The motion which I am about to ask the Dáil to sanction is that Judges' decrees for rents against unpurchased tenants should be stayed.
ADJOURNMENT MOTION. - DECREES AGAINST UNPURCHASED TENANTS.
On a point of order, can the Deputy move a motion on the question of the adjournment?
No; he cannot move a motion.
Then I will raise the question simply of Judges' decrees in the case of unpurchased tenants. In one particular area writs were issued by the County Court Judge, and if the public records are to be taken as a matter of fact, this particular Judge was opposed to the attitude taken by the landlords in the cases under discussion. He advised those acting for the landlords to accept the proffered 50 per cent., and not to force the issue of these writs, but the agents acting for the landlords forced the issue of the writs, and the writs are issued, while in the meantime we are passing legislation here allowing tenant-farmers to pay rent by instalments, and also while the Minister for Agriculture is preparing a Bill for the settlement of these questions, and which we hope will settle them once and for all. This question of withholding rent is spoken of by the general public as a form of irregularism. It is not irregularism. It is due to two particular causes—one is economic and the other cause is disorder. Now, on the question of economy, I merely wish the Dáil to remember that in England, where people have markets, the estimated loss on tillage was ninety million pounds sterling last year. And the evidence produced and given before the Agricultural Commission which has been sitting goes to show that there is a loss exceeding £3 sterling on every acre of land tilled in Ireland this year. The evidence given before the Food Prices Commission by the barley growers the other day showed that there was a loss of £3 10s. an acre. Now, that is one reason. The heavy loss on the land as tilled is largely due to the question of wages. And while I do not for a moment say that the wages paid to our labourers are excessive, I have to admit that when we pay these wages we have nothing left, and have to sell our produce at a loss. The item of wages as regards cost of production amounts to about 70 per cent. I will not dwell longer on the economic question. I will touch now upon the matter of disorder. Disorder has destroyed markets in many parts of the country for farmers' produce, and in one particular area—South Tipperary—where, creameries were seized, the estimated loss on milk was something in the neighbourhood of £24,000, caused by the milk having to be wasted and fed to pigs, and in some cases turned down drains. It was not the farmers' fault; they could not find an outlet for it. They installed separators, and these separators were broken. I think, in circumstances like these, that the Ministry ought to put some stay of execution on writs for rent due in such cases as I have pointed out. As a whole, you will find that farmers are a conservative class, and that they are anxious to uphold law and order, and they are very anxious to see law and order re-established; but when circumstances arise where, through economic causes on the one side and disorder on the other—and disorder for which the Ministry is accountable, more or less— how can they expect that we can pay what we are not able to pay. Therefore I beg the Ministry, having regard to the fact that legislation is in progress for providing for payments of rent by instalments, and also that a Land Bill is in hand, that they would put a stay of execution in the case of writs issued by the County Court Judges, and on all these writs until the Land Bill is passed.
Tchím litreacha anois is aríst ar cheist na talmhan. Bíonn feilmeóra nuair bhíonn siad cruinnighthe le chéile ag sgartadh amach go g-caithfear a leigeann ar siubhal le leath-chíos. Tá mórán le rádh ar thaobh seo na ceiste, ach cinnte níl focal ar bith le rádh ag na feilmeóraibh ag a bhfuil an talamh ceannuighthe amach.
