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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 26 Jun 1928

Vol. 24 No. 10


I move:—

"That the Bill do now pass."

I should like to appeal to the House not to agree that the Bill do now pass. Some of us here were accused of being inconsistent in not supporting the Bill on the Fourth Stage as we had allowed the Second Reading to go through without voting against it. Seeing the example that has been given to us here of consistency, I do not know that much could be expected of us after watching the actions of those opposite. At any rate, in the case of the Forestry Bill we could say that we have a certain justification for saying that we had been consistent. We supported the principle of the Bill on the Second Stage, and stated definitely that a Forestry Bill was necessary. We said, however, that amendments would be introduced on the Third Stage dealing with certain matters, and on that account we voted for the Second Reading. On the Third Stage we appealed to the Minister to adopt certain of these amendments.

The big question on which we wanted the Bill amended was to stop the export of unmanufactured timber. That induced us to support the Second Reading in the hope that we could do something on these lines. On the Third and Fourth Stages we pointed out the evils of having unmanufactured timber exported without any effort being made to stop such export. I only want to explain now that we would have continued to support the Bill right through if that principle had been embodied in it—to try and control the export of unmanufactured timber and to get the timber manufactured before it leaves the country in order to give the employment that is badly needed. It was pointed out here before that timber which, say, is being exported at from £1 to £2 per ton would, if manufactured here, be exported at from £8 to £10 per ton, and the difference would have given employment to those who are unemployed. A few days ago I happened to meet a carpenter in Dublin whom I had met during one of my sojourns in prison. He told me he was not working, and I said I was very much surprised to hear that, because I believed that all the carpenters in the city were working at building, etc. He told me that at present of the 1,700 carpenters in Dublin 500 are idle. It is rather a scandalous thing that we should be dealing with, the question of whether a farmer who tells the Civic Guards that he is going to cut down a tree for firewood should be allowed afterwards to turn it into a cattle post, while we have unmanufactured timber leaving the country and 500 carpenters idle in the City of Dublin, as well as others all over the country. It is because that principle was not embodied in the Bill on the Third Stage that we mean to oppose it as far as we can, because we see no necessity for the Bill as it stands at present. It is merely another instance of giving power and control into the hands of the Minister and the Executive which they have not got so far. From our experience here, especially during the last three or four weeks, we believe that they have sufficient power as it is—in fact, too much. If they are going to have power over the Constitution and over more serious matters, perhaps more fundamental matters, there is no reason why they should come down and, I might say, demean themselves so far as to regulate how an ordinary farmer is going to use an ordinary bit of a tree.

With most of what Deputy Dr. Ryan has said I am in agreement. I would be glad to see the principle of which he speaks embodied in the Bill. If it were possible to have an amendment to that effect I would have voted for it, but as that has been ruled out we must take it as it stands. I am prepared to vote for its Fifth Stage. Even though it does not contain this provision which Deputy Ryan speaks of, it does help, to some extent, to a greater or a lesser degree in having afforestation expedited, and so far as it does that I am prepared to support its passage.

I support Deputy Ryan in what he said with reference to the export of timber. I happen to come from a part of the country where there was a considerable trade at one time done in wood-work. At one time in a small town in the South of Ireland over one hundred men got steady employment manufacturing articles made from native timber. That employment now to a great extent is gone to England. We can very ill afford to lose employment in that village. I know that in other parts of the Free State employment of the same kind was also given. Now, if the request to prohibit the export of timber in the rough has been acceded to, it is quite possible that this employment would again be given in the different districts, and although I realise the importance of saving the few remaining forests we have, I think we could accomplish that saving of the forests while at the same time retaining this work in the country.

