involved in trying to ensure that such land is run as a viable unit with proper fencing and not as a commonage. Gortdrum mines in my area have formally closed down. Part of the planning permission indicated that in the event of the mines closing down a certain amount of landscaping and planting would take place, to improve amenities in the area. Unfortunately, the mines seem to be set hellbent on planting the 100 acres of perfectly good land in the Golden Vale of Tipperary, when there are up to 30 or 35 smallholders who would like the Land Commission to assist in intervening in this dispute that is going on between the present landowners who, with the permission of the mineowners, are using the land as a kind of commonage, but with divided fields. The mines say that they are being pressured by the Government to plant the whole acreage of the best land in the country. It would be a retrograde step for the mines to do that. As far as I can gather, no Government agency have asked them to do it. The Land Commission, if they have done so, should not have asked them to do any planting of the land but should try to acquire it for redistribution if the mines have no further use for it as a mining enterprise. The mines own the land and the mineral rights, but they have gone back to their happy homes in Canada and the smallholders in that area have now to survive. I will prove to the Minister the number of people who use and are in need of land in that area and I hope the Minister can use his good offices to try to ensure that common sense will prevail in the area of Gortdrum mines and that no unwarranted planting of trees on good land will take place when so many people need land to survive.

I have said that the ACOT certificate in farming will bring about a very large demand for land in the future. Land is a commodity that we do not manufacture. Any Government commission and Minister with responsibility in this area will have to show a dramatic radical approach to the acquisition of land which is at present unproductive. Much of that [340] applies to older people who resent interference in their livelihood by the State or a State agency. They feel that they have a right to their own property but that right must not be at the expense of the rights of the majority of people in an area. Land is the wealth of this country and much of it is non-productive at the moment.

Senators have referred correctly to the present scheme as a dismal failure because people who transferred their land under it have lost a colossal amount of money. They have been discriminated against by the Department of Social Welfare. Use of the scheme debars them from many of the benefits to which they are normally entitled. Unless people are persuaded to use the scheme for disposing of their non-productive land for redistribution to suitable fully qualified people, we will never make a breakthrough in what the Minister would term a revolutionary attitude to the acquisition and redistribution of land. The specific cases in my own area which I have outlined to the Minister are typical of the general situation. The Minister could apply the enthusiasm that he has shown for this inherited problem.

This is an enabling Bill to ensure that the Minister has sufficient finances available for the acquisition of bonds but I agree with his comment that he is not satisfied that they are necessarily the best method of payment. Land bonds in the past have been a disincentive to successful acquisition on the basis that they were valueless at one stage, but the position has altered somewhat now. A public relations exercise is required to convince people that land bonds, on their present valuation, are much better than cash which diminishes from one day to the other depending on whether one is inside or outside the EMS, on the value of sterling and on all the other problems of our financial institutions. An investment like this, State guaranteed, is a better proposition and could and should be used as an incentive to dispose of land.

If we wish people to dispose of land under the retirement scheme, with incentives to young farmers to acquire land from their parents including the writing [341] off of the stamp duty involved, it is necessary to get non-productive land into production. Our economy would then benefit tremendously from young people with an interest in land. I have never seen as much interest on the part of young people in having, owning and managing land as there is nowadays. This is an altering of attitude. Ten years ago every young person wanted to leave the land in order to get a job, or to go to England. This has changed now because jobs are not as readily available as before. There is a great deal of unemployment here, in Britain and in the Common Market countries and people now realise that being self-employed in what is a tremendously satisfying occupation of owning a piece of land, working it and rearing a family on it has a lot to commend it.

The Land Commission should not lose sight of their existing functions and I would not be in favour of their slowing down on any of those functions. The Houses of the Oireachtas will give them all the support they require by way of enabling Bills to ensure that sufficient money is available for the purchase of land bonds, so that the work of the Land Commission can be maintained and continued.

Mr. McDonald: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Connaughton, to the House and I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him well. Knowing him as a colleague, I can express confidence in his tackling of the problems that every service has. He will bring a lot of common sense and practical knowledge to it. I would also like to join with Senator Ferris in welcoming Mr. McMahon as Clerk Assistant to the Seanad. I have known him for the last 25 years and I am very confident that he will uphold the very high tradition of service that his predecessors in office have given to the Oireachtas.

