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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 Dec 1929

Vol. 32 No. 14

Adjournment Debate. - Sporting Rights in Roscommon.

I asked the following question of the Minister for Lands and Fisheries yesterday afternoon:

Whether the sporting rights on the Sandford Estate, Castlerea, Co. Roscommon, have been recently let by the Land Commission to the senior officer of that Department in Co. Roscommon, and to an officer of the Department of Local Government and Public Health; if so, will he state the rent offered and accepted, whether any public advertisement that the lands were to be let was published, and, if not, what procedure was adopted to ensure that the letting was made to the best public advantage, and further, whether he is aware that for the last eighteen years the shooting on this estate was free.

I got the following answer which really was not an answer to my question at all. I asked about the Sandford Estate and the reply referred to the Wills Estate. This was the reply:

"The shooting over the untenanted land on the Ed. W.S. Wills Estate, Co. Roscommon, was leased by the Land Commission to Mr. C.F. Kelly for a period of 20 years from 1st April, 1924, at an annual rent of £1."

That is supposed to be an answer to the first part of my question; also to the part as to what rent was offered and accepted. I got no answer whatever as to whether any public advertisements were issued. The answer goes on:

"Mr. Kelly is the sole lessee of these rights. Except for the seasons 1921 to 1923 the shooting over this estate had been let annually since the lands were acquired by the Congested Districts Board in 1914."

The Parliamentary Secretary, in reply to a supplementary question by me, said that the only shooting rights that were available were on this Sandford Estate, although in the written answer he said there were shooting rights on this other estate called the Wills Estate. He said that if any mistake was made, it was made by me and not by himself. I can quite understand the Parliamentary Secretary, not being in the constituency, getting mixed up in these two estates. If a mistake were made it was made by him. There is a very important principle involved in this matter. The official in question is the person who reports everything in connection with land to headquarters in Dublin. He was familiar with all the proceedings in connection with the acquisition of this estate and knew what price the Congested Districts Board paid for it. The Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, referred to a certain house he has acquired. This gentleman wrote to a higher officer in the Land Commission and put his own valuation on this particular house and property which he was bidding for himself and got it for a song. He actually asked to have credited to the estate timber sold to the Congested Districts Board to the value of between £240 and £340; also another £100 worth of timber sold in the district.

The sporting rights is the only question before us.

Mr. Boland

The answer I got referred to the shooting rights on the Wills Estate, which were granted to Mr. Kelly at £1 a year for twenty years.

The question is purely a matter dealing with sporting rights on the Sandford Estate.

Mr. Boland

The reply I got deals with another estate. I think I can deal with the written reply I got from the Parliamentary Secretary. The position is involved in this way that there are two neighbouring estates in Roscommon. It is well-known that Mr. Kelly got the sporting rights as a result of a letter from a Land Commissioner.

I will quote that letter in which the sporting rights were granted for 1,250 acres at £1 per annum for twenty years. The sporting rights in the estate which is mentioned in my question, or at least the sporting rights in the Sandford Estate were simply left in abeyance. The landlord, when he sold out to the Land Commission, left the country, and since then—that is, for about eighteen years—the people of the Castlerea district have been shooting freely over those lands. Last summer, about June or July, there was an order served on two people. They were picked out because they were supposed to be soft people, two ex-R.I.C. pensioners, and they were warned that they were trespassing on this Sandford Estate over which they had been shooting for years. They were told to get off the lands.

They were inclined to get off, but their neighbours advised them to stand fast. They were brought to the court and an order was made restraining them from shooting on those lands for the future. That is what actually happened. I have not got any answer at all from the Parliamentary Secretary. I intend to give him time to give me the answer I require.

I am glad the President has remained in the House. This is a matter of the utmost public importance. It means that a Land Commissioner, that a high official of the Land Commission, the man on whom the full responsibility of the work of that body in the County Roscommon devolved, was actually able to get the sporting rights of 1,250 acres of land in that underhand manner, and without any advertisement being issued. The position now is that he has also got the shooting rights over the Sandford estate. I looked at the "Dublin Gazette" this afternoon to find out what the area of the Sandford estate was. I find from the "Gazette" of the 25th July, 1911, that the record number 9,193 C.D.B. estate, Thomas George Wills-Sandford, comprises, according to the schedule published in that paper, 1,300 acres, and the other estate, the Wills estate, which Mr. Kelly also has, comprises, according to the same "Gazette," 1,600 acres. I understand that of these 1,600 acres the sporting rights of only 1,250 acres have been given to this gentleman. It amounts to this, that he has got the sporting rights of the whole countryside for one pound a year.

Now there were in the Castlerea district seventy-two gun licences of £2 each taken out by sporting men there. That means £140 a year to the Revenue for gun licences alone in that district. I have been informed by the people of the district that if there had been an advertisement issued about the sale of these sporting rights these people would certainly bid. I do not know what they would pay. I have been asking people who are sportsmen and they say that if these men were prepared to pay £2 a year for a gun licence they would not object to pay £1 a year extra to have the right of shooting on this big estate. That is to say that in that area £70 a year could be got for these shooting rights if there had been done in this matter what in all fairness should have been done and the result would be that the tenants who bought that land under the Purchase Act would be relieved to that amount. The tenants would be relieved or else the money would go to the Treasury in some way. That has not been done. The result is that in all there is a loss of £210 per annum. Why I say that is that if this thing is persisted in the people who have taken out gun licences, and who now have no places in which to shoot will in the future cease to take out these licences. Four people have dropped their licences this year and if this thing is allowed to stand probably several others of them will also drop taking out gun licences and all this because one man has been able to buy the sporting rights of the whole place for £1 per annum. In all, the State is going to lose something about £140. I suppose they will lose at least £120 a year and there would have been another £70 for the sporting rights. The thing has become very serious. This is principally bog land. The people there take grazing for their cattle. Since this injunction was got against these people I am informed——

When were the summonses taken out?

