ORDUITHE AN LAE. - LAND BILL, 1927.—THIRD STAGE.
The Dáil went into Committee.
When the debate was adjourned we were discussing an amendment which provides for the reinstatement of genuine evicted tenants in their holdings. I had gone into a case and explained the facts of it with a view to showing that the Land Commission are not sympathetic to the grievances of the evicted tenants, and are not making any real attempt to reinstate them, even where it is open to them to do so. I dealt with a particular case, the facts of which, I think, are known to the Minister, in order to try to emphasise the argument which Deputy Cosgrave and I are making. The holding in question is one of 80 statute acres in my constituency, outside one of the principal towns, and the original tenant was evicted during the Plan of Campaign. His only representative is a brother, who lives in Dublin. That estate came into the hands of the Land Commission a short time ago for the purpose of division. The representative of the evicted tenant made application, and his application was supported by some of the most prominent men in the town and the neighbourhood, but despite the fact that the Land Commission had all the particulars of the case, despite the fact that they must have been aware that this was the representative of a genuine evicted tenant, they have not done anything for him.
As to the genuineness of the application, the facts are that at the time of the Plan of Campaign this man's brother, being a tenant on the Smith Barry Estate, was forced to withhold his rent, in conjunction with the other tenants. As everybody knows, that estate was the centre of turmoil in the land fight, and it was practically imperative on every tenant to withhold his rent in accordance with the instructions of the leaders of the time. This tenant was evicted for non-payment of a year's or one and a-half year's rent. The lands have since been in the hands of a caretaker, or an emergency man, and now we have them divided. This evicted tenant is undoubtedly genuine, if any evicted tenant can be regarded as genuine, but he has not been reinstated. To aggravate the case and to emphasise the point that the Land Commission have really no intention of dealing sympathetically with evicted tenants, the actual emergency man who went into that place at the time of the eviction got a grant of land on the estate. That is a most extraordinary case, and it seems to me to clinch the argument that the Government and the Land Commission have no intention of reinstating evicted tenants, and have no sympathy with them.
I have not tried to make the point that evicted tenants must be in open competition as regards ability, farming qualities and other matters with the other people who make applications for grants of land. I do not maintain that this man is particularly suitable as a farmer, but I do maintain that he is the representative of the original evicted tenant, and that as a matter of justice, a matter of righting a grievous wrong, of keeping in line with the ideals of the old land agitation, and of showing our appreciation of the loyalty of these tenants to the State, that it is absolutely imperative that the Land Commission and the Government should insist that genuine evicted tenants of this kind should be reinstated.
I have another case, one with which I am more or less personally conversant, in mind also, that of an emergency man who was driven out of his place four or five years ago during the troubled times. This man is now willing to hand his place over to the Land Commission. A representative of the evicted tenant is willing to take it over, but there is no indication that the Land Commission intend to take over the place and hand it to this woman.
I think a very good case has been made, not to prove the justice of this amendment, but to prove that the Government are not seriously dealing with this question at all, and are not really taking advantage of the powers in the Land Act of 1923 for the reinstatement of evicted tenants. I support the amendment largely as a protest against the Government's inaction. I do not say that the amendment in its present form is quite workable. I think that the wording of the last line, which states that the tenant is to be reinstated in his original holding, would not be workable and practicable in a great many cases, although it would be in other cases. If the Minister would accept the principle that every genuine evicted tenant must be reinstated in his original holding, where that is available, or, if that is not possible, that he should get an alternative holding, I am willing to withdraw my support of the amendment. But if the Minister does not give a clear indication that the point of view of the Land Commission in this regard is to be changed, and that we are to have a different outlook, I have no option but to support the amendment, and to ask other Deputies to do so, as a protest against the present policy of the Land Commission. I put it to them in this way, that any Deputy who does not vote for it may be regarded as not being in sympathy with those who took part in the fight which resulted in the tenants becoming the owners of their land, and which finally resulted in the establishment of our freedom, and in the fact that we are sitting here in a Parliament of our own.
The effect of the amendment is that the Land Commission shall take every genuine evicted tenant and shall deal with him by reinstating him in the holding from which he was evicted. As the law stands, the Land Commission may deal with an evicted tenant. They are not under the necessity of reinstating him in the holding from which he was evicted. Moreover, they can pick and choose between evicted tenants. They can take the present circumstances of the applicant into account, and even though a man may have been a genuine evicted tenant, or the representative of one, nevertheless, they can exercise an option and refuse to give him a holding of land. But if this amendment is passed it will mean that the Land Commission shall deal with every evicted tenant, no matter what his present circumstances may be; equally important, no matter what the circumstances of the other applicants for land on the estate may be. They cannot take the equities of the case into account at all. They must deal with the evicted tenant, and somebody else must be omitted from the scheme, and they must deal with him by giving him his original holding, no matter who occupies it now, no matter what the circumstances may be. That last condition would be quite out of the question.
Nobody wants to start a series of evictions again. Lands have changed hands, perhaps, three or four times since 1880. Circumstances have changed, and evicted tenants have gone away into the cities and built up businesses, or have gone to America. Their representatives may be fairly wealthy people, and the holding from which their grandfather or their father had been evicted twenty or thirty years ago may have changed hands three or four times, and it may have been bought quite recently, or within the last ten or fifteen years, for the full market value, and with the goodwill and consent of everybody, not with the specific consent, of course, of the evicted tenant, but they may have been bought by auction in the ordinary way, without any intimation from anybody that there was any objection to their being bought. That is the strongest case of all from my point of view. It would be out of the question to eject such a man. Even if there was opposition twenty or thirty years ago to a man going into an evicted farm, we cannot re-open these matters now; if we attempted to do so, we would have to re-open a great many cases, and we would find ourselves under the necessity of putting through a series of evictions all over the country, and in a big percentage of cases, doing extreme hardship. In that state of affairs it is out of the question to say that an evicted tenant must be reinstated on the holding from which he was evicted himself or from which his grandfather, father or predecessor in title was evicted. That is the first point.
The second point is that the Land Commission shall at least give him a holding. Let us examine that for a moment. You will find plenty of cases of genuine evicted tenants from any point of view, genuine in the sense that their predecessors in title were evicted in the ordinary way from the lands which they held, just as a number of other tenants were evicted during the years from 1870 to 1890, and from the point of view of the legal definition inserted in any Act of Parliament, perfectly genuine cases. But even admitting that, there are still plenty of cases in which it is inadvisable to deal with genuine evicted tenants. Circumstances have changed a lot in thirty, forty or fifty years and you cannot base legislation on a set of circumstances that existed on the equities of the case as it stood, say, twenty years ago. It cannot be done and if you attempt to do it the moment you are brought up against a specific case you realise you are wrong. The best way to argue this whole question is to argue it around the exact case that Deputy Heffernan gave us.
Deputy Heffernan mentioned a man named Cahill who is the genuine representative of an evicted tenant, evicted because he refused to pay his rent during the days of the Plan of Campaign. He was evicted by Lord Barrymore on the Smith-Barry estate. From every point of view it was just an ordinary case of eviction. There are no peculiar circumstances in it. If there was ever a genuine case of an evicted tenant it was one. He went away to the Argentine and died there a very wealthy man and his brother and sister remained at home. The sister is a lady in very prosperous circumstances I am informed, living in the suburbs of Dublin, with a certain amount of means of her own. She applied in 1905 or thereabouts. She was offered a holding and refused it. Then one of the brothers came home from the Argentine, not the original evicted tenant but another brother, and he applied specifically when this particular farm was going and he was refused. He is a middle-aged man now I think, and is, as far as I know, unmarried. He is a wealthy man and lives here in Dublin. The farm in question is about 130 acres of untenanted land.
The Land Commission were in the position that they had an application from a man called Cahill, a genuine evicted tenant, a person probably who could buy this 130 acres three or four times over, a man who if he wanted to expend his money on a farm would buy a farm of 300 or 400 acres. They had an application from him to be reinstated. He spent his life in the Argentine. He is a middle-aged man now and he has plenty of means. His sister is also reasonably well-off. On the other side you have five or six congests with holdings varying from £3 to £4 to £10 or £12 in valuation, living near. Perhaps the shortest way would be to read out the names and the circumstances of the five or six people who got the land and let the Dáil put them on the one side and the case of the evicted tenant on the other.
Might I point out that exception was taken on the last occasion to mentioning names. I carefully avoided mentioning names. I thought the Minister would follow my example and leave out the names. I would suggest that the Minister should not go any further to deal with the class of tenant because that means dealing with a great many names and bringing in other names. I do not want to be forced into the position of saying whether such and such a man is a good man for a holding. There are some very good men who did get holdings, and there are certain objectionable individuals who got them. I am not basing the case on the type of men who did get holdings, but I am basing it on the claim of the particular man who is a genuine representative of an evicted tenant. I want to say that my information is that this man is not a very rich man. I understand he is a man of moderate means.
On the question of the names, I think it would be better, if the Minister is going to continue the illustration, that he should allude to the congests as A, B, C, giving the circumstances without the names.
Deputy Heffernan is quite right. I thought he had mentioned the name.
It is a well-known case, and he might as well have given the name. Take the circumstances of that man—we have already mentioned his name, Mr. Cahill—and put them on one side, and put on the other side the circumstances of the people who got the land and take into account also that there was only about 130 or 140 acres to be divided. The Land Commission was in a dilemma. Here we have an application from an evicted tenant for a holding. How much is he to get? Is 25 acres any good to a man like that, a man in his circumstances? If he went in for farming himself he could afford to get a farm of 300 or 400 acres, and are we to give this man who is living in town here 25 acres, and if we are which of the others are we to leave out?
I will now give the circumstances of the congests among whom the land was divided. One man got 13 acres 3 rds. and 30 perches. He was a workman living in a labourer's cottage, and he has consistently got a prize for the best labourer's cottage under the Scheme of the County Committee of Agriculture in the district. He and another are the only landless men that got land. The herd got 15 acres: he obviously had to be dealt with. Another man, who has a valuation of £2 16s., and who had 5 acres, got 14 acres in addition. Another man, whose valuation was £12 5s. and who was a most industrious man, got 12 acres in addition. The £12 5s. includes the valuation of his house and his holding, and it is barely economic. Another man had a valuation of £10 10s., including house and land, and he got 11 acres. A holding of £10 10s. valuation is not an economic holding, and the eleven would make it barely economic. Another man, who had a valuation of £15, got 9 acres. Another who had a valuation of £2 10s. got 17 acres, and another man, a married man with 11 children, with a valuation of £2 15s., got 17 acres. Finally, a married man, who had the grazing of about 10 head of stock there always, and who lived almost exclusively on that, got a holding of 21 acres.
There is a specific case. On the one side you have got a genuine evicted tenant who at the time of the eviction had all the equities of the case. He went out. He was incidentally a big farmer, well able to pay his rent. He left his holding behind and from that day to this never got a penny out of it. He happens to be a well-off man, at least for this country, and he lives here in Dublin; I do not think he has anyone depending on him. His sister who was also an applicant is quite a well-off woman living here in Dublin, and it would be simply foolish to allot, say, twenty-five acres of land to this man. Of course, what he would do, if he had any sense, would be to sell it straight away to someone who was well able to buy it. That twenty-five acres would mean that three, certainly two, of these congests would be left out. I use that case as an illustration of the fact that you should not compel the Land Commission to deal with every case. You must take into account not only the circumstances that existed at the time of the evictions, but the circumstances as they now are. That makes all the difference. The policy of the Land Commission is to deal with every genuine case so far as they have the land to do it. They have dealt with a couple of thousand cases since the Land Act of 1903, and with 53 since the Act of 1923. Every application of an evicted tenant gets the fullest consideration. All the circumstances are taken into account. You cannot give any evicted tenant, except in rare cases, more than another an economic holding. The Land Commission uses public money to buy land and the basis on which the whole transaction is carried out is that its use will be limited to re-selling to applicants economic holdings. There are men in Leix and Galway who were evicted from 200 or 300 acres in the year 1880. Suppose they were never evicted, the Land Commission might be acquiring part of their land to-day.
You could not give men 200 or 300 acres now. In some cases they acquired judicial tenancies. You could only give a man an economic holding. That is the first limitation. The second limitation is that you must take the circumstances of the time into account. It is obviously bad business and uneconomic to give 25 or 30 acres to a man who, owing to his station in life, is not the sort of man to whom 25 or 30 acres are likely to be of much use. In this particular case the man was well off. Take another case. Take just the same circumstances with this change. Suppose the evicted tenant had been a shopkeeper in Tipperary near that farm. He has a small shop with a turnover of from £300 to £400 a year. Would the Land Commission be right even in that case—a case of a genuine evicted tenant with a shop, and who is twenty-five or thirty years out of touch with land since his father's eviction and who has lost any little knowledge of farming which he had—would they be right, I ask, even in that case, in giving the land to such a man? That case is somewhat different from the case I quoted. Would they be right, I repeat, in giving land to such a man especially if there were congests about?
If 130 acres were to be divided, and suppose there were ten or twelve congests and one genuine evicted tenant, who was a small shopkeeper in the nearest town, living away from the land, are we to bring him in and leave out two or three congests? I do not think we should. The moral of the story is that, no matter how anxious you are to deal with evicted tenants, you should not put the Land Commission in a straight-jacket and pass a rigid section in an Act, saying that the Land Commission shall deal with all cases regardless of the circumstances, merely limiting it to the phrase, "genuine evicted tenants." It would be quite impossible, and for that reason I cannot accept the amendment. There seems to be an idea in the Dáil that the Land Commission are not particularly keen on dealing with evicted tenants. No meritorious case of an evicted tenant is left undealt with. Deputies should be careful, when cases of evicted tenants are put up, to look into all the circumstances.
I would not ask better than to have every case thrashed out in the Dáil. The Dáil would probably not like it, but it would settle the thing once and for all. It is the only way to do it. You cannot deal with these on general principles. Take any specific case, go into the circumstances, and I have no doubt that if the Dáil were to be the judges they would act similarly in each as the Land Commission acted. You would not get five Deputies to say, in this particular case quoted by Deputy Heffernan, that the evicted tenant should be dealt with, and the congests left out. The Land Commission will continue to deal with cases of evicted tenants. The fact that a man made application, and that it was turned down, is no reason why he should not make another. It will be considered in the light of new circumstances, the land available, and of everything connected with it. It would be out of the question to insert a rigid proposal of this sort in a Land Act, and it would be a very grave injustice.
Viewing this from the State aspect, and apart from class and individual interest, one is forced to accept the Minister's view-point. The word "shall" and the words "original holding" ought not, in my opinion, find expression in any Act. The Bill does not say even "portion of the original holding." It says "original holding," let it be 200 or 300 acres. We know with the present hunger for land that the phrase "original holding" is not a practical proposal. I am of opinion that the word "shall" ought not find its place in the Act.
The Minister has dealt to some extent, I think, in a rather unprincipled way with the evicted tenants. I hold that the original genuine evicted tenant has a right to the property which was lost by his people, or himself, and he has much more right to it than the congests whom the Minister seems to have very much at heart. I think that the Minister has congests on the brain. He seems always to put them in front of the evicted tenants, whereas they have not one-eighth of the right to the land which the evicted tenants have. I think he has dealt in a most unfair way in the case he put before the House. He tells us of seven, eight, or ten congests taking this one farm. This man had a perfect right to that farm from the point of view of tradition and justice. He was justified in making application for the tenancy of that farm. It was lying derelict, and if the man happened to be well off, as the Minister states, I do not see how his position in life, or his affairs in this world have anything to do with the injustice of taking that farm from him. It was his perfect right to own it and remain there. The Minister told us that he could not possibly give such a man more than 25 acres. He has not carried out that practice all over the country. I know tenants who have been put in possession of much more than 100 acres. If that is the argument that the Minister is trying to cram down our throats it is an unjust argument. I can specify cases where land has been given to the extent of even more than double 25 acres.
The idea of 25 acres does not stand for anything. In my opinion a tenant who had been evicted from a holding of, say, 100 acres is perfectly entitled to receive back his 100 acres. I cannot see what law would urge the Minister to give that tenant's property to other people. The Minister, since the 1923 Act came into operation, has been preaching about congests. A few days ago he told us that he had not enough land to go around. In my own county there are 3,000 acres of land that could be taken and distributed amongst evicted tenants. The Minister spoke about not reinstating evicted tenants in their own holdings. I admit that is impracticable in a great many cases, but at the time the Land Act of 1923 was under consideration here I suggested that where farms were lying on the landlord's hands and evicted tenants had no holdings it was up to the Land Commission or the Minister to try and reinstate these men. There are a great many holdings in the hands of the landlords on which evicted tenants could be reinstated. The Minister stated that 50 or 60 evicted tenants have been reinstated since the passing of the 1923 Act. I would like to know if that is correct.
I made several inquiries in the Land Commission offices and I could not find that the number given by the Minister had been dealt with. I find it most difficult to get the Land Commission to do anything for evicted tenants. No matter what the Minister says about every individual case receiving consideration it is my experience that the Land Commission are not a bit anxious to look after the evicted tenants.
I was very glad to hear the Minister say he had an aversion to starting evictions all over again, and for the reason that I have sent in a letter to the resident inspector for North Kildare asking him to do something for a man who is living in a gate-house there, and whose parcel of land has been given to another man. I do not know whether he is a congest, landless man, or herd. I understand the Land Commission is about to evict this man and throw him out on the roadside. I hope the Minister will see that that eviction does not take place.