I welcome the Bill. I have read with interest in The Farmers' Journal the Minister of State's views and hopes for the Land Commission and for the development of agriculture and I have listened to him in the House. I agree that there must be a reappraisal of the traditional role of [342] the Land Commission. It is not so much that the Land Commission have failed in any particular way but they have certainly stayed aloof. In my 25 years as a public representative, I have never seen officers of the Land Commission at any public meeting; I have never seen them associated with the county committees of agriculture; I have never seen them attend any of the presentations of certificates for the 100-odd courses with ACOT or, indeed, being involved with the agencies and organisations that have served agriculture over the years. Maybe that, in itself, was a good thing, but they kept too much aloof, did not mix and therefore have made no contribution to the evolvement of farming as it is today, which is disappointing.

In the mid-seventies, when we had the benefit of the EEC Directives 160 and 161, their impact and the availability of money would have made quite a significant contribution to the evolvement, the development and the profitability of agriculture. That has not happened. I would not condemn the farmers' retirement scheme outright but nevertheless there was no follow-up to that. The scheme has been caught up significantly in inflation, especially with regard to small units. It is the smaller units that are important. When we talk about land division, people think of grandiose estates of several hundred acres, but these are very few and far between. The problem would have been more efficiently tackled had the commission sought out these small 15, 18 and 20 acre holdings. To a full-time farmer with 15, 20 or 25 acres, an additional two acres is a sizeable contribution to his efficiency and his annual income. This is where we have slipped up.

Some speakers have mentioned the problem of commonages. In my constituency, we do not have so many of these. Nevertheless, there are two or three that come to mind. In each of these cases, there is perhaps only one person holding up the division and development of that land. This matter has now taken on a new importance because, with animal disease eradication, commonages are just not on. They are out of date, because cattle [343] should not mix. It may not be so difficult with sheep. I hope that the Minister will pursue that problem. It has been mentioned and I wish him luck with it.

The Land Commission and the Department of Agriculture must recognise the very low return on capital investment in agriculture. The Minister and all concerned must bear this in mind, especially at present when there would appear to be a crisis of confidence in agricultural development. The previous generation who started their agricultural development in the thirties and were caught up in the economic war, have not been very anxious to borrow since then. The present generation who have been caught by the last five or six years' borrowing will also be slow to go to the banks and lending houses again. Perhaps the Minister might consider asking the ACC to examine the possibility of the Land Commission acquiring from the banks and the lending houses and indeed the ACC the estates and farms where there has been perhaps over-accommodation on lending. With present interest rates farmers are not able to service the accommodation they have. That would be taking the Land Commission right back to its inception and starting the process over again. Nevertheless, the numbers involved would not be significant. I should imagine they would be fewer than 1,000. It would be a tragedy if even one or two farming families were forced off the land because for one reason or another they find that they are not able to service the loan accommodation they have. I ask the Minister seriously to consider the Land Commission adopting a role in that.

Agriculture has gone through a significant change in the last ten years and particularly in the past few years, with the change in commercial trading because of merchant credit and co-ops charging fairly exorbitant interest rates for credit. Farmers who are not in a line of husbandry in which there is a cash flow are the most severely disadvantaged. They are finding it increasingly difficult to carry on. This, also, is an area that needs to be looked at, especially in the short-term. At present we need a specific [344] set of short-term policies to deal with the situation in agriculture. I recognise that the Land Commission must play a significant role in that. We must at all times have a land reform agency. If we do not who may very well buy up land, especially while the market is depressed, and then charge exorbitant prices for land.

The 11-month conacre setting has always been misread. If a five or ten acre field of stubble is put up for conacre letting and farmers are competing with each other to acquire it, the price can go to £100 an acre. If one asks An Foras Talúntais the profit margin on an acre of beet or an acre of barley, wheat or meadowing if one takes the conacre letting price out of it, the margin is very small. That is the problem we have. People feel that they must have that extra bit of space because it gives them the possibility of having an element of rotation in their own smaller holdings. People should not relate the price that small farmers are prepared to pay for additional land on an 11-month conacre with the return that is available from agriculture.

