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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 1 Aug 1939

Vol. 76 No. 18

Public Assistance Bill, 1939—From the Seanad. - Land Bill, 1938—From the Seanad.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 1:—

Section 39. Before sub-section (5), a new sub-section inserted as follows:—

(5) It is hereby declared and enacted that whenever the Land Commission resumes a holding or part of a holding, the following provisions apply and shall apply and have effect, that is to say:—

(a) the resumption price of such holding or part of a holding, that is to say, the compensation to be paid therefor by the Land Commission, shall be the market value of the holding or part of a holding so resumed.

(b) Section 43 of the Land Act, 1931, shall apply and have effect in relation to a resumption price fixed under the next preceding paragraph of this sub-section and, for the purpose of such application the words "basis on which resumption prices have heretofore been fixed" in the said Section 43 shall be deemed to mean the market price of the holding or part of a holding so resumed;

(c) where the Land Commission, in pursuance of the next following sub-section of this section, acquires other land from the tenant of the resumed holding, the foregoing provisions of this sub-section shall apply to the price to be paid by the Land Commission for such other land as if such price were a resumption price.

This amendment deals with the price to be paid for a resumed holding. There was a long discussion on the point in the Seanad and I informed the House that it was laid down in the 1923 Act that the price to be paid for a resumed holding was the market price. Senators, however, did not seem to believe me and said that they would like to see it in black and white in this Bill. I decided, at the request of the Seanad, to bring in a further amendment to Section 39 although it had already been very much amended in this House. I now propose that the Dáil agree with the Seanad in this amendment.

We are supporting this amendment which represents some advance on the position that has obtained since 1933. While the Minister said that since 1923 the law provides for the payment of the market price in these cases, he neglected to add that in the case of the 1923 Act, when the Land Commission was acquiring a holding, the occupier was entitled to demand and to get an alternative holding in another part of the country. There are two points which arise in connection with this amendment. The first is, whether by reason of the insertion of this amendment it is intended to acquire more land than if it had not been inserted. That point is of some significance to quite a number of farmers throughout the country. It is quite true that the Land Commission must leave a man who works his farm properly in possession of sufficient land, and presumably buildings, to the value of about £2,000. He has that right if the farm is properly worked, but while provision is made for compensation to be paid to that landholder for the portion of his land taken by the Land Commission, it is obvious that, in the case of a man who has been accustomed to working a farm let us say twice the size of the holding with which he is now left, the mere possession of land bonds is of little use to him.

The second point is in connection with a case that was cited to the Minister here during the course of the discussion on the Bill, and also in the Seanad. I do not propose to give the name of the case, other than to mention the locality. It was in Listowel, and I mention it in the absence of Deputy Professor O'Sullivan and Deputy Fionán Lynch, one of whom I believe is indisposed, and the other is away in the country. The person in that case claims to have been in possession of land for over 40 years; to have worked it well; to have spent considerable sums of money in wages annually, and generally to have fulfilled the conditions the presence of which the Minister said would mean that the land would not be resumed. This case, while on its face it may appear to be irrelevant to this discussion, is not irrelevant, because this might be said to be the operative section in this Bill, if there be any operative section in it at all, or if there be any principle in it at all. It is a Bill that shows greater lack of principle than any Bill ever introduced in this House. Let us suppose that, by reason of an accident, or a fortunate trend of circumstances, a man has another business added on to his farm. We can imagine a man like the Minister himself becoming a barrister and adding the letters "B.L." after his name. If he had been a farmer for 30 or 40 years, are we to take it that, by reason of this clause and this amendment, the Land Commission would be entitled to take the land from him, because he had become a B.L., even though he had worked the land most carefully and most economically for 40 years? In this particular case in Listowel much the same set of circumstances was present. To use phraseology which is more or less prevalent in certain parts of the country, the man "married a hotel", and something else. He had been a farmer, was a farmer, and would be a farmer now but for the Land Commission. I think that in that case the Minister is misinformed, and Deputy Professor O'Sullivan desired me to put the case before him for his information.