When we are making a case for evicted tenants the Minister will draw a red herring across and make a case for congests, and when we are making a case for congests he will draw across the red herring of landless men. I tried to avoid dealing with the qualifications of the particular congests who got grants of land, but the Minister has seen his way to open an argument on the question of their qualifications. I think the question of wealth or otherwise does not arise at all. I am not basing my argument on that point. The Minister acknowledges that the man I have mentioned is a genuine evicted tenant, evicted because of non-payment of rent which he could have paid if he were allowed to do so. The lands are in the possession of the Land Commission, and they have power to do what they like in the matter, and to give 25 acres or 100 acres.
What I said was an economic holding.
The question of an economic holding does not arise in this case, where the farm in its entirety is available. To make matters worse, one would think that the Land Commission took no cognisance whatever of the happenings during the land war, for they actually put on that estate an emergency man.
He was the caretaker of the place—the steward if you like. He had no land of his own. Surely the Land Commission or the Minister would not stand over putting an emergency man on the land that the evicted tenant was entitled to.
If Deputy Heffernan wants to make a case for some particular man I would like him to identify the man for me without naming him. Was this man a herd, or an emergency man, or what was he?
This man, call him A if you like, was an emergency man on a holding of Lord Barrymore's.
I may be wrong as to his being an emergency man, but I think he was. That can be found out. I will deal with other grantees. We hear of a valuation of £2 15s. 0d. Here is the case of a man, B, a baker in constant employment, and a shopkeeper. I can go on to the cases of other men.
You will have to name them. I asked for a definition of an emergency man. I found the emergency man was a herd. If we are going into the circumstances of each case you must have the particular men identified.
The Minister wants to go back on the question of the definition of an emergency man. This man was not actually an evicted tenant. He was the manager of that place and was in possession. The Minister may call him a herd if he likes, but everybody in the district knows that he is an emergency man. I have dealt with B. and I can deal with several other cases.
I dealt with the baker who has a shop and is in constant employment, and who keeps a few cows. A. is one of the uneconomic holders with no valuation. We heard nothing about his shop.
I suppose that is the man Patrick Nagle, who grazes cows there?
You did not say he was a baker with a shop.
I will have to verify that.
We need not go beyond the emergency man and the baker. These are sufficient to prove my case. I have not attempted to compare the farming qualities of the evicted tenants and the congests. I do not think it is fair that the Minister should base his argument on a comparison of that kind. We base our arguments on a matter of justice. No matter whether the evicted tenant is wealthy or not, provided he is an absolutely genuine evicted tenant—and I think there are comparatively few of them—he is entitled to his land. The Minister spoke of 100,000 evicted tenants. We have heard of only, roughly, about 50 cases being reinstated.
Since 1923. Previous to that there were over 3,000 dealt with.
If the old Land Commission reinstated three thousand evicted tenants, surely the Minister cannot claim credit for that? In fact, it ought to be the other way about. He ought to be ashamed if he could only succeed in reinstating 52 evicted tenants while the Land Commission, under the old regime, was able to reinstate 3,000. The Minister for Agriculture is a young man. I am, perhaps, somewhat older than he, and I have some recollection of the land war and of the unfortunate people who were evicted. The Minister has forgotten and a great many Deputies seem to have forgotten the sacrifices made by the people who took part in the land war. These people were regarded as real genuine patriots, just as Sinn Feiners were in a later time. Some people, however, seem to forget the past very quickly, and my object is to remind the Minister of the sacrifices made by these people so that the Government and his Department may do something for them. I maintain that the case put forward on their behalf has not been answered by the Minister. In fact the Minister has proved that the Land Commission does not intend to deal with these evicted tenants as they ought to be dealt with. I am afraid he does not intend to right the wrong which exists in regard to the evicted tenants. I think the Dáil ought to express its opinion on this matter, and I hope that Deputies will vote for Deputy Cosgrave's amendment as a protest against the form of administration which is being carried out in connection with the evicted tenants.
I think Deputy Heffernan has been rather unfortunate in selecting the particular case he has spoken of in order to use it as a whip with which to beat the Land Commission. The Deputy appears to have ignored the statement made by the Minister, that the representatives of the people evicted from this particular farm were offered a holding and refused it. The Deputy did not deal with that point.
The Minister did not say that.
I listened to the Minister making that statement. I would like to know from Deputy Heffernan, supposing that he was in the position of the Minister and that the representatives of this evicted tenant had been offered a holding and refused it what would he do with the Commissioners if they dealt with the case in this particular way?
I would like to know what kind of a holding was offered to them. I never heard that any holding was offered.
I heard the Minister make that statement. On one point Deputy Heffernan was rather unfair. He admitted that the wording of Deputy Cosgrave's amendment was unfortunate, and said he objected to the words in the latter part of it. Although he differed with the wording of the amendment, he said that any Deputy who voted against it would be voting against the principle of reinstating genuine evicted tenants either in their original or in alternative holdings. I was born and reared on the border line of Tipperary, and I know a fair share about the conditions in mid-Tipperary. I could quote better cases for the Deputy than the one he referred to—cases that should be considered far and away before that particular one. If the Deputy is aware of what is going on in mid-Tipperary he must know that an agitation is being carried on there for the reinstatement of certain evicted tenants who have better rights and clearer claims for reinstatement than the one he referred to.
Are you making a case against reinstatement?
You are making a case for the Minister.
I am doing no such thing. I referred to this before, and I can say that I know of a considerable number of cases that have been passed on to the Land Commission by myself and the other representatives for the constituency that I represent. I know that some of the cases at least have been given sympathetic consideration. I am not quite sure what is the actual position with regard to all those cases, but I know that the Commissioners have decided in some of them at least, that holdings should be found for the claimants that I am now referring to. I believe that there is an agitation in the country which is influenced by the consideration that genuine sympathetic treatment is not being given by the Commissioners to the claims of evicted tenants or their representatives. I would like to hear from the Minister what exactly is the procedure adopted in dealing with claims put in by evicted tenants or their representatives. I would like to hear him say, for instance, that there is a Department or that there will be one in the Land Commission specially set apart to deal with all these claims that have been sent in, and that certain guiding principles are laid down by the Minister and the Land Commission for the guidance of those appointed to decide whether the claims submitted are genuine or not.
Suppose, for instance, that you have 5,000 claims from people who regard themselves as genuine evicted tenants or their representatives, then I think the Minister and the Land Commissioners should lay down certain guiding principles for those appointed to decide whether these claims are genuine or not. Let us take it that 2,000 out of the 5,000 are found to be genuine cases. The Commissioners should, in my opinion, find land for these people. I do not know whether that is the procedure adopted or not, but I rather think it is not. I believe that what is going on is this, that when an estate is acquired for division under the Land Act of 1923 the people or their representatives who, in years gone by, had been evicted from that estate, make application for reinstatement on it. I do not think that is the way to deal with these cases at all. I think all the cases should be taken in bulk, and that decisions should be come to after certain guiding principles had been laid down for the guidance of those appointed to deal with the claims. That work might be done by four or five responsible officials who know something about the conditions in the country. If the cases were dealt with in that way, and if the Minister was prepared to adopt this suggestion which I put forward, it would be the means, I believe, of getting rid once and for all of the idea that prevails in the country that nothing is being done in these cases.
I know that there are many cases of evictions recorded in the history of the land agitation in the constituency I represent. I know that in a good many of these cases the people who had been evicted have been provided with holdings on the estates from which they were evicted when the estates were acquired or else they have been provided with other holdings. I know also of cases where evicted tenants or their representatives were provided with alternative holdings twice the value of the ones from which either themselves or their people had been evicted. If what Deputy Cosgrave has in mind is to be carried out it will mean an injury, rather than a service, to some people that he claims to serve by this amendment. I certainly agree with Deputy Heffernan that, if the emergency man, or the gentleman to whom he refers as an emergency man, has been found a holding in this particular case, he is quite right to protest against that. I would like to hear the Minister state what is the procedure for dealing with claims from evicted tenants, and say that these claims will be dealt with as a whole, and that there should not be a question of waiting until the estates from which these people or their representatives had been evicted are acquired for distribution. The cases should be dealt with as a whole, whether the number be 1,000, 5,000, or 100,000 which was the figure given by the Minister himself, and which I believe is slightly on the exaggerated side. Whatever the number be, they should be dealt with in a businesslike way, and by people appointed by the Land Commission who know something about the conditions in the country and who will give sympathetic consideration to the claims of those evicted in the days of the Land War.
I do not think the Minister can say that there are 100,000 evicted tenants in the country at present. It could not be possible. Like Deputy Davin, I have put forward claims on behalf of evicted tenants. Those claims are for reinstatement in their original holdings or elsewhere. I am sure they got consideration, but I do not think they got any land. It has been stated that the congests are the particular pets of the Minister. I think if it were stated that the western congests are the particular pets of the Minister it would be more correct; he does not seem to give so much consideration to congests in what I may call the home counties. At the same time, the Land Commission are making grants of very large tracts of land in my county, especially large tracts of land, I am informed in some cases, of anything between 100 and 200 acres. If there is as much land as that available it ought not to be as hard to provide for the few remaining genuine evicted tenants in the country.
Like the last speaker, I do not know if the Minister still adheres to his statement that there are 100,000 genuine evicted tenants in the Saorstát, but I would like to ask him again a question which I asked him on the occasion on which he made that statement, whether he is prepared to make a return of the number of genuine evicted tenants now. On that occasion he stated that he was not prepared to make such a return. I ask him now has he reconsidered his decision in the meantime, and, if not, why he could not make this return. I know I have been in receipt of numerous communications from people who regard themselves as genuine evicted tenants and who were evicted from the year 1880 or 1881 to the present time. There is no doubt that there is a certain number of those unfortunate people in existence, and what we want and what I think we are entitled to get is an official statement as to what is the definite number of genuine evicted tenants to-day. Some people say there are none. Some people go to the other extreme adopted by the Minister and say there are 100,000. Some people say because there are none nothing should be done. Some say that because there is an extraordinary number nothing can be done.
I submit there is a certain definite number, and that that number could and should be dealt with. Over and over again during the many stages of the Land War, of which though the Minister or myself may not have been engaged in, yet we must know, there were promises made and hopes held out, to say the least, to men who sacrificed themselves genuinely. I am sure the Minister is the last man in this House to deny that; if any other members of this House would deny it. I would be very surprised if they did. There were genuine cases where men who could have paid their rents declined to do so because they fell in with the general spirit of the time, the general movement that was on foot, and they purposely refrained from doing what they could in paying their rents in order to bring the landlords to their senses. Now, I think it is imperative upon us here at this stage in our national history, in our own national Parliament, to do something for those people. In doing that something we should have proper inquiries made as to the definite numbers of those who are in such a position, and the Minister for Agriculture should come here and make a definite proposal for something to restore these people or their representatives to their holdings.
I have received innumerable communications, not 100,000, but a considerable number, and among others I have had one case where the writer complained that before the passing of the Evicted Tenants Act of 1907 there were 2,000 such evicted tenants scheduled for reinstatement, and that he was one amongst that 2,000. Then he goes on to say that the farm is at present untenanted, and is actually in charge of a herd, and of course that he has not been reinstated. He says that the holding was gazetted in 1908, again in 1910, and again in 1925. I will, if the Minister desires, give him the name. Perhaps it is not advisable at the moment to make it public, but I am only quoting this as an instance which was brought under my notice, and which I am not, as a private individual member of the Dáil, in a position to reply to. I cannot tell the writer of that letter why he has not been reinstated, except to say that this Government and this Ministry of Agriculture, after four years or more, have done nothing to remedy his case. That is the only reply I can give, but I say to the Minister, in all seriousness, in the interests of the Ministry of which he is at present the head, surely, that it would be advisable that something should be done for such people, surely it would be advisable that there should be some form of reply given to writers such as this, except a mere blank negative, and surely it would have been possible before this, and even if it is not too late now, for him to come forward and say not that he is prepared to do this and do that immediately, but that he will, as soon as possible, instruct his Department through one or other of its branches to inquire into the position of evicted tenants at present in the Saorstát as to their genuineness and as to the circumstances in which they were placed, and are placed, and that he will then come forward with a definite proposal to deal properly with those people. I think that that is a suggestion which is in no way extravagant, or meant in any partisan spirit. These men or their representatives are the wounded soldiers of the Land War.
They deserve and they must get proper and equitable treatment. I am not saying that they should get everything in all instances that they ask for, but that they should get as just and proper treatment as is possible at the moment from the representatives of the people. These men have suffered in a cause for which the tenant farmers of Ireland, and consequently the people of Ireland, have distinctly and definitely benefited. I say that it would be a lasting and dying disgrace to any Dáil that something should not be done as soon as possible to restore those people to the property from which they had been evicted. I make this proposal in no partisan spirit. I suggest that there would not be a dissentient voice raised, either in the Dáil or in the country, if the Minister were to make the inquiries I have asked for, and if on the strength of those inquiries he came to this Dáil or the next Dáil and asked that justice should be done to these men.
I want to stress one point that has emerged from the debate. I cannot say from my own knowledge that emergency men have got tracts of land in my county, but I accept the case put up by Deputies that they have in other counties. I am aware that in my own county workmen have got very little land. Some of them only got four acres, and very many none at all. I do make the plea that the emergency man should get no consideration from the State. He was more responsible even than the landlord for what existed in the past. He was the bulwark of the landlord—the most objectionable man in the district —and his continuance there must be always regarded as a slur and an insult. I base my plea on the fact that workmen on many estates which have been divided up got very little land— in many cases no land at all. I say that the emergency man should not be considered or, at least, that he is the last to deserve consideration.
While supporting the principle of the amendment, I recognise the difficulty of carrying it out. I should, however, like to direct attention to a particular aspect of this question. About one and a half years ago inquiry was held in Arklow as to the evicted tenants in County Wicklow. I think about forty attended and made claims before the Inspector and I understand that about twelve were recommended for land. If that is so I think that some effort should be made to give land to those people, because if they were recommended I presume that the Land Commission are satisfied that they are genuine evicted tenants. They should, therefore, get the preference when any estates are being divided. Certainly there is plenty of untenanted land in the County of Wicklow available on which to place those people. I put the proposition to the Minister that cases of this kind, no matter where they are, if the Land Commission are satisfied that they are genuine cases of wounded soldiers of the Land War, who made most of the Land Acts possible, should get a preference over congests or anyone else when estates are being divided up.
I was somewhat amazed to hear the poor case made by the Minister in opposing this amendment. He stated that there was a certain number of evicted tenants reinstated since the passing of the Act of 1923. When moving the amendment I asked the Minister if he could give the number of evicted tenants reinstated and the names. He has now stated that there were fifty. I now ask him, how many have been reinstated in the County Galway since the passing of the Act of 1923? I can answer it myself if he does not—I can tell the House that there has not been one. I presume the Minister is aware that when Mr. Birrell, who was Chief Secretary for Ireland, brought in the Bill of 1909 he inserted compulsory clauses therein for the reinstatement of the evicted tenants. The Bill was passed in the House of Commons but was mutilated by the House of Lords and the compulsory clauses taken out. The following day the Tory newspapers came out with large headings of "Victory for Clanricarde." If the Minister refuses to accept the new clause I have proposed I suppose the heading in the Tory papers in this country to-morrow will be, "Victory for Clanricarde's Planters." The Minister stated that he could not re-open the question of the reinstatement of evicted tenants. If that is so, I wonder why letters were sent out from his Department to evicted tenants in different parts of the twenty-six counties?
What I said was that we could not begin evictions again— that is a different thing.
As far as I understood him, the Minister stated he could not re-open the cases.
At all events, letters have been sent by his Department to evicted tenants. I have got communications from evicted tenants in every county, and I have them here if the Minister wishes to see them. I have a letter here written to an evicted tenant in the County Roscommon, in which amongst other things it is stated: "It is the intention of the Irish Government to deal completely with the question of the evicted tenants, and the Bill as it stands gives them sufficient powers to do this. Those who are concerned on their behalf may rest assured that no genuine evicted tenant will in the end be unprovided for."
It is written from the Department of Agriculture.
Signed by whom? Let us have it all.
I do not want to give the writer's name, but the Minister can have the letter.
When letters are quoted they should be identified.
Can the Deputy say that this is an official letter from the Department of Agriculture?
It is. It commences: "I am directed by the Minister for Agriculture to acknowledge the receipt of your letter." I will pass the letter on to the Minister if he wants it. In moving my amendment I quoted a genuine case for reinstatement in the County Galway, but the Minister in his reply never referred to the case, although he has personal knowledge of it, and, I believe, knows the man I refer to thoroughly. He did not refer to that case, but went off across to Tipperary, and referred to cases there. I ask, why did he not refer to that particular case? He talks of men being out of their holdings for a certain number of years, and said they would not be able to work them now in a satisfactory manner. This particular man and his two brothers have been working as agricultural labourers and supporting their mother and sisters from the time they were evicted. Does the Minister mean to say that that is not a genuine case in which land should be given? There is one particular case that I have received information about from the County Tipperary. I handed this letter and a letter from the P.P. to Deputy Heffernan. He mentioned it, but he did not refer to the particulars. This man was evicted from 50 acres of land in 1892. The land was in the hands of a planter until 1916 or 1917, when he was routed out of it by the people of the district, since when it has been derelict. The planter has intimated to the evicted tenant that he is willing to surrender the farm if the Land Commission will take it up and reinstate the tenant. Is that a genuine case for reinstatement?