I am disappointed that the Land Commission have not adhered in all cases strictly to the criteria laid down by the EEC directives for the allocation of additional land to farmers. This is a pity, especially as far as retirement schemes are concerned. It is hard to understand that. I thought that the guidelines would have been strictly adhered to. It is a disappointment when one finds that they are not, when one finds people who are perhaps retired road-gangers, who perhaps worked in the civil service, or were members of the Gards, falling in for allotments of land when estates are divided. One can only up throw up one's hands in harror. What can one do? The act is done and they have signed up. Nevertheless it is not acceptable and there should be greater scrutinty and safeguards. In addition, in the last few years too many of the holdings that have been allocated have been let since. Again this is unacceptable. Therefore the administration over the last few years in some parts of the country have been a most severe disappointment.

[345] I hope that the Minister's review will be comprehensive, that he will look back over the files, even in a spot-check over the past, say, five years which would be within the old seven-year statutory limit, and ascertain how the allocations of those five years have fared out. It should be ascertained, by random check or otherwise, whether progress has been made, whether the people given additional grants were able to meet their annual repayments, whether their incomes, livelihood and their family farm situation have thereby improved. That is the test that should be used to ascertain how efficient and effective the system has been.

In any review the Minister undertakes I would hope that he would respect the traditional land “3 Fs.” That is very important to put the Minister on notice that in any Bill he introduces, if the 3 Fs are not preserved and conserved I am afraid he will have one pair of feet less in the lobby so far as I am concerned. There is no way I will support any proposal that does not guarantee the right to private property in this country. The land wars of the last century, the hardship successive generations of farmers and farm families suffered, were too much for this generation to turn its back on.

I believe also that Governmental policy dealing with agriculture at all times must have a greater appreciation of ecology. There must be provision made for that. We are told now that Bord na Móna are coming into their last 15 or 20 years on bogs, when our peatland and bogs will have vanished. In that event we will lose out on quite an amount not alone of fauna but of wildlife. Indeed in the country there are now very few species of wildlife remaining. There must be many reasons. Nevertheless, in agricultural areas, this is a pity. In land reclamation, therefore the Land Commission should have some regard to ecology.

The farm retirement scheme was mentioned here. It should be revived. Here I am speaking especially about the smaller farmers with under 20 or 25 acres who by virtue of the economics of farming that type of holding have an asset with which they do not particularly want [346] to part, perhaps for family reasons, for traditional reasons, perhaps only for pride. Nevertheless having surrendered say, 20 acres to the State, to the Land Commission or having let it they should at least be better off than if they were on the old age pension. My experience has been that, by availing of the farm retirement scheme they get a few pounds which is taxable and wind up worse than if they were on the old-age non-contributory pension. This is one of the reasons that scheme has not been as successful as many of us would have liked.

On the question of leasing, I think the Minister will have a very difficult problem trying to sell the idea of leasing to the older generation of farmers. Here I suppose there is a large element of historical throwback. But that should not deter the Minister from preparing a scheme and encouraging people to participate. The one thing that is lacking in Irish agriculture at present is a certain amount of confidence, at present aggravated by problems in the ACOT service. The agricultural advisers have a crib about their employment. There is a problem there which different sections of the Minister's Department should examine. I hope a reappraisal of the role of the Land Commission will be a positive one. I hope the Minister will be brave and progressive. I hope we will be able to support him fully in whatever steps he takes in that regard.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Burke: I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him, as a fellow constituent, on his appointment. His appointment was a very wise one in so far as he comes from an area where he has first-hand and practical experience of the problems obtaining on the question of land acquisition and redistribution.

This is an enabling Bill whereby the ceiling on land bonds is being increased from £105 million to £130 million. What I want to ask the Minister is: is this additional land bond provision for acquisition of extra land in the ensuing year or in the few years ahead? If it is I think it is a good thing. At present — when land prices throughout the country have stabilised [347] — it would be normal to expect that the Land Commission could acquire, at current prices, something in the region of, say, 1,000 to perhaps 2,000 acres. Perhaps the Minister would tell us if it is for that purpose. While the Land Commission have been ridiculed over many years we cannot treat them in isolation. The Minister, in his welcome review of the land policy must consider very carefully the whole question and not that of the Land Commission in isolation. There the Land Commission have been forced into many pitfalls, the focus of much criticism. I would describe land bonds as marginally unconstitutional in so far as they constitute nothing more than a forced loan on persons from whom land had been acquired. Without a guarantee under that scheme on resale there is no incentive whatsoever for the restructuring of the whole of our land.

