Seanad Éireann - Volume 134 - 04 November, 1992

Irish Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill, 1989: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

An Cathaoirleach: I should like to say at the outset that we will be circulating an amendment for the Committee Stage. We are doing so because of the change in procedure agreed to today.

Mr. Hourigan: I spoke at length on this legislation on 21 October last. However, there are a few further important points I would like to add to my contribution.

I want to refer again to the vital role a land agency or land authority can and must play in the future in the handling and unfinished business of the Land Commission. One very important matter is the question of land transferred from one generation to the next. There are two distinct areas here. We have the case where there is an inheritance going from father to son, father to daughter, or from husband to wife. That type of inheritance has an exemption of £250,000, taking the agricultural grant of £100,000 with the other £150,000. However, with the [953] growth in the size of farms and with land prices as they are — even though they have been at a higher level in years past, they are still high — there is a tendency that this threshold or level can and is leading to fragmentation of holdings. Some farmers may be tempted, and in fact actually do divide their farms into parcels that will not be liable for any capital acquisition tax. I would say to the Minister that this area needs looking at and that the threshold of £250,000 should be adjusted.

Allied to that, there is an even more serious matter, where a considerable amount of land is held by bachelor farmers, or ladies who did not get married, or indeed by farmers who do not have families themselves. In these cases I am aware, of course, that there is provision for what is called the favourite nephew, where the future owner spends five years in part or in whole with the person from whom he is going to inherit the land and that qualifies him or her to be regarded as a daughter or a son in the ordinary course of events. I believe that is not sufficient, because many of our bachelor farmers do not look that far ahead and very often we find a situation where a substantial holding is inherited by a nephew or niece and they are entitled to an exemption of only £20,000 on a property that perhaps may be worth £200,000, £250,000 or £300,000. With the various levels of inheritance tax and with 50 per cent coming in at an early stage, it means that these holdings have to be sold. Those who receive them are not in a position to borrow to pay the inheritance tax. I think it is a serious matter that so many of our holdings are in that category and it needs attention.

We have also the question of stamp duty. I urge the Minister very strongly that stamp duty be removed. At present stamp duty does not apply where there is a will, but it does apply where there is a transfer from one member of a family to another. It is a retrograde step to impose stamp duty because it encourages farmers to hold on to their land until their death and leave it through a will to their son, [954] daughter or whoever it may be. This matter should be addressed very quickly.

We also have perhaps arising from some of the factors I have mentioned — an age structure where 15.7 per cent of our farmers are over 65 years of age, whereas in the EC 6.6 per cent of farmers are over 65 years of age. I do not think that this is good for the industry. It is not a healthy position that we have land held by such a high proportion of farmers over 65 years of age. I accept that there are many farmers over 65 who are very fit and capable of carrying on good business, but as a general principle I believe farmers should have handed over their farms at that stage, if not earlier.

The Land Commission have done an extremely good job since 1881. The Land Authority, to which I referred today and on the previous day, is a body that should be established urgently to take care of the unfinished business of the Land Commission. I support fully, as does this side of the House, the Bill before us and I assure the Minister of our co-operation.

Éamon Ó Cuív: I tosach báire ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille seo. Creidim go raibh gá leis an reachtaíocht seo a chur tríd agus an éiginneacht a bhain le Coimisiún na Talún a chur ar deireadh. Sa tír seo is dóigh nach bhfuil rud ar bith go gcuireann daoine an oiread béime air ná úinéireacht talún. Mar sin, is gá dúinn bheith an-soiléir faoi na structúir a bheadh i gceist againn maidir le úinéireacht na talún céanna.

Rud amháin atá an-tábhachtach ná go bhfanfadh talamh na hÉireann i lámha mhuintir na hÉireann. Le ró-fhada bhí muintir na tíre seo ag troid lena chinntiú gur acu siúd a bheadh talamh na tíre seo. Ar an ábhar sin, ó tharla go bfhuil an talamh sin acu ní mór dóibh greim a choimeád air.