Do sheas tighearnaí talmhan suas nach ndéanfadh socrúghadh leis na feilmeóraibh nuair a bhí tighearnaí eile talmhan a déanadh socruighthe. Caithfidh siad seo anois cur suas leis an sioc, agus sílim féin nach bhfuil sé ceart go mbéadh pighinn ar bith caillte ag na feilmeóraibh a bhí réidh leis an socrúghadh a dhéanamh, is a bhí réidh le cíos ceart a dhíol. Beidh riaraiste seacht nó ocht mbliadhan cíosa ar na feilmeóra bochta seo nuair a thiocfas an t-am a mbeidh siad saor ó chíos. Nuair atá an luach anois le cur ar an chíos atá le ceannughadh amach caithfidh sé go g-cuirfear na feilmeóra seo ar a t-sráid chéadna leis na daoinibh ar thaoibh eile an chlaoidhe atá na seacht mbliadhna seo ar an bhealach atá saor ó chíos, agus caithfidh an Riaghaltas smaointiú fasta cá mhéad níos mó atá díolta ag na feilmeóraibh so ná tá díolta ag an cuid ag a bhfuil an talamh ceannuighthe amach le seacht nó ocht mbliadhainaibh anuas. Ba chóir go bhfuighfidh na feilmeóra seo a dhíol cíosa móra do na tighearnaibh talmhan nach ndéanfadh socrúghadh nuair a bhí sé 'na g-cumhacht —ba chóir go bhfuighfeadh siad ar ais an cuid ar leóbhtha féin de réir an chirt. 'Sí an cheist is mó atá againn, ceist na talmhan, agus is mar sin 'seadh í le leath-chéad bliadhain anuas. Ar feadh an ama sin rinneadh mórán. Díoladh ar ghabhaltasaibh ag an Stát; tugadh do fheilmeóraibh íad, agus tá na feilmeóra seo ag díoladh an airgid do'n Stát ó bhliadhain go céile. Tá a lán feilmeóra go foill nach ndíolfadh na tighearnaí talmhan na gabhaltais leóbhtha, ach b'fhearr leo claoidhe leis an chíos bhliadhanamhail, agus tá feilmeóra fosta ann a rinne socrughadh ceannuighthe leis na tighearnaibh talmhan ag a rabh an luach ceapuighthe, acht níor dhíol an Stát an t-airgead do'n tighearna talmhan, agus tá na feilmóra seo ag díol airgid ar an airgead seo gach bliadhain. Is mó an t-airgead seo ná a mbéadh siad ag díol dá bhfuighfeadh an tighearna talmhan an t-airgead o'n Stát agus ní thosnuigheann an t-am go saor ó chios go dtí go bhfaghann an tighearna talmhan an t-airgead ó'n Riaghaltas.
Anois níl gearán ar bith ag an céad seort daoine, ach tá ag an darna agus an treas seort. Dalta an darna seort, am a cheapadh a dhéanfaidh an t-airgead uilig atá díolta aca a cheartughadh ó'n am 'nar dearnadh an socrughadh le'n a bhfuil díolta thar bhreis aca gach bliadhain ó shoin tughtha dobhtha; agus dalta an treas seort nach ndéanfaidhe dearmad ar an chíos atá díolta aca ó shoin nuair atá an luach dhá shochrúghadh ag an tighearna talmhan, agus fosta a bhfuil caillte aca toisg go bhfuil siad roinnt bliadhain nios fuide ó'n lá a mbeidh siad saor ó dhioluidheachtaibh. Tá ceisteanna eile de thalamh faithche a g-caithfidhe ceartúghadh, ó'n a ruaigeadh daoine gan eiric. 'Sé an chéad-dhith i socrughadh ceiste na talmhan—ceannacahta talmhan a chur ar an chois céadhna ag na tionántaibh go léir. Silím go mbeidh sé nios fearr gach seilbh neamh-cheannuighthe a cheannach amach mar seilbh agus socruighthe a dhéanadh is fearr a chlaoide le usáid ceart na talmhan agus le tabhachtaibh na bhfeilmeóra ar an naisiún. Agus ba chóir go nglacfaidhe cumhachta ath-rannadha i mBille ar bith is bun leis an eiric cheirt a thabhairt do's na
Dhéaniadh na cumhachta seo naisiún a choinnealt saor nuair atá talamh le sealbhúghadh ó' na gearánaibh atá anois le feiceál i g-cás na talmhan sin atá sealbhuighthe go glan-dearbhtha.