Many people would contend that the Land Commission has outlived its usefulness. Indeed, when we question the reasons for its establishment we find that was a time in history when there were vast numbers of huge estates to be redistributed. That is no longer the case. Now the only parcels of land that come on the market are small ones in which the Land Commission shows no interest at all. That is a peculiar change-about in so far as the people for whom it was originally intended are concerned. They are the small farmers who are now more or less ignored in the sense that they cannot appeal to any source. The only people to whom they can lodge an appeal at present are the Land Commission. They cannot now find the resources to acquire land themselves independently.

Of course the question of land distribution is deep-rooted in our history. While in the past it provided a re-settling programme for many farmers, in so far as huge estates were divided up and people settled on them when the Land Commission not only divided the land but also provided housing and accommodation for its recipients, today it is the direct opposite; today land acquisition results in de-population. That is a very unfortunate aspect I would highlight. When the [348] Minister is examining a new land structure I hope he will take into account vast areas that have been depopulated over the years. Every encouragement should be given to the re-settling of trained young farmers in an area where they can work viable units.

I admire the Minister's courage in tackling a problem talked about so often but never tackled. The fate of many people who have so suggested has been very diverse. For instance, the popularity of the original proponent of the idea of the land for the people — Davitt in times past — is notable. In modern times a recent proposer of change on that idea was, for instance, a person outside the State, that was Mansholt — the Mansholt plan. Its fate was instantly doomed. The suggestion by Mansholt that many areas would be depopulated hit very hard those people who had struggled for generations to retain their property at all costs, whether or not it was viable; it was the land for the people and they were to hold on to that land. In modern times any politician — in election fever — who says that he will divide this or that estate and will seek the power of the Land Commission to do so, would immediately increase his popularity. That would be temporary popularity only in so far as it would take far more than that to move the Land Commission.

Much of the criticism that has been levelled at the Land Commission is not their fault. I believe it has arisen as a result of a policy of complete starvation of finance. That goes back — as Senator Smith has said earlier — to the question of the relationship between this Department and the Department of Finance. That is why I urge the Minister — in any future reappraisal of the whole land question — to seek the absolute commitment of all other related Departments on that question. I particularly mention the Departments of Finance and Social Welfare. If the finance is not available or the incentive for the acquisition of land, then it will remain under-utilised for years to come. This would mean also that the ideas of many trained, highly educated farmers on ways of increasing production are stymied in so far as that they have no [349] way of implementing their ideas. Very often the criticism is levelled at groups of small farmers, in the west particularly, that they are happy to go to the local Social Welfare Office on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and draw the dole. I would remind the House and all people who have advanced that criticism in the past, that that is not the case of the modern Irish farmers. They want to get on with the job, to improve their lot and not be dependent on handouts.

The Minister, in formulating a new policy, must look very carefully at the relationship existing and the penalty existing in regard to further acquisition of land and social welfare. Indeed he might well scrutinise this matter in his Department itself in so far as the amount of land a person has or acquires will decide the category of grant for which he may qualify for further development. In this respect most farmers find themselves in a knot they cannot untangle. Eventually it breaks down into frustration and perhaps complete departure from the land. Some people find no matter what way they turn, a stone wall, red tape attitude in all Departments.

I should like to deal with the question of the Land Commission holding vast numbers of acres for long periods and which have been let in a very unproducetive and damaging way by them. The policy of repeatedly letting land on the eleven months system is of great disadvantage not alone to the person who rents it short-term but also its future occupants. That land degenerates very quickly, nobody having responsibility for its overall maintenance. Everybody who rents that land does so to obtain the maximum from it with the least possible input. The Land Commission have been remiss over the years in perpetuating that system. While the Minister says that somebody has to repay that loss I would contend that there are parcels of land which have been held by the Land Commission over the years and bought or acquired at a time when land prices were very low. Now they have recouped that cost, or very nearly, and hopefully will be letting it at favourable rents. Certainly [350] the loss factor is not as great, in all instances, of Land Commission property.

Senator McDonald mentioned the question of disease control where there are commonages. That matter has been dealt with by a stone wall type attitude by other agencies within the Department of Agriculture. While the Land Commission have failed in the past to take the initiative to legislate for the division of those commonages, another section of the same Department restricts, in another way, equal rights on that commonage. There are anomalies within that Department and I welcome the Minister's intention once and for all to eliminate them.