Tuigim go bhfuil gá de réir rialacha an Chomhphobail, go gcuirfí deireadh leis na cumhachtaí a bhí ann cheana, go gceannódh Coimisiún na Talún talamh agus go roinnfidís ar thionóntaí beaga í. Ag an am céanna níl aon amhras ann ach go bhfuil nós nua ag éirí, go mór mhór san iarthar aít go bhfuil daoine ón taobh [955] amuigh — eachtrannaigh go mór — ag teacht isteach ag ceannach gabháltas talún ní ar mhaithe le feirmeoireacht ach ar mhaithe le cúrsaí saoire.

In welcoming this Bill I have to voice a concern we have in the west regarding land ownership and a trend that is causing serious concern in western communities. The Land Commission served us well in ensuring that the big estate was divided and that land was put into the hands of the ordinary people. Times change however and requirements change, and I accept fully that that requirement no longer exists. The Minister referred to the talk about the need for a land agency. Without statutory powers I am not sure what a land agency could do; indeed, my understanding is that under Community rules it might not be possible to give a land agency the powers that would be required. I think the problem can be solved in a much simpler way.

In the first place we must create a consciousness among rural people of the value of maintaining land in local hands. Secondly, it would be only fair to say that the banks and the financial institutions have a part to play in ensuring that people are provided with reasonable finance to consolidate their holdings. Just as banks enter special arrangements regarding the promotion of industry, etc., I think it would be very important that preferential treatment would be given by banks to small farmers who are trying to buy local land that would come to the market at reasonable prices to consolidate their holdings.

I would remind the banks that in the west of Ireland the deposits in any bank far outstrip the amount of lending. The banks in the west tend to be deposit banks and it is about time they put something more back into the local communities than they have been doing up to now. There is a role or the co-operation of the financial institutions and the State to ensure that what was hard won by the people of this country will be kept in the hands of local people for future generations.

There is one thing we can all agree on [956] about land and that is “they ain't making it anymore”. Therefore if land is sold piece by piece, hundred acre by hundred acre, large tracts, particularly in the visually attractive parts of the west where there are poor farming conditions, would go out of agriculture and would be used totally for amenity purposes by people who would live in the area for only short periods of the year.

The second big demand we meet all the time from farmers concerns commonage division. I welcome the commitment in the Minister's speech that this will continue. In west of Ireland conditions it is an absolute requirement, for the purposes of husbandry and disease control, etc., that commonage division would continue. It is also important that some system would be devised to ensure that, in the case of one person out of 20 or 30 standing against division, a division could go ahead. I understand the legal power is there. It should be used, consonant with giving fair compensation to the person who disagrees. The idea that one shareholder in a commonage who might not be resident in an area can hold up the division of such a commonage is a great tragedy.

Another question arises. Many of the commonages in the west are not suitable for division. Most hill commonages are not very suitable for division because if you divide them the natural run for the sheep is destroyed. For example, a hill of 300 or 400 acres cannot be divided into 30 acre lots because you will take from sheep their natural shelter. In those cases what we favour is the division of the lower parts of the commonage, where there are arable or potentially arable fields; the fencing of the rest of the commonage; and encouraging and enabling people to buy out shareholders who are no longer using those commonages.

In that context, in the interest of stock management and disease control, the introduction of a fencing grant for hill commonages in the west would be very beneficial. The kind of planning somebody might do in an office, drawing nice neat squares on a map, has no relationship [957] to the realities of hill farming in the west.

In the west the question of Land Registry and Land Commission records is of immense importance. In too many cases we are still dealing with records of the congested districts boards of long ago although it is a long time since the CDBs were in operation. We have experienced massive delays in establishing titles due to the number of land registrations that have to go through the Land Commission first and then revert back to congested districts board titles. This must be addressed urgently.

People are impeded from acquiring title to land for which they have applied for house building loans and the Department of Agriculture cannot pay headage grants where clear title to land cannot be established not because people are unwilling to seek or pay for it but because of a delay in titles coming through the system. This is intolerable when a clear title is required for so many facets of everyday life. In this connection, I suggest that all land title functions of the Land Commission be incorporated into the Land Registry where they rightly belong.