I want to refer to the remarks of Deputy Nolan on the day I introduced this amendment. Deputy Nolan, in a mumbled statement—I cannot call it a speech—tried to lead the House to believe that when I stated there were genuine evicted tenants in County Galway, it was tantamount to an incorrect statement. I repeat that statement, and I say that there are genuine evicted tenants, not only in Co. Galway, but in every county in the Free State, including Limerick. I have letters here from the County Limerick asking me to bring cases forward, as they seemingly have no one to look after them in that county. I owe no apology to Deputy Nolan for any action I have taken on behalf of the evicted tenants, and I can assure him I shall continue to advocate their cause until the last one of them is reinstated.
It seems to me that there is considerable misunderstanding over this question. We are, apparently, agreed as to how the evicted tenant should be treated, and the real question is, are they getting that treatment? That is the whole question. It is admitted that you cannot ask the Land Commission to deal with every genuine evicted tenant. That is admitted by everybody.
That is admitted by everybody with the possible exception of Deputy Cosgrave.
I beg your pardon, it is nothing of the kind.
I said it was admitted by everybody except Deputy Cosgrave.
It is not admitted! Why should it?
I only want to try to clear up the situation. Then the Land Commission must deal with every genuine evicted tenant. If that is so, this sort of case is going to occur. There are evicted tenants or representatives of them who were evicted for non-payment of rent between the years 1870 and 1890, and who are now doctors, solicitors or other professional men——
What about the men earning their bread by the sweat of their brow?
Surely, the Deputy is able to discriminate every man such as I have mentioned to be dealt with as a genuine evicted tenant—are they all evicted tenants?
I never used the words "all evicted tenants." I said "genuine evicted tenants."
It does not make the case any less genuine because the representative of the evicted tenant is a professional man now. There is a lot of tall talk in the endeavour to get away from the facts of the case and an analysis of them.
Such men as the Minister describes are not looking for reinstatement.
The Deputy will have an opportunity of speaking again, and he should allow the Minister to proceed.
I am not making debating points. The proposal is that the Land Commission shall deal with all genuine evicted tenants.
It is time to put "shall" in instead of "may." They have no intention of doing it and I know it.
There will be plenty of time for all this enthusiasm. Am I to take this proposal seriously? I suppose the best compliment to pay to Deputy Cosgrave is to take his proposal seriously. If this amendment is passed the Land Commission will have to deal with every genuine evicted tenant. My definition of a genuine evicted tenant is a tenant evicted for non-payment of rent in a certain period, or his representative, be he lawyer, solicitor, or any other sort of professional man, or whether he was a labourer, small farmer or a big farmer, or anything else. Is the Land Commission to deal with all of them? Remember that is the specific case Deputy Doyle made, but Deputy Doyle is logical in the matter. He says: "Yes, certainly." I quoted a case and made a point that the representative of the evicted tenant is a well-off man, and he said it did not matter; he should get his land back. That is at least logical and there is a case to be met. But let us know where we are. Does the Dáil agree with that and does Deputy Redmond agree with that?
Deputy Redmond is also logical. He is willing to agree to that, but look at what it means. It is all very fine to agree when you have not the responsibility of carrying it out. Look at what it means in hundreds of cases. It is these cases that do crop up where an Act of Parliament is being passed and five or six very bad cases of that sort would take all the virtue out of an Act of Parliament. If that clause is inserted and passed and the Land Commission acquires three or four hundred acres of land from which somebody had been evicted twenty-five years ago and whose son may be a stockbroker in Dublin or a local dispensary doctor—if he is to get back this two hundred acres of land against the interest of the congests it is simply absurd and I do not mind joining issue at all on that point. But let us be clear as to the issue that we disagree about. The Land Commission will not be asked to take up all cases, including every man, no matter what the circumstances may be. They will not be asked to give back an amount of land equal to that from which a man or his father was evicted years ago. If the Land Commission did give out such directions and they were carried out then a shocking state of affairs would arise because in many cases the immediate effect would be that men so reinstated would sell out.
Why should not a man do what he likes with his own property?
How many congests sold out?
I beg the Deputy's pardon. That statement should not be made, for people will get the impression that lands are being divided, and that the owners are selling out. That is not so. There has been more land divided in Galway than in any other county in Ireland. I know Galway inside out, and to my knowledge, in Galway, out of about 200,000 acres that has been divided, there is only one farm that has gone back to the hands of other people than the people put on it.
I can point to two within half a mile of my house.
There are cases where people set their lands.
There is no use confusing it. The ordinary congest, the landless man, who gets a holding and has not sufficient capital—as a sensible man he starts by setting half and then stocking the rest and working it. That is much better than if they were to borrow and stock the whole of the land. There was one class of cases where there was wholesale selling of land, and that was the case of evicted tenants.
I think Deputies are aware that, so far as the evicted tenants are concerned, they are one of the classes that, to a large extent, failed on the land. That is not to be surprised at. It is their misfortune rather than their fault.
Over 200 evicted tenants were reinstated in Galway. How many of them have sold?
I must ask Deputies to restrain their enthusiasm.
I take it that in this country, and in this Parliament, when a discussion on land arises considerable latitude must be allowed. I have always allowed considerable latitude, and I have been assisted in allowing considerable latitude by my own considerable ignorance of the subject. We are discussing an amendment to-day, but in discussing it, we are really wandering into a debate on the administration of the Land Commission. We are also discussing an amendment so framed that apparently nobody is in favour of it. I am not sure that Deputy Cosgrave himself is in favour of it. Up to the present nobody else has said that this amendment meets what he wants in its present form. There is a certain amount of heat about the question of evicted tenants, but we cannot proceed to discuss the question by way of interruption. Deputies who have made speeches will have to listen to other Deputies making speeches. We must listen to speeches with which we do not agree. There is no other way of doing business. Considerable latitude is being allowed, but we cannot wander at will. If the Minister wants to make a statement he must be allowed to do so.
It is the conventional thing to introduce heat into a discussion on land purchase and I suppose we must be conventional. I could not possibly accept from Deputy Redmond or Deputy Cosgrave an amendment the meaning of which is that the Land Commission shall deal with all genuine evicted tenants. It would be quite impossible for the Land Commission. I am asked what is the difficulty. Anyone who knows anything about the administration of land purchase realises that if I attempted to bring a shopkeeper, a professional man or a fairly wealthy man, because his father had been evicted, into a district in which there are a large number of congests it would be a very dangerous thing to do, and the whole law would be brought into disrepute. After going to the trouble of putting in these people a lot of the holdings would have to be sold. Up to the present no one has suggested, except Deputy Cosgrave, that the evicted tenants should be reinstated in their original holdings. I could not agree to that. There seems to be an impression that the evicted tenants are not getting fair play. Subject to what I have stated on those two points, I can assure Deputies that the claims of evicted tenants, where they make claims to the Land Commission, are considered sympathetically. Perhaps I had better give the information Deputy Redmond asked for.
There were 13,620 applications from evicted tenants recorded in the Land Commission; 6,965 were rejected, 3,347 have been reinstated; 312 are noted for consideration in the allotment of untenanted land; 2,996 have not yet been considered. That is the whole position. Deputy Davin asked what is the procedure? There is a small section in the Land Commission which acts as a sort of clearing house for these applications and does the clerical work. What happens? An estate is bought. Everybody in the district knows about it. One thing is certain, that every evicted tenant or the representative of every evicted tenant will apply. Deputies need not be afraid that the applications will not reach the Land Commission. They always do. They reach first of all the section I have mentioned and are then divided into sub-sections. There are four Chief Inspectors in the Land Commission, each being responsible for a certain district. The applications go through each Chief Inspector down to the Inspector who is dealing with the estate, so that in the final result there are four men in the Land Commission who, under the Commissioners, have the ruling of the matter— the four Chief Inspectors. Every application goes down actually to the Inspector who is on the land, whose duty it is to make all the inquiries into the circumstances in which the tenant was evicted, into his present position, and the circumstances of the other tenants in the district who are also applicants for land. There is no other way to do it. No three or four men in the Land Commission could sit down and pick out the good applications from the bad ones.
Deputies are aware of the sort of applications that come in. They state "I was evicted" or "My father was evicted 50 years ago from a particular place. I heard the estate is sold and I want a holding there." The application is generally as vague as that. No one in the Land Commission could examine these applications. The information must be got down the country through the Inspector. The information is brought back to the Chief Inspectors. They have the full facts before them, all the circumstances of the eviction, the merits of the application as it stands to-day and, in addition, they have before them considerations such as the amount of land available, the circumstances of other applicants— who must be considered—as well as the representatives of the evicted tenants. On that they have to make up their minds. Personally I have got a good many cases of evicted tenants from Deputies, but I have never got a case yet where I consider the equities were on the side of the evicted tenant or the alleged evicted tenant. I can give Deputies an undertaking that within these limitations the Land Commission will try to deal with every genuine case. I must have these limitations. We cannot go beyond that. We cannot deal with them all on account of present day circumstances. We cannot deal with them on the line of reinstating them in their own holdings. It would do injustice. I agree with Deputy Redmond that the evicted tenants are entitled, other things being equal, to a little more than fair play. I agree with him as to the sacrifices they made at the time, but a very big number of these people were dealt with pre-1923.
The men who are left are either of two classes—people who are in extremely poor circumstances in another walk of life, and people who are very well off, having made good in other walks of life and who have cut off all connection with the land. It would be an extraordinary attitude, at this stage, to take up, that every one of these 7,000 applicants who have been rejected should be put back in their holdings. It would take an immense amount of land, and a number of them —a very large number probably— would sell out. That is almost certain when you remember that even in approved cases a very large number sold out.
With regard to the case quoted by Deputy Cosgrave, that evicted tenant was offered a holding in 1908 and refused it. He may have had good reasons. The fact that he refused does not prevent his making an application again. I do not know the circumstances. Deputy Cosgrave gives me credit for knowing the circumstances of the case. I do not know the full circumstances, but it is open to the evicted tenant to apply again. His application will be considered again, but remember that he was offered a holding before. The name, I think, is Madden. He was offered a holding and refused it in 1908. It is open to him, in applying again, to show that his circumstances have changed—to show that he had good reason for refusing in the first instances, and that his circumstances are now such that, in equity, he is entitled to a holding. The Land Commission will consider the case. The Land Commission give every consideration to evicted tenants, and will continue to do so, but I cannot accept amendments which would force them to deal with all evicted tenants and, above all, I cannot accept an amendment which would force them to reinstate evicted tenants in their original holdings, because that would impose considerable hardships on a fairly large number of innocent people.
The tenant, Madden, in the case referred to by the Minister, was evicted from 34 acres of the best land in my part of Galway, which he held at a rent of £33. The original rent was £24, but his father voted against the landlord's nominee at the Parliamentary Nolan and Trench election and his rent was increased by £9. It was £33 when he was evicted. He was offered a holding on the Daly estate of 22 acres of inferior land, the rent being £23 per year. That was the first holding he was offered. I know the farm well. Half of it is moor land, and there are only 22 acres in it, as against the 34 acres which he had held. The second holding he was offered was on the Butson estate. It contained 16 acres and the rent was a little over £16 a year. I think that man was quite justified in refusing to accept such a small holding as that after he had been on the roadside for 25 years. The Minister stated that a number of evicted tenants were selling or had sold their holdings. There have been over 200 tenants reinstated in Co. Galway. I should like to know how many of them have sold their holdings.
I assert that not five of them have sold their holdings. The Minister also stated that it would be an injustice to remove people from their present holdings. I suppose it would be an injustice to remove the planter and reinstate the evicted tenant. Is that what the Minister regards as "injustice"? The Minister also stated that he did not think it would be advisable to reinstate poor people—"people who are in poor circumstances," I think, was the phrase used. Is it any wonder that they are in poor circumstances when they have been on the roadside for 25 or 30 years? Are not the poor people the people who should be reinstated? The Minister referred on several occasions to the last paragraph in the amendment referring to the reinstatement of evicted tenants in their original holdings. But he did not suggest to the mover that the wording of the section should be changed. Would it not be possible for the Land Commission to reinstate the evicted tenants in their original holdings and give alternative holdings to the planters? That could be done in many cases. It could be done particularly in the case of Horsemann—a man who has 199 acres, 131 acres being grabbed land. I do not see why the Land Commission should not do that. This man is not living on this particular holding. The buildings were levelled by him and the emergency men, and he is living in another holding about three miles away. Why not give him a holding elsewhere if you are in favour of giving him land? I say these people are not entitled to anything, because they paid no fine for the land when they grabbed it. But if the Minister and the Land Commission think they are entitled to get land in lieu of that which they are deprived of, it can be given them. It is a matter of indifference to me so long as the evicted tenants are reinstated. I hope the majority of the Deputies here— especially the farmers, who have benefited by the sacrifices of the evicted tenants in the past—will support this amendment to get rid of the planters, and reinstate the evicted tenants.
Is it the policy of the Land Commission and of the Minister that a man ought not to be reinstated because he is rich, and that a man ought not to be reinstated because he is poor?
I am very glad that the Minister has thought fit to give us the figures. I should like to know since what date the 13,000 applications were made. It appears there were almost 7,000 applications rejected, that 3,300 evicted tenants were reinstated, and that there remain almost 3,000 applications to be dealt with. Of the 6,000 odd applications which were not rejected, 3,000 odd have been reinstated, and there are almost 3,000 yet to be considered. My complaint—I want to put it as fairly as I can—is of the delay in the consideration of these 3,000 cases. The Minister may say with perfect justice that the Land Commission, as at present constituted, was not able to cope with this work, but that does not meet my case. My case is that he, as Minister for Lands, should make some provision whereby the Land Commission, or some other body, would speed matters up and deal with these 3,000 applications.
I do not stand for a moment on the wording of my friend's amendment. I take it that the real object of the amendment was to draw the attention of the House to the delay which at present obtains in the consideration of the claims and the reinstatement of the remaining evicted tenants. Whether or not the Land Commission, as at present constituted, can cope with these 3,000 applications is beside the question. I want the Minister to provide some means by which the work will be done. As regards the point as to the present circumstances of the evicted tenant, I agree that it would be illogical to suggest that because a man is in better circumstances than his neighbour he should not have equal rights in respect to action that they both took, or that their representatives took, in the interest of the Irish farmers during the period from the year 1880.
It would be illogical: I think it would be worse than illogical. I admit that all legislation, or, indeed, sometimes very little legislation, can go entirely upon the lines of logic. But I put it further, and I say that this question of reinstatement, to my mind, is not a question of present circumstances at all. It is a question of right. These men or their predecessors were evicted. Why? Because they did certain things and took certain lines. Is it to be said that because in the meantime by their thrift or by their energy or by the exercise of their talents, whether at the learned professions or at the plough, they are to be deprived of the rights which in all equity should be theirs? I do not think that that is tenable. I do not think either that it will mean such a wonderful excess of numbers as the Minister seems to suggest. I doubt very much if so many of these evicted tenants as it would appear from the remark that has fallen from the Minister to-day, have succeeded in advancing themselves whether in the professions or in the trades or otherwise. If they have done so, and if in the meantime they have got on, why should that be a reason for denying them what I consider to be their right? I think that his case, from that point of view, falls to the ground.
Deputy Cosgrave proceeded to read from a letter which, he said, came from the Department of Lands and Agriculture, and he was asked to give the name of the writer of that letter. He read the letter, as far as I know, for what it was worth, and as coming on behalf of the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture. The Deputy did not give the name of the writer. I would ask the House whether the Deputy in that case did not act perfectly fair? Because the name of the writer is probably the name of one of the Minister's own staff, and I think it was from that point of view that Deputy Cosgrave did not give the name—I am sure my friend did not want to injure the writer of that letter.
I agree—I saw that at once.
I am very glad the Minister says that. Before I sit down I would like once more to impress upon the Minister the view that I take on this question, and it is a personal one—that this amendment in itself as it is now drafted, is not the only way whereby these cases of the evicted tenants can be met, nor do I suggest that it is the best way. What I do suggest is that it is up to the Minister, here and now, if he will not accept this amendment, to give the Dáil some assurance that he will get to work and do something. Even if the staff at his disposal now are not sufficiently adequate to do the work and to deal with these remaining 3,000 cases, it is his duty, and I say the House would assist him in that duty, to provide a sufficient staff, so as to put a stop to the delay that has taken place.
On the question of the wording of the amendment, I have not really consulted my colleague, but I do not think he would refuse if he were asked to alter the terms, certainly as regards the last words of the amendment—namely, if it was suggested that the evicted tenants should be restored and if the words "original holding" were omitted, I should say that the amendment might meet with general approval. But I admit the difficulty in the restoration of all the evicted tenants to their original holdings. There is no use in blinding oneself to that difficulty. The object, as far as I understand it, is that where possible, and acting in the circumstances in a reasonable and fair way, the tenant should, everything else being equal, be restored to his original holding. I am not bound to that, and personally I would not press that point. I would be perfectly prepared to have the amendment altered so that the tenant should be restored or that he should be placed in a position as regards a holding as good as he or his predecessor held at the time of the eviction. I hope, therefore, that the Minister understands that the reason why I am supporting this amendment is that I want these 3,000 cases dealt with at once. If the machinery at the Minister's disposal is not sufficient, I will give him every support in my power, and I think the rest of the Dáil will too, to provide that the machinery will be sufficient.
Perhaps it would be better if the amendment read: "In all cases where the applicant is a genuine evicted tenant and in actual need of land, the Land Commission shall reinstate him in his original holding where that is feasible, but if that be not feasible the Land Commission shall provide him with a similar holding on the nearest estate that is being broken up tor distribution." Perhaps the Minister and Deputy Cosgrave will agree on those lines.
