I beg to move Estimate of the amount required in the year ending 31st March, 1923, for grants administered by the Congested Districts Board, including Grants in Aid, one hundred and sixty-nine thousand seven hundred and fifty pounds.
DAIL IN COMMITTEE ON THE ESTIMATES. - CONGESTED DISTRICTS BOARD.
I would like to say a word about the good work done by the Congested Districts Board in many respects in the congested areas of Ireland. They have done extra good work for the fisheries. They have done also excellent work in improving breeds of cattle and establishing cottage industries, but I think they have neglected the most important part of their work, and that is land settlement. They have not neglected it altogether, however, because they commenced it and did some excellent work in several counties. They bought estates from the landlords, and in selling them to the tenants they increased the size of the holdings. Thus they set up a line to the whole countryside showing what could be done, but as they did not carry out the work to any extent they only created more discontent by the inadequate way they went to work. For instance, in estates which they bought and resold, I take one return in the report which says: "That of these estates 3,500 holdings were re-sold to the tenants, and no increases made on the size of them, and the holdings were only increased in 750 cases." In this Dáil we have heard a great case put forward for organised workers of various kinds, and with that case I have great sympathy. We all wish to see men getting a decent living wage. In the Congested Districts because of the disgracefully small size of the holdings there are hundreds of thousands of men, not getting a living wage, in a deplorable condition. These little holdings are the nursing grounds for emigration. The people have no outlook, and they have nothing to do for their children but to send them over to America, and some of them are so poorly circumstanced that they have not even the fares to buy a passage to America, and you are in the humiliating position of seeing thousands of those men going every year to do spring work and harvest work for farmers who will be competing with Irish farmers. I am sure there is not a member in this Dáil who does not feel the humiliation of that. Those poor people cannot go out on strike, they are the most patient and long-suffering men in Ireland, and I am glad to hear from the Minister for Agriculture that he has a Land Bill. I hope he will be able to say soon something that will give hope to those people in the West of Ireland. Now, anything that has been done so far about the question of migration has proved successful. I have only to read a few lines from the Congested Districts Board own report to show you how any State action has turned out well. In the report of the Congested Districts Board for the year ending 31st March, 1919, I find this stated in it: "Families have been settled in good farms sufficient for a comfortable life, with healthy dwellinghouses. In the year 1891 the people whose condition has been improved were struggling for a living on little holdings of cutaway bog, moor, or exhausted land of poor quality, while tantalisingly close to them were tracts of land used only for the grazing of cattle and sheep. The marvellous change where the Land Purchase operations of the Board have been finished can hardly be understood without personal inspection by those who knew the country before the Board purchased the estates. But even those who had not such previous knowledge can see new or improved houses, with compact well-fenced farms, tilled and grazed in a manner that is highly creditable in the first years of occupancy by those who, a few years before, lived in unhealthy hovels with little plots of unproductive soil that obliged the men to go as labourers to England and to leave their crops to be attended to by wives and children." I quoted that to show you that the Congested Districts Board had before them the real problem of the congested districts. Now in this report they quoted what Michael Davitt said: "That in a certain number of years £10,000,000 were expended in State aid to those people and they say that owing to their work that money is not now necessary." I say if there is not the same want in the West of Ireland for the last few years it was due to the good prices which prevailed and it was due to land purchase to this extent that the land was taken from the landlord and handed over to the tenants, who improved their land and bettered their own circumstances. It is not due to what the Congested Districts Board did for these tenants in the great majority of cases, because they did not increase the size of the holdings. They point out in this report a very unfortunate thing, that is, that near the congested districts there are very few ranches—very little land to be divided up. That shows the great difficulty of the problem and it shows you what has to be done later on. It shows that the Minister for Agriculture who tackles this problem must face it with courage and vision.