I agree thoroughly with the argument that where timber is cut new trees should be planted, and that every effort undoubtedly should be made, and that every Irishman interested in the welfare of his country should co-operate and give every assistance possible to the Forestry Department in preserving the few remaining forests we have. At the same time there is the danger that we may have too much bureaucracy in the country. At the present time farmers are hampered in various ways by the various Departments controlling their industry. Now, unfortunately, we are to have another department interfering with them in perhaps petty ways. Of course, I understand that if the matter is in the hands of sensible men it might be different. If a Civic Guard sergeant, for instance, is a sensible man he will not adhere to the strict letter of the law. Unfortunately all men are not so, and the danger is that considerable inconvenience and trouble will be caused to men who already have quite a lot to contend with.

It seems to me that the Deputies on the opposite benches confuse the real intentions of this Bill. As I understand the Bill, it is a Bill for the promotion of forestry and the preservation of forests when established, and it is not a Bill to deal with the manufacture of timber after the trees have been felled. It seems to me that Deputy Ryan and other Deputies interested in the turning of timber into manufactured articles must regard that question as a fiscal matter; it must be dealt with as fiscal matter. As one who has taken an interest in questions concerned with the agricultural community, I welcome this Bill, and I feel that although it does impose certain rather severe restrictions upon those who are producing timber, particularly the farmer, though not the farmer only, the exigencies of the circumstances in the country with regard to afforestation make it necessary that that should be done. I feel that, with the considerate administration which we can expect, the Bill will serve a very useful purpose indeed.

To get back to the point raised by Deputy Ryan and other Deputies, it seems to me that if the Deputies on the opposite benches are as concerned as they constantly profess to be about the interest of the farmer, the interest primarily of the producer of timber, that the acceptance of the amendment they put forward restricting the export of Irish timber would not have the effect of stimulating the production of Irish timber, but would have the opposite effect. That is because, naturally, the restrictions on the export would place restrictions on the market which is available for the absorption of the timber now produced in Ireland. It would change an open market into a close market. It is pointed out to us that if the unmanufactured timber is handled in a particular way that its value would go up from £1 or £2 a ton to £8 or £10, but we have no indication whatever that the producer of the timber would get the higher price. In fact, the indication is that because of the restrictions in the market and the elimination of the outside demand, the prices which the primary producer would get for his timber would be lower than at present. I think if the Deputies opposite really wish to stimulate the use of Irish timber for manufacturing purposes they should approach the question in a different way and from a fiscal point of view.

Those who are interested in the manufacture of timber into the finished article in this country ought to appeal to and make a case to the Tariff Commission for restriction on the import of manufactured timber, and similarly for the articles manufactured from timbers and similar restrictions on the importation of sawn timber itself for the purpose of manufacture. I do not say that I would give my personal approval to such a proposal. I would be inclined to say that I would not. But if the matter is to be approached from the point of view of stimulating the production of Irish wood and thereby giving employment, it should be approached altogether in a different way than from the point of view of an Afforestation Bill. I think Deputies who gave their approval to the Afforestation Bill on the Second Reading, and who refuse their approval now because the Bill is not to be used for the purpose of imposing fiscal restrictions on the import of timber, are certainly not acting consistently, and they are not acting in the interests of the primary producer of timber in this country.

I feel that, as far as anything in the matter of the promotion of forestry is concerned, any knowledge the Minister for Lands and Agriculture may have had he must have left outside the Bill. He has kept all things pertaining to timber in his head. In every section practically of the Bill the word "tree" is used. And one would think that when the word "tree" is used that it is some certain, small article, like a Christmas tree. It would certainly not create the impression that the Bill was dealing with afforestation for the country at large. We all know that there is a necessity for afforestation. No later than the European War we had the country practically denuded of all the decent timber in it. They took away all the best of the hardwoods in the country, seven and eleven foot logs for railway sleepers, pit props and so on. Hundreds of men were employed throughout the country, and there was no tree of any decent size at all that was not taken away, with the consequence that there was nothing left in the woods but timber that could not possibly be used in any decent manufacturing business at all, or timber that had not matured.