Before this discussion proceeds further on the lines indicated by the Leader of the Opposition, I wish to point out that, though Deputies may consider the section hereby amended to be the operative section of this Bill, the opportunity for discussing that section was on the Committee Stage, on the Second Stage, or even on the Report or on the Fifth Stage, and that the matter before the House now is whether this amendment dealing with the resumption price should or should not be accepted. The whole clause or section is not before the House; the amendment is. The Listowel case seems to me decidedly to be outside the scope of this amendment. It does not deal with the resumption price, and whether the land is properly worked or not is a question that does not arise.

The Chair will recall that this section gave rise to considerable debate. The case was made, both here and in the House above, that certain categorical provisions were required to safeguard the fixity of tenure. The Minister's reply was: "It is not possible to give those statutory undertakings. All I can do is to say that it is not the intention of the Land Commission, and it never would be, to pursue a certain course of action. In order to meet you, and to try to go the limit that I can go to give statutory effect to that undertaking, I bring in the amendment that was debated in this House and this amendment in the Seanad." I think that correctly represents the position. Now, Sir, this amendment cannot stand alone——

In this discussion, this amendment must be considered on its own merits.

If the Chair will bear with me, I am not saying that I claim the right to discuss the Bill. If the Chair would wait for a moment until I complete my sentence, I think it might be agreed that I am deliberately bringing myself within the Chair's ruling. This amendment cannot stand divorced from the words used by the Minister in commending it to the Seanad.

Mr. Boland

It was not in connection with this amendment I made that statement.

The Minister was not dumb in the Seanad when this amendment was being brought forward, and I claim the right, in considering this amendment, to consider also the language employed by the Minister when he introduced it, and to examine the adequacy of the terms of this amendment to give effect to the undertaking given by the Minister in this and in the other House. Suppose I submit to this House that, this amendment notwithstanding, certain things can be done which the Minister has undertaken would not be done, am I not entitled to argue that I want a more comprehensive amendment in order to provide against the very contingency mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition arising again in contradiction of the Minister's expressed undertaking that such things would not occur?

The question of fixity of tenure does not arise, and may not be debated. The Deputy has stated that the Minister for Lands made certain assertions in introducing this amendment to the Seanad. The Minister denies having done so. The matter for discussion is the market price for resumed holdings.

Quite. It is the market price I want to discuss. Fixity of tenure went up the spout when Fianna Fáil came into office and passed the 1933 Land Act, and nothing they can do by legislation will revive it. They destroyed it, and are quite unable to restore it. It will take a far higher power than theirs to do so. I want to discuss the payment of an adequate price for land acquired or resumed under the Land Act.

For land resumed.

For land resumed under the Land Act. I say that where adequate wages are being paid, where the work is being done, where the land is being cultivated by a bona fide farmer, the farm should not be resumed. If the farm is resumed, the person from whom it is resumed should be given not only cash compensation for his farm but an alternative holding. In the event of the Land Commission not giving that, I say the compensation the man receives for his farm is inadequate. I submit the facts of the case, which the Minister can contravene if he sees fit, in which alternative land was not given, and I submit that the purchase price of the land under the 1923 Land Act is now a composite thing. It consists partly of lands and partly of bonds under certain conditions, and if that land element is withheld I submit that the compensation is inadequate and the purchase price is not just. I say that I know the case, and that the Minister referred to this case.

I say that this man was a farmer. I say that this man paid an average of £250 a year in wages on his farm. I say that he drained the land, and used the land to the best possible advantage. I say that evidence was given at a sitting of the commission at Tralee showing clearly that the land was being properly worked, and that that annual wages bill had in fact been paid up to the time the Land Commission sat to enquire into his claim. I say the man proved to the satisfaction of the commission that he had refused £4,000 for the farm. I say that he was in a position to produce a certificate from the Land Commission that his land was suitably used, that the land and buildings were in good condition, that there was adequate fencing and a farm road, and that the land gave evidence of being well drained and manured. I say that that man was prepared to prove and did prove to the Land Commission that he had spent over £3,000 on improvements of the land, and I say that when that man's farm came to be acquired the Land Commission was bound to give him not only land bonds but a farm valued £2,000 and the difference between that sum and the true value of his farm in land bonds. They did not do that. Instead of doing that, I say that they accepted as conclusive evidence of the conditions obtaining in that area a resolution of a Fianna Fáil Club and that, acting on the false information contained in that resolution, they withheld from that man his right to get an alternative holding, forced him out of the farming industry, and in fact evicted him as effectively as Lord Lansdowne would have done had he remained landlord of that area.