We must not continue this story of distress in the West of Ireland. I am aiming at setting up in the West of Ireland farmers who will be self-supporting and who will live upon economic holdings. They have enterprise and they are full of energy. Capitalists come to this country and tell us "We cannot start factories because the men have not the industrial skill that is necessary." But here are men in the West of Ireland trained to do their work and as one man told me, cribbed, cabined, and confined so that, as he said, he could put one hand on top of one boundary ditch and the other upon the other boundary ditch, so small was the holding. And they are ready to till all they get. The Congested Districts Board have not gone on with that work with the vigour they should. They were held back in the past by some hidden hand that did not allow them to do the work. They complain that they have not got any land to be divided up, but they have. They have 140,000 acres that they did not divide up, and they have in their hands for several years 43,000 acres of arable land to divide. I wish to impress upon the Government the urgency of this question. If most of the land in Ireland is to-day bought out it was because the main spring of the agitation that won land purchase started in these very particular congested districts. It was in the West of Ireland that the Land League started. It was in the West of Ireland that the United Irish League started. These things were won through the action of these people but they themselves have not got much out of the agitation of the last few decades. They have looked time after time for increased holdings but they have not got them. Now the Congested Districts Board says this: "We have the land, but we have difficulty in persuading the men to leave one district and to go to another." I cannot understand that excuse and I do not believe that excuse. I have asked T.D's from other parts of the congested districts the same question and they do not believe it is a genuine or an honest excuse. How can you say that men who send their sons tens of thousands of miles away to America and to California are not adventurous enough to go to Roscommon or some other neighbouring county where the vacant land is? Whoever has been managing the Congested Districts Board for the last few years before the Provisional Government took it over have been resting on their oars and indifferent to the complaints coming from these districts. I know myself districts where they have bought out estates from the landlords and they actually took adjacent bogs from old tenants and gave them to new tenants that they settled upon these estates. They were entitled, of course to give bog to the local tenants— that I admit—but was it not strange that they left the other tenants also connected with the congested districts without any turf. Anyone who knows the West of Ireland knows what a hardship it is for people who have no money to purchase coal or to put in electrical heating apparatus or gas to be without turf. I know parishes where that has happened. And here is the strange thing with regard to these bogs, that within five or six miles of the villages where these men live there are the finest bogs in Ireland now in the hands of the Congested Districts Board. And they take no steps to make these bogs accessible to the people from whom they had previously taken the turf to give to the other tenants, and that certainly is a very great hardship. I wrote some time ago to the Congested Districts Board about that, and they stated they would write me about the matter, but I have heard nothing about it since. These matters are of pressing importance and should be seen to.
Deputy Sears has spoken about the land in the congested districts and the need for enlarging small farms. I want some assurance about the water in these districts. Upon this question there was last year an estimate for £4,500 for fishery development, but that has disappeared from the estimate of the present year. It may be that it will be taken up later and will be dealt with in another estimate by the Minister for Agriculture. I do not know. We have not seen the other estimates yet, but I would like some assurance from the Minister that the work done by the Congested Districts Board in aid of the fisheries of Ireland is not going to be abandoned altogether, and that if the Congested Districts Board are not themselves going to do these things, they will be transferred to somebody else. I have some slight acquaintance as to the way in which the fisheries have been developed under the Congested Districts Board and I have never heard any complaints that the Board had not done the best they could and tried to make every penny they spent upon this branch of their activities do the work of twopence because they could not get 1½d., and I have heard it said that they have done wonders to enable the fishermen to buy boats and to equip boats if they had them, and that even with the small sums they had at their disposal they were enabled to do an immense amount of good. I hope when the Minister comes to reply he will be able to give some assurance that these activities are not going to disappear and that this £4,500 which has vanished from the estimates this year will appear in an estimate later, and I hope in an increased amount, and I also hope he will be able to assure the Dáil that he will continue the work which the Congested Districts Board has already done in the development of the fisheries of the West of Ireland.