I want to say in English that these decrees against unpurchased tenants arise through land being unsold by the landlords. The rents, on which these decrees are based, are very largely in excess of the rents, or annuities, payable where the landlord agreed to fair terms of purchase on the neighbouring estates which have been purchased out. The strict letter of the law enables such decrees, in fact almost compels such decrees, to be given; but strict justice in such cases could not confirm these decrees. The only thing that could be advanced in their favour is the existence of a land court which can only be availed of every 15 years, and that, in these intervals, the rent fixed by such courts was a contract that no circumstances could, in this interval, annul. The reasonableness of landlords who agreed to purchase terms with their tenants annulled such contracts on these estates, and it should not be tolerated by any national government that a premium should be placed on recalcitrancy, and that tenants should suffer through the refusal of landlords to sell when they had the option. In any case, it should follow from what one would assume as the concensus of opinion in this Dáil, that at least all such decrees should come under the clause in The Sheriff's Bill which enables judicial authority to attach conditions to decrees that will take into account the circumstances in which such a decree is given, and the undeserved hardship that its execution would inflict. I think the Minister for Agriculture, in combination with his colleagues in the Government, should see that this clause in The Sheriff's Bill, to which I refer, is made operative with regard to these decrees, because otherwise their execution will inflict great hardship in almost numberless cases. Through the period of difficulty that we have passed, with everything going on in a haphazard fashion and with chaos appearing before everybody, the farmers of the country could not have anticipated the conditions that really exist to-day. I do not think that you can hold these men liable for the conditions that have arisen, and in the circumstances I think the Government should see that the farmers concerned are placed in such a position that the clause inserted in The Sheriff's Bill will attach to any decree that should issue against them for the full amount of their rent, and that they should be placed in as good a position as other tenants who obtained reasonable terms of purchase from their landlords.
Will the Deputy tell us which clause he is referring to? Does he know?
The Sheriff's Bill. That the Judge can put a stay of execution, or he can order payments by instalments.
I would like to support the case made by the Deputy who has last spoken. I think it would be an unfortunate thing if people for whom it was never intended should come under the lash of this special enactment which was passed in this Dáil as a kind of whip to bring on the right side of the law line people who were evading their lawful debts. There is a principle involved in the case of a large number of unpurchased tenants in the West of Ireland at all events, who are living on uneconomic holdings. They are, as I said before, in the position of workingmen who would not be on whole time, but on three-quarter time or half time. The Minister for Agriculture in his promised Land Bill is going to put these men on an economic footing. At present they are not, and it would be a very cruel thing to apply the whip in their case. They never tried to evade their lawful debts. They are now particularly hard hit by the depression that has resulted from the late war, and owing to the special depression in Ireland brought about by the activities of the Irregulars. They see prices falling and their fairs destroyed; they cannot go to market owing to broken bridges and broken roads and they are in a very poor position. Anyone who is in touch with them and hears their complaints, knows that. Then there is a matter of principle that has been raised by Deputy McGoldrick. They do not see why they should not be placed on the same level as the tenants who have bought out. They offered very fair terms to these Die-hard landlords, and these landlords refused them with contempt, and insisted on people paying impossible rents for those uneconomic holdings. Now, this Act, which was never intended for honest men like that, is an Act which Clanricarde would welcome in his worst days—the very whip he wanted to lash those people. Why should it be applied to those people who have never defaulted in meeting honest liabilities? I think the Minister should see that an exception is made in the case of those hard-pressed impoverished people who are ready to meet their honest liabilities, and who never got anything from the State, or from anybody else, but kicks and insults, and who are making a desperate struggle for existence. I think the landlord should not be allowed to ply the whip on them now. I know landlords who have over and over again refused reasonable offers from those people. They are ready to pay a reasonable thing, and it will not be taken from them.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the Deputies who have spoken on this question, but really they have wakened up too late. It was made clear by me that this was going to be the consequence of the Bill you all voted for. You have simply twisted the thong for your own backs and the backs of the farmers in the country, and the unpurchased tenants who owe money and have decrees issued against them. You have authorised the forces to take your cattle and to bear down all resistance and to sell those cattle anywhere at any price. And they can drive you to the Bankruptcy Court; they can drive you out of business; they can do anything they like with you under the Bill to which you have all agreed. Despite the warnings against it, you voted for it—
And will vote for it again.
