If it is correct, it is lamentable. I shall say nothing further on that point. The Parliamentary Secretary accused Fine Gael, in tremendously extravagant terms, of opposing every measure that the Government bring in as if it were planned in Hell. That is hardly a proper parliamentary reference by a semi-Minister of State. I shall commence my speech in a different tone. I congratulate the Minister on having the courage to come to the House with a Bill to remedy a state of affairs which he found existing in his Department when he took office. Members of the House should have the courage of their convictions and should appreciate their responsibilities as Deputies. Members of every Party should recognise that, even if it is only by chance, there is some good in the Party opposed to his. I am willing to admit, straightway, that, for once, I see some good in this endeavour by the Government to rectify an existing evil. Everybody with eyes to look and ears to hear knows the position in regard to land distribution. All of us know that houses, built at considerable expense to the taxpayers, are in many cases uninhabited and that the lands attached are being neglected. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that the cost to the Government in some of those cases was about £1,000. Does any Deputy, as an honest, conscientious representative, believe that the taxpayers' money should be wasted in such a manner? I, for one, shall not subscribe to conduct of that sort.
We heard speeches from Deputy Dillon and others, in glorious terms, pointing out that, under this Bill, there will be another period of evictions and that families will be thrown out of their homes. I do not believe that anything of the kind will take place and I shall endeavour to secure that it will not take place. The number of families; if any, to be affected by this Bill will be very small. Even if there is to be a single case of hardship, are we to refuse to pass this Bill because of that single case? What about the hardships which were imposed when the land was being distributed? Did not the people from whom the land was taken undergo hardships? Was not the land taken from them—at confiscation prices, in some cases—so that those allottees would be given an opportunity of living and working in their own country? They were presented with houses and land up to a value, as the Parliamentary Secretary stated, of £1,000 in some cases. It was hoped that they would made good on those lands. To their credit, many thousands of decent, honest persons did make good and have become useful citizens. Are the men who lagged behind, the men who refused to work or to reside on their holdings, to receive special privileges and to be allowed to continue to do as they are doing?
I accept the principle of this Bill. I think that the Minister is perfectly right in trying to remedy the state of affairs he found in his Department when he took office—to remedy the scandals which, he knows, exist. I believe that all of us should accept the principle of this Bill. The Bill needs amendment and we propose to put in amendments. Two or three sections of the Bill should not, in my opinion, be passed by this House in the precise form in which they appear at present. However, that will come up on Committee Stage. We hope to put in amendments to those sections so as to prevent extreme hardship. The allottee should have an opportunity of making representations to some body other than the Land Commission. Deputy Dillon referred to fixity of tenure and said that we were undoing all that had been done to fix the people in the land. If there is any Deputy in this House who has fought for fixity of tenure for farmers, it is I. On Land Bill after Land Bill for the past 19 or 20 years, I have been fighting for fixity of tenure for the farmers —even for the people from whom the land was taken. It was taken from them by both Governments, I hope, for good reasons. It was expected that the people to whom the land was given would make proper use of it. It was felt that they should be compelled, if necessary, to make good use of it. I have no doubt that grave mistakes have been made in the allotment of land. I shall go no further than that.
Enough heat has been engendered in this debate. The Minister is right in trying to correct the mistakes which were made. I should have liked to see land administered in a manner different from that in which it has been administered here. When land was being given to allottees, I should have liked to see some definite conditions imposed. I should have liked to see something similar to the system in operation in Canada and other countries introduced. I realise more than any other Deputy the difficulties of the ordinary allottee. Probably that is because I was an allottee myself, under conditions that no allottee of land in this country ever endured, and I believe it was the proper system. Years ago, when I was in Canada, we were given 160 acres of land, on certain conditions. We were not given a parcel of good, useful, cultivated land, already fenced, and presented with a house, and told to go ahead and farm the land and live on it. We were given acres of waste, mostly scrub land, and told: "If you do the following things within a number of years, if you clear so much of it, if you cultivate so much of it, if you build a house and a barn on it, and live on it for six months of each year for so many years, we will give you a title and it is yours." It was to the credit of a great number of pioneers in Canada that they did so and it was the pioneers who made that country great. It was their sweat and their work which earned them the title to their holdings.
In this country, no allottee of land was given it on extremely hard conditions of that kind. There should be some similar conditions here, some defined conditions under which the allottee would take the land, that he was to do certain things on it and improve it, if possible, from the state in which he got it. That was the real intention of the Land Acts. Land was supposed to be taken from those people who were using it badly. In regard to every estate I saw divided, one of the cases made was that the late owner was not making efficient use of it. It was hoped that the new owner would improve on that and would use the land more for the benefit of the nation generally than did the man who had held it. When we see land taken from one holder and handed over to a new holder, we expect that the new man will make better use of it, since it is land given to him at the expense of the community.
Deputy Cogan waxed eloquent on the liberty of the subject. There is no attempt whatsoever in this Bill to interfere with that. Deputy Dillon spoke in the same terms last night, saying that there was interference with the liberty of the subject. If there were ever any logical attempt to do