Current delays in the Records Branch are also causing hardship to people waiting for title to land. I often come across the problem of unregistered land and of old estates such as the Guinness estates, and to establish title of 30 years should be sufficient in law to grant an absolute title. The legal requirements to establish title in some cases, particularly in small fragmented holdings in the west are excessive and the cost to a small farmer of trying to meet legal requirements is totally disproportionate to the worth of the land. I ask the Minister to consider these suggestions.

I support the thrust of the Bill. It will clear up much misundestanding when people see that despite the dissolution of the Land Commission the functions of land division, title, leasing, etc., will continue not only as before but with renewed vigour.

Mar a dúirt mé ag an tús is Bille an-tábhachtach [958] é seo. Molaim é don Teach agus ní mór tuilleadh plé a dhéanamh ar cheist úinéireacht talún sa tír seo amach anseo.

Mr. S. Byrne: I would like to pay tribute to the commissioners involved during the years in the division of land. They did a great job under difficult circumstances in a sensitive area. Nine times out of ten their long term judgment was proved right.

Senator Ó Cuív raised the question of title and I am concerned about fishing and shooting rights. Many loopholes exist in this regard and not all landowners know whether they have fishing or shooting rights on their holdings. The position should be regularised and I am sure the Minister will take that on board. There are active gun clubs in most parts of rural Ireland and farmers are concerned about people shooting on their farms. Disputes frequently arise about shooting rights.

Many large holdings, particularly in the south, were divided during the past 30 or 40 years resulting in the acquisition of valuable holdings for many families. While the farming scene has changed in recent years and those families now require double the original amount of land to make an honest living from it, at least they have a base and a home in which to rear their children in their own county. I am delighted the Land Commission accomplished that rather than allow the land fall into the hands of foreigners. As Senator Ó Cuív mentioned, the small farmer should be helped by the lending institutions if a parcel of land comes on the market in order to increase the size of small holdings. They have little chance of competing with farmers carrying big cheque books but, with assistance, many parcels of land could be bought by small farmers.

As Senator Ó Cuív said, “they ain't making land anymore”. What has grieved me about local authorities in the past 25 years is their disregard for good standards of road design. The best of land has been carved up at enormous expense and left undeveloped under weeds and untrimmed [959] bushes, thus defeating the original purpose of improving road visibility. On county roads, and particularly on main roads, a disgraceful rape of the land has taken place. Acres of land were laid waste that in another 100 years will not be needed to widen the road. In these modern times there should be some way in which that land might be used for grazing so that maintenance by the local authority would not be necessary and the land would benefit somebody. It is a scandal.

I am not ridiculing civil servants but they should have more regard for Irish land. The farmers of Ireland have suffered throughout the centuries in order to eke out a living on their holdings and it grieves many farmers to see land lie fallow covered with weeds and dirt, all at a high cost to the taxpayer. The land in question may not be required for 50 or 100 years. Such disgraceful activity should cease. If advance planning is required for main roads in particular and for some county roads, local authority and Department of Environment engineers ensure that temporary fencing is erected that would not interfere with visibility and that the land is utilised in some way that with reduce the maintenance cost to the local authority.

Between the mid-sixties and the mid-eighties the farming scene was more rosy than it is now. Land prices went sky high then and the annuities payable on Land Commission land that was allocated to hundreds of people all around the country were adjusted to a very high rate. In recent years the introduction of quotas has made it difficult for farmers to make a living and pay those land annuities. Many have been under severe pressure, particularly in the past five years, to meet their annuities and I am pleased the Minister worked speedily in that area. I know a number of the people concerned and I hope they will be successful in their negotiations with the Minister's Department.

Most people want to pay their way but with a young family to support it can be difficult to avoid accumulating debts. I [960] am delighted the Minister grasped that nettle. His Department had a look at the problem nationally and an announcement was made about six weeks ago that was welcomed by many people. It will be a great relief to many smallholders who get land; at that time everybody was buying up land which also made land acquisition expensive for the Land Commission.