The real issue is there between us still: "The Land Commission shall provide all genuine evicted tenants with land." I could not possibly undertake to accept that. That is the whole issue.
That is not in the wording as indicated by the Deputy.
In all cases where the applicant is a genuine evicted tenant and in actual need of land, he should be provided with it. I only mean people who want land and who are entitled to it because they are genuine evicted tenants.
Either the Land Commission is to have discretion or on the contrary it is not. If the Deputy is to give the Land Commission discretion, then that is the existing law, and it does not require an amendment at all. The Land Commission may deal with all genuine evicted tenants taking all the circumstances into account. That is the law. If the Deputy wants to give the Land Commission discretion there is no occasion for the amendment at all. On the other hand, I cannot agree with Deputies that the Land Commission must deal with all cases of evicted tenants. They could not do it.
My case is that the Land Commission should deal with all genuine evicted tenants who require land. I feel that these men are entitled to some compensation——
I suggest, on behalf of the people whom this amendment is proposed to serve, that the amendment be withdrawn. Though we sympathise a good deal with the class of people mentioned, some of us may find ourselves in the position of having to vote against them, if the amendment is put in its present form.
As regards the 13,620 applications received by the Land Commission from the tenants who were evicted, or whose predecessors were evicted, in the event of the estates from which they were evicted not being likely to be acquired under the 1923 Act, how does the Land Commission propose to deal with the applicants?
Place them on other estates. This is really not a question of staff at all. We cannot deal with the applications made by evicted tenants except when the estate from which the tenant was evicted comes up for consideration. In other words, an inspector must be sent down to the estate. He must get all the circumstances connected with that estate, and that only happens when the estate comes up for consideration. That is not a question of want of staff. If there were more staff there, no doubt the purchase and distribution would go faster and the cases would be reached sooner. But you cannot take cases out and proceed to go around the country to estates from which there were some evictions. It is not a question of staff. The only assurance I can give is that the Land Commission will, so far as possible, sympathetically consider the cases of any evicted tenants who put in applications. The fact that an application was turned down in the past will not prevent the Land Commission from considering it again.
Will the Land Commission settle in their holdings the remaining 2,900 tenants? That is the whole thing.
Surely, it is the whole thing.
That is not a very big thing.
The Land Commission cannot answer that question until they get the circumstances connected with each estate.
They have sifted out 13,000 cases and have rejected half; now, there are 2,900 remaining to be dealt with.
They have rejected 7,000; they have left 7,000; they have dealt with about 3,000, and there are about 3,000 left. There is no decision to deal with these 3,000. The fact that they have rejected 7,000 does not mean that every one of the other 7,000 cases is a genuine case. On closer examination it may be found that some of these cases could not be dealt with for one hundred and one reasons. You can only deal with each case in conjunction with the estate from which the person concerned was evicted. If it is a genuine case, one that should be dealt with, and there is no land, it is quite easy to deal with the tenant on another estate. Numbers of evicted tenants have been dealt with on estates other than the estates they or their predecessors were evicted from.
Then the position is that evicted tenants cannot be dealt with until the estates from which they were evicted come up for consideration as to purchase?
If there is no land available on the particular estate from which the tenant was evicted, the tenant could be accommodated on other estates, perhaps in the same county. I suggest that tenants may get land on some other estate actually under consideration. That has already occurred and in that way a certain number of them were dealt with long before their own estates came up for consideration. It is only in conjunction with some estate actually under consideration in their own or another county that they can be effectively dealt with.
From the Minister's figures I gather there are 2,196 cases still to be considered?
The number is 2,996— say 3,000.
Will the Minister give an assurance that responsible officials of the Land Commission will be set aside for the purpose of dealing with these cases and of endeavouring to see whether they can be settled on suitable estates if the estates from which they were evicted are not likely to be acquired?
There is already a subsection that deals with these claims. Such cases are dealt with by four chief inspectors. All the applications from evicted tenants go back to four points in the Land Commission. There are four chief inspectors, very responsible officials, dealing with these cases. It is on the recommendation of any one of these four inspectors that the cases are dealt with. The point of view of the chief inspectors is sympathetic to the evicted tenants.
I do not mind what the form of words may be if the Minister is prepared to accept the suggestion put forward by Deputy Byrne —that is, in all cases where the applicant is a genuine evicted tenant and in actual need of land the Land Commission shall reinstate him to the original holding, where feasible.
I cannot accept that for the reasons I have mentioned.
Will you accept it in any form?
The existing law is quite good enough to meet the situation.
If it is, why do you not reinstate them?
Will I be permitted to speak on this matter?
This is the beginning of a fourth debate on this amendment. Deputy Hennessy is beginning the fourth debate on an amendment which other Deputies are endeavouring to amend so as to make their meaning clear.
But it is my first beginning.
I am quite well aware of that.
I believe the Land Commission are trying to do their best in the circumstances. I come from a part of the country—I was born very near Tipperary—where there were very great sacrifices made by evicted tenants. It is true that most of those have been restored to their original holdings, but there are still a few tenants who have not been restored, and we cannot get over the fact that they have been victimised.
The trouble with regard to the settlement of evicted tenants is this: they have to pay too much rent. When tenants are restored to their original holdings or get new holdings, the rent of those holdings, when you compare it with the adjoining land, is often thirty and forty per cent. more than what they would have paid if they were never evicted. I think the price paid for what I may term evicted land——
Surely that is another question—the price of evicted land? We have had a great deal of irrelevancy, but that is the greatest irrelevancy yet.
I am only discussing the obstacles to the restoration of evicted tenants, and why, when they are restored, in many instances, there are so many failures.
I would like to hear from Deputy Redmond whether he approves of the Minister's suggestion that doctors and other professional men, where they are genuine evicted tenants, should not be reinstated.
I am not an evicted tenant. I say that the price paid for evicted land should not be higher than that paid for untenanted land. The price paid for evicted land should be the same as if the tenant had run through the whole gamut of the Land Commission and got the reductions that the average judicial tenant would get if he were never evicted. Undoubtedly there were landlords who did not facilitate the reinstatement of tenants. It is useless to say it is the fault of the Land Commission. The Land Commission is sympathetic, but there have been many obstacles put in their way by local people. When a tenant is about to be restored to his original holding, there is actually an agitation amongst the local people to get some of that evicted tenant's land. I do not think that is very creditable. Those are some of the obstacles to the restoration of evicted tenants and they make it very difficult for the Land Commission to restore holdings.
I think the Land Commission are dealing, as far as practicable, with the position of the evicted tenants. We have heard a lot of speeches from different parts of the House, but there have been no practical suggestions put forward which would assist the Land Commission in dealing in a more expeditious manner with the cases that need attention.
If we had heard some suggestions which would assist the Land Commission in dealing with these cases in a quicker manner it would be something to listen to and something to advance the position of the evicted tenants, but we have heard nothing of the kind. I suggest, with Deputy Gorey, that the amendment should be withdrawn and the matter left as already suggested by the Minister, and I think if that were done it would be much better.
On a point of procedure. I am not satisfied with the amendment as it stands. I believe if it were put into the Bill it could not be carried out, and if I vote for it I will do so simply as a protest, because the Minister has not met our arguments fully and because the Land Commission has not dealt with these cases. I would ask Deputy Cosgrave to amend the amendment to meet the views of a great many Deputies. That could be done. If he does not do so the responsibility for putting forward an impracticable amendment is on his own shoulders.
If the amendment is accepted now is it not a fact that it can be amended afterwards on Report?
I offered to agree to Deputy Heffernan's suggestion, but as the Minister would not accept that I cannot do anything more.
The proper procedure would be for Deputy Cosgrave to withdraw the amendment now and bring it up on the Report Stage in an amended form.
Could he not amend it now by leave of the House?
He could if we were two days more at it.
Will the Deputy have an opportunity of moving it on the Report Stage if he withdraws it now?
With great respect, all that really means is that we will have this debate over again on the Report Stage.
If I withdraw it is it quite clear that I can bring it up again on the Report Stage?
Yes, but you will be entitled to make only one speech then.
I will withdraw it under these conditions.
I object to the withdrawal of the amendment. Two hours have been lost on this discussion.
I move that it be put to a Division now if the Deputy will not change it.
What more could he do than withdraw it?
The Committee divided: Tá. 27; Níl, 39.
- Pádraig Baxter.
- Seán Buitléir.
- John Conlan.
- Séamus Mac Cosgair.
- Risteárd Mac Fheorais.
- Patrick McKenna.
- Risteárd Mac Liam.
- Liam Mag Aonghusa.
- Patrick J. Mulvany.
- William Norton.
- Ailfrid O Broin.
- Criostóir O Broin.
- Tomás O Conaill.
- Aodh O Cúlacháin.
- Séamus Eabhróid.
- David Hall.
- Connor Hogan.
- Liam O Daimhín.
- Eamon O Dubhghaill.
- Mícheál O Dubhghaill.
- Seán O Duinnín.
- Mícheál O hIfearnáin.
- Seán O Laidhin.
- Domhnall O Muirgheasa.
- Pádraig O hOgáin (An Clár).
- William A. Redmond.
- Nicholas Wall.
- Earnán Altún.
- Earnán de Blaghd.
- Séamus Breathnach.
- Seoirse de Bhulbh.
- Próinsias Bulfin.
- Séamus de Búrca.
- John J. Cole.
- Bryan R. Cooper.
- Sir James Craig.
- Máighréad Ní Choileáin Bean
- Uí Dhrisceóil.
- Desmond Fitzgerald.
- Thomas Hennessy.
- John Hennigan.
- William Hewat.
- Patrick Leonard.
- Liam Mac Cosgair.
- Pádraig Mac Fadáin.
- Patrick McGilligan.
- Seoirse Mac Niocaill.
- Liam Mac Sioghaird.
- Pádraig Mag Ualghairg.
- James Sproule Myles.
- John T. Nolan.
- Michael K. Noonan.
- Peadar O hAodha.
- Risteárd O Conaill.
- Séamus O Dóláin.
- Pádraig O Dubhthaigh.
- Eamon O Dúgáin.
- Donnchadh O Guaire.
- Fionán O Loingsigh.
- Séamus O Murchadha.
- Pádraig O hOgáin (Gaillimh).
- Máirtín O Rodaigh.
- Seán O Súilleabháin.
- Mícheál O Tighearnaigh.
- Caoimhghín O hUigín.
- Seán Príomhdhall.
- Liam Thrift.
Tellers:—Tá: Deputies Redmond and Heffernan.
Amendment declared lost.
Níl: Deputies Dolan and Tierney.
A glorious victory for the Clanricarde and Smith-Barry planters.
I do not propose to move No. 19, but will substitute another for it on the Report Stage.
Amendment 19 not moved.
In line 46 to delete the words "16th day of June, 1926," and substitute therefor the words "date of the passing of the Land Act, 1923."
The section provides for the reinstatement of evicted tenants in certain contingencies where they have been ejected on or after the gale day next preceding the 16th day of June, 1926. I understand that date is fixed by the Minister, having in view the fact that this Bill was introduced at that time, and I think the intention is that this opportunity should not be given to landlords over tenants when the landlords held under the Land Act. My amendment proposes that the date be put back to the date of the introduction of the Land Act, 1923. That date is fixed in a more or less arbitrary manner, but I do not stand on it if the Minister could suggest any other date that would meet my point. But the fact of the matter remains that there are certain tenants of holdings, the landlords of which hold them from the Land Commission. These tenants have been evicted since the introduction of the 1923 Act, and the argument I put forward is this, that these landlords in all probability anticipated that legislation would have to be introduced eventually to deal with such cases, and in anticipation of that they evicted their tenants. I suggest that if it is equitable and just to reinstate those who were evicted since the introduction of the Bill, it is equally just and equitable to go back to those who have been evicted since the time of the Land Act of 1923. There will be cases of hardship if this Bill is passed in its present form. I know a man in my own county who was evicted about two months prior to the date fixed in this Bill, and he would, therefore, not come within the provisions of the Bill, and I believe there are other cases of that kind. This case to which I refer has attracted a good deal of attention in the neighbourhood. The man is very decent and honest and the case has created a good deal of sympathy locally. If the Bill is passed as it is now he will not come under it. The Minister ought to reconsider the position existing at present and ought to put the date back to what I suggest, or at least a couple of years previous to the introduction of this Bill.
I could not agree to this amendment. In the Special Committee there was general agreement that this was the right date.
No. I did not agree to it.
There was general agreement, with the exception of Deputy Heffernan, that this was the right date, for this reason: There will be, of course, some hardship if we draw the line here, and equally there will be hardship if we draw the line in 1923. There will always be someone a month or two on one side or the other. If you go back to 1923 it would be retrospective legislation, and what you have to remember here is that, while there may be hardships in any event, the balance is in favour of the position as set out in the Bill, and not as set out in the amendment. Remember, you are dealing with future tenancies, to a very great extent, not with present tenancies.
It is only in the case of a future tenancy that there has been an eviction. It is only in the case of a tenancy held subject to a year's notice to quit, where there is no real tenure, that there has been an eviction. In a great many cases you are dealing with small tenancies where the landlord and the tenant are practically the same class of people, and where there are really no equities between them. The landlord in these cases that are covered by that section, exercised an undoubted right, which he had in 1922, 1923 and 1924, to serve notice to quit on a future tenant and take up the holding, and he exercised the perfectly proper right to give it to somebody else. That was regarded as a matter of form. Anyone who sets a holding on these terms, even though it is a tenancy terminable on a year's notice to quit, presumably has a right to do this at the end of the term of agreement. It is not right to call it an eviction in the sense of an eviction as we knew it, say, in the year 1881, in its application to a present tenancy where the tenant had a certain tenure. We are dealing here, remember, with tenants who have no tenure whatever, who are subject to a year's notice to quit.
We are dealing, to a great extent, with holdings near towns owned by shopkeepers, who set them to other shopkeepers, or people like that, and vice versa—owned by people who, in many cases, are not farmers at all, who hold this land as accommodation land and set it from year to year. We are going very far, indeed, in fact too far, if we allow the present occupier to purchase the fee simple in such a case. If we make that retrospective we are going to inflict considerable hardship on people who would have exercised their right in this way. The old tenant would have gone out and they would have put in another tenant. We would have to put out the tenant in existence now and put in the first tenant. That would be arbitrary and wrong. Leave it as it is. No matter where you draw the line, there will be hardship. There will be injustice on one side of the line or on the other, but you will do less hardship this way. If you go back to 1923 you will be indulging in the luxury of retrospective legislation.
Are there cases of legislation in connection with potential building ground?
I have heard something about that, but I am not sure. If there are such cases, I think they ought to go back over the whole period.
There is potential building ground, and potential building ground. If you hold ground as a future tenancy that is one case, and if you hold it as a present tenancy with the judicial rent fixed, that is another case. In the latter case the landowner might have served notice on the tenant to resume the holding, notwithstanding that it was a present tenancy, and have actually resumed it. I think there is no answer, even in a case of present tenancy, and there is no obligation on the landlord to resume it for the purpose of building. In the sort of cases that this covers, namely, future tenancies terminable at twelve month's notice to quit, it does not matter whether the ground is suitable for building or not. The real owner was the landlord, and he was exercising a perfectly legitimate right in giving that notice.
The Minister objects to retrospective legislation. Does he deny that the Act of 1923 was largely retrospective, especially in regard to arrears?
Arrears were always treated in that way. They are a special case.
Amendment put and negatived.
Question—"That Section 13 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Before Section 14 is passed, I would like to ask the Minister whether he would consider having a longer period of years than five years to determine the annual average maintenance rate. It might happen that, owing to neglect during the last five years, it might have been overladen with congestion work.
The average of five years was arrived at in consultation with the Land Commission, and as no suggestion was made on either side I did not give the matter much thought. I will, however, undertake to see whether there is any equity in increasing the number of years.
Question—"That Section 14 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Question—"That Section 15 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
(3) An error in a final list may be corrected by the Land Commission but no correction shall be made after the appointed day except by order of the Judicial Commissioner, and only in so far, and upon such terms, if any, as may appear just having regard to the interests that may be thereby affected.
(4) Every holding vested in the tenant thereof on the appointed day pursuant to the provisions of this section shall be deemed to be registered land within the meaning of Section 19 (1) of the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Act, 1891, and subject to the provisions of that Act as from the beginning of that day. The holding shall accordingly be exempt from the provisions of the Acts relating to the Registry of Deeds as from the beginning of the appointed day, and registration thereof shall be completed in the Land Registry as of that day, and all deeds or documents dealing therewith shall on and after that day be lodged in the Land Registry.
In sub-section (3), page 9, line 6, to delete the words "an error" and in lieu thereof insert the words "a clerical mistake or error arising from any accidental omission."
The object of this amendment is to make the sub-section a little clearer. It is largely a drafting amendment, but there might be an error in description that was not of a trivial character and it might carry very serious consequences. For instance, I take the case of a small holding, a cottage with one or two acres attached. That might be held to be an agricultural holding, but, equally, it might be held to be a cottage with a curtilage, and, thereby, a residential holding. Unless the position is made a little clearer it would be open to the Commissioners, when all proceedings were over, to alter the final list and say that this is not an agricultural holding but a residential holding, or vice versa. It would be inconvenient both to the landlord and the tenant. I am not absolutely tied to the description in my amendment, and if the Minister will consider the possibility of making it clear that the error is a trival error of description, or an accidental omission rather than an error of substance, I would be prepared to meet him.
