Private Deputies' Business. - Proposed Ground-Rent Levy.

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That the Dáil is of opinion that local authorities in towns and cities should be empowered by legislation to supplement their revenue by levying a rate upon moneys received by ground landlords in respect of ground rents.

Because of the long time that this motion is on the Order Paper, it might be well to give a little explanation of it to the House. On 3rd April last, I rose to wind up the debate on this motion and I had not concluded my reply when the House rose. In the course of my reply on that occasion, I reiterated that in this motion there was no attempt or no suggestion made to confiscate the property of any ground landlord. The Minister challenged that in a variety of ways when replying, I take it, on behalf of the Government. I think I made it clear also to the Minister that I had not at that time, or up to that time, attended any of these meetings called under the aegis of leaseholders associations and was in no way associated with them. My attitude in relation to these associations was governed by at least one guiding principle. I felt at that time that the organisation which was in existence was not proceeding on constitutional lines. Since then, however, the National Leaseholders' Association has been established, which organisation does propose to proceed along constitutional lines to achieve its aims and objects. Since that time I attended a meeting of this National Leaseholders' Association, and present at that meeting and approving of its objects was a member of the Fianna Fáil Party, a T.D. representing East Cork, Deputy Corry, to wit.

In the course of the debate here, Deputy Norton found himself in agreement to some extent with me, but he felt that "the ultimate solution of the problem in respect to ground rents will be found in making the local authority the ground landlord so far as that is possible." Further on in his remarks, he said he was in agreement with the motion so far as it would enable a local authority to recover for the community the enhanced value of land which is due to the efforts of the community. That is the essence of the argument I made in favour of levying a rate upon moneys received by ground landlords in respect of ground rents. I think I have already met Deputy Belton's point in relation to ground rents owned by corporations or public bodies. He mentioned particularly the case of the Dublin Corporation, pointing out that ground rents were a source of very great revenue to that body. I think I pointed out on the last occasion, on the 3rd April last, that this motion would have no effect whatever on corporations of that character owning ground rents because I feel, as everybody else, including the Minister, must, that any revenues derived from ground rents by the Dublin Corporation or any other municipal body would filter through in the direction of improved social services, housing, etc. However, the Minister for Finance, in a very carefully prepared statement, which, I presume, or rather understand, was prepared for him by the Revenue Commissioners, did not put up any reasonable or reasoned argument——

What is the basis of the Deputy's presumption or understanding in that matter?

Anybody reading the Minister's statement would easily glean that it was a carefully worded and prepared statement by the Revenue Commissioners.

The Deputy should not be impertinent.

A Minister makes a statement on his own responsibility. Responsibility for any statement made here is the responsibility of the Deputy making it, and responsibility for a statement made by a Minister is the responsibility of the Minister making it.

If the Minister says that that statement was not drawn up and drafted by the Revenue Commissioners, I accept his statement.

I am not going to be put into that position. Any statement I make in this House is mine and nobody else's.

Then the Revenue Commissioners must have drawn up the statement.

Deputy Anthony must not pursue that line. A Deputy makes a statement in this House on his own responsibility. A Minister more especially makes a statement on his own responsibility because a Minister has greater responsibility than a Deputy.

I accept it. The Minister in his speech never attempted for one moment to examine the problem in the light of present day affairs and events. In reply to a question I put to him a couple of years ago, the Minister told me he was unable to estimate the amount of money paid in respect of ground-rents in this country. I accepted that, and we have had from the Minister himself, speaking at the Ard-Fheis yesterday, that this was a very complex question. I even suggested that in my opening speech and because of the feeling that my motion was not quite comprehensive enough, I suggested to the Minister that it would ease the public mind and would give a good deal of satisfaction to a number of persons who are interested in this matter if an inquiry were made. I even went so far as to say I agreed with the Minister when he said at the Ard-Fheis 12 months ago that a prolonged inquiry would be necessary and I was taken to task by Deputy Norton because I did go so far with the Minister. In fact, Deputy Norton in quite a good-humoured way said he was glad to see the Minister and I were becoming so closely associated in matters of that kind. That was rather humorous and ironical on Deputy Norton's part because he knows it would be a case of the lion lying down with the lamb. I am not, of course, going to say who was the lion and who was the lamb.

The Minister concerned himself more with cheap jokes, flippancies and sneers at the persons who form the minority in this country—the ex-Unionists and others. It is about time the Minister seriously discussed matters of this character and reserved his cheap sneers for the hustings and the soapboxes at the general elections. In volume 61, column 1030, the Minister was very complimentary about me. He said:

"The Deputy who admitted that he himself had given the subject no serious study"

—words I never used—

"made himself responsible for many wild and sweeping statements."