And will vote for it again! I hope the constituents of Deputy Gorey who may come under this Order and under these decrees will recognise that despite the complaints of his colleagues he is prepared to vote again for the power to enforce these decrees because they have been once issued. Now Deputy McGoldrick refers to a certain stay of execution. If I am not very much mistaken that can only apply to future decrees and not to any decrees except for rent. However, rightly or wrongly, you cannot get a stay of execution put upon those that have already been issued, and those are the decrees that are complained of. I would suggest to Deputy Wilson and Deputy Sears that they should introduce a Bill saying that none of the powers granted under the Bill they have agreed to shall be applicable in the case of the farmer who owes rent. I would support it, and my colleagues here would support it, and it will be backed through the country. Whether the Minister will agree to it I do not know, but I challenge the Farmers' Union to introduce a Bill for that purpose.
The Landlords' Union.
I heard this interruption from Mr. Davin before. I hope he does not repeat it again.
What was the interruption?
When the Farmers' Union was mentioned he has twice interrupted that it was a Landlords' Union.
That interruption should not be made.
That interruption was made for a mean and contemptible purpose.
I do not mind whether the Bill is introduced by the Farmers' Union or their representatives or by the Landlords' Union or their representatives in the Seanad, or the Congests Union, or by any other Deputy. I would welcome the introduction of such a Bill, and I will promise to give it the fullest support to ensure that there shall be no use of the powers recently granted in such cases as the Deputy has in mind. Whether that would be a complete protection I would not guarantee, but it will be a very considerable protection. I think that the argument is perfectly sound that in cases of extraordinary emergency and economic stress of this kind the first charge upon the produce of the country should be remuneration for the people who take part in the production; and that the landlords' rents and even annuities shall take second and third place. I am very glad to think that proposition has been subscribed to by Deputy Wilson, and I hope by the remainder of his colleagues, and he can count with confidence upon the support of those who act with me in the application of that doctrine at any future time.
I am very pleased at the sarcasm of Deputy Johnson, but I pass over that. This is a question which I did not intend to raise, but it has been raised. There is no use in saying very much about it, because I am sure everybody in Ireland who takes the trouble of thinking, and who has seen things which have happened for the last twenty or thirty or forty years, knows the circumstances. We are not asking for special terms at all. We are not asking for the law to be set aside and for something to be done for us that is not being done for the rest of the community. This is a question not of law, but of injustice. More than two-thirds of the people of this country have purchased their holdings. The other third, or less than a third, are still in the same position as they always were. It is not a question of justice we are quarrelling about at all, but it is a question of injustice, and that is the whole kernel of it. All the Land Bills that have previously operated did what I might call a sort of sifting. The '81 Act, the Ashbourne Act, the 1903 Act, and the 1909 Act operated and took away the landlords that sold, what I call the good, middling, and fair, and they left us the worst elements. Ninety per cent. of the landlords left in Ireland are people who can never be brought to reason, who never would do justice, who never would agree without compulsion to what British Parliaments, Liberal and Conservative, their own people, decreed was right and fair. Everybody knows who introduced and put through the 1903 Act. It was George Wyndham, a Conservative Chief Secretary, on behalf of a Conservative Government. Still we have this big section of landlords who never would give effect to this act of justice passed by their own people. The result is that we have them scattered over the different counties of Ireland. An appeal has been made in Donegal by the County Court Judge to have this matter adjourned. The way it has been described does not seem to be quite accurate. What happened was that the Judge asked both sides to have this matter adjourned until the April Sessions, so as to have the matter amicably settled, or to give the tenants an opportunity of paying voluntarily half, or 50 per cent., of the amount sued for. A considerable number of the landlords interested