Talking about a tree or trees in this connection is futile, because if this Bill were intended to help on afforestation, it should have been on a scale that would definitely establish the fact that we really mean to carry out a decent scheme of afforestation throughout Ireland. Talking about a tree is quite a simple thing in this House. But if we are going to deal with hundreds and thousands and millions of trees in the future, it is absolutely futile to talk about a tree in this Bill and have sections providing that forms be filled up with regard to every tree that is necessary for the sawyer in the country.

It is perfectly obvious to anybody who knows anything at all about timber that some of these sections in the Bill are absolutely ridiculous; because if this Bill were the means of bringing about a big scheme of afforestation, all the resources of this country, the Gárda Síochána, Inspectors of Agriculture, and so on, could not possibly deal with the different items which are laid down. It would be absolutely impossible. It would be necessary to multiply the numbers of the Gárda Síochána by two or three, because it is laid down here that each tree to be cut must be inspected by a sergeant of the Gárda Síochána.

The Minister says "no," but I say yes. How is the sergeant of the Gárda Síochána to know whether a certain tree in a wood is the tree that is specified in the felling order——


He is not asked to do so.

He cannot possibly do it. Suppose, if the Minister, through this Bill, succeeds in planting a million trees, I go along to a wood and get a felling notice for, say, one hundred trees. I have to specify in each notice in regard to each tree the class of tree it is. Very good. Take it that I want four different classes of timber, and we will say that I have twenty-five of each—larch, pine, beech and oak. How does the sergeant of the Gárda Síochána know whether I have cut down the one hundred trees, as they are entered in the hundred different notices for felling, unless he actually comes along and sees each tree for himself?


You only want one felling notice.

One felling notice for one hundred trees?


Yes, or for a thousand.

The Bill specifies one notice here for each tree.


What section is that— Section 5, I suppose?

Yes. That section reads: "It shall not be lawful for any person to cut down or uproot any tree, unless not less than twenty-one days before the commencement of the cutting down or uprooting of such tree the owner thereof or his predecessor entitled, or some person on behalf of such owner or predecessor, shall have given to the sergeant in charge of the Gárda Síochána station nearest to such tree a notice in writing (in this Act referred to as a felling notice) of intention to cut down or uproot such tree."


You can take it as a legal matter that the word "tree" there means trees.

Very good; if there are one hundred men who have a felling notice about each of the trees, you have one hundred notices to fill up, and these one hundred trees would necessarily have to be inspected in order to comply with the Bill.


In certain matters you have to depend on legal opinion and depend on your draftsman. That is admitted by everybody. There are limitations even to the technical knowledge of all Deputies. You can take it that we are advised that "tree" in that case means "trees," and that it does not mean a felling notice for every tree in a certain area. It does not mean one tree or one specific tree at all, or one hundred thousand trees. The man who is going to cut one hundred trees or one thousand trees, or all the trees in a certain area, has to hand in one application for a felling notice. He has not to put in a notice for each tree. When a man is applying for a licence for cutting trees in a certain area, he has not to specify the number of trees at all. He is not under any obligation to do that. The man who is going to cut one hundred trees or a thousand trees, or all the trees in a certain area, is not under any obligation to put in a felling notice in respect of each tree. The only obligation he is under in respect of that section is to put in a felling notice in respect either of the area on which the tree stands, intimating that he is going to cut all the trees in that area, or, if he does not like that, that he is going to cut a hundred or a thousand or a million trees there.

The Minister has not explained, at least to my satisfaction, how it is that the law may put a certain interpretation upon it. I am only taking the sections of this Bill as they stand, and I have held that if there were one hundred men who are getting felling notices——


Let me put a question to the Deputy. Is there anything in the section, as he read it, to prevent a notice in respect of each tree being put on the one page of paper? The Bill says: "It shall not be lawful for any person to cut down or uproot any tree unless not less than twenty-one days before the commencement of the cutting down or uprooting of such tree, the owner thereof or his predecessor in title or some person on behalf of such owner or predecessor shall have given to the sergeant in charge of the Gárda Síochána station nearest to such tree a notice in writing ... of intention to cut down or uproot such tree." Is there anything in that section to prevent the notice being on the one page of paper?