I thereupon asked "Did the Deputy use those words?" and the Minister replied

"Wild and sweeping statements calculated only to mislead the public, to increase unrest, and to dislocate, if he could, the whole economic sphere."

I would ask members of all Parties in this House carefully to examine the record of the gentleman who makes this statement. The Minister and his Party are the people who swept into office because of, to use his own words again, wild and sweeping statements. Then we have the Minister rebuking Sin, telling us that we should not make wild and sweeping statements, and, when challenged about it, he was unable to name even one of them. Through the whole course of my speech, I never made any kind of wild assertion or statement. In fact, I was quite moderate which, I suppose, the Minister will say was rather unusual for me.

The Minister also asked, as reported in column 1031:

"What would be the effect of this additional tax except to confiscate some portion of the value that is inherent in such property?"

I should like to ask the Minister, as he asked me, to be honest with the House in matters of this kind. I would ask him to amplify his assertion in that direction. I should like him to ask how he regards the effect of income-tax, not to mention other taxes, such things as levies on cattle and other levies imposed by the Government on the agricultural industry. Does he regard these levies as confiscation of some portion of the value that is inherent in such property? Was it confiscation on the Minister's part to make the owners of property liable for income-tax on five-fourths of their valuation? Is not that tax confiscation of some portion of the value that is inherent in such property, again to use his own words? Again, the Minister stated that the term "ground-rent" is not at present sufficiently understood. He went on to talk about head-rents and ground-rents, leading us to believe that there appears to be a good deal of confusion in the public mind as to what is and what is not a head-rent, or what is or is not a ground-rent; but the only thing the Minister succeeded in doing was to complicate matters still further— because everybody who knows anything about the subject, or who has given any serious thought, as the Minister is so fond of saying, to it, must know that the law will enforce payment of the head-rent or ground-rent and the majority of the people who are paying ground-rents or head-rents are very well aware that the law will enforce their collection.

The Minister, quite unintentionally I am sure, made the very best case he could for this motion. He must know that many members of his own organisation who have attended those meetings which I have mentioned have gone much further than I have in this motion. They have advocated the abolition and the confiscation of these ground-rents. I do not. There is all the difference between this motion and the motions which have been proposed from time to time at the Ard-Fheis of the organisation of which the Minister is one of the principal members. All that we ask for in this motion is that some of the value created by the community should find its way back to the community. We all know that even a new railway service, a bus service, or some other such amenity will increase the value of land in the neighbourhood. We all know that if an enterprising local authority gives the very best sewerage system or the very best lighting system that, it can possibly afford, such a service enhances the value of land in that particular neighbourhood.

Again I would put it to the Minister, in the most friendly way possible and in the best interests of the country at the moment, that he might cause an inquiry to be made even though it may be a prolonged inquiry, and so satisfy himself and the people who at present cannot estimate accurately the amount of these ground-rents. Let us take the statement made yesterday at the Ard-Fheis. There it was stated that £20,000,000 annually was not collected but was leaving the country. My estimate was very conservative when I said that in or about £1,000,000 was leaving the country. The Minister in reply to the speaker at the Ard-Fheis said he did not believe that one sixth of £20,000,000 was leaving the country.

The Deputy as usual did not read the paper which reported me accurately.

I have the paper here.

Would the Deputy read the paper?

The speaker at the Ard-Fheis said that about £20,000,000 was leaving the country in ground-rents.

What was my statement in reply to that?

Your statement in reply was that you did not believe that one-sixth of that amount left the country.

What authority have you for that statement?

The Irish Press.

I deny that. Will the Deputy produce the Irish Press in which that statement appears? I challenge the Deputy to produce his authority for that statement.

I read it in the Irish Press to-day.

I deny that. The Deputy did not read that statement in the Irish Press.

What amount did the Minister state left the country?

I am asking the Deputy to give his authority for the statement.

I read the statement in the Irish Press.

I say that is an untrue statement, and I am prepared to prove it.

If the Minister says so I shall accept his word. Will the Minister in all fairness, seeing that I have accepted his statement——

Does the Deputy withdraw the statement?

The Deputy has accepted the Minister's assurance.

Will the Deputy withdraw the statement that he read in the Irish Press a statement by me in which I said that I did not believe that the amount which left this country in ground-rents annually was one-sixth of £20,000,000? Does the Deputy withdraw that statement?