I should like to mention also the question of the farm retirement scheme. Many Senators referred to it. It has been a dismal failure. The proof is to be found in the very small number of people who have availed of its provisions. There are many reasons for its failure. The cash incentive offered was not great. In fact, the pension scheme offered under that scheme militated against the other social welfare benefits an applicant might be entitled to had he retained his original property. I urge the Minister to work in close liaison with the Department of Social Welfare when dealing with those problems.

The question of the transfer of land has always been a question in which great interest was shown. Despite a very short spurt of enthusiasm a few years ago it has practically ceased. The incentives offered at the time of an easy and cheap transfer have now been withdrawn. This is regrettable. I hope it will be temporary only. If our younger generation are to acquire land while it is profitable for them to do so, at a time when they can work it to its greatest advantage without constituting too large a burden, ease of transfer must be implemented.

Senator Ferris mentioned an important and local question of the rehabilitation of the Gortdrum mines. I would concur with much of what Senator Ferris said in that respect in so far as we have a similar situation in my constituency. Unlike Senator Ferris — while it was agricultural land in the past — we have had no such [351] rehabilitation plan in so far as the same mining company came in there in preplanning law days. There is no such commitment to plant that area. While the land in Gortdrum seems to be viable for agricultural purposes at present a question mark hangs over Tynagh Mines as to whether the land there is suitable to be reutilised for agricultural purposes. The planting process seems the only alternative in the case of Tynagh Mines. The land seems to be poisonous. Experts who have examined the whole subject of using this land again have found that it contains substances which will not disappear through recultivation or re-topsoiling. It has probably been destroyed permanently. When Senator Ferris urges the Minister for the Environment to contact the Land Commission with regard to acquiring the land careful consideration should be given to its state because while visually not changed in any way its soil content might be hazardous.

I should like to deal with the question of part-time workers and the policy of the Land Commission in the past of completely ignoring their right to acquiring more land from the commission. The need for many such small farmers to go out to seek alternative employment, for supplementary income, in itself proves that their holdings are not viable units. When commissioners came to divide land in certain areas anybody who had enough farm income was immediately ruled out unless he guaranteed to cease off-farm activities. That was regrettable in so far as many people who had they received additional land would have made them viable units, have been passed over. The question of acquiring land in any area was practically always subject to pressure. In recent times the decision to acquire land was a political one. When the Minister is formulating a policy I urge him to take into consideration people who could return to farming were they given the extra land on a guarantee that they would give up their off-farm activities.

The work of the Land Commission, in so far as they distributed 1,500,000 acres in 50 years, demonstrates the vast amount [352] of land throughout the country awaiting restructuring and reallocation. When the new Bill comes before the Houses of the Oireachtas its provisions should be speedily implemented as long as there is included in those provisions an opportunity to make land available without interfering — and this important — with the rights of ownership. Any effort to force on owners any idea of acquisition or sale must be resisted. Rather should it be by way of incentive, without penalisation on any other aspect. The question there arises of the easy transfer of fragmented land, that it should be by arrangement rather than be a long, legal process. If farmers are prepared to hand over certain areas of land without great legal wrangle or tangle the new Bill should facilitate them in every possible way in a speedy settlement rather than go through the long process of court procedures.

I congratulate the Minister on his initiative in outlining his intended policy. When the relevant Bill comes before the House in the very near future I hope it can be welcomed not only by the people from whom the land will be acquired but also by the many people awaiting fast decision on the disposal of much land held at present by the Land Commission.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Harte): Before the Senator goes too far into his contribution I would like to remind him that we have agreed to adjourn at 1 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 1 p.m. and resumed at 2.15 p.m.

Mr. Kiely: Before I deal with the Bill, I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment. I am delighted to see that he was appointed. He actually came into this House of the Oireachtas the same day as I, and I wish him well in his position. I am sure he will benefit from his experience as a Member of this House during the four years he served in it.

