COMMITTEE ON FINANCE. - ESTIMATES FOR PUBLIC SERVICES. LAND PURCHASE ANNUITIES.

Just like the matter that we have now passed, it is almost impossible to say that one can exhaust any subject just now when, day after day, matters are coming under our notice which had not been contemplated. For example, in that last Section that we have just dealt with, there had to be corresponding action by the British. They met us fairly in regard to that, and now comes our responsibility. I am asking the Dáil to-day to take up a particular Estimate, the Land Purchase Annuities Estimate, and if I have permission to explain shortly the reason for taking this I think that Deputies will agree that it is necessary, and that any fault that there is in the matter of not having brought it on before is my own. It was understood in the Ministry of Finance that the Dáil was not adjourning this evening, that it would be continued during the week, and that it would be possible to introduce this Estimate after due notice. This Estimate is one which is concerned solely with accounting transactions, as to which no controversy can arise, and I hope that the Deputies will accept the Estimate and enable us to make the payment. The Estimate deals with Purchase Annuities payable under the existing Land Acts. The law provides that these annuities are to be collected henceforth by the Government of Saorstát Eireann, and that the proper amounts should in due course be paid into either of the Funds out of which dividends and sinking fund payments in connection with the various Land Stocks are paid. These Stocks will continue to be managed by the British Government, but it is part of the present arrangement for the adjustment of past Land Purchase transactions that we should pay over the annuities and leave it to the British Government to pay the interest to the stock-holders. Then annuities when collected are paid direct into our Exchequer as part of the miscellaneous revenue, and this Estimate when passed will enable us to make the necessary issues out of our Exchequer to the British Government. It will be seen that the figures of the Estimate are not dependent primarily upon the exercise of any discretion, but are arrived at simply by the making of proper calculations respecting the annuities actually outstanding. The reason for the urgency of this Estimate is that it is expected that it will be necessary to make a large payment to the British Government under this head before the 1st of July, as a large sum in respect of dividends on Land Stock is payable on that date. The resolution is:—

"That a sum not exceeding £3,133,577 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924, for making repayment to the British Government in respect of annuities under the Land Purchase Acts, 1881 to 1909."

Are we to understand from the Minister that this money is the payment made by the tenants for their land, and that there is nothing out of the Central Fund? I would like the Dáil to understand that. This is the money collected as annuities from the farmers which we are now paying over.

The actual sum due to pay the annuities is much greater than the sum which comes in. At the recent negotiations which took place in England we came to a provisional arrangement which binds us, or in which we accepted liability for the payment of a certain sum pending a settlement regarding the major question. That sum in all amounts to about £160,000 over and above the amount we will get in annuities. We considered at the time that it was a fair bargain. It does not prejudice or make weaker our case, and it leaves open the question of the ultimate settlement of the difference between the actual sum collected from Land Commission annuities payable to us here and the actual outgoings in order to provide interest on the Land Stock and the Sinking Fund.

May we take it that this sum of £3,133,000 is the same sum as was paid into this fund a year ago for the preceding year? Is there any substantial change in the amount?

Only as far as the sum I have mentioned, £160,000. That is the sum that is the difference between the amounts actually received from the tenants and the amounts distributed either in Land Stock or Sinking Fund. There is possibly about £1,000,000, and possibly more. The provisional arrangement is, pending a settlement as to the liability in respect of that, that we pay about £160,000. To that extent there is a difference.

Can the Minister give us any information as to whether the sum received on account of this Fund in the preceding year is as great as the sum estimated for this year? It really comes to this, can the Minister tell us how much of these annuities have been collected during the last year or two and compare these collections with his estimates of the present year's collections?

Well, I cannot say definitely. I can say that for some months past the collections have improved considerably, and I think, having regard to the marked improvement that has taken place, that in a very short time the normal payments will be restored. There is a particular Fund which makes good any shortage that takes place. Members of local authorities know about this Fund. It is what is called the Guarantee Fund, so that we have some security for any shortage that may have arisen, or is likely to arise, in respect of a certain sum, at any rate.

In other words, if there is a deficiency owing to the farmers in any area not paying their annuities, it is deducted by the Minister for Finance from the payments to the local authorities, so that we get it both ways.

I suppose the Deputy will not deny that it is very hard to catch the farmers.

Mr. DOYLE

You are catching them very well in this case anyhow.

Resolution put, and agreed to.