agreed, but one agent, a man named Harvey, on behalf of one landlord, opposed the whole scheme, with the result that all the decrees had to be given. I know that a County Court Judge must enforce the law; and we want no special treatment at all. But here is the position. Legislation has been discussed in this Dáil. A Land Bill was promised, and in order to anticipate that, these people go to the courts in order that there should be no arrears—a vital question that has been always mixed up with land purchase. The Shylocks all over the country come out to save themselves, to get their last pound of flesh. Anyone who knows anything about land purchase knows that provisions as to arrears have been amongst the principal clauses of land purchase, or, if not the principal, the greatest and most important. Not alone have these landlords done that, but they have gone further. A certain section of them have gone into the most expensive courts in this country, and that is the Bankruptcy Courts, in order to penalise the tenants. They have adopted the most malignant and vicious attitude they could adopt in order to penalise the tenants and break their credit all over the country. The old argument applies to these people—the old argument which has been admitted by their own people in recent Bills which were introduced— and that is that compulsion must be introduced in order to make a certain section of Irish landlords do what is right. The fact that their own people have admitted that must be proof that this section of the community, although we have to give them the benefit of the law, ought not to be treated as ordinary civilised human beings.
Yes, drastic. And these people deserve something drastic. God knows, if they were left to me I know they would be——
Deputy Gorey must not commit himself.
I am sure the Minister will find a quiet way of getting over this matter.
Mr. M. DOYLE rose to speak.
Before Deputy Doyle speaks I want to point out that there is a rule that a matter raised on the adjournment can only continue for half an hour. I do not want to ask the Dáil to enforce the absolute half-hour limit, but I do want to know how many Deputies want to participate in the debate, and whether the Dáil is prepared to continue a rather long debate. (Deputies—"No, no.") Then Deputy Doyle can make a short statement before the Minister replies. Deputy Davin wants to speak for a minute also.
From the course this debate has taken you can see, and every section of the Dáil can see all the unrest that dual ownership of the land has created, and I will ask the Minister of Agriculture to bring in a liberal Bill as soon as he possibly can to alleviate all this unrest in the country.
I have been censured by Deputy Gorey——
I did not mean that. Pass it over.
In trying to designate as the Farmers' Union or the Landlords' Union the people whom he is supposed to represent. If I were quite assured that Deputy Gorey and his party represent the interests of this country and were prepared to till more of their lands than they were to allow a dog to roam over, then I would say they are entitled to designation as the Farmers' Union. They came before the Dáil, having agreed to a Bill which, I take it, is applicable to every class of the community, with suggestions to ask the Government to agree to a stay of execution upon certain clauses of the Bill simply because they apply to the particular class they represent. I remember once hearing in this Dáil the Minister for Home Affairs say that there was an irregularism in vested interests, and it appears to me that this is a typical example of irregularism in vested interest.
Pardon me, I think I said vested interest in irregularism.
I accept the correction. I am positive that Deputy Gorey and Deputy Wilson quite clearly understand that they come within that category when they ask the Government to put a stay on executions in the terms of a Bill which they already voted for.
I have not asked for a stay.
I am fully aware and I make no bones about it, that the people who represent the tillage interest in this country, particularly people who have been unfortunate to sow a good deal of barley in the last few years are in an unfortunate position. I would like to understand from Deputy Gorey and the people he represents how much of the two hundred and two million pounds lying in banks with headquarters in England belong to the people represented by him. If there is that amount of money in banks in Ireland whose headquarters are in England, and it is probably invested in British securities and British War Loans, I do not think they have reason to complain if the Government enforces a Bill that they voted for in compelling the people they represent to pay what is legitimately due.
Take a note of that, "legitimately due."