The word "error" is used because it is the word used in Section 34 of the Local Registration of Title Act. I am told by lawyers that it has a rather well-defined meaning and that it would be undesirable to change it. The Land Commission has a right to make changes in flats and so forth. I am prepared to discuss the matter with the Deputy, but I am advised that it has a legal meaning and would be unwise to change it as it is so well-fixed in other Acts. Up to the present it has been the subject of decided cases, and I think it would be rather a pity to attempt a definition in that state of affairs, because there is no better definition than decided cases.
The Minister is aware that where you get counsel to give one opinion, you can get another counsel to give another. I am fortified with counsel's opinion in my favour. Perhaps the Minister will consider it before the Report Stage.
Then I withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
In sub-section (4), page 9, line 21, after the word "Registry" to add the words "Provided that nothing in this sub-section contained shall prejudice or affect any assignment, mortgage or charge or of any other dealing with any such holding which has been made or completed before the time at which the memorial of the registration of the holding shall have been registered in the Registry of Deeds pursuant to the provisions of Section 19, sub-section (4) of the Local Registration of Title (Ireland) Act, 1891."
This amendment is for the purpose of making some provision for those persons interested in the sale of land from the point of view of having a charge or mortgage upon it. Under the Bill as it stands, the vesting, which was previously a separate function, now becomes automatic, and the land is automatically vested on the appointed day. It is possible that people interested, mortgagors and persons holding charges, might not have adequate notice of the appointed day. This amendment seeks to preserve their rights until registration in the Registry of Deeds is carried through. It is possible that people interested would be able to find out, at an expenditure of a considerable amount of time and trouble, but when it is registered in the Registry of Deeds—that is a formality well known in the legal profession— anyone can go there and look it up. I suggest that it might be desirable to take a precaution of this kind. It simply provides that the rights of a mortgagor or a person who holds a charge on the land shall not be abolished by reason of vesting, but shall continue until the necessary registration is made in the Registry of Deeds.
I shall have to ask the Deputy to allow that to be deferred until the Report Stage. It is complicated.
I am prepared to withdraw the amendment. Perhaps the Minister would discuss the matter with persons interested before the Report Stage.
To add in page 9 the following sub-section at the end of the section:—
"(7) Where a holding or part of a holding of tenanted land not exceeding two statute acres to which the provisions of this section apply has been acquired by the Commissioners of Public Works for the purposes of the Public Services and the Commissioners certify to the Land Commission before the appointed day that the holding or part of the holding has been purchased by them for a sum not exceeding one hundred pounds from the tenant in occupation thereof, then the holding or part of the holding shall vest in the Commissioners under this section free from all rights and equities arising from the previous interest of the tenant therein referred to in Section 8 of the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act, 1885, and the person to whom the Commissioners shall have paid the purchase money shall be a trustee thereof for the persons beneficially entitled thereto."
This amendment is asked for by the Board of Works. It is not of great importance. It makes it easier for them to make title. I am advised that it is not likely to lead to any abuse. They have analogous powers with regard to making title for other lands, and they merely wish to extend that to a holding which is not worth more than £100.
Amendment put and agreed to.
Question—"That Section 16, as amended, stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
(1) In any case where untenanted lands become vested in the Land Commission under the provisions of the Land Act, 1923, all poor rates made or assessed in respect of such lands for the financial year current on the appointed day shall be apportioned up to that day, and the Land Commission shall be liable for the portion thereof apportioned in respect of the period between the appointed day and the end of the current financial year but shall not be liable for any other rates or arrears of rates made or assessed in respect of the lands for the then current or any previous financial year.
(2) In every such case the owner or occupier of the lands prior to the appointed day shall be liable for the portion only of the rates made or assessed for the current financial year apportioned in respect of the period between the beginning of that year and the appointed day.
(4) In every such case where the interest on the purchase money is not available for the payment of the difference between the amount for which the Land Commission is made liable by sub-section (1) of this section and the total amount which would but for the provisions of the said sub-section have been legally recoverable from them in respect of rates and arrears of rates if proceedings for the recovery thereof had been instituted against them on the appointed day, there may be paid out of the purchase money in priority to all other claims affecting the same a sum not exceeding the amount of such difference. Every such payment shall be made by the transfer of land bonds equal in nominal value to the sum made payable by this sub-section and such payment shall be deemed to be satisfaction to the extent of the amount of the nominal value of the land bonds so transferred.
Amendment 23 is out of order.
In sub-section (1) line 30, to insert after the word "rates" the words "and other rates," and after the words "liable for," line 35, to delete the words "any other rates or."
I do not know whether I understand this section. I have tabled an amendment to include the apportionment of other rates as well as the poor rates. Sub-section (1) seems to limit the rates to be apportioned before and after the appointed day to the poor rates. In sub-section (2) the rates seem to me to be taken in a more general sense. If there is to be an apportionment it should be for all rates for the current year. Another point that occurs to me is that the word "becomes" seems to be ambiguous.
I will see whether it is necessary to improve the wording of that.
In sub-section (1), line 32, after the word "Commission" to insert the words "or any person in occupation of the lands as allottees or purchasers from them."
That is a drafting amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment 25.—In sub-section (2), line 46, after the word "means" to insert the words "from the person liable therefor under this section."—Aire Tailte agus Talmhaíochta.
Amendment 26.—In sub-section (4), line 50, after the word "Commission" to delete the word "is" and substitute therefor the words "or any person in occupation of the land as allottees or purchasers from them are."—Aire Tailte agus Talmhaíochta.
Amendments 25 and 26 are consequential.
Amendments put and agreed to.
In sub-section (4), page 9, line 53, and in sub-section (6), page 10, line 4, to delete in each case the words "arrears of rates."
I pointed out during the Second Reading that in my opinion there are quite a number of cases in which the acceptance of this proposal in the Bill would have been inequitable, because persons for reasons over which they have no control have not been in occupation of certain lands for a number of years, in some cases for as long as seven or eight years. As the Minister doubtless is aware, when lands were forcibly entered a couple of years ago there was no such thing as giving any compensation, and, in fact, by a decision of the Supreme Court compensation claims in respect of land in the occupation of unauthorised persons were not allowed, and have been definitely defeated. I took the point of view, on the Second Reading Stage, that we ought not to penalise the persons who own these lands and who have been deprived of their use for a number of years by mob violence. We ought not to hold them liable for rates on lands which they did not occupy, or whose use they did not enjoy. While I admit that the case can be put to me that the county council or the ratepayers must bear the burden——
The only rates that can be recovered are for two years. Who is the man who has not been able to occupy his land during the last two years?
I know the case of a man who has been out of the country for two years and who failed to occupy his land.
During the last two years and has taken no action.
I admit the Minister has torpedoed my amendment by saying two years. I will not press my amendment.
Question—"That Section 17, as amended, stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Question—"That Section 18 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
I suggest to the Minister to remove "or has been." Is it necessary to have these words there? They might lead to all sorts of hypothetical questions arising.
These words are required surely?
It seems to me they might give rise to hypothetical questions. The main question is as to whether the landlord or the owner is non-liable.
The landlord might not be liable just at the time the land was acquired by the Land Commission but was liable the previous year. I agree that with "has been" you can go back 20, 30 or 40 years. I will see whether that can be altered.
Question—"That Section 19 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
(1) The Land Commission with the concurrence of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health may if they deem it expedient so to do by order require a county council to undertake the cleansing or maintenance, but not including reconstruction, of any watercourse, drain, embankment or other similar work situate in their county, in respect of which a capital sum has before the passing of this Act been transferred by the Land Commission to the Public Trustee to be held and applied in accordance with any deed of trust or any scheme framed by the Land Commission or is hereafter transferred pursuant to the provisions of sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 44 of the Land Act, 1923, and shall by the same or a subsequent order appoint the county council trustees of the deed of trust or scheme in place of the trustees thereof and the deed of trust or scheme shall be varied so far as necessary, or framed so as to provide for the application of the income of the capital sum in or towards the reimbursement to the county council of the expenditure properly and necessarily incurred in such cleansing or maintenance.
In sub-section (1), line 59, after the figures "1923" to insert the words "or in respect of which a capital sum retained and administered by the Land Commission shall hereafter be transferred to the Public Trustee to be held and applied in accordance with a scheme framed under this section."
That is to meet the case where there is no other trustee.
Amendment put and agreed to.
Amendment 29 not moved.
Question put—"That Section 20, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
Deputy Heffernan had amendment 29 on the Order Paper, but I did not move it, as I did not like the provision in it. I believe, however, that a central authority is required to deal with a body of tenants because I do not think the majority of them would be able to enforce their viewpoint.
My opposition to the amendment would be that it proposed to go back to the old trustee system under which the tenant was made liable. That system has broken down undoubtedly. The trustees did not do their work. They had a most thankless job, and found it very difficult to collect the necessary moneys from the rest of the tenants. The result was that all this work in connection with the keeping of embankments was neglected by the trustees. That is one of the reasons why work of this kind has passed under the Drainage Maintenance Acts from the hands of trustees to the county councils. Deputy Heffernan's amendment proposed to go back to the trustee system again; in other words, to give notice to the tenants, six months, say, asking whether they would like to have the work done by trustees or in a different way. Tenants are not going to undertake a liability if they can avoid it or put it on somebody else. There is no more unpopular work in the country than that which falls to the lot of trustees in connection with the keeping of these embankments.
I do not agree with the Minister's proposal in the Bill because I am afraid it is not going to improve the present position. It is going to lead to divided responsibility in connection with this very important work. That will not be a good thing either from the point of view of the Land Commission or the county council. There is a very close connection, as I pointed out before, between the work of maintenance and the work of reconstruction. If the reconstruction work is badly carried out, there will be need for additional maintenance work; if the maintenance work is badly carried out, it will give rise to the necessity for reconstruction work. To my mind, if for any reason there is to be a transfer of any portion of this work, then I think all of it should go together. I believe that both the reconstruction and the maintenance work should be carried out by the one authority. If, for any reason, it should be transferred from the Land Commission, then I think it should go to the Board of Works where it would be all handled by the one body and where there would be no question of divided responsibility.
This is a very big question. What happens in practice is that the Land Commission does the work in the first instance. It puts the embankments right and then hands them over to the county councils for maintenance. The Land Commission, to start with, is not a permanent body, and its functions are not to go on for ever. Deputy Wall urges that if there is to be any transfer of the work it should be to the Board of Works. What we are doing here in connection with these embankments is exactly what is being done under the Drainage Maintenance Acts in respect of drainage maintenance. A good deal of the initial work is done by the Board of Works and then the river, or in this case the embankment, is handed over to the county council. Their function is simply to do a certain amount of work in keeping the embankment in repair. Once the original embankment is put right it is simple enough to maintain it. Of course what happens in practice, in the case of some embankments which are neglected—especially embankments along the seashore—is that heavy seas break through because of neglect in attending to their repair and knock down the whole embankment. It then becomes no longer a question of maintenance but a question of construction. That was the position when tenants were responsible for the maintenance of the embankments. They neglected the work, a breach came in the embankment and suddenly the problem changed from being one of maintenance to one of construction.
Now the embankments are going to be put right for them, and it will be only a question of maintenance. Very little maintenance will be necessary every year. The county councils have the means for doing that work. They have county surveyors, men with engineering experience, and the power to stike a rate. They can strike a rate on the people who benefit by the maintenance. It will be a simple matter for the county councils to do this work. They are responsible for doing the roads, and also the drainage work on the rivers in connection with the Drainage Maintenance Acts. It will be a simple matter for them to arrange to do this maintenance work in connection with the embankments. If it is wrong that they should do that, then the whole principle underlying the Drainage Maintenance Acts is wrong. Of course I realise the difficulties that are peculiar to places like Waterford and other counties that touch the sea, where very heavy embankment work has to be done. A very big question is involved as regards places of that kind. It may be that ultimately these embankments will have to be taken over by a central authority. As regards the other cases, the county councils are quite competent to maintain any schemes that are handed over to them. I am willing to admit that the question of embankments on the seashore may have to be considered.
I do not know, but we will see how the county councils will handle them. They have a number of schemes now to look after. This may be a bigger problem than I am aware of. I do not know much about the problem personally, but we are doing here what has been done under the Drainage Maintenance Acts, and we certainly should not take up the line that the underlying principle of these Acts is all wrong until at least it has been tried out a bit.
I quite see the Minister's point of view in connection with this. He has been reasonable enough to discuss the matter very fully with me, but even yet, I am not in agreement with him. I think he is right when he says that he does not appreciate the seriousness of the problem. I think, as a matter of fact, that very few people do, except those who have had actual experience of the work. There is really no parallel between maintenance in connection with drainage work and the maintenance and construction of embankments, and for this reason: that if there is a necessity for doing maintenance work on drains it does not make any material difference if it is not done for a period of six months. In the other case, the effect of a delay of 24 hours in doing some necessary maintenance work may possibly involve an expenditure of £1,000. That is the serious side of the question as I see it.
Furthermore, I think it will involve additional professional men in the county council, because I understand that the surveyors and engineers in the county councils throughout Ireland have their time fully occupied already, and it will mean that you will have two sets of officials for the work, one in Dublin and another in the country. This is work in connection with embankment. Take Kerry, for example, which is a rather poor county. For the ten years from March, 1916, to March, 1926, the cost of embankments in Kerry was £22,648, rather a big sum, and that sum might be increased, even doubled, under certain circumstances in particularly bad weather. I appeal to the Minister to reconsider his attitude and to hold this matter over until the Report Stage. In the meantime, he may be able to make further inquiries into the matter and to see eye to eye with us.
As the Deputy well knows, I discussed this matter with him often and at length, and I see no better way of doing this. If the county councils do the drainage work of the country surely they ought to be able to do this.
There has been a long discussion between the Deputies and the Minister arising out of the amendment, and the amendment has nothing to do with the question discussed. The amendment is no cure for the whole problem.
It is not on the amendment; it is on the section.
Question—"That Section 20, as amended, stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Section 21 agreed to.
Where the Land Commission shall have declared that untenanted land situate outside a congested districts county is required for the purpose of relieving congestion or of facilitating the resale of tenanted land, or that any land wherever situate which was excluded from the operation of sub-section (1) of Section 24 of the Land Act, 1923, by sub-section (2) of that section is required for the purpose of relieving congestion, or shall have commenced proceedings to resume the whole or part of a retained holding, and the price or compensation has been fixed by the Judicial Commissioner, the Land Commission, if they consider that the price fixed is such as to make the purchase of the land or the resumption of the holding or part thereof inexpedient, may, on serving notice within such time as may be prescribed, withdraw from the purchase or resumption on such terms as to costs as the Judicial Commissioner may determine.
The following amendment, in the name of Deputy Cooper, was agreed to:—
29a.—In line 58, after the word "and" to insert the words "at any time after the passing of this Act."
29b.—In line 63, after the word "resumption" to insert the words "on paying to the owner or tenant, as the case may be, such sum as the Judicial Commissioner shall fix as, and for compensation as and for any loss in respect of the income ordinarily derived from, or any depreciation in the capital value of such lands or holding which he may have suffered or sustained in consequence of such declaration by the Land Commission and."
Section 22 is very drastic, and it gives power to the Land Commission, which proposes to acquire land, to inspect and then if, after the final hearing by the Judicial Commissioner, the Land Commission considers the price for the land too high the land is thrown back on the owner's hands. That is a procedure that must inevitably entail considerable loss on the land owner. It is a procedure to begin with undoubtedly which limits his power of sale. No man can sell land if a preliminary notice or an inspection is made. It limits his power of using the land to the best of its value. I know after notice of acquisition by the Land Commission he can go on using his land in a normal manner, but in practice no man dares take the risk. A man with his land in dread of acquisition by the Land Commission would not dare to put his land to any good. No man in such a case would dare to put a lot of in-calf heifers in, or till or stock land to the full capacity. The purpose of this amendment is that the owner of such land, on which the Land Commission, after serving notice and giving a hearing as to prices, should receive not only some consideration as to his costs but should also receive some compensation for the fact that he has not been able to use his land to its utmost value. I think it is reasonable. After all, what is the court which decides the value of the land? It is the Judicial Commissioner of the Land Commission, an official of the Land Commission who is acting in a judicial capacity.
I have no doubt that he decides fairly, but the Land Commission brings a case to their own court and then they propose, by this section, if dissatisfied with the verdict of the Court, to annul it. There is no possibility for the owner to say, "I am dissatisfied with the price." There is compulsion on the owner, but the Land Commission has taken the power to discontinue proceedings if the price is too high. I think there should be compensation assessed by the Judicial Commissioner himself, who is not liable to assess an unreasonable or excessive compensation for the man whose enjoyment and use of the land have been unquestionably interfered with and who has suffered some material damage from the action of the Land Commission. I do not think this is an excessive amendment. I think it touches a big point of principle and I commend it to the Dáil.
I would like to support this amendment. Undoubtedly it seems improper that one party should have the power to discontinue proceedings, if not to start it, and put the other party into a different position from what it was at the time of the commencement of those proceedings. Undoubtedly when proceedings are started to acquire land, as Deputy Cooper has said, the owner of the land will not treat that land in the way he would if there had been no proceedings. There have been cases drawn to my notice where proceedings have been started and the owner has then been notified that they are to be discontinued. In the meantime he has suffered considerable loss. The proposal, as far as I understand it, is not that leave should not be given to discontinue proceedings, but rather that if proceedings are discontinued something in the nature of compensation should be given and that that compensation should be assessed by the Judicial Commissioner. I think it is most reasonable, and I hope that the principle, at any rate, will be accepted by the Minister.