Provided that the trees are all being cut by the one man. What are they going to do if there are one hundred men?


If there are one hundred men, each cutting one tree, I suppose each will have to put in a felling notice.

The sergeant of the Civic Guards has to ascertain whether these notices are correct or not.


No. He has nothing to do with them. All he has to do is to forward the notices to the Department of Agriculture. That is in the Bill.

The Bill says: "If any person makes in a felling notice any statement which is false or misleading in any material respect he shall be guilty of an offence under this sub-section and shall be liable on summary conviction thereof to a fine not exceeding twenty-five pounds or, at the discretion of the Court, to imprisonment for any term not exceeding three months." That is why I hold that the sergeant of the Civic Guards must necessarily ascertain whether the tree that is cut is the particular tree that is specified in the felling notice. Otherwise, he does not know whether that man has cut the particular tree or not. If the man makes a statement in the felling notice which is false, and if he cuts a tree which has not been specified in the felling notice, he is liable to a fine or imprisonment. He must necessarily specify the tree or these particular sections should not be here. If he makes a wrong statement he is liable to a fine not exceeding £25. Now, how can we attempt to impose a penalty of £25 on a man for making a wrong declaration in a felling notice if there is to be no particular type, kind, or class of tree specified in a felling notice? For example, let us take it that a tree requires a certain number of years to come to maturity. If a man goes out and cuts a tree which has not come to maturity, I take it that would not be in accordance with the particular thing specified here?


Certainly, it would not be.

Suppose it takes a tree fifty years to come to maturity, and a man cuts a tree that has been growing for twenty years, he then commits an offence.


Not exactly.

Not if he gets permission to do so.


Unless he is stopped from doing so. We changed the whole scheme of the Bill after the Second Reading. The Bill as it stood made it mandatory on the Forestry Branch of the Department to give specific permission in each case. We changed the whole scheme of the Bill on the Second Reading in this sense, that a citizen has a perfect right to cut trees unless in a case where he is actually stopped. That is the position now. That is as a result of the Second Reading debate.

Am I to take it, then, that a man would be perfectly justified——


Unless he is stopped within twenty-one days he can go ahead, and after twenty-one days there is no power to stop him.

Then the Act becomes inoperative if the man has not been stopped within twenty-one days?



Therefore, if the sergeant has not had time to go around to see if the man has carried out the things laid down in the felling notice, that man can go ahead. The sergeant must stop him within twenty-one days or the Act becomes inoperative. That bears out the statement I made that you would require three times the present number of Civic Guards.


The Civic Guards have only to receive and forward the felling notices.

It would be very advisable if the Minister allowed the Deputy to continue his speech.

Who is going to tell whether the man is carrying out what he stated in his felling notice? If he does not specify a tree in the felling notice, he can cut down any tree. He can cut down a twenty years old tree which has not come to maturity, and he can cut down a tree which has not been specified at all. Therefore the Act is inoperative. If the Bill is not to be operative, if there are certain things laid down which a man cannot do, if, for example, it was laid down that a man could not cut a tree twenty years old unless the sergeant of the Civic Guard should come along and see that within twenty-one days that that particular tree is not cut down, this whole Bill might as well be torn up. If the Bill contained anything which would make it an Afforestation Bill, certainly everyone of us would be in favour of it. I think it was Deputy Heffernan who stated that we should look at this from a fiscal point of view, that we should look at it from any point of view other than the point of view of afforestation. I am looking at this from a financial point of view. I know what devastation there has been in regard to timber in this country, as I saw hundreds of thousands of tons of timber taken out of the country during the war, and I know that the timber should be replaced, but if it is to be replaced, it cannot possibly be done effectively under this Bill. If it were to be done effectively there are measures which should be taken, and there are people in this House, even people that the Minister knows well, who could have told him a great deal more about timber than is contained in this Bill. There are clauses in this Bill which make it absolutely impossible to have the Bill put into operation. For example, it will be impossible for a sergeant of the Civic Guards to prosecute a man when he goes along within twenty-one days to find out whether that man is acting in accordance with the law or not.