Before the Minister replies may I ask what profit the Congested Districts Board have made out of these 43,000 acres of land that they have been farming for the past ten or twelve years or more? I also wish to say that there is a general feeling amongst most people about those Departments here —the Congested Districts Board, the Land Commission and the Department of Agriculture—as to why a Commission is not appointed to revise the whole system. We believe, and the feeling is very general amongst the people that the staffs in each of these Departments are doing nothing. I know some of them who are doing nothing. There is a multitude of people paid huge salaries doing nothing, and I want to know what the Government is going to do about it, what it is going to do to put the whole public affairs of Ireland on their feet, and to try to get some value for the money that these officials are paid.
Perhaps the Minister would also tell us what the position is with regard to this appeal to the House of Lords dealing with the sum of 1¼ millions of money? I am sure it is not necessary to detail what I am referring to, but it will be for the information of the Dáil if the Minister will give us some explanation of the position, and how this affects the general financial situation.
I was not exactly aware that the question of Fisheries came in under this head of the Congested Districts Board. If it is under that Board, there is just one thing I want to impress upon the Minister. It is this: The Department of Agriculture in the largeness of their hearts in recent years extended the boundaries of the mouths of the rivers in Connaught and Donegal miles out into the sea water, simply for the furtherance of private interests of one kind or another which it is unnecessary to mention. But they are private interests and not national interests, and I would ask the Minister for Agriculture to review all these decisions of the Fishery Department of his Ministry, and to quash every blessed one of them, because no boundary should have extended farther into the sea than it did by the regulations that already were in force. Under the laws of Ireland, the Brehon Laws—I believe we are to make a start now from the Gaelic position— every man in the country has a right to fish in the salt water so far as it goes, provided he does not fish with a fixed instrument.
I am sorry I was not able to be here yesterday to deal with this question, because I was anxious to deal with it. Deputy Sears, I think, stated the position very fairly. The Congested Districts Board, for which we were not responsible until last March, did, I agree with Deputies Sears and Fitzgibbon, very valuable work, especially in the Fisheries, and especially in the beginning they did very valuable work in the acquisition and division of land. There is no doubt whatever that the machinery has, to some extent, broken down. That, I think, is not so much due to the personnel of the Congested Districts Board as to the difficulties, the size and the complexity of the difficulties, which were not foreseen when the Congested Districts Board was set up. As the operations of the Board progressed they found themselves up against difficulties which really the various Acts did not provide for. In fact, they were set to do a bigger job than they could be expected to do with the powers at their command. That to a great extent is really the cause and the reason of the breakdown of the Congested Districts Board. There is an undoubted breakdown. Now, there are many cases of land being held by the Board for five, six and seven years.
For twenty years.
I do not know about twenty years, but there are certainly cases where the land has been held for a very long time. Take any one of these cases. I have a few in my mind at the present moment. There is an estate in Mayo. There are thirty tenants on it, congested, and the estate itself is only able to deal with twenty; that is to say to give economic holdings to twenty. And the question immediately arises—what to do with the other ten? It is, as is very often the case in other parts, the only estate in that neighbourhood. The obvious remedy would be the migration of ten. Now, Deputy Sears said one thing that rather surprised me. He said that the farmers' and tenants' sons who go to America and go away on such long distances to earn their living would make no difficulty about migrating to new holdings in Ireland. Well, it is not the case of the son who is quite willing to go away or willing to have a try at adventure of any kind. It is the case of the tenant himself. Everyone who knows the country knows the extraordinary objection that there is amongst tenants even in the poorest districts to leave the places where they were born and their fathers before them were born. In any event, in the case I have just mentioned—I am taking it as a typical case—where you have room for twenty and where ten must be migrated, you may take it for granted that everyone of the thirty thinks it is his neighbour and not himself should be migrated. And the task of picking out ten tenants who are to be migrated is a task of really extraordinary difficulty, especially in the circumstances that have been in existence for the last few years. There is only one way of settling that, to my mind. There must be migration from a congested area. Migration, I know, is not a panacea. Tenants taken from Mayo and Connemara will not do in the land of Meath very often. It is not as simple as