Of course, all land purchase limits a man's right to deal with his land as he likes, and the present position is that the Land Commission may acquire compulsorily all lands for the relief of congestion. The right to sell and to get a good price are all limited. This does not carry it much further. When the Land Commission inspects, immediately after inspection it offers a price. After six months the Judicial Commissioner intervenes unless the owner blocks it and uses the legal right he has to do so. You picture the owner being unable to sell?
I say first of all before ever the Land Commission intervened there were always Acts of Parliament which said that the Land Commission might acquire any land for the relief of congestion compulsorily, and in so far as you affect the owner's right to deal with his land you are not doing it any more than you affected it by the Land Act itself. Further, this is not a new section. It was not invented by me. I would like Deputy Redmond to know that. This is not the first time it appears. It is consecrated in every Land Act passed since 1907 and it has done no harm. We find in practice that there was a really good reason for inserting it in the Evicted Tenants Act of 1907, the Irish Land Settlement (Soldiers and Sailors) Act, 1919, and other Acts. We find in practice that it was right. All we are doing is to make the Land Act, 1923, conform to other Acts put through in another parliament. They did not do any hardship. Why should this do any? So far as compensation is concerned the owner has the use of land; he is not interfered with as user in the sale. Interference is always there to some extent by the mere passage of the Land Acts, and in so far as it is accentuated the particular state of affairs only lasts for a few months, but he has the full use of the land for the whole time and I do not think compensation is called for. As Deputies know, the question of costs is for the Judicial Commissioner, who will undoubtedly do the fair thing, and the fairest way to deal with the question is to leave it to the discretion of the High Court Judge.
Might I make a suggestion to the Minister? As has been pointed out, this section does seem a little one-sided. Perhaps as a concession we might give the owner the right to object to the withdrawal and give grounds for his objection. If he can prove to the Judicial Commissioner that such grounds were reasonable such notice of withdrawal should be held to be void.
The answer to that is: What is wrong with the provision inserted in the previous Land Acts of 1909 and 1919? They did not work any hardship? In fact in one of these, I think it was the 1919 Act, there is no provision at all for costs. They withdraw simpliciter and the landlord gets no costs. We go one better from the landlord's point of view and we insert a provision for costs and leave it to the Judicial Commissioner to say whether costs should be given.
I suggest that the Minister has achieved complete virtue.
I am certain that the Minister has not achieved complete virtue. I always know when Ministers have a bad case. When they have a bad case they take refuge in precedents. Instead of wrapping themselves in their own virtue, they cast over their shoulders the worn-out rags of Westminster. What are the Minister's precedents? The Evicted Tenants Act of 1907. That was an Act covering a comparatively small area. I am not familiar with its working, but I am sure it was not successful, or we should not have the lengthy discussion we had this afternoon. The other was the Soldiers and Sailors Land Trust Settlement Act of 1919. If there has ever been an Act that worked worse than that Act and caused more general dissatisfaction and discontent, I have yet to know of it.
The Minister is not in the Chair and he cannot rule me out for irrelevancy.
On a point of order. The effect of this amendment will be to increase the cost to the taxpayer, and as a private Deputy cannot move anything which will increase the cost to the taxpayer, I think it is out of order. Will you rule on that, sir?
To save any trouble, might I say that I am of opinion that Deputy Wilson is right, but this amendment would have been in order had it been moved by a member of the Executive Council. I put it down in the hope of touching the kind heart of the President or the Minister for Finance, and I can make my argument equally well on the question that the section stands part of the Bill.
Then the amendment is withdrawn?
I am not withdrawing the amendment, but you can rule me out of order.
I must rule the amendment out of order.
I move amendment 29 (c):—
In line 64, after the word "determine" to insert the words "and such untenanted lands or holding shall not thereafter be acquired or resumed by the Land Commission without the consent of the owner or tenant thereof."
This is an amendment which, I think, is in order.
Would the Deputy mind adjourning this amendment to the Report Stage and I will discuss it with him between now and then?
Yes, I am quite willing to do that.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: That Section 22, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
I am opposing the motion that this section, as amended— even though one of my amendments was accepted—should stand part of the Bill, on the grounds that I have already stated. It is an utterly one-sided provision. The precedents given by the Minister do not impress me. I think this is calculated to inflict great hardship and inconvenience on owners of land. The precedents quoted by the Minister dealt with comparatively small areas. The areas of land acquired under the Soldiers and Sailors Land Trust Settlement Act were very limited—areas for housing, not for farming. In any town you will hardly find more than four or five acres taken. In the same way the Evicted Tenants Act of 1907 would only apply to certain limited specified areas, and such precedents are of no value in bringing in an Act dealing with the whole State. The Minister said that the Land Commission had power to take all land. That is quite true. That is the provision in the Act of 1923. The working of that provision has been very disastrous to the farmer, because it has curtailed his credit, as the banks will not advance money on a restricted credit because of the existence of that provision.
The provision empowering the Land Commission to take all land—the power that exists in the Land Commission to acquire compulsorily any land other than building land that they need. That has caused a restriction of credit.
We will agree to disagree. I am quite certain that at least 200 people have spoken to me on that subject within the last two months. It is a widely held opinion, particularly in those circles where they deal with money and credit, that that is the reason the farmer is having his credit curtailed, and that the bank overdrafts are being very stringently regulated.
Will the Deputy explain how this affects the farmers' credit. The farmer holds tenanted land or land held under a purchase annuity. How is his credit restricted by the Act?
Because, as far as I know, the large farmer is not excluded from the compulsory acquisition of some portion of his land, or even the whole of it.
As far as the farmer is concerned, he must get the resumption price for his land, so that he is in the position he was in since 1881. If the Land Commission acquire tenanted land we must give the resumption price for it. With regard to purchased land, if the Land Commission acquire purchased land, held in fee simple subject to a land purchase annuity, they must give an equally suitable and not less valuable holding elsewhere to the owner. The effect of the two provisions, so far from interfering with the farmer's credit, is to improve it.
The Minister has not made that clear until this moment. I wish he would address the Dublin Chamber of Commerce or some of the other bodies interested in the provision of credit to farmers in order to make that point clear, because there are apprehensions which exist. Unfortunately, there are people who very often read a section of an Act that concerns them without reading the qualifying section. The provision of Section 24 of the Act of 1923 has given rise to such apprehensions, and this provision in Section 22 of this Bill will intensify those apprehensions. It is a good thing we have been able to get this question threshed out and have been able to get the Minister to make that statement. I am convinced that this is a one-sided proposition. It enables the Land Commission to put the owner of the land to great trouble and inconvenience and considerable expense, and then enables them to throw the land back on his hands if the verdict of their own judge goes against him. I do not see how we could stand over a provision of that kind, and I ask the Dáil to reject it.
Question put and declared carried, Deputies Cooper and Alton dissenting.
Sitting suspended at 6.40 and resumed at 7.30 p.m.
I move amendment 30:—
Before Section 23 to add a new section as follows:
Where the landlord and tenant of a holding to which Part II. of the First Schedule to the Land Act, 1923, applies, have agreed on a Standard Purchase Annuity for it of such an amount that the Land Commission are not satisfied that the holding is security therefor the Land Commission on serving notice on the parties in the prescribed manner may make an order refusing to advance the purchase money for the holding and may thereupon fix the Standard Purchase Annuity of the holding in manner provided under the Land Act, 1923, in cases where there had been no agreement between the landlord and tenant.
There are some cases in which there have been annuities fixed by agreement that the land is unable to bear. There has been a certain amount of collusion, and the Land Commission wants to be in a position to review cases of that sort.
Amendment agreed to.
New section ordered to be added to the Bill.
I move amendment 31:—
Before Section 23 to insert a new section as follows:—
"Where a holding subject to a judicial rent has since the date of the fixation of that rent deteriorated in value to any considerable extent as a result of causes outside the control of the tenant and where the tenant applies to the Land Commission and the Land Commission is satisfied that the completion of purchase of the holding in accordance with the provisions of Part I. of the First Schedule to the Act of 1923 would result in an annuity the capital value of which in the opinion of the Land Commission exceeds the security value of the land the Land Commission may make an order refusing to advance the purchase money for the holding and may thereupon fix the Standard Purchase Annuity in manner provided under the Land Act, 1923, for non-judicial holdings in accordance with Part II. of the First Schedule of the Land Act, 1923.
This is founded on the same principle as the last amendment. The idea of this amendment is that in a case where a tenant comes under the Land Purchase Act as a judicial tenant, and where his annuity has been fixed in accordance with the provisions of the Act at 30 or 35 per cent. reduction as the case may be, and where, owing to exceptional circumstances which are outside the control of the tenant, the land has deteriorated to such an extent as not to be security value for the capital sum advanced, that the tenant shall have the power to apply to the Land Commission and that the Land Commission shall have the power to fix the standard purchase annuity at a level which would be commensurate with the security value of the land. I must confess that this amendment is put down, having in view one or two particular cases where the rent fixed a considerable time ago by the Land Courts is now found to be an uneconomic rent and the tenants at present are quite unable to pay it.
There is a particular estate in the County Kerry—the Stoddard Estate— about which the Minister has some information, where it is generally acknowledged that owing to tidal flooding which must be regarded as entirely outside the control of the tenants the land has deteriorated very much in value and the tenants are quite unable to pay the interest in lieu of rent pending the fixing of the annuities. I recognise there would be a considerable amount of difficulty in administering the Act if this amendment was incorporated in it but personally I cannot see any other way of dealing with similar cases. I am open to correction if the Minister can persuade me that there is some other method of dealing with cases of that sort, but if there is not it seems to me that there is justification for this amendment. If I understand the Act of 1923 the question of the security value of land, which has a judicial rent, does not enter into the case at all, the tenant automatically purchasing and the landlord automatically selling and it is taken that the land in all cases is security value. If I am wrong in that and if the security value counts it seems to me if the present situation is to continue, tenants could not buy and the landlords cannot sell if the land was not security value. If that were so it would be a most unfortunate condition of things to exist and I think there is some strong need for reform.
As the Deputy suggested, there would be considerable difficulty in accepting this amendment. There is considerable difference between this amendment and the amendment accepted previously. This deals with judicial rents fixed any time since 1881. These are standard rents and were fixed having regard to the value of the land, prices, and all relevant circumstances and they were, therefore, fixed upon a definite basis and taking quality for quality of land, they approximate fairly closely. Taking the circumstances into account, the quality of the land, the proximity to towns and all those other things that affect the value of land, all those judicial rents approximate fairly closely. Moreover, there are three classes of judicial rents. You may have a rent fixed over the first fifteen years after 1881, then you may have rents fixed during the second fifteen year period and then you may have third term rents fixed. And in that way the idea underlying the Land Act of 1923 was that the judicial rents were standard rents that can be taken as a firm basis for reduction.
If this amendment were accepted it would mean that the Land Commission would have to reopen a very considerable number of judicial rents; they would have to set up a fair rent court. When dealing with non-judicial rents it is a different matter. Everyone recognises that they varied, that they were, to some extent, not fixed upon any definite principle, that they were arbitrary. The tenant never went into court—it was an arrangement between himself and the landlord and a hundred and one irrelevant circumstances might have to be taken into account. Some of those rents might be just as fair as the judicial rents, others not so fair; they were arbitrary. You could not apply the same rule to them all. We faced that and made an arrangement by which that rent is fixed by agreement between landlord and tenant, or the Land Commission comes in and fixes a new rent. In the case of the judicial rent you have a standard rent there, and you can apply a general reduction to the whole lot with safety. The case Deputy Heffernan is thinking of is a case where the land was security for the rent at one period, but owing to deterioration is not security now. That gives rise to another and a different question. I daresay there would be some cases, and the correct way to deal with them would be to deal with them through the Agricultural Credit Corporation, to provide sufficient facilities for the necessary improvement of the land. The land has deteriorated, and consequently it is not a case of naturally bad land that cannot be improved. It is a case of land that was once security for the rent, and which has deteriorated, and the expenditure of a certain amount of money on drainage or on the treatment of the particular disease, whatever that disease might be, would bring back the land to its original state. It is from that point of view it should be approached. It would be fatal and it would be altering the whole basis of the Act of 1923, and doubling and re-doubling the work of the Land Commission. It might be very unwise from the point of view of the tenants, in many cases, because some judicial rents are extremely low. If the Land Commission had power to increase annuities they would also have by implication the right to increase them. If they considered that the reduction of 25 per cent. on the judicial rent was too low, in some cases, if they were able to vary rents at all, they would presumably be entitled to increase it.
In equity that would have to be done. If you once admit that judicial rents have to be changed and varied on their merits, then the Land Commission must be fairly free to say what the merits of each case are. It would be a great pity to depart from rents that have become fixed and standardised over long periods. If there are cases, as I presume there are a few, where a holding has deteriorated, so that it is not security for the judicial rent. I suggest that the right way to deal with them would be by way of a loan of some kind or by making credits available to improve the land.
I agree that the Minister has made a reasonable statement on this point, but what about the case of a farm, portion of which has been washed away by the action of the sea? What good would a loan be in that case?
That was not the case Deputy Heffernan had in mind.
It is a class of case that might be covered by this amendment. I agree that generally the administrative difficulties would be almost insuperable.
My answer to that would be if there are such cases they are a limited number and should be scheduled. It would be very dangerous to raise the question of changing annuities. If there are cases of that kind, and I presume there are a few, then they should be scheduled and examined by themselves. If the problem requires solution that solution would want to be very carefully thought out, so as not to establish any wrong precedent.
I am not quite satisfied with the Minister's reply. While recognising clearly the difficulties there would be in administering the Act, I think there is a genuine grievance, and that it has not been met by the Minister's suggestion. If the Minister will meet me by saying that he will do something definite to remedy the present state of affairs, I might consider the question of withdrawing the amendment. I understood him to say that he would consider the question of scheduling particular lands.
That is not to be taken as a firm offer. I qualify that by saying "in the event of there being such cases."
I understood that the Minister would consider lands affected by coast erosion?
There would be another way of dealing with it. The holding might be retained by the Land Commission and one given in exchange. There are a hundred ways of dealing with that without raising all these questions.
The point made by the Minister with regard to this amendment, that if you deal with cases where land has depreciated you can deal with cases where the value of land has appreciated hardly applies, because everybody knows that in the past the same argument applied in the Land Courts, but in practice the rents were hardly ever raised by the Land Courts.
There have been plenty of cases.
I want to call the Minister's attention to the fact that the Land Courts have hardly been working since pre-war days. Practically no applications have been made for reduction of rents, the fixation of which took place during war time. There is no means of meeting the unusual deterioration that took place since then. The suggestion that it should be met by credits is unsound, as, while the land might be improved, the owner would have to pay back by annual instalments the advance with interest, as well as paying the fair rent. I suggest that that is unsound from the economic point of view. I am keen on having something done for that particular class of tenant. I am not satisfied with the Minister's statement. I am sorry that the Deputy from Kerry concerned in the particular case I mentioned is not here. I would like to hear his views on the matter. I think an interesting point has been raised, and I would like to hear any other Deputy who has had experience of similar cases. I am not satisfied that the Minister has offered any definite solution of the problem that exists.
Amendment put and declared lost.
Question—"That Section 23 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Where the price fixed for untenanted land situated in a congested districts county is such that the resale thereof cannot be effected without loss or where a parcel or a group of parcels of untenanted land or the whole or part of a retained holding, which the Land Commission have deemed it expedient to acquire or resume, can only be resold at a loss, then interest at the rate of 4½ per cent. per annum and sinking fund at the rate of one quarter of one per cent. per annum upon so much of the purchase money as the Land Commission shall certify each half year represents the difference between the total amount of the advances made for the purchase of the lands and the total prices paid or agreed to be paid by purchasers of the lands from the Land Commission, shall subject to the approval of the Minister for Finance be paid to the Land Commission out of moneys to be provided by the Oireachtas.
In lines 11-12 to delete the words "or where a parcel or a group of parcels of untenanted land or the whole or part of a retained holding."
Deputies will see by the section that the Land Commission has power and I believe had in the past such power, when fixing the selling price of untenanted land in a congested area to bear a loss. The new section goes a further step and says that in the case of a parcel or a group of parcels of untenanted land, which means, I submit, land outside congested areas, the Land Commission is to have authority to bear a loss, which has not been definitely ascertained, and which must necessarily be met from the public purse. I am not agreeable to the proposal that the State should bear a loss on untenanted land outside congested areas. I agree that land in congested areas has no relation whatever to land in non-congested areas. Remember it is not alone an amalgamation of a parcel or a group of parcels of untenanted land with a retained holding, or part of one. The words are "a parcel or a group of parcels of untenanted land or ..." The word used is "or." The loss is to be sustained by the State. I submit the Minister has put forward no justification for that proposal and, while maintaining an open mind. I submit we ought not to admit the principle the Minister is seeking to incorporate.