Mr. Boland

In September this year. I have not got the exact date. In the case of one tenant who had taken grazing on this estate for his cattle I am informed that his son was bringing home his cattle accompanied by a dog. He was stopped by the gamekeeper and told that if he brought the dog into that land any more he would find himself in the court too. It is quite possible that the Government and that the Parliamentary Secretary were not aware that this thing took place. I can quite understand that that was not impossible——

The Parliamentary Secretary takes full responsibility.

Mr. Boland

What has happened is this: the Parliamentary Secretary and the Government are going to stand over the action of two public officials coming along and grabbing the shooting on two estates amounting to 3,000 acres, and driving off these estates people who have been shooting there for the last eighteen years. It may be said that everybody had the right to bid for these sporting rights. I admit that. I say that the people who had been enjoying those rights for the last eighteen years should have a chance of bidding for the shooting, so that a great benefit to the estate might have been got. Instead of that we have the underhand method of the official in charge of this very estate and other estates in the county grabbing the shooting rights for himself. I am sorry that the time for raising this matter on the adjournment was cut short by the division that took place after 10.30. I might mention that there are 694 tenants, roughly 700 people, on the two estates. They are affected one way or another. If they bring a dog in to hunt cattle home they are liable to be stopped by a gamekeeper and told that they are trespassing.

I would like to join in the protest made by Deputy Boland against the principle of a Government Department acting in such a manner as the Land Commission have done in this instance. It is not at all conducive to giving a sense of security or giving any kind of belief in the fairness of the Land Commission, that that body should in such circumstances give the shooting rights over certain property to its chief official in the County Roscommon and to a highly-placed official of the Local Government Department. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to indicate what rent was paid for these shooting rights under the C.D. Board. We would like to know if the rent in these days was greater than £1 per annum. Will he state why the two officials who now have the shooting rights are not called upon to pay the same rent as was paid for the shooting rights heretofore?

The answer to Deputy Boland's question was drafted on the assumption that it referred to a letting of sporting rights made by the Land Commission to Mr. Kelly on the Sandford Wills estate. It transpired, however, in the supplementary question asked by the Deputy that the rights to which he referred were on the Wills Sandford estate. There are two estates, one belonging to a man named Sandford Wills and the other to a man named Wills Sandford. The confusion arose obviously through the close similarity of the names. It is quite obvious from the wording of the question that the estate to which the Deputy refers is the Wills Sandford estate. The sporting rights on that estate were at no time the property of the Land Commission; therefore, no letting was or could have been made by them at any time. The estate was sold under the 1903 Act. It was a direct sale between the owner and the tenants. The tenants agreed that the sporting rights should be reserved to the owner and subsequently when the demesne lands were sold it was also agreed that the sporting rights should be reserved. I have succeeded in getting this information after a most exhaustive search through the records of the Land Commission. It appears however that the vendor never took any steps to preserve the game rights and he recently sold those rights to three gentlemen in Co. Roscommon, one of whom is Mr. Kelly.

Mr. Boland

Has the Parliamentary Secretary any information about the price?

I could not give the Deputy any information about that. It is not a matter that would concern the Land Commission, and it is not a matter of which we would have any record. The Land Commission was not interested in the matter in any way whatever.

Mr. Boland

Except that it was an official of the Land Commission who got the advantage.

If an official of the Land Commission has sporting instincts and chooses to purchase private sporting rights, there is no reason why he should not do so.

Mr. Boland

But the point is that he may have certain information in his possession that places him in a position of advantage over the rest of the community.

Not at all. There are two other men apparently interested in these sporting rights as well as Mr. Kelly. Whatever action was taken against the people in Castlerea in connection with the sporting rights on a particular game reserve, which is rented at the present time by Mr. Kelly and others, was taken at the instance of these men, and the Land Commission has nothing whatsoever to do with this. The transaction that took place was one between the vendor of the sporting rights and the three individuals concerned. In connection with the question of sporting rights generally, during the last few years these sporting lettings are advertised as a rule in four or five papers. They are advertised in two of the Dublin daily papers and, as well, are advertised in the "Irish Field," the "Irish Statesman" and the "English Field."

Mr. Boland

These particular rights?

All sporting rights that belong to the Land Commission.

The question under discussion is concerned with the Sandford estate only.

The Deputy raised the question of sporting rights, and I was dealing with them. I have given an answer to the Deputy's question. There is another estate to which the Deputy referred on which Mr. Kelly has sporting rights, too. These were leased to him in 1924. They were sporting rights which he enjoyed from 1915 under the régime of the Congested Districts Board, and he has enjoyed them continuously since. They were absolutely valueless at the time that Mr. Kelly took them over, and they were leased to him at a rental of £1 per year.

By the Land Commission.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary explain how the Land Commission came to write a letter to Mr. Kelly offering him the sporting rights of the estate at £1 annually if they had no interest in the transaction?

The Land Commission did not write Mr. Kelly any letter.

Mr. Boland

About the other estate.

They did not write him any letter.

The other estate does not arise now. The House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

Mr. Boland

There are five minutes more to spare, and I would like to raise other matters.

I am afraid it is too late now to do so.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.55 p.m. until Friday, 6th December, at 10.30 a.m.