The Land Commission did a good job. Although they made many controversial decisions, generally their decisions about land division were sensible, just and reasonable. I hope that the Commission's departure will not leave a vacuum.

There have been large-scale purchases of land by foreigners. Landowners are entitled to a fair price and it is difficult for any Government to rule that only certain people may buy land. Lending institutions might be more understanding towards smallholders. If a small parcel of land goes on sale, a smallholder should be assisted to acquire it to increase a holding and thereby make a decent living from it.

The subject of land is a very sensitive one and the question of land titles in town and country has been in disarray for a long time. Acquiring legal title can be expensive. In many parts of the country holdings pass from one family to another and it is not until a loan is required, for instance, that the need to produce titles arises.

Senator Hourigan spoke about inheritance tax. Within a family the farm is often passed on to a son or daughter who has spent a lifetime on that land. They may be the eldest of a large family where one or both parents had died and they have done their best to put brothers and sisters through college or to set them up in business. In the mid-seventies and eighties the inheritors of land frequently found themselves liable to substantial inheritance tax because of the crazy land prices of the time.

Few obstacles should be put in the way of family land transfers even when it is to a relative living with an aunt or uncle. Early transfer of land is essential. One does not have to be a large farmer today to be caught in the net. Farm incomes [961] have dropped but land prices generally have held. In other words, people are buying land today as an investment with little interest in farming. These people keep land prices high and I appeal to the Minister and to the Minister for Finance to bear that in mind.

A person who has spent 20 or 25 years on a farm, should not have to run to the bank manager for help towards inheritance tax and stamp duty when they finally inherit. Every assistance should be given to them to register the property in their own name. One needs a proper title to qualify for EC grants or for a hearing from a lending institution. That is still a problem for many farmers.

I am sure the Minister, having been being a farmer all his life, knows what I am talking about. I appeal to him to do what he can in his own Department and also to request the Department of Finance to remove that barrier. I am not suggesting that the barrier be removed to accommodate people who are trying to avoid paying their fair share when they inherit large estates. Family members or close relatives who have spent a number of years on a holding should get every assistance to prevent farms being sold or split up. That happened in the late seventies and early eighties to a number of small farmers who felt disillusioned after years spent working on a holding while trying to help brothers and sisters to get on in life.

The Land Commission did their best. It was often difficult to sort out large estates and they deserve our gratitude.

Mr. McGowan: I join with other Members in welcoming the Bill. I agree that the Land Commission did great work during a difficult period. It was easy for us to be critical of the Land Commission but they had to deal with anomalies in rural Ireland. Traditionally, one did not sign over a farm through a solicitor; matters were allowed to drift. Ultimately, the Land Commission were faced with a major task in their efforts to control land ownership and transfer. We have now passed that stage and in the age of computerisation every aspect of land policy [962] will come under the control of the Department of Agriculture and Food.

We should now adopt a new approach to land valuation. At present we are vulnerable to moneyed foreigners, whether industrialists or speculators from Europe and from further afield, who make attractive offers to people who may not be using their land to its full potential and who may be tempted to abandon farming. I hope that situation is examined by the Department of Agriculture and Food.

I would like to see strong land acquisition control exercised by the Department. I know the Minister will share my concern. At present too many agencies are involved. For instance, in rural areas before one can sell land for afforestation or planting one is subject to the approval of the Department of Energy and the Wildlife Service for an evaluation of whether it is of concern nationally or internationally.

There are administrative difficulties for people planning better use of their land and I would like to see the Department of Agriculture and Food tidy up the areas of control, titles, land use and the land bank. They should offer advice to smallholders on how best to dispose of their land if forced to do so or on the best use of land. An advisory service within the Department is necessary.

The problem of a surfeit of agencies is evident when local authorities zone land for residential development, commercial development, etc., and conflicts arise. The Department of Agriculture and Food are the appropriate Department here and a section should be established in that Department which would encourage people living on rural family farms to value their land fully. Many holdings located up boreens, lanes or in some secluded place were hard fought for by our ancestors. That land must not be lost by the present generation; it must have a future and contribute to the welfare and prosperity of the State. It cannot do that without proper advice, direction and control and now is an opportune time for the Minister to make proper advice readily available.