it looks from that point of view, but at the same time there must be migration. The laws passed here in future will be Irish laws, and we really must go on the assumption that laws will be just, and in any future Land Bill that has to deal with the congested areas, the principles and the general rules, if you like, underlying this question of migration must be as definitely stated as far as it is possible to do so beforehand, and without having the specific cases in your mind, the particular Board or Land Commission that is dealing with the matter must have a discretion. You cannot make laws on the assumption that the laws are wrong, and that the Board that is dealing with it is wrong. In the future, when the Land Commission and the Congested Districts Board are reorganised, if they are wrong it will be our own fault, and the point I want to make is that somebody must have a discretion, but there again it is no use passing the best laws, and it is no use having the most efficient Land Commission if the laws are not respected, and if the Executive is not in a position to enforce the law, and if public opinion is not behind the laws and the legal machinery of the country. This is a noted example of the fact that you can do no constructive work, and you can have no justice or equity unless you have law and order. And though these are words that have been very much abused in the past, I repeat, law and order. It is to be Irish law and order now, and the fact that it was English law and order a couple of years ago should not blind us to the fact that we can get nowhere unless we have law and order in the country and the confidence and reliance that there should be between the public and the Government. Now, with regard to the future, my view is—I do not want to be absolutely bound to it, I want to be allowed a certain amount of room to change my mind later—my opinion is, that there is only room for one Land Commission, for one Body to acquire and divide the land in this country. And in spite of what Deputy Fitzgibbon has said, I am strongly of opinion at present that the body that is dealing with the acquisition of land should be dealing with nothing else. The Fisheries Department should deal with Fisheries, the Agricultural Department should deal with Agriculture, and not with Education and other things like that. Every Department seems to be dealing with just a little bit of the work of every other Department in this country. That is really the position at present. With regard to the other questions that Deputy Fitzgibbon asked about, this £4,500, well, he knows, of course, that this is merely a vote of £169,760 for the Congested Districts Board, and there is besides that sum the Appropriation in Aid £41,850, under the 1881 Act, and the Irish Development Grant of £20,000. Of course, the Board is entitled to spend some of this money in Fisheries, and in regard to this grant of £4,500 it was an ad hoc grant that was made last year for the purpose of doing some work in Galway, and the work was done. If you look at the back of the paper on Section B. Fishery Development Fund you will see this. Now with regard to the Commissions, Deputy Gorey thinks there should be a Commission set up to put the country in order. That is rather a tall order. There is a pathetic belief in Commissions. The right body—I was going to say and perhaps it is the body that will do that ultimately—is the Dáil.
And the sooner the better.
The sooner the better. We seem to be all agreed on these matters, and I congratulate the future Minister for Agriculture of the Free State on the excellent reception his proposals will get when he comes to bring them forward. With regard to Deputy Johnson's point in connection with the case that has recently been tried before the House of Lords, I had better, perhaps, explain the procedure first, in order to make the matter clear, and if I take a specific example I think the point will be more easily understood. Say the Board buy an estate for £10,000, and they expend £2,000 on improvements on the estate, and then sell it to the tenants for £11,000. They sell it for a little less than the purchase money, and the amounts spent on improvements. They then apply to the Land Commission, or rather to the Treasury, for the extra £1,000, and up to 1909 they were getting that money in hard cash. The money was paid to the Land Commission, but the Land Commission, on the instructions of the Treasury in 1909, ceased to pay cash and offered them Stock. Stock at the present moment—it depends on the Stock—is about £60, so that instead of getting £1,000 in hard cash they would get £1,000 worth of Stock at £60. If it were at £50 it would be worth only £500. The Board refused to take that, and the dispute has been going on since. Before the Treaty was signed the case was tried before Mr. Justice Powell, and the Congested Districts Board attitude was upheld. The Court decided it was entitled to cash. It was then taken to the Court of Appeal in Ireland, before the Treaty was signed, and the decision of Mr. Justice Powell was reversed. The case was then taken to the House of Lords, as the defendant was the Treasury and in England, it was in England it should be tried. Mr. Justice Powell's decision was affirmed by the Lords, and it was decided that the Board was entitled to one and a quarter million pounds in cash. In fact that made a difference, between the amount of Stock and Cash, amounting to £500,000, which has to be paid.