It really should not be necessary to repeat that the question before the House is the market price for resumed holdings. Whether the case mentioned by Deputy Dillon is in that category the Chair does not know; but it does not seem to be. If not, it is not in order. Furthermore, to raise such an individual case might have been in order when this Bill was before the House. It would have been relevant to the Estimates to bring such cases to the notice of the Minister. The Deputy cannot raise and expect the Minister, on the occasion of an amendment of this nature, to deal with detailed instances.

I will not press the matter any further but the Minister has had full notice of it.

Mr. Boland

Seeing that it has been raised, I hope I shall be allowed to deal with it.

What I am saying is that the Minister is not being taken shortly; he has had full notice of it.

The Chair holds it should not be raised if it is not in order, even if the Minister desires to raise it.

Mr. Boland

I should like to know is it intended to allow me to reply to Deputy Dillon in reference to this case.

As far as dealt with by Deputy Dillon, yes.

I want to ask three categorical questions. (1) Is it the Minister's intention to make this sub-section retrospective? If he is satisfied that any acquisition has been done contrary to the spirit of this sub-section, will he give the person whose holding was so resumed the benefit of this sub-section retrospectively? If the Minister says that he will, then the substance of any observations I might have made will largely fall to the ground. (2) We hear a lot about the market price. The market price is here referred to. People in my experience get bewildered if you shout something at them sufficiently frequently. If you go on telling the public that statutory precautions are taken to ensure that people get the market price and that you are going to give them the market price, the public begin to believe that they must be getting the market price or the Minister could not go on saying that they were. But the public do not understand this parliamentary finesse, that for the purpose of a parliamentary debate you can give language which is commonly used a special parliamentary meaning. When the Minister speaks of the market price he means the statutory market price. He does not mean the market price that the average person down the country means. It is common knowledge to us all that when people's land is resumed by the Land Commission they do not get much more than half of what they would get if they could put it up for sale. Is there any Deputy who challenges the fact that if I have a parcel of land for which I could get £400 at auction in any part of rural Ireland and that parcel of land is resumed by the Land Commission, I will not get more than £150 or £200 for it? I doubt if I would even get that much. Is there any Deputy prepared to challenge that statement?

Yes, I challenge it.

One voice in the wilderness.

There is no wilderness about it.

Does not the Minister admit that it is true? Does he not know in fact that if I have a parcel of land in rural Ireland worth £400 if put up at auction, I will be very lucky if I get £200 from the Land Commission, when the Land Commission annuity has been redeemed out of it? Is there any man who knows anything about land who will deny that?

Mr. Boland

If the Deputy knew anything about it, he would know that in the case of resumed land there will be no annuity to redeem.

What the Minister forgets is that he has managed to create under the land code such a state of bewilderment for everybody that nobody knows what he will get. There is only one thing that people are absolutely certain about, and that is that if the Land Commission inspector goes to the land they are going to get a disappointment. There is not a single Deputy who lives on land or knows anything about land who will deny that if the Land Commission resumes your land you will only get for that land about half of what you would get if you could put it up for auction and sell it to a willing buyer.

That is not so.

At last we have heard Deputy Flynn. That does not alter the fact that the vast bulk of the people have had that experience. There is no rational man in the country who does not know that to be true.

I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy again, but it is essential in the interests of order. There is an amendment before the Dáil from the Seanad. The procedure is to agree to, disagree with or amend that amendment. No amendment has been submitted. Therefore, the question is, agreement to, or disagreement with the amendment, not a Second Reading speech exactly on the lines of a speech made when the Bill was being read a Second Time.

I note with satisfaction that Fianna Fáil Deputies are not enjoying what I am saying.

The Chair is not, for the reason that it is not in order.

It is very different with the Chair. I am distressed and alarmed that the Chair is not enjoying what I am saying. We are discussing now an amendment which speaks of the market price and says:—

"The resumption price of such a holding or part of a holding, that is to say, the compensation to be paid therefor by the Land Commission, shall be the market value of the holding or part of a holding so resumed."

