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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 16 Jul 1942

Vol. 88 No. 7

Committee on Finance. - Vote 24.—Supplementary Agricultural Grants.

I move:—

That a sum not exceeding £820,989 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1943, for the increase of the Grant to Local Authorities in relief of rates on agricultural land (No. 35 of 1925; No. 28 of 1931; and No. 23 of 1939).

Mr. Brennan

Away back in 1934, after the Government came into office, with a great flourish they advanced the amount of the Supplementary Agricultural Grant by £100,000, but there was a reduction of the grant immediately afterwards. I remember on that occasion a case was made from this side of the House for derating. The Minister for Finance was then Minister for Local Government. That case was met by the argument that if derating was granted in this country we would have to alter the scheme of local government, that you could not have, running side by side with derating, the type of local government we had in this country. Now the local government system has been altered by the latest Local Government Act and the Managerial Act, and that case will not hold. As a matter of fact, in future the administration in every county is going to be carried on by an officer over whom the ratepayers will have no control. To that extent the case against derating has disappeared. I think an unanswerable case can be made at the present time for an increased Supplementary Agricultural Grant or for derating, whichever the Minister or the Government decide would be best for the country.

The question of an increased agricultural grant would be more in order on this Vote.

Mr. Brennan

Quite, but derating would be a substitute for it. That case has been made here on various occasions on the Estimate for the Supplementary Agricultural Grant, that if the Supplementary Agricultural Grant were increased to such an extent that we need not have derating, there would be no necessity for derating. I maintain that it is quite in order to advocate derating on the Vote for the Supplementary Agricultural Grant. because it simply means an increased Supplementary Agricultural Grant. The case was made on various occasions in this House that if derating were granted, and if rates were taken off large farms, it would be no advantage to the small farmers. I do not think that anybody ever tried to prove that case home because any concession that benefits land as a whole is bound to affect everybody working on the land. If the overheads of the big farmers are reduced it would enable them to compete at higher prices when purchasing live stock.

I think at the present time when administration has been taken very largely out of the hands of local authorities, when the cost of roads, hospital charges, asylums, etc., is increasing daily, it is not fair that the farmer has to bear this increasing burden every year. People who away back in 1927-28 were paying only £5 or £6 in rates have now to pay up to £25 or £26, and these are only small farmers. The burden has been increasing year by year until it has really become unbearable. At the present time the only income to which farmers can look is the price they get for whatever live stock they have. It may be urged that the fixed price given for cereal crops is a great advantage to the farmers. It is not a great advantage to the farmer because, unfortunately, there is a very reduced yield. That is due to the fact that we have had to till without manure. I am not apportioning the blame for that; I could possibly say a good deal about it if I wanted to, but we are having decreased yields as far as grain crops generally are concerned. That is due to the fact that we have tilled a good deal more than in former years, and that we have less manure than ever we had. Even though there are fixed prices, the agricultural community are very badly hit at the present time. The amount of rates that they have to pay has increased enormously, and the assistance they are getting from the Government was reduced by £100,000. I do not know exactly what was the underlying motive at the time, but before Fianna Fáil came into office there was a feeling all over the country that we were to have derating. Although the Taoiseach would deny that he ever made that promise, I think it was pretty well understood that there would be derating. When the Government came into power they gave us a pretty good supplementary agricultural grant, but reduced it the following year, and the grant still remains at that reduced figure.

On the question of applying the grant as it stands at the moment, the case is very often made or attempted to be made that the small farmer is already practically derated, and that, consequently, if derating came it would benefit only the larger farmers. Well, the large farmers and the average sized farmers are the men we have to rely upon at the present time to give us the tillage that we require, and I think when all is said and done they are standing up well to it. The evidence that has been given by the inspectors in my county is that, whatever remissness there is in County Roscommon is on the part of the small farmers. I think the Government should seriously consider the complete derating of agricultural land in this country. There ought not to be any more supplementary agricultural grants given; instead, there ought to be complete derating, as there is in Northern Ireland and in England. We are not asking anything unreasonable.