I welcome this Bill because it increases the limit of funds for land bonds from £105 million to £130 million, an increase of £25 million. While I welcome the Bill, I have reservations about land bonds. I would prefer to see land being bought by [353] the Land Commission being paid for in direct cash. It would make it more attractive for farmers who are not utilising land properly to sell their land to the Land Commission. It would also, perhaps, induce people who would be selling land to sell it to the Land Commission who would utilise it for congestion relief and for helping small farmers who would be farming very successfully, to make their farms viable holdings and ensure that they would have a decent standard of living. What the Land Commission consider at present to be a viable holding is a 45-acre holding of adjusted acres or arable acres. I do not think in this day and age that a 45-acre farm is a viable holding for any farmer to live on or to provide a decent standard of living for his wife and family. This standard by the Land Commission should be increased to 60 or 70 acres.

I would also like to see the Land Commission widening their activities. They are a little restricted in how they allocate land at present. My chief reason for speaking here is because, for example, in my area farmers who had only ten or 12 acres had farms rented on the 11-month system for the past ten to 12 years. A farmer might be making a moderate standard of living, he was happy enough with it anyway, but the next thing the owner decided to sell the farm on which the small farmer had conacre and that meant that he could not buy it. We approached the Land Commission to know would they buy it and rent it to him in the normal way. The Land Commission could not because it would cost too much money. They said that they would have to build a house for him and they put forward many other arguments as regards cost.

I feel the Land Commission should be in a position to help in such cases. It should not be necessary for them to build a house if there was, say, a bad house on the farm. He could make his own arrangements as regards building a house through county council loans which are freely available to people like that. He could make arrangements to build out-offices. He could continue working the land as he had been for the past ten to 12 [354] years when he had it rented from a farmer on the 11-month system. That farm was sold and it went to another big farmer who had more than 200 acres and who had an interest in haulage contracting.

It is very unfair to see a man who, because he was not in a position to buy a farm he had been farming as conacre, could not be helped by the Land Commission and a big farmer could buy the farm because he had the money. This is an important area in which the Land Commission could help farmers of that kind. I would also like to see the Land Commission monitoring to save farms so that big farmers or non-farmers who would be in a position to buy farms, could buy those farms at the expense of the good farmers who, on performance, would be more entitled to buy land and should be helped by the Government or the Land Commission to do so. There should be some charge or premium put on any farmer in that respect.

I would like to see transfers of farms from fathers to sons with the least expense. It is very important for our agricultural industry that there be an easy and less expensive system of transferring farms from fathers to sons, especially when a son would have done some course in an agricultural college, for example, in ACOT. He would be very qualified to work that farm and a tradition would be maintained.

I welcome the Bill because it will give the Land Commission more money to acquire land. I would like to see legislation introduced soon to restructure the land system so that it would be more attractive for farmers not utilising their farms to sell their land to the Land Commission. It would ease the congestion and give young farmers, especially farmers who are working small farms and who would not have the necessary cash to buy land, an opportunity to make their farms viable holdings.

Mr. Lanigan: I will not detain the House for very long but I wish to ask the Minister a few questions about the activities of the Land Commission. Have the personnel in the Land Commission offices been run down over the last few [355] years? It seems to me that Land Commission activities have been run down to an enormous degree. It also seems to me that the numbers employed in Land Commission offices have remained the same. It appears to me, looking at farms which were taken over by the Land Commission as far back as ten years which have not yet been divided, that the personnel in the Land Commission spend their time going around querying small farmers as to their eligibility to take over or get a share of farms which have been taken over. Each year the same officials come to the auctions at which 11-month lettings are being made. They investigate the division of a farm again and again. It would appear to me that the staff of the Land Commission are running around in circles and getting nowhere.

In the Kilkenny area the number of divisions that have taken place over the last ten years have been very few. The amount of acreage held by the Land Commission is relatively the same. They have the same numbers of staff. If you talk realistically to the people who work in the regional offices of the Land Commission they will tell you that their basic job is looking after themselves. They have not work to do because the land is not being divided.

We are providing extra money under this Bill. I do not think that anybody realistically wants to get land bonds if their land is taken over. They want cash, because 90 per cent of the farmers who sell land at present or whose land is to be taken over have financial problems. To get land bonds at a time when they need cash is not much use to them.

We have seen that in congested areas on occasions land is going to people who cannot realistically farm land because they are either too old or they have not got the health. We have seen where land has been divided and the divisions have made unrealistic holdings more unrealistic by virtue of the fact that a 30-acre farmer is given ten acres two or three miles from his main holding. If he wants to put cattle on this land——

[356] An Leas-Chathaoirleach: That familiar bell is going again.

Debate adjourned.