I wish to point out to the Minister that I must congratulate him on the magnificent defence he has made for the Congested Districts Board, simply trying to paint the devil white. We always paint him black. There are one or two things I want to enquire into about the stock-jobbing of the Congested Districts Board. The division of the land, I maintain, is only a side-show. Stock-jobbing is their principal work, and we want to put an end to that in congested districts. We want the land to be divided immediately. Another thing I wish to be satisfied about is the fishery rights—the filching of the nation's rights we will not agree to. They have been filched by the Congested Districts Board, and we want to have things made right. The fishermen of whom you are talking, and to whom you are giving your sympathy—it is nothing more than lip-sympathy—are being deprived of their livelihood for the benefit of private individuals all over the country. We want all these things made right.
I would like the Minister to tell us if the Congested Districts Board is still in being. Does the Board meet, and is it still in control of the congested districts? If so, why is it not going ahead with the important work in hand, even though it is not buying any more estates. They have estates on hand that require looking after. Should not something be done to press on that work. The Minister very properly said it is not English law but Irish law we have now. Well, I can assure him the people thoroughly appreciate that, and any difficulty they had in the past with regard to migration very often arose because of the officials of the Board, which was run largely by a foreign body. A lot of officials came down—foreign officials—and they looked upon the natives as objects of curiosity. Some of them would nearly want the people to take off their hats and say "Your honour" before they looked at them. The people thoroughly appreciate that this is Irish law now, and have the greatest confidence in any Land Act if it is thoroughly aimed at as setting up a self-supporting peasant class in the West of Ireland, where they will be able to live without doles or emigration to England or anywhere else.
Deputy McBride wants to know when the stock-jobbing is going to stop, and he also—I am not quite clear—wants to know about fishing. The Congested Districts Board is still in being. It was, as I said, taken over from the English last March, and I want to repeat, that so far as the Congested Districts Board has sinned, I am not responsible for it. As I said, in my opinion, there is only room for one body to acquire and divide the land in Ireland. That is to say, there is not room for the Land Commission and the Congested Districts Board. That is my present opinion. The Land Commission has not come over yet. We cannot take over the Land Commission until we settle questions in regard to the 130 million pounds' worth of Land Stock issued for Land Purchase. That is really the big financial question between us and England. Negotiations are going on and so far as they have progressed they are satisfactory. We must have the Land Commission over by March and must have gone a long way in re-organising the Land Commission and the Congested Districts Board by then. And I expect that we will have our Land Bill through the Dáil or in the Dáil by March. I did not attempt to paint the devil white. I am not a good painter, and I did not try to do it. I disarmed Deputy McBride by agreeing with him, but apparently he did not like it because he has stated I am defending the Congested Districts Board. I am defending them up to a point. I quite agree that the machinery has broken down, and is not satisfactory at present and must be changed. They have a lot of land that they cannot divide because they cannot get the people to migrate. I have letters myself from two or three different T.D.'s—I do not want to mention any names—in connection with tenants on the same estate. One T.D. is quite certain it is Tom, Dick or Harry should be migrated and the other T.D. is certain it is other people should be migrated. In fact, I am afraid to meet these T.D.'s when I come here. Therefore we have not only the difficulty with the tenants, but also the difficulty with their representatives. It is a real difficulty and it can only be settled by giving a discretion to the Board dealing with the matter and having some respect for law. While they have the lands on their hands they must do something with them. They are grazing them, which is better than leaving them idle. That is all that is to be said in defence of that. They are setting them for grazing. I think they have set them in small allotments. There are bullocks all over the lands, but if they are unable to deal with the land, if the area of land they have in any particular place is too small for the number of applicants, they have nothing else to do, until they settle the question, except to graze them or leave them idle. It is unfortunate, but it must be done.
I understand that all the money has been spent in this case, so that you will scarcely have an opportunity of making a reduction.