The Land Commission found, in the course of their administration of the Act, that for one reason or another they were able to buy some estates particularly cheaply, and that, on the other hand, they had to give what they regarded as more than a fair price for some other estates. The reason for that is that, in a great many cases, it is easy enough to buy encumbered land. But it is very difficult to do equity when you are dealing with an estate with a lot of encumbrances on it. There may be institutions or individuals getting rents out of the land, or they may have charges on the land. When a judge is faced with an estate on which there are encumbrances— charges of one kind or another—and when he has to fix a price and take into account, at the same time, that that price must cover something for the owner and something for the encumbrancers, the people and institutions who lent money, the people entitled to something under a family settlement, and so on, he finds that to do the fair thing he must give a bit more for the land than he would like to give if he were to take into account solely the tenants who are getting it. It is easy to be logical in respect of all that and to say "The Land Commission should deal with this matter in a cold, impersonal way and give a price for the land at which they can resell it, and no more." But I am surprised that Deputy Hogan should take that view. If it were another Deputy who raised the question, I would not be surprised. The Land Judge has to take into account not only the interests of the tenants but the interests of the occupying owner and the interests of the encumbrancers, and in some cases he sees, with the best will in the world, that he has to give somewhat more than he would give if there were no encumbrancers. There are other cases where the same results ensue for different reasons. I have quoted only one case. There are many cases like that. To make a long story short, if you are buying something like £300,000 or £400,000 worth of land per annum, the ultimate amount running into millions, you will find that at times you can get land very cheaply and at other times that you have to pay a little more than you would like to pay if you were to take into account only the interests of the tenants.
There is another consideration which affects that problem, which I should like to bring to the notice of Deputies. Lands are bought that are very valuable as accommodation lands or very valuable because of location, being near a town, or for one reason or another. There has been a considerable income out of them for a long time and the Land Judge has to purchase those lands, and to purchase them within the limits of a section in the Land Act of 1923, which says that the price is to be a fair price for the owner and for the Land Commission. In that state of affairs he finds it very difficult indeed to fix a price which resolves the dilemma—which is, in fact, a fair price for the owner and for the Land Commission, the Land Commissioners in that case being really the tenants. There is one obvious way out of the difficulty. The fair thing to do is, so to speak, to bulk estates—to combine the cheap with the dear estate and to spread the price over them. I see nothing whatever inequitable in that. Land purchase should be made, as far as possible, fair all round and on no principle of administration can I see any special reason for giving specially good terms, obtained by accident, to a certain number of tenants. It is better to give fair annuities to all than to do some extremely well and to do others anything but extremely well. When the Land Commission buys an estate which is cheap they can always amalgamate it with an estate which is dear, spread the price evenly over them, and then they get something like a fair annuity. But that does not meet the case at times. At times it is not convenient to do it, and we have found, within the last two or three years, that in odd cases we had to sell land on an annuity which we would like to see a little lower. That section is put in to place us in a position to remedy that. I do not know any better way out of it. You are up against a dilemma, and if this be not done you have got to do injustice to one party or the other. Recognise, at all events, that you are in a dilemma; there is no use in being dogmatic or chopping logic about it. We buy land from comparatively poor people as well as from rich people. They must get fair play. We are in a dilemma; if we do justice to the tenants we are doing injustice to the owner. That section is put in to meet the case.
I said nothing about the case where you want to buy land which is subject to a land purchase annuity, or tenanted land. In those cases, we are constantly in a dilemma. Where you buy tenanted land you have to give resumption price. You have to give the tenant at least the price secured to him by the Act of 1881. "Resumption price" is practically the market value. In addition you have to buy the landlord's interest. When you add the two and take the total sum you have an amount at which you cannot sell the lands without joining them up with other lands that you bought cheaply and selling the whole at a flat rate. The same thing applies in cases where we are anxious to buy purchased land—land subject to a land purchase annuity. As a rule you endeavour to buy that on the lines of exchanging the holding and giving a no less valuable holding to the owner elsewhere. At times, that is not convenient.
The man would prefer to get the price. The Land Commission finds sometimes that they cannot give him the money—at least anything that would pay him. There is an annuity on a holding, say, of 200 acres. The Land Commission pay £2,500, and it might take £2,000 to redeem the annuity. In that case, the owner has £500 for himself. He would rather take the money. It would suit the Land Commission better to give him the money instead of giving him a holding elsewhere, because land is short. Yet, they cannot do that because of the necessity for redeeming the annuity. Those are the reasons which impelled us, after two or three years' administration, to ask the Dáil for the powers sought in this section. If the Deputy's amendment were agreed to, it would take all the good out of it.
The Minister's statement has disarmed my hostility to a great extent. I should like to point out, however, that, on the Second Reading of this Bill, I drew attention to the fact that the Land Commission had bought land at prices far above those at which it could be set at economic rents to the tenants. I took exception to what I considered was speculation on the part of the Land Commission— buying land on a falling market when agricultural prices were tumbling down——
There is only one way to meet that, and that is to stop buying. What would you say then?
We have to take account of the interests of the taxpayer. While I am with the Minister in his view that the land should not be sold at an excessive price to the incoming tenant—we do not want to keep these men in a state of pauperism all their days—this provision is not alone retrospective, but it is to continue for a definite period. I am with the Minister in his statement that you have often to "bulk" land, but I do say that this opens up possibilities which are very grave and which should be avoided. Land might be bought, not necessarily under the present Minister, but under some Minister in the future, regardless of the public purse. Although the Minister for Finance may have a say in it you are, nevertheless, putting a burden on the public. Since the land question in this country has not been made a social question, as it ought to be, apart and remote from politics, but is a political question, I do think these words, "or a group of parcels," give rise to a dangerous possibility. I am not disposed to press the amendment if I get an assurance from the Minister that the powers being given to the Land Commission will be used sparingly and with great circumspection.
That is the idea. Of course, the Dáil will have control over the matter every year on the Vote.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question: "That Section 24 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
(1) All arrears of purchase annuities, rents, interest in lieu of rent, interest on purchase money, compounded arrears of rent, and payment in lieu of rent payable to the Land Commission in respect of any lands shall be recoverable from the person in actual occupation of the lands at the time when proceedings for the recovery thereof are commenced, as a personal liability of such occupier notwithstanding that the whole or part of such arrears may have accrued due before such person went into occupation of the lands.
(2) Nothing hereinbefore contained shall have the effect of relieving any other person from liability in respect of any such arrears and, as between successive owners or occupiers of the lands, all moneys paid by or recovered from an occupier in respect of arrears caused by the default of a former owner or occupier shall be recoverable by the occupier who has paid the same, or from whom the same has been recovered, as a debt due to him by the owner or occupier in default.
(3) The remedies given by this section to the Land Commission shall be in addition to and not in derogation of any other remedies that they already have for the recovery of any such arrears as aforesaid.
(4) A certificate purporting to be under the common seal of the Land Commission shall be evidence that every sum stated therein to be due to them is so due, and is payable by the person or persons named in such certificate as being liable therefor.
Amendment 33 is a purely verbal amendment:—
In sub-section (1) to delete all words from the word "all," line 24, to the word "rent," line 26, where it secondly occurs, both inclusive, and substitute therefor the words "all moneys."
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment 34 is as follows:—
Before sub-section (3) to insert the following new sub-section:—
"Compounded arrears of rent and payment in lieu of rent shall be and shall be deemed to have been a charge on the holding in respect of which they are payable, having priority over all existing interests and incumbrances affecting the tenancy created either before or after the passing of this Act."
That puts compounded arrears of rent and payment in lieu of rent in the position in which they should be. The money is collected by the State and it should be regarded in the same way as an annuity.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment 35 is as follows:—
In sub-section (4), line 48, to add after the word "therefor" the words "and the Land Commission shall not be restrained in the recovery of moneys due to them by reason of any proceedings had, or pending, in any court in relation to the said lands."
With the consent of the Committee, I would like to leave that amendment over until the Report Stage. I am not quite clear as to whether I ought to move that amendment.
Amendment not moved.
Question—"That Section 25, as amended, stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Where lands, in respect of which purchase annuities, rents, interest in lieu of rent, interest on purchase money, compounded arrears of rent or payments in lieu of rent are payable to the Land Commission, are let in conacre or otherwise by or on behalf of the proprietor or tenant, the annuities, rents, interest in lieu of rent, interest on purchase money, compounded arrears of rent and payment in lieu of rent, so payable as aforesaid, shall be a first charge on the proceeds of such lettings, and it shall be the duty of the person receiving such proceeds, after deducting his proper and necessary fees and expenses to apply the proceeds, so far as required, in satisfaction of the claim of the Land Commission for moneys due to them on account of the said payments. All moneys so due to the Land Commission and not properly accounted for shall be recoverable by the Land Commission from the person who has received the proceeds of such lettings as a debt due by him to the State. Provided that nothing in this section shall affect the right of the Land Commission to exercise any other powers that they have for the recovery of the balance of any debt not recovered under the provisions of this section.
The amendment which I propose is a drafting amendment:—
In line 49, after the word "where" to insert the words "after the passing of this Act."
I will accept that amendment.
Amendment agreed to.
Question—"That Section 26, as amended, stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
Question—"That Section 27 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
(1) An execution order at the suit of the Land Commission shall take priority over all other execution orders against the debtor, as of its date, and not as of the date of delivery to the under-sheriff.
(2) It shall be the duty of every under-sheriff with whom an execution order at the suit of the Land Commission, other than an order for delivery of possession of lands or premises, has been lodged to forthwith execute the same by seizure and sale so far as may be necessary of the goods, animals, or other chattels found in the house or other place of residence or on the lands of the debtor notwithstanding any claim or allegation on the part of the debtor or any other person that any such goods, animals, or other chattels are not the property of the debtor.
(3) No action shall lie against any under-sheriff for or on account of his having taken in execution under any execution order at the suit of the Land Commission, any goods, animals, or other chattels found in the house or other place of residence or on the lands of the debtor and claimed or alleged (whether such claim or allegation does or does not prove to have been well founded) to be the property of any person other than the debtor, and, in lieu of such action against the under-sheriff, the person to whom such goods, animals, or other chattels, so taken in execution in fact belonged shall (if such goods, animals, or other chattels, should prove not to have been the property of the debtor) be entitled to recover from the debtor by action the value of such goods, animals, and other chattels, together with such damages as such person shall have suffered by reason of such goods, animals, or other chattels having been so taken in execution.
(4) Every execution order at the suit of the Land Commission may be executed notwithstanding any judgment order or decree in any administration suit, or in any proceedings by a mortgagee, or in any bankruptcy, lunacy, or minor matter, or the presentation of a petition in bankruptcy by or against the debtor, or the appointment of a receiver.
I move the following amendment:—
To delete sub-section (1).
I take it the Committee will not have any objection to deleting that.
Amendment agreed to.
That disposes of the following amendment:—
In sub-section (1), line 8, after the word "Commission" to insert the words "which shall have been delivered to the Under-Sheriff within ten days from the date of the making of the same."—(Deputy Bryan Cooper).
Yes. That is my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move:—
To delete sub-section (3).
Deputies who read this section must realise the very severe and penal legislation which is contained in sub-section (3) as affecting many persons in the Saorstát. I direct the attention of Deputies to that particular sub-section. It is true that in the Act passed last year, the Enforcement of Law (Occasional Powers) Act, a section more or less similar to this was introduced. At that time very strong exception was taken here and in the Seanad to the provision. The principle behind it is that the sheriff can go upon any land in respect of which a land purchase annuity is owing and can take anything off that land no matter who owns the property found there. The sheriff can take it away even though he knows that it is not the property of the debtor, and he can sell it.
As some sort of recompense, the party detrimentally affected has the right to sue the Land Commission's debtor. That is more an apparent right than a real right. The old privilege by which a man, if any of his stock or implements were found on another man's premises and the sheriff seized them because the man on whose premises they were seized was a debtor, could by affidavit before a magistrate recover his goods, ought not lightly be abandoned. The present procedure is going to inflict great hardship and it is going to create an element of distrust in the country. How can anyone lend even a farm implement to another man if, without his knowledge, the under-sheriff can come along and seize it in respect of a land purchase annuity?
Yes, or rates. You will find this is not going to help towards the principle of co-operation. Is this the Minister's construction of co-operation—to give this power to the sheriff and to deny, except by fiction, the injured party adequate redress and subject him to considerable inconvenience and trouble? Apart from that objection, one has to think of the existing conditions in regard to agriculture. We have here a number of sections all dealing with the same principle, the more expeditious recovery of Land Purchase Annuities, and these are put forward entirely ignoring and forgetful of the extreme distress prevailing. I am with the Land Commission in recovering the Land Purchase Annuities. I would, however, prefer that they be recovered by a system which would be quite as effective but not so harsh and not so injurious on third parties.
The Minister has not on any occasion proved that the previous existing law had broken down, that it was ineffective and failed to achieve its primary object as between the State and the debtor. The Minister has not made that case and I should like him to. The Land Commission are requesting the Oireachtas to give them extraordinary powers to collect Land Purchase Annuities. And what follows? Merely that they may be handed over to Great Britain in respect of some agreement, some secret arrangement which has never come before the House and has never been ratified. They want to put our people under the harrow for the purposes of the collection.
We cannot get into that question at this stage.
I am putting it forward as one reason why the House should not agree to the proposals enshrined in the Bill. We ought to take cognizance of the poverty of our people and we ought to refuse anything in the nature of extraordinary powers to the Land Commission to collect annuities. They have the normal procedure of law, which remains in effect even if these penal sections are defeated.
Having regard to the primary interests of our people, having regard to the acute distress amongst the agricultural community, which I fear will not be relieved for a considerable time, and in view also of the fact, in many cases, of the great mortality in their livestock suffered by the people, I am opposing this. As yet, no adequate system of relief has been put up by the Government to meet the loss caused by this mortality in livestock.
I hold that we ought not to give way to the panic legislation the Minister calls for. To do so is not in the best interests of the community, and it is certainly striking a very severe blow at these farmers who are down and out. We might as well say that we are voting for the wholesale eviction of the farmers. They are to be crushed out under the penal sections of this Bill. I challenge a division on this Bill, and I ask the Committee not to give the extraordinary powers that the Minister is seeking. In the normal circumstances of the people they are not needed, but we are asked to establish them now in perpetuity.
I am going to support Deputy Connor Hogan in this amendment. On the occasion of the passing of the Occasional Powers Act, I took advantage of the opportunity on the first occasion to oppose a similar section in the Bill that was then going through. This is a sub-section of the same kind. I would oppose it altogether, apart from the question of the land annuities. I think the tendency to safeguard the sheriff in every way is rather a dangerous one and is a growing one. Despite the fact that the Minister has shown recently a desire to support the sheriff in every way——
Why put in the word "recently"?
The Minister's speech in Clare was the most recent, for example.
In that sense you can have it.
I say this, that there is really a growing danger in the country that the sheriff and his officers are going to act, and in many cases are acting, in a tyrannical manner to the people, backed up as the sheriff is by the legislation of this Chamber. I think the first principle of legislation should be to protect the innocent citizen so that he could not, by action of the State, in any way suffer loss in his person or purse. It is quite possible that an innocent person may suffer very considerable loss to his purse by this particular section. I have in mind very definite and tangible evidence of the work done by a sheriff. It is a case where a local small farmer in my neighbourhood was writted for £40 or £50. The sheriff's man came out there very coolly and, having walked into the land, seized stock. He did not go to the trouble of finding out the boundaries of the farm, and so he quietly walked into my brother's farm and walked off with 40 sheep. I happened to catch him before he got to the pound, and made him sorry. The fact is that if these sheep had strayed into the farm of that debtor, and they had been taken by the sheriff and sold, we would have no redress except to sue the defendant in that particular case. That is an instance of the hardship that this sub-section may do to the citizen. It is up to the sheriff and his officials to find out if the stock on the farm belongs to the defendant in a particular case; he should take responsibility for the stock seized, and so assure himself of the facts. Sheriffs are well paid, in salaries and in fees; they are, in fact, paid too much, and it is not unreasonable to expect that the sheriff should take responsibility for any stock or property that he may seize and which may not be the property of the owner of the land. There is a principle involved in this, apart altogether from the obligations of the Land Act, and I suggest to the Committee to support Deputy Connor Hogan on this amendment, that is, if it is not accepted by the Minister.
I am glad to see that the Farmers' Party are in a good way towards reaching salvation, on this question in any case. It might be no harm to remind Deputy Heffernan and other members of the Farmers' Party of an Act that was passed here, popularly called the "Sheriffs Act." The Farmers' Party supported that when it was passing through the Dáil, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. This sub-section is only an extension of that particular Act.
Will the Deputy name the date of the passing of that Act?
Deputy Connor Hogan is better acquainted with the records of the Dáil than I am, and he will be able to search up these. I think he will find it an interesting half hour.
It was not passed in the lifetime of the present Dáil?
The Minister for Justice knows about it.
Yes, and so do the Farmers' Party. It was, and it is no harm that they should now be reminded of it. I am supporting Deputy Connor Hogan in his amendment to have this sub-section deleted from the Bill. To my mind, it is undoubtedly a rank injustice to have such a provision as this in the Bill, whereby another man's property, a man who is in no way concerned with the debt, may be seized, and that he may be put to extraordinary trouble and cost in trying to recover from somebody from whom he may not be able to recover. Surely that is not in accordance with fair play or justice. I have in my mind instances of cases where this sub-section will work out very harshly. Take the case where a man takes grazing of a farm. He pays in advance, as is the case sometimes. He then puts his stock on the land. He knows nothing about the particular circumstances of the man on whose land he has placed his stock, and that man fails to pay his annuity. What happens? The sheriff comes along and seizes the cattle, the cattle of a man who has no connection with the debtor. The only remedy the man has in that case is to proceed against the debtor, who may have no means and who may be no mark. I hold that that is fundamentally wrong, and that there is no justification for it. It is the sheriff's duty to recover the debt from the man who owes the debt, and not from somebody else whose cattle either accidentally or otherwise may happen to be on the man's premises or farm at a given time. There may be cases of evasion, where a debtor may be able to evade payment of a debt, but it ought to be up to the sheriff to exercise his judgment in such cases, and where it is clear and definite that the stock seized does not belong to the debtor, then an action should lie against the sheriff, as has been always the case in the past. This sub-section should be deleted from the Bill. It is unfair and unjust and fundamentally wrong.
