The Parliamentary Secretary deserves the congratulations of his Party, and of his colleagues on the Front Benches in particular, for having got through the Bill with practically no alteration. A few proposals made from this side of the House, which were accepted, have been considerably watered down and, in their actual application, I doubt very much if any substantial result will accrue to the tenants whose grievances are said to be remedied under these new sections. On the other hand, the section which was inserted on the Committee Stage dealing with compensation for damage and disturbance is a blot on the whole measure, and I am very sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary ever introduced it. The problem has been enormously increased, and the potentialities of that section have been greatly increased by virtue of the information that the Land Commission has placed at our disposal, showing what the present position is in regard to these resumed holdings. It seems quite clear that an extravagant price is being paid for them on the present level of compensation, and the only possible justification for the new arrangement would be that the State was going to step in and bridge the gap. To the inquiries that have been made from this side of the House as to what is really the Government's policy in this matter of relieving congestion, there has been no reply. Do they agree with us that this section as it now stands is going to prove a definite barrier in the way of relief of congestion and the settlement of the land problem in the West of Ireland? If they do not, then it simply means that the State is going to dispose of these lands on resale at a loss. I cannot imagine the Minister for Finance coming along with the Estimate for the Land Commission and asking the Dáil to vote a larger amount of money yearly to provide for the losses on resale.
My opinion is that the Land Commission exists to try and make the resale of land a business and economic proposition. It is difficult enough for them to do it at present. The Parliamentary Secretary has admitted that only a small amount of the money expended on improvements can be recovered but, if this new burthen of compensation is going to be added, it is our settled opinion that it is going to complicate the problem and make matters much more difficult. We would be prepared to discuss the question of providing additional facilities, or giving additional powers, or even additional finance, if we were satisfied that such additional finance was going to be spent specifically on the relief of congestion and for the purpose of dividing up the land. According to the latest report of the Land Commission, the present position is that there is practically no untenanted land available on the Congested Districts Board estates. It is stated on page 24 of the report that the 78,000 acres which now remain for distribution are almost entirely mountain and turbary land. Therefore no relief can be expected in the matter of congestion in the western counties from the acreage of untenanted lands still on hands unless the Land Commission are going to reclaim 78,000 acres, as they are already doing in certain other areas, and are going to spend vast sums on their reclamation.
It seems to us that there is a strong case for assuming that the scheme for planting people on land in other parts of the country might, at least, be as economic as the manufacture of land, because really that is what it means, in the West. If we leave out of consideration the fact that while reclaiming land we are giving more employment, it seems to us as an economic proposition that if these reclamation schemes are to go ahead in certain areas the slowing down of the division and resumption of land in the midlands should not take place. The total number of people, in one way or another, that has been placed on the land since the present Administration took over and since the Land Act of 1923 came into operation is 12,200 allottees. That includes some people who had land before. In fact practically nothing in the way of division of land has taken place in the West that was not already contemplated, or was not in hand, when the old Congested Districts Board was in existence.
As regards the amount of money that has been spent, it does not show at all favourably, even if you include the special allocations made to deal with housing in the Gaeltacht and with other Gaeltacht industries. The showing which the old Congested Districts Board could make as against that figure is very good. In the last year in which the Board functioned it spent £197,000 on improvements in the West. According to the figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary there was only £120,000 spent last year. To that might be added the sum of £80,000, and I do not think that we need be specially thankful for the granting of that sum because the Government, having set up the Gaeltacht Commission and having expressed a strong interest in the revival of the language in the Irish-speaking districts, had to do something. As I said, even if we add that sum of £80,000 for the total provision as regards housing and the improvement of land, the two figures together are only equivalent to what the Congested Districts Board spent on land improvements alone in the year 1920-21.
Considerable assets also fell into the hands of the Administration, amounting in the case of stock and security to something like £190,000. I have not yet got the figures to show whether, as matters now stand, the Congested Districts Board estates are not actually paying for themselves and leaving a surplus in hands to be expended as the Minister for Finance shall think fit. If the scheme of work in the congested areas was being done in the way it had been done and in a way in which the people there have a right to expect, I think that it could be made an economic proposition and that even greater facilities than those at present given could be provided. There were free grants for improvements. There were parish committees established in these areas where loans were given for the purpose of stocking the land. The amounts involved under those heads would not necessarily be very great, because, as I have previously pointed out, a sum of £1,000 in those areas would be equivalent to a sum of £10,000 in other areas. I call attention to the matter in order to get a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary as to what the policy is going to be in regard to the resumption of holdings the acquisition of land in the Midlands, and the transfer of the larger or even smaller migrants from the West. In regard to people in the congested areas for whom no land is available except mountain and turbary, is the only future for them to lie in the hope that the Land Commission will reclaim these lands at enormous expense? Is all hope of transferring them to more fertile areas completely excluded?
It has been pointed out to me that the new section which has been introduced to deal with holdings deteriorated by abuse, through the neglect of the landlord to repair drains, does not cover the question of coast erosion, which is a pressing matter in some areas. I wonder would the Parliamentary Secretary be in a position to include that matter in the Bill, and to promise that when it goes to the Seanad he will endeavour to have it adopted there.