[963] If somebody wants to sell a site to a neighbour or family member they should not have to wait a year or two for the title. The Land Commission is being dissolved but we still have the Land Registry. Despite all the agencies involved, we are not yet offering proper advice so that one can deal with a piece of land as one might deal with any other commodity or product. One can acquire the title to any commercial building immediately; it is held either in the bank, by a solicitor or in trust and one can have it transferred reasonably fast under normal procedure. I hope we will be able to do the same with the land bank. Above all it is important to encourage those living on the land, no matter what pressure they may be under, not to give away or sell land to anybody. They should hold on to it and make sure they realise its full value in European terms. Many families have fought hard and long to retain land, as I am sure the Minister will agree. Land must realise its full potential value for those living on it. That is my hope and aspiration and I am certain the Minister has the basic expertise necessary to effect that.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Hyland): I thank the Senators for the welcome extended to me on my first visit here as Minister of State. On this historic occasion the contributions in the House this afternoon reflects to some extent the sadness of Members at the passing of a great national institution. Members who spoke on all sides paid a fitting tribute to the Land Commission as an institution and to its many officials who administered the various schemes over the years. I join with the Senators who spoke in adding my thanks, appreciation and acknowledgment to them.

The Land Commission was, without doubt, a unique institution and I can understand and even empathise with the feeling of regret expressed by Senator Hussey and others on its passing. However, we must acknowledge the reality as Senator Hourigan pointed out, that the legislation before the House is [964] designed simply to give statutory effect to the position that has existed on the ground since 1983. To put it bluntly, the Land Commission has outlived its usefulness.

With our entry into the European Community the whole agricultural scene, to use the immortal words of a former Member of this House, changed and changed utterly. It is to the Common Agricultural Policy rather than to the acquisition and division of land that farmers must look to improve their lot in the future.

Great concern has been expressed in this House and previously in the Dáil about the absence of proposals for a new land policy to replace the traditional one. Senator Hourigan raised the question of establishing some form of alternative structure. Senators referred to some of the land policy proposals advanced in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many of these proposals were designed to control land sales so as to give progressive smallholders an advantage over their competitors in the market for land. It is worth reminding Senators that all of the measures then proposed were examined in detail during the course of an exhaustive review of land policy undertaken when acquisition was terminated. The conclusion reached at that time was that any proposal for controlling land sales could raise considerable constitutional and operational difficulties — constitutional because of citizens' rights to buy and sell property and operational because of the complex technical and administrative rules and checks which would be required to implement such controls.

In the end it was decided that the way to assist smallholders was to actively promote such hitherto unfamiliar concepts as long term leasing and group purchase with the aim of accelerating land mobility. At the same time, the Land Commission continued to provide assistance with schems of rearrangement and commonage division with the aim of improving farm structures. These four elements quickly became the cornerstones of land policy and, I hasten to add, will be continued under powers transferred [965] to the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

There have been calls for the establishment of some type of body to replace the Land Commission. I fully appreciate the concerns which have promoted these calls. Personally I believe, as I have already indicated, that there is something to be said for setting up a body to monitor land use and to make recommendations as to how our land resource can be fully and correctly utilised. For this reason I was happy to be able to inform both Houses that I have asked the expert review group which is currently working on the new development programme for the agriculture sector in the context of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress to pay particular attention to the ideas and suggestions made by Members from all sides during the debates on this Bill.

On the question of future policy, we must move away from a concentration on land in isolation and must seek instead to embrace a global co-ordinated approach involving rural and structural development in is broadest sense.

I am convinced that our best hope for the future lies in creating off-farm employment so as to boost the income of farmers who, because of the size of their holdings and restrictions on prodution, are no longer able to make a decent living. In that regard I would like to make a passing reference to the opportunites provided by way of all of the various alternative farmer enteprises that can now be grant-aided under the various EC schemes.

An Cathaoirleach: Including the greyhound industry.

Mr. Hyland: Including, as the Cathaoirleach has correctly reminded me the greyhound industry.