I think I can say on this amendment what I intended to say when the section was to be put. I had down an amendment to delete the entire section.
I desire to protest emphatically against this attempt to create a reign of terror amongst the farming population, because that is what it amounts to. It is an attempt to create a reign of terror amongst people who are unable to recover their economic stability and who suffered a series of disasters from many causes. This attempt to make the sheriff the high priest of our administration is a thing we should not tolerate. He should be amenable for his actions in the ordinary way, and the Minister has made no case to prove that there is any need for this drastic legislation. I know one particular case where an unfortunate widow cannot keep her children at home owing to the fear of the sheriff coming, because he came once. They clear away every night through the country. Does the Minister not see that that state of terror is going to be created through the country?
Mr. P. HOGAN
It is a wonder you did not hear of it when you were in Ennis.
I did not. Perhaps the Deputy would repeat it.
Mr. P. HOGAN
It is the case of a woman's young family who will not stay at home with her at night because of a visit of the sheriff and the police on a previous occasion, and such was the terror created in their minds——
Of course, the thing to do in that case is to take away from the sheriff all powers to seize.
Mr. P. HOGAN
There is no question of taking away all powers, and the Minister should not beg the question in that fashion. This is an attempt to prevent all people who have suffered losses from recovering economically, and the Minister knows it. Rather than seek drastic powers he should use the ordinary law. The ordinary law has not broken down. It is very well able to meet the position at the moment, and instead of seeking drastic powers the Minister ought to make a survey of the agricultural conditions in some districts.
Of course I make all allowance to Deputy Connor Hogan, who is a relentless enemy of the British, who always has been, and always will remain so, but he ought to cut out that talk about paying the Land Commission annuities to England, or, if he does not, he ought to have the decency to put down a motion here stating that they shall not be collected, or, if they shall be collected, that they shall be retained here.
Would the Minister vote for it?
With all respect to the Deputy, that is the cheapest of cheap talk. He talks about these annuities going to England. Let him state specifically where he stands on that. Are we to pay interest on the money that was advanced? It is easy to throw out that suggestion, but it is a most dangerous suggestion.
Is the Minister in order?
We cannot have a discussion on that now.
I ruled the Deputy out of order.
May I put it this way: It is alleged that this will shake security and stability. It will not. But what is going to cause insecurity and instability are the suggestions that have been made in connection with this section. Let us see what is in all this talk about insecurity and instability. One would imagine that there was no similar provision in respect of any other debt. There is. I do not want Deputies to be deceived about this, because there are Deputies who do not know the country very well, do not know how the various processes of the law go on, and just what reactions they have through the countryside. At the present moment this section is the law of the land in respect of rates, and has been for generations, and did it ever cause insecurity and instability? Were Deputy Heffernan's sheep ever seized for the neighbours' rates? Why have not all these evils that Deputies foresee, when we extend these powers to the sheriff in respect of Land Commission annuities, shown themselves for the last twenty or thirty years, considering that the rate collector is seizing for rates, and, I may say, that seizures for income tax are made under exactly similar legislation? Now, this is the acid test. After all, do Deputies want Land Commission annuities to be collected? If they do, there is no use in saying that the people are not able to pay. That is another way of saying that they do not want them collected. The case that the people are not able to pay should be put up in another way; Deputies should state expressly that Land Commission annuities should not be collected. We would know where we stood then. But when you say in one breath: "Of course I am anxious to collect Land Commission annuities," and in another: "People are not able to pay," what do you mean? Do you mean that the Collection Department should stop operating and that annuities should not be collected? No one will frankly take that attitude.
If they are to collect Land Commission annuities why should not the sheriff have the same powers in respect to them as in respect to rates? You might ask: "Why should he not have the same powers in regard to every other debt?" We are in an absolutely illogical position about this, because arrears of Land Commission annuities are, in fact, arrears of rates. I hear it alleged that the rates are very high in certain counties, such as Clare, Galway and Limerick.
Is not this partly the reason? Could you be doing a better service to the small farmer who is endeavouring to pay his rates in these counties than by relieving him of the painful and costly luxury of paying his neighbours' as well? Why is it that this has not caused any hardship with regard to rates? For the simple reason that no one ever dreams of taking land until he gets the rate receipt. If I am going to take land the first thing I ask is: "Are the rates cleared?"—and if they are not cleared I make sure that I will not pay the rent without paying the rates first. There is no difficulty about it, and it works out perfectly—never any hardship and never any trouble. The first thing a solicitor, who has ever acted for anybody wanting to take land, asks for is the rate receipts. If he does not get them he advises his client to hold a certain amount of the money and pay the rates, and the ordinary man who is taking land knows the law well enough. How many cases have occurred in County Clare, in the past or under present circumstances, where other people's property has been seized for rates? Very few, and in these few cases the men knew that they were deliberately taking a risk.
You could tell the rate collectors to take other means?
The rate collector is the first person to seize stock on the land, no matter who owns it, and there is never any trouble. Do Deputies allege that exactly the same thing will not occur in regard to land purchase annuities? I say, from my experience of the collection branch, and from my knowledge of certain counties, that this provision is vital, and I know that in certain counties during the last three months arrears of annuities have come in sufficient to reduce the figure in these places by, say, ten or fifteen per cent. as a result of this section. Remember that this Bill has been before the Dáil for a long time. This section is known throughout the country, and I know, of my own knowledge, of counties in the West and elsewhere, that annuities have come in because of the threat of this section.
Very well. Go back to the question: Do you want to collect annuities?
It is said that this is going to lead to instability, that no one will know where he is. On the contrary. At the moment a mortgagee is in a most unsatisfactory position. No matter how old his mortgage is the Land Commission annuities may be accumulating, and they have a prior charge. What we need is to go back, as far as possible, to the cash basis, and the best service you can do to mortgagees, and the best service you can do to shopkeepers and everybody else—it may mean a wrench at the moment, but it will be a very slight one—is to bring about the state of affairs where this particular mortgage, which has a priority over all other mortgages, will not be accumulating and increasing every year. No shopkeeper knows where he is now. If this were in operation, if you had the collection up-to-date, you would do more to reestablish the credit of the small farmer than you could by any other means. To my mind this section is vital. It will do no injury whatever. It will re-establish the security of the small farmer's holding to a great extent. It will put him in a better position to borrow, and it will lower the rates.
I cannot understand the point of view of people who complain of high rates, who have a good deal of pity for the farmer who has to pay direct taxation in the way of high rates, but who, at the same time, will not take this obviously right step for the purpose of saving the rates from the large number of people who, whatever their circumstances may be, do not want to pay until they are forced to pay, and there are a considerable number of people like that.
There are a considerable number of people who will not pay their rates if they think they can get away with it. The same applies to Land Purchase Annuities. The mere threat of this has already had a most salutary effect. It has made the wheels go round. You will not have a healthy state of affairs in this country until people realise that they must pay their debts. If the small farmer realises that he must pay his debts he, in turn, will make his debtors pay him; he, in turn, will look after the shopkeeper's pass-book. You will have complete co-operation through the country to get us back to the cash basis that is needed so badly. At present the country is run on credit to the extent of 20 per cent. Until we get to a cash basis and get rid of this slovenly system the country will not be what it should be. I am in a position to keep my hand on the pulse, so to speak, of the country; I am in a position to know the conditions in my own county, and I know from the Collection Branch and from auctioneers and solicitors the conditions under which land has been set, and the mere threat of this section has been more than salutary. I regard it as absolutely vital.
I fear I am in disagreement with Deputies on these Benches on this question. To me the whole question is personal, because I happen to be the trustee of a certain fund, and because I have a considerable amount of money in that fund. For six years people got the benefit of that fund and never paid a copper. I recognise that there are a certain class of men in this country who are probably as near an approach to rogues as there are anywhere, and that law is needed for them, and if it is only needed for one man I will stand for its enforcement.
One would have to assume from what the Minister said that he accepted it that every man who owed arrears had cash to pay.
On a point of explanation. This is not the first or the second or the third time that Deputy Baxter has said that. I have never said that everybody has cash to pay. But the Deputy's contention, if it means anything, means that nobody has cash to pay annuities. I go this far and say that there are a large number of annuitants who, regardless of whether they can or cannot pay, do not want to pay.
If the Minister was able to give us a section which would make it possible to discriminate between the man who could pay and would not, and at the same time put him in the position of being able to make up what the Land Commission was entitled to get from a third party, who is actually co-operating to enable the defaulting annuitant to retain his money, one could agree that there might be some case for this section. But we know the condition of the country. It may be true that there are a number of annuitants who refuse to pay for some reason, perhaps because some of them are not honest. But there are great numbers of annuitants who are not able to pay and who are honest; the Minister knows that, and so does everybody on the Government Benches.
Does the Deputy suggest that we should give up attempting to collect the annuities from them? Let him say it straight out.
The Deputy does not say anything of the kind.
But if the means you are going to employ to get money where it cannot be got are such as will make it possible for the sheriff to commit an offence against a third party, which is a very great offence, because no greater offence can be committed against a citizen of the State than that the servant of the State can go along in the name of the State with powers given by this House to take property which the State has no right——
Why does it not happen in regard to rates?
I do not know what the Minister's experience is in regard to collection of rates. My experience up to the present is that the rate collector in practically all cases takes the defaulting ratepayers to the court, and even the threat of the court, if the money is there, will make it forthcoming. If the value is not there the rate collector knows enough of the conditions to know it is no use taking the defaulter to the court. I have a great number of cases before my mind during the last couple of months where rate collectors had to stump up for men who had not paid their rates. No compensation is paid if a man is not able to pay, because his lands are unstocked.
While the land is actually stocked by a third party.
These lands are not stocked by anybody.
The whole case of the Deputy is that the sheriff will seize a third party's stock. I ask why does not that happen in the case of rates?
Because in this particular case there is no stock.
Then he will not seize it.
It would be better if the Deputy were allowed to proceed.
He will not seize it. But if there were men in the district prepared to help an annuitant to live by giving him some contribution for the service of the land, owing to the very desperate conditions that exist in many districts—because the State did nothing for these people who wanted help so badly—the sheriff takes away the man's stock without trying to discover who owns it. He does not try to discover whether the annuitant is an honest man, who is not paying his rates simply because misfortune has come upon him, or is the type of man that some people are always prepared to cast up in this House—a rogue. If the Minister tells us that there are as many dishonest people in the country as he tries to make us believe, there is very little future for the country, and I think that legislation based on the assumption that there are so many dishonest people is very unsound. No matter what the Minister says, there is nobody who wants to make a plea for the dishonest man, but at the same time, in order that there may be a chance to get at the dishonest man we are not prepared to confer powers which will be used mercilessly against the honest man.
I think I understand this point. It is one in connection with Bills that were before the House two or three years ago which I had to consider and discuss at some length. Deputy Baxter puts the dilemma to the Minister and to the Government: Turn out a section which will discriminate between the person he chooses to call an honest man, the person who cannot pay, as he puts it, and the dishonest man who can pay but will not. The Deputy knew he was quite safe in making that offer, because he knew that the Parliamentary draughtsman never drew breath in any State who could turn out a section of that kind. "The devil himself," as some judge remarked from the Bench, "knoweth not the mind of man," and this question of the honest and dishonest man is not practical politics, it is not practical legislation. What it comes to is this: The Deputy's plea is that the man who cares to set his land need never pay his land annuity, and he can have his neighbour salted in rates because of his default. He is to be free to have the user of his land by setting it.
He can set, year in, year out, and make money from it, but he need never pay, because there is nothing seizable. The stock on the land is not his, and so the default mounts up in the county and the ratepayers are salted in rates for the default of the land annuitant. The provision exists, as the Minister said with regard to rates, that stock on the land is assumed to be the stock of the owner of that land. The rate collector may take the stock that is on the land in quittance of rates, and the net result of that is that people are cautious, that people do not put grazing stock on land without ascertaining whether the rates are paid or not. What does that effect? That effects this: that the man who wants to set his land pays his rates and if he cannot pay out of his own pocket he sees the rates are paid out of the rent, because otherwise the stock that goes to graze those lands is in jeopardy.
Deputy Heffernan talked about innocent citizens. There may be some innocent citizens, but I doubt if there are any citizens so innocent as not to see the dilemma that it is sought to put the under-sheriff in in this matter. A man owes land annuities and will not pay. He has, perhaps, read Deputy Connor Hogan's speech in the Official Report, and he will not pay his land annuities to England, as the Deputy said. The under-sheriff in due course comes along; he goes out to that farm to seize. He makes for the speckled heifer. He is told: "Do not touch that, that is not mine; it belongs to my brother-in-law." He is paying 5/- or 10/-, or whatever the grazing rate is, and the under-sheriff is up against the problem of rebutting that statement of the man that that heifer or that the bullock is not his. The thing is absurd.
If one cannot take stock present on the land as being the property of the owner of the land, if stock cannot be treated as the property of the owner of the land, then in fact there can be no seizure of stock—and that is what some Deputies are aiming for—because it would not be within the wit of any under-sheriff in any county in the State to rebut a statement that a particular bullock or heifer, or a half-dozen particular sheep, was not the property of the owner, that they belonged to his uncle, his cousin, or his brother-in-law. Do not tell me that even in Clare a farmer would not strain things to the extent of saying that half a dozen sheep were his uncle's rather than his own if he were going to have his property by making that statement.
Deputies who are not farmers and who have not a knowledge of rural Ireland and agricultural conditions must try to put themselves into the position of an under-sheriff with a decree for land annuities in hand. They must fancy that man driving out fifteen or twenty miles from his base to a particular farm, going into a field, seeing stock there, being met by the owner—the word has passed round— and the owner has simply to say, "That is my cousin John's," and the under-sheriff must drive away. Might we not as decently write into our Bill that livestock shall not be seizable in quittance of land annuity decrees as to allow a situation of that kind to exist? Surely, we must say in respect of land annuities, as we have said long since in respect of rates, that where there is default in respect of land annuities as in respect of rates, the stock on that land shall be liable to seizure in respect of deficiency. Then you will create the same position that exists in respect of rates; people will not take lands on letting or on grazing until they are well satisfied that the land annuities, as well as the rates, have been cleared in respect of that land. That is what we want.
I object to this section from the point of view of the third party. We have heard about the defaulter who is a wilful defaulter and who sets his land, or who allows stock to go up on his land and receives payment for such. I desire to draw the attention of the Dáil to the drastic nature of this sub-section, as at present drafted. Under the sub-section, the Sheriff may seize goods, including stock upon the land, and even if that stock does not belong to the owner of the land, the remedy proposed for the actual owner of the stock is that he shall have a right of action against the owner of the land. Let me give a case in point. This is a case that occurred some time ago in County Wicklow, and the facts are shortly these. There were two farms adjoining one another, and the occupier of one of them was in default as regards his payments. The sheriff came along and discovered stock upon the farm. He seized the stock, assuming, as I submit, it was proper for him to assume, that the stock belonged to the owner of the farm, but when the real owner of the stock, who lived in the adjoining farm, heard of the seizure of these cattle he went down to the nearest village where the stock was impounded and had to pay £5 per head poundage to recover his stock.
There were eight animals and it cost him £40 to recover them. There was no letting contract between these farmers. The grazing rights were not set. What actually occurred was that owing, perhaps, to the faulty construction of the fence, the stock belonging to the adjoining farmer wandered on the land of the defaulter and, because the sheriff had the right to seize any stock which he found on the farm, an innocent third party had to pay £40 to have his own stock recovered and restored to him. He was told, when he asked for the return of the money he paid by way of poundage, that an action lay against the defaulting tenant, who in this case happened to be a man who had not a brass farthing, a man who was not actually a wilful defaulter but one who was not able to pay his annuities, and there are such people in the country. Is that, I ask, not too drastic a procedure? Would it not be possible to have a recoupment made in some way to an innocent third party, such as I have mentioned? Why should he have to redeem stock which belonged to him, for which he was not under any grazing contract to have placed upon the adjoining farm, by which the actual defaulting tenant was not benefiting by way of payment, and which rightly belonged to the man himself?
I think it is unfair. I do not suggest that there should not be an assumption that stock found on a farm belongs to the owner of the farm. I am not suggesting that. That is an assumption which, I think, must lie in order to carry on the affairs of the country, but, if it is subsequently discovered that this stock did not belong to the owner of the farm, and, furthermore, that there was no contract by way of letting or grazing, and that it was not even with the acquiescence of the defaulter that these cattle were there, and that he was benefiting in no way by it, I suggest that there should be some remedy for a third party other than the remedy suggested here, namely, that he should have the right of action at law against a person who in this case—and there may be others of a similar kind throughout the country—was no mark.
The position in the case which I have instanced was that this third party was at a loss of £40 and had actually to pay poundage for stock belonging to himself which was on another man's farm and for which he had no contract whatever. Viewing the matter from the point of view of a third party, I submit that in such a set of circumstances as I have stated—it is not a hypothetical case but is known to some Ministers, because I was the means of bringing it under their notice—this sub-section is too wide. I suggest in a case like this, where it is subsequently discovered that the stock has been wrongfully seized, some other remedy should certainly be provided than that which is suggested here and which, in the case I mentioned, is no remedy at all.
Progress ordered to be reported.
The Dáil went out of Committee.
Progress reported; the Committee to sit again on Friday, 25th March.