Does anybody in this House maintain that these words mean what 90 per cent. of the public believe them to mean? Surely I am entitled to discuss what the effect of the amendment is going to be. We are told that the people are going to get the market price for their land. I say that they are not going to get the market price, and that the reason for that is that the words as here used are being given an interpretation by the Minister which nobody in the country gives them. Can the Minister not get up at the end of the discussion and say: "I mean these words to be interpreted as everybody else does; I mean the measure of the price to be paid by the Land Commission to be that price which they would get if they put up the land for auction"? No rational man in this country maintains at present that the effect of the words set out in the amendment will be to secure for a man that fair price which can be determined by what the land will fetch if put up for auction.

I think the Minister ought to tell us what he does mean by a fair price. Unless he is prepared to give us his estimate of what these words mean, then the amendment is of very little value. If the Minister, when he says that the price shall be the market value of the holding, means that the man is to get the price he would be able to get if the land were put up for auction and sold to a willing buyer, then this amendment is of substantial value. If however, it means, as it has been interpreted to mean up to now, that when the Land Commission resumes a holding a man will get about half what he would get if he put it up and sold to a willing buyer, then the amendment is of no value there. I ask the Minister categorically to tell us in plain language, such as his neighbours will understand, what he means by a fair price, and what he means by market value. If he tells us that, his words can be subsequently used to get that market value from the Land Commission when the individual cases are being canvassed under the amendment. I do not want to trespass on your indulgence, but I intended to refer briefly to the question as to whether the Minister would take effective steps to discourage agitation down the country, but I apprehend from what you, Sir, said that that would be outside the terms of relevancy.

The Deputy's apprehension is well founded.

Mr. Boland

I suggest that there is an implication that I encouraged it, and that, I think, should not be made.

I rejoice at the tender conscience of the Minister. I rejoice that the Minister disregards that suggestion that that was conveyed, and that in the Official Debates we will find an expression of indignation that such a thing ever occurred to his mind. If it does convey that in the Official Report it will be of material assistance to those who are looking for a fair market price from the Land Commission, who, heretofore, had grave reasons to apprehend assault and violence from many of the Minister's supporters that were trying to grab land.

Mr. Boland

The case that the Deputy has raised was referred to twice previously, in this House and in the other House. It is not a case of a resumed holding at all. Therefore, I did not expect it would be raised on this amendment. The position is that there was already protection for a well-worked farm in any part of the country, but if it was in an area in which there was local congestion, the farm could be acquired, and if the person resided on or near the farm he was entitled to an alternative holding. In this case, the person concerned lived four miles away from the land and had a business. I understand he was an hotel-keeper and a shopkeeper. There was local congestion, and even so, if he had been living near or on the land he would be entitled to get an alternative holding, but living four or five miles away he was not entitled and did not get it. I do not think anything I have said would lead anyone to think otherwise. The Land Act of 1933 lays down the protection. What was done substantially in this Bill was to extend the same protection as applied to acquired holdings to resumed holdings. That is done under Section 39. It was on that discussion that safeguards were brought in. The other point that Deputy Dillon raised arose in the Seanad.

I do not think there is anything more to be said on that. I was given certain information about the holding, and I am quite satisfied that that was the evidence that was before the court, the fact that the man did not reside there. I do not know what money he spent. The employment given, I understand, consisted of one herd, and he lived in a house that had been condemned by the local sanitary officer. That is my information. Anyway the Minister does not come into this section. The question of acquisition, resumption, allocation of land, and price, is taken out of the hands of the Minister and is left with the Land Commission, with an appeal on the question of price to the Appeal Tribunal. As to what is a fair price for land it would be hard for me to say. Everyone knows that in different parts land has a different value. It is a well-known fact that in some parts the price given by the Land Commission is considered to be a very good price, and in other parts it is not considered to be a good price. How can we deal with that by legislation? You can have a certain price for land in Limerick and another price for land in Wexford. The people in Wexford will tell you that the price given is very satisfactory, but the Limerick people will tell you that it is not. I do not see how legislation will deal with that. There is a tribunal before which cases can be brought, and the tribunal is there to decide. I cannot decide the question. As far as resumed holdings are concerned, I remind the Deputy and the House that there is no redemption necessary because there has been no money advanced to purchase farms. These farms are not subject to purchase annuities, and therefore there are no advances to be redeemed. That is the fact as far as resumed holdings are concerned. There may be other charges that we know nothing about.