There are Deputies here—I have been talking to some of them—who know something about timber, and they know what it means to go around a place where a man is cutting timber in the winter time. They know what it is when a pair of horses have gone along with sliding chains, sliding logs out of a wood, and they know what it is to see the ground after these horses have passed over it fifteen or twenty times a day. The Minister may know it, but certainly if he did he has not used his knowledge to any great extent in framing this Bill. Those men who do know something about timber know that you would need three times the number of Civic Guards that there are to go through the woods and see that everything is carried out according to the law. Who, for example, is going to tell, if not the sergeant of the Civic Guards, whether any man who fells timber is committing an offence or not? Who, for example, if not the sergeant of the Civic Guards, is going to tell whether a sawyer is committing an offence if he receives a tree into his mill? If he receives a tree which is outlaw, we may say that he is committing an offence according to this Bill. I will put the Minister in the position of a sawyer who is getting a thousand tons of timber into his saw mill. We will suppose that he is taking the timber from water or from land; it does not matter much. He gets in the timber wet and muddy. He may cut it immediately if he can get away with it, or he may let it lie for a while to season a bit. Who is going to tell, if not the sergeant of the Civic Guards, whether each tree that he cuts is the tree specified, and the tree that should have been cut according to law? I ask the Minister how is the sergeant of the Civic Guards to keep law and order and do all that he is supposed to do under this Bill?

What the Minister should have done if he were going to carry out a scheme of afforestation was, if he had not land already, to take over land that could grow timber. As I said before, it does not take such great land to grow timber. You can grow pine on practically any hillside in this country, and pine is very valuable timber. What he should have done was to take these places over en bloc and plant them with the wood that would grow on them. Then when he had a big district, say a thousand acres in one district, planted with timber, he should appoint a forest ranger, a man who is trained in forestry. All that man would have to do would be to go along and glance at the timber, and he would know what he was talking about. He could say that all the timber that was cut was cut according to law. The Minister did not do that. He wants a two-pence-half-penny scheme of afforestation, and wants the country to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in trying to carry it out. It is impossible. Take any of the clauses in the Bill, and it will be seen that it is absolutely impossible to get any group of men to put it into operation, without big expense with very little return, and say that it is going to help afforestation. If the Minister were to introduce a genuine Bill, one that was going to help the country, certainly we would back it up for all it is worth, because that is what we want. We want to see this question placed in the position that we would have, as we once had in the little town that I belong to, one hundred men employed making spools. We want to see that position restored, but we do not want to see this two-pence-half-penny scheme of afforestation, with big expenditure, and the Civic Guards running here and there trying to find out whether things are legal or not. If the Minister would only try to bring in some decent measure he would have our full and unstinted support, but, after reading this Bill, we could not possibly see our way to support it.

Deputy Heffernan tried to answer the point made by Deputy Ryan regarding the export of raw timber. I do not think Deputy Heffernan succeeded. He spoke about a free market. The objection we have to the continued export of raw timber is that the supplies for the saw mills in this country would be cut off. If there is to be any cessation of felling at all, there is going to be a smaller supply, and naturally the inference is that the big interests across the Channel are going to crush out the Irish saw mills. I do not see why consideration was not given to that aspect of the question. It is a very serious aspect, as I believe that most of the hard wood is, as Deputy Carney pointed out, used for making spools for the cotton trade. That industry is practically gone now. Spools will still be required, and saw millers say that the Irish hard wood is the best wood for that purpose. Apart from keeping the saw mills going in Ireland, there would also be a chance of employment for wood turners, which is a very simple operation. That would give much needed employment, and would put some of the cross-Channel people under a considerable handicap. I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m on June 27th.