I have told you that I withdraw it unconditionally and without reserve. I am asking you a question now: what was your reply to the delegate who said that £20,000,000 left the country?

I am not here to be cross-examined in that way. I am asking the Deputy what is his authority for that statement.

The Deputy has withdrawn it.

With your usual petulance, you cannot sit quiet. You cannot discuss any question seriously and everybody knows that.

The Deputy has given us an example of his accuracy to-night.

A sum of £20,000,000 was mentioned at the Ard-Fheis. The Minister does not deny that. The Minister in reply, I think, said— although I withdrew the statement— that the sum was not one-sixth of that amount.

The statement has been withdrawn.

If the Deputy wants to know what was reported in the Irish Press—the Deputy put forward the Irish Press as the authority for his statement—and what was reported in the Irish Times, I will tell him that I said that I did not believe that the amount which left this country in the form of ground-rents exceeded one-sixtieth of £20,000,000.

I accept that. I read it as one sixth.

The Deputy read that in another journal.

I have the Irish Press in my pocket and I will make you a present of it. I am sorry to see that the Minister has lost his temper.

He approached this matter of ground-rents not in the serene way we would expect a Minister to approach a serious matter of this kind. He approached it in a manner that one can only compare to the effect which a red rag is supposed to produce on a bull.

May I, for the Deputy's information, read what did appear in the Irish Press?

Certainly, if Deputy Anthony gives way.

Here is what is reported in the Irish Press and in order that the Deputy may satisfy himself that it is the Irish Press from which I am reading, I shall let him see it.

Do not be so meticulously scrupulous. If you were so careful over all your statements in public, you would save this country a lot of trouble.

This is the quotation:

"He (Mr. MacEntee) said that there was no factual foundation for the statement that the amount was £20,000,000. He did not believe that there was even one-sixth"—

no, I should have said one-sixtieth

—"that there was even one-sixtieth of that amount going out of the country by way of ground-rents."

Now, you see, the Minister is taking the same ground as I have. He made the very same mistake.

I am afraid, Sir, I was so fascinated by Deputy Anthony's countenance that I was confused.

So, even a Minister can make a mistake. In any case, I withdrew it unreservedly, and perhaps when the Minister gets a little more cultured he will reach that stage also. However, perhaps I cannot expect that much from the part of the country he comes from. When the Minister talks about confiscation and also about ground-rents in relation to that which he is so fond of denying, can he deny that it is confiscation in regard to ground-rents? Is it not confiscation of some portion of the value that is inherent in such property? I suggest, Sir, that the Minister, in his reply and in his summing up of the whole situation, faced the issue with a jaundiced mind and did not give a rap what kind of statement he made or however illogical it might be. One would have to be a mathematician and to use an algebraical formula and to follow his argument from A B C down to X Y Z in order to see what he meant. Possibly, his object was to confuse not only some of the Deputies of this House, but to confuse the members of the public also. Apparently, he has succeeded to some extent, but at any rate there is considerable doubt, and that doubt was expressed by yourself, Sir, no later than yesterday in reference to the one-sixtieth of the amount that was mentioned. That may be wrong too. In introducing that motion I stated that the figures I gave were a very conservative estimate, and I also pointed out that, in the agitation going on in the country, the figures mentioned were merely estimates and for that reason they could not be taken as absolutely accurate. I read of responsible men in this country stating that upwards of £10,000,000 paid in by way of ground-rents was leaving the country. I had no way, however, of substantiating that. At any rate, I ask the Minister for Finance to cause some inquiry to be made into this matter so as to put an end to some of these wild and sweeping statements that have been made in connection with some of those campaigns.

In conclusion, Sir, I only want to state that the whole tone of this debate from beginning to end, whilst there were some irrelevancies, most of which came from the Minister himself, helped at any rate to focus public attention on the whole question of ground-rents and also helped to allay certain fears in the minds of some people, because there was here and there, even in the Minister's own statement, a little bit of commonsense, and there was something in his statement which did tend to allay some of those fears in the country. My only regret is for the Minister's bad manners, which he cannot divorce from himself when engaging in controversy with other members of this House, when he spoke a moment ago about the minority in this country. It is bad form and bad manners. We are told that these people form a very small percentage of the country, and is it fair that this platform should be used to insult and sneer at that minority?

In this debate?

Yes, Sir. I suggest that the Minister did so.

Is the Deputy withdrawing the motion?

Well, Sir, I do not want to put the members of the Minister's Party in a fix, because I know that many of them would be compelled to vote for this motion or else absent themselves from this House. I, therefore, beg leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.