Senator Dardis in his contribution warned against the danger of losing sight of the real business of agriculture. His feelings on this matter obviously coincided with my own. As a rural Deputy I am only too aware that our priority in terms of agriculture is and [966] must be the development and consolidation of the core industry which is the production, growing and processing in food. However, I am also painfully conscious of the limiting effects of EC policies on production and of the need to develop the alternative enterprises to which I have referred.

Senators Norris and Hourigan have difficulty accepting the concept of set aside. I have to confess that while I believe the provision for set aside is a necessary part of the overall package negotiated under the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy it is a policy which I personally do not like. It is alien to the culture, training and professional ethos of any farmer whose vocation is to produce and to grow food and to assist in the development of our natural land resource.

Senator Norris expressed an interest in the scheme of grant-aid for investments in agri-tourism. This scheme forms part of the operational programme for rural development and its objective is to provide grant aid to farmers and rural dwellers towards the cost of providing facilities that will enhance the attractiveness of the area for tourists.

The range of eligible investments includes the provision, enlargement of improvement in certain circumstances of tourist accommodation but, as Senator Norris so rightly surmised, it does not stop there. Grant aid may also be given for the establishment, enlargement or improvement of leisure facilities for tourists such as fishing, sailing, horse-riding, pony trekking, walking, cycling, golfing facilities, farm museums, interpretative centres, viewing facilities for traditional crafts, visitor farms and theme farms.

Senators Dardis and Upton referred to the environment and gave support to the concept of compensating farmers for its maintenance. There are at present two pilot projects in operation under the environmentally sensitive areas scheme under which farmers can get up to £1,000 for following farm practices that are aimed at protecting and enhancing the environment. One of these is the Sliabh Bloom project in my own area and the [967] other is the Slyne Head project in County Galway. Both projects were launched about six months ago and it is extremely important that they be successful so that we will be in a position to negotiate with the EC for a further expansion of the scheme.

A number of speakers touched on the twin issues of early land transfer and farmers retirement. Once again, the views expressed coincide with my own. It is widely accepted that within families the early transfer to a heir in many cases would lead to greater use of EC schemes and alternative enterprises and would result in a better income for the whole family. However, the area of inheritance is a delicate and emotive one and the State cannot intervene directly in it. Instead, we must rely on measures designed to promote and encourage early transfer.

A pre-retirement scheme aimed at farmers aged between 55 and 65 was approved by the EC earlier this year. The scheme provides a pension where a farmer sells or leases his farm. I am optimistic that this scheme will help to increase land mobility.

The big incentive for early transfer is, of course, the young farmers installation aid scheme. This scheme provides a premium of £5,600 for young farmers taking over a farm for the first time. Under a recent amendment, leased land is now eligible to qualify for this premium.

I noticed that during the course of the debate several Senators voiced concerns about the high level of Land Commission annuities. This was a particular concern of mine before any appointment as Minister of State and it was one of the first files for which I asked on my arrival in Agriculture House. As a rural Deputy I was only too aware of the problem of annuities and the difficulties of the smaller farmers in particular of paying them. That is why I derived so much satisfaction from my part in solving this probelm.

As members of the House will know a package of measures which includes the reduction of all annuities over the 10 per cent rate and the rescheduling of repayment [968] periods, the writing off of all annuities with half yearly instalments of less than £10 and an offer of a buy-out discount of 50 per cent of the outstanding advance to every annuitant not in arrears was approve by the Government in September. The package is expected to resolve the land annuity collection problem once and for all.