As I said in the beginning, the case the Minister made originally was that local government would have to go if we had derating. But local government has in fact so altered that derating would not affect it. At the present time, the farmers have to foot the bill for the roads, although they cannot use them very advantageously, and they have to foot the bill for hospitals and so on. It is very questionable indeed if there is a good case in equity for that. There are travelling on the roads large numbers of lorries of various descriptions which are not owned by the farmers, and the farmers have to foot the bill to a major extent. As things are at the moment—the pig industry has been killed and production is not what it should be owing to the fact that we have no manures—I do not think the Minister or the Government can say that the farmers are too well off. In equity, I think we ought to have derating. The example shown across the Border and in England is evidence of the fact that we could have it, and that there would be no disadvantages from it as far as local government is concerned. I should like to impress on the Minister that, before they came into office, he and his colleagues were very keen on having this done, and they had facts and figures to show what it would cost. They have those figures still, and I think they ought to use them. They should endeavour as far as possible to meet the case, and try to relieve the agricultural community of the very heavy burden of local rates that has been accumulating year in and year out. The local rates are still going up. In our county and in every other county there is an increasing demand every year. That is discouraging to the farmers, and is keeping production down. To my mind, this is one way in which the Government could and should assist the farmers in present circumstances.

I should like to support the view expressed by Deputy Brennan on this question of rates. The present time is most opportune for the Government to recognise the services which the farmers are rendering to the State. As Deputy Brennan pointed out, we are not looking for any favours. In justice and in equity, our farmers should have their agricultural land completely derated, as has been done in the case of those who are competing with our farmers on infinitely better terms; they are getting much better prices for their products, and they have very many advantages that we have not. I do not want to refer to the promises given in the past to derate agricultural land. The farmers are now producing at a loss. They are producing at a loss most of the commodities which are required to feed our people. Besides, local government methods have entirely changed. The roads have been taken from the farmers; they cannot use the roads now. Most of them are in such a condition that they are unfit for horses to travel on, and as the farmers have no petrol they cannot use motors or lorries. They have simply lost the right to use the roads which were built at their expense, and for which they are still paying.

There is no use in the Minister or anybody else telling us that there is so much money granted; they are entitled to complete relief from rates. In equity, nothing else will satisfy their claims. The argument against derating was that only the larger farmers would benefit, while the smaller farmers would gain practically nothing. It should be easy for the Minister to devise a scheme to get over that difficulty; it would be a compromise, but it would be better than nothing. Could not the land be derated up to a valuation, say, of £40? That would give the small farmer the greater benefit, and the larger farmers could be asked to pay on anything in excess of that £40 or whatever other figure was fixed. Such a solution would be a compromise, but it would remove the objection which has been raised. The big farmer would not then be getting all the benefit. It must be remembered, too, that the bigger farmers have to pay income-tax as well as anybody else if they have a real income from their land. I would ask the Minister to do something to relieve the farmers generally, at a time when they are making such a great effort, notwithstanding all the difficulties on account of the lack of manure and so on, to produce food for the nation.

Whatever argument there might be at other times for derating, certainly on the basis of present operations as far as the farming community is concerned there is no argument for it. They are doing better now than they have been doing for the last 50 years.

Where did the Minister get that information?

Mr. Brennan

Down in the Government offices.

It is reliable information. I know Deputy Keating would never agree with me.

Are the dairy farmers making money?

I should like to remind Deputy Brennan that the Government he supported set up a commission to investigate this matter in 1929-31. The commission was, I am sure, a handpicked body, consisting of reliable Party supporters who, possibly, knew their job as farmers and they recommended that derating was not a wise policy. I have not heard that any of the members of that commission have changed their views since. I remember that in a debate on derating that took place some five or six years ago which was initiated by Deputy O'Higgins, so that farmers should have derating for one year, as it had been a bad year for them, one member of that commission, Deputy Broderick, stated that he was as hostile to derating as when he signed the report, recommending that it should not be adopted, on the grounds that it would not be a wise policy for farmers, but that he would be prepared to accept it for one year, because it happened to be a bad one. However, it is not going to be introduced under present conditions. The Agricultural Grant is, perhaps, not as generous as it might be, but it is as generous as we can afford in present circumstances, and I do not propose to ask the Government to increase it.

Vote put and agreed to.