The decrees that seem to be in question in this case are those that are sought in the County Court of Donegal, and I am glad that Deputy Gorey has corrected Deputy Wilson's mistake. I am sorry that this matter was raised this afternoon, because it is not such an urgent matter and if taken calmly and quietly the matter would probably settle itself. The facts of the matter in this case are that when civil bills were issued the unpurchased tenants who were represented in a body offered 50 per cent. of the rent sued for. Deputy Gorey, who is Chairman of that Union, said that all the landlords agreed to accept the Judge's suggestion, which was that the civil bills should be adjourned until the April sessions and in the meantime they should summon meetings between the landlords and tenants. Only one landlord—Harvey—stood out. Harvey was suing for one year's rent only, and that was the year 1921. There were two years owed to him and he was not suing for last year. The tenants offered 50 per cent. of the rent due two years ago. Decrees were issued and the Union in the County accepted the suggestion that was made by the Minister for Agriculture to Mr. Gorey on the 1st of this month, that a meeting should be arranged between the landlords and the tenants and a way sought to try and come to some reasonable arrangement for the payment of the rent. That meeting, I understand, is being arranged for. I had a communication from the Secretary of Mr. Gorey's Union in the County, but I think it would be better if this matter had been kept back. I would ask the Government not to take any steps until they see if any arrangement is come to between the landlords and tenants. I think myself that it is a matter that would settle itself. You cannot, and I do not think the Government can, make such an order or take such a step, as Mr. Gorey's Union does not speak for all the tenants of Donegal who have not paid their rent. There are many tenants who will pay no rent. There are a number in the unfortunate position that Mr. McGoldrick has pointed out. I sympathise with them, but it is hard to discriminate, and I think Deputy Gorey will agree if this matter is left to a meeting between representatives of the landlords and the tenants some arrangements will be come to whereby the whole matter will be arranged.
I was not a party to raising this discussion; it was done without my advice.
I never expected I would have to ask Deputy Gorey's permission.
I am in an exceedingly difficult position, and the Government is in an exceedingly difficult position, as they are faced now with the opposition of Deputy Johnson and Deputy Gorey, not only on this, but on future legislation. I hope that particular tendency will not develop. This was a great debate, a most interesting debate. I am not a very old man, but I am not as young as I look, and it brings me back to the days of my youth, and the time when our fathers used to make a good deal of precarious capital out of the land question. They had some justification, very considerable justification, but I want to assure the Dáil that wholesale evictions are not taking place through the country, that the emigrant ship is not full, and none of the horrible happenings of the eighties are occurring. You may not be aware of that, but you may have come to the conclusion from the speeches of Deputy Wilson and others, that that was the position of affairs. It is not. The boot is actually on the other foot, and though it may be politically unwise to say it, the fact of the matter is not that the tenants are being evicted or sent to the United States of America to earn their living, but that they have paid no rent for two years. That is the fact, and there is really no use coming at this hour of the day before the decrees have been executed, before any serious developments have taken place at the expense of the tenant, and making uncalled for speeches which are calculated merely as Deputy Ward pointed out, to irritate the situation, and prevent a settlement which will be bound to come in the ordinary way, if you let the question alone. That is exactly the position I may say I do not know what we have been asked to do. I listened to a great number of speeches as to what I was asked to do. Different suggestions were made to the Government by, I think, every speaker who said anything. I gathered that some people want a moratorium. Deputy Johnson wants a general moratorium, other Deputies want a moratorium to apply to rents only, and Deputy Gorey expresses really terrific views as to what he would like to do to landlords. Really, I do not know which to choose.
Take Deputy Gorey's.
I am in a difficulty. If you could bring in a combined demand.
Bring in a Bill.
About the Bill, I propose—and I have been saying so for some time—in a few days to ask the representatives of the tenants and representatives of the landlords to meet, and perhaps I will nominate a few myself on that body, and we will discuss the question of arrears and the question of prices. In the meantime. I am not going to introduce legislation for a very, very small percentage of cases.
The Dáil adjourned at 7 p.m., until Tuesday, 27th February.