Has not the landlord to be bought out?

Mr. Boland

That is a different matter. It is not Land Commission money that is being redeemed. I understood that the big talk was that the Land Commission was going to rob the people by taking their land and giving them practically nothing for it.

That is substantially true.

Mr. Boland

I do not think it is.

I can give the Minister dozens of cases.

Mr. Boland

I can produce proof in hundreds of cases where the people were thoroughly satisfied with the price. We hear of an odd case where they are not satisfied.

They ought to have monuments put up to them.

Mr. Boland

I do not know. There would be a lot of monuments. I do not think in the case that was mentioned that the person was entitled to an alternative holding, as it did not come under this section. Protection was there for acquired holdings where a person lived on or near the land. In this case the person did not, and was not entitled to an alternative holding, and there was local congestion.

If a man's house is in a bad condition on one farm and if on an adjoining farm there was another house into which he had gone is the interpretation going to be that he is not resident on the land?

Mr. Boland

I am sure that would not be held. I am not deciding the question, but I am sure the Land Commission would not hold that view.

I think that is the case here.

Mr. Boland

I do not think so. It was because the man lived in the town four miles away, and had a business, a hotel and a shop. That is different. I do not think I have any more to say except in regard to Deputy Dillon's remarks, in connection with which I must pay a tribute to his colleague, Deputy MacEoin, who, when speaking here did not accuse the Fianna Fáil Party, but admitted that his own Party was as much responsible for any agitation as we were. If people went to the trouble of looking up the Order Paper for the questions that were put down, they would see how many came from the opposite side of the House, asking us to acquire people's land. In winding up the debate on that occasion I asked them to co-operate with Deputies on this side and to try to stop that agitation. I admit everything that occurred, but it was not confined to one side of the House—it was general.

In regard to the amendment and the reference to market price, in order to allay what, perhaps, may be wrongly said in connection with it, will the Minister say, when determining the market price of resumed land, what method will be adopted in connection with the price payable for acquired land?

Mr. Boland

That is not a matter for me. The formula for acquired land was laid down by the late Minister for Agriculture, that the price given for it should be what was fair to the Land Commission and to the owner. That is the basis they go on. That is a matter for those who will decide it and not for the Minister. I cannot decide it. I cannot say that anyone will be satisfied with the price. No one was ever known to be satisfied with the price he got for what he was selling. People generally pay too much.

Can the Minister deal with the point I made and say if it is the intention to make the sub-section retrospective? Can he give further information about the non-redemption of annuities on resumed holdings? We all know that no annuities are payable on holdings capable of resumption. The tenants of these, I understand, are paying interest in lieu of annuities. Are no deductions made from the price in respect of the liability to pay interest in lieu of annuities when compensation is being arrived at in respect of land resumed?

Mr. Boland

It was always there. In the case Deputy Dillon referred to, the actual law was as I told him and there was no necessity to make it retrospective. That was actually the law. This refers to resumed holdings and I do not know whether any case has come up or not. I do not know how it reads now, whether it is retrospective or not. If there was any question of the Land Commission going into a case again where a person was considered to have been unjustly dealt with, I am quite sure that they would be open to reconsider such a case. I am not definite about that but I should imagine they would. I should imagine that if it was a thing that somebody had been treated unjustly or harshly the Land Commission would re-open the case. As far as I would be concerned, if I were asked to make a recommendation, if that was any good, I would certainly do it. It would be a matter for consideration by the Land Commission whether it would be done or not.

The second point is: in arriving at the resumption price of land subject to payment of interest in lieu of annuity, is any deduction made from the price at which the land is valued for the redemption of the liability on the tenant to pay interest in lieu of annuity?

Mr. Boland

No, there is not.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Boland

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 2:—

Section 39. In sub-section (5), in paragraph (b), line 33, page 24, and in paragraph (c), line 40, the word "such" deleted and the words "the resumed" substituted therefor.

This is a drafting amendment.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreement with amendments Nos. 1 and 2 reported.
Message to be sent to the Seanad accordingly.
The Dáil adjourned at 3.55 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 18th October, as already ordered.