The question of the purchase of land by foreigners is an emotive one but one which must be viewed in perspective. Under Community law, residents of the EC and companies registered in member states must be allowed to buy land freely. In effect, this means that control can only be exercised against purchasers from outside the EC. The amount of land bought by this category over the past five years where the consent of the Land Commission was given was about 6,000 hectares. This figure is small compared to the total land area of the country. Needless to say, the situation is being kept under constant review and remedial action will be taken if at some stage in the future this is considered necessary. The exercise of this control is being transferred along with the exercise of subdivision control to the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

Senator Raftery alluded to the problems encountered during the current relocation of the Records Branch of the Land Commission. The building in Merrion Street which has housed the Records Branch since the early 1880s has been sold and the branch was closed from 17 August last to facilitate the transfer of the records to the National Archives. It was anticipated at that time that the transfer would be effected within three months. Unfortunately, the task of transferring an estimated 7 million documents is proving more difficult and is taking longer than expected. I understand that it is unlikely that the Records Branch will be operational until the New Year. Notices will be placed in the national papers informing the public when this very important service will be resumed. The Incorporated Law Society will also be advised of the situation.

I regret that I cannot give Senator [969] Norris the assurances he sought in relation to the special features of the building as this is outside my area of responsibility. I am advised that Senator Norris should pursue the matter with Deputy Treacy, Minister of State at the Department of Finance.

While on the subject of notable buildings, in an effort to reply to another of the Senator's questions I made inquiries about the fate of those large houses which were sometimes inadvertently acquired with large estates of land. I am advised that the Land Commission in all cases tried to dispose of such houses on the open market and that many were sold and preserved. It seems, however, that it was not always easy to find purchasers willing to take on the huge maintenance costs, not to mention the rates payable on such houses and some were, unfortunately, demolished. I agree with Senator Norris that these houses would be a great asset in the promotion of agri-tourism today but I am sure he will agree with me that it is easy to be wise after the event.

Senator Hourigan referred to the amount of land still on Land Commission hands. This is now down to about 1,300 hectares of agricultural land and about 5,000 hectares of inferior land or bog. Proposals for the allotment of about 90 per cent of the agricultural land have been approved and it is expected that the disposal will be completed during the coming year. Disposal of the inferior land will be considered when the agricultural land has in fact been allocated.

The question of staff was raised by a number of Senators. I am confident that this issue is one which will be treated sympathetically.

In regard to compensation for the Lay Commissioners, I propose to introduce an amendment to this section on Committee Stage. Legal advice has been received to the effect that because the tenure of a Lay Commissioner is different than that of a civil servant the provision included in section 9 (1) of the Bill would not be appropriate in this case. The amendment will take the form of a provision for such compensation as the Minister [970] considers reasonable in respect of a Lay Commissioner ceasing to hold office. This, of course, would be in addition to benefits payable under the Superannuation Acts or under a scheme made under the Superannuation and Pensions Act, 1976. The actual amount of compensation has yet to be decided.

I feel it would be appropriate to comply with Senator Norris's request for an expression of the amount of land which passed through the Land Commission as a fraction of the available agricultural land of the country. We will, of course, have to deal with the various phases of the commission's career separately. Its work as a tenant purchase agency covered a 32-county island and was largely completed before 1921 — some 11 million acres were bought out before 1921 and some 3 million acres thereafter. There are, I understand, some 16 million acres of agricultural land on this island and the commission assisted in the purchase by tenants of the bulk of this.

The commission's programme of structural reform did not really get under way until after 1923 — less than 1 million acres was distributed before 1921 and over 2 million acres thereafter. This operation was, therefore, largly confined to the Twenty-Six counties.

The total area of agricultural land in the Twenty-Six counties is 13.5 million acres and it appears that the commission were responsible for the redistribution of about one fifth or 20 per cent of the available agricultural land.

I hope I have dealt with the many points that have been raised by speakers in this debate. I want to conclude by saying that it is only natural that I would have mixed feelings about presiding over the final days of the Land Commission. The passing of an old institution is always a sad occasion. It is particularly sad when that institution is one that has played such a dramatic part in our history. There is the consolation, however, that its legacy is a proud one. The noble contribution which it has made to fashioning the social fabric of rural Ireland will be its lasting memorial.

I want to acknowledge the very constructive [971] contributions made by Senators and to express the hope that the winding down of the Land Commission will open up a new era of development as far as Irish agriculture is concerned. It is obvious that some new structures and thoughts will have to be put into planning the future development of one of our greatest industries. I think Senators for their valuable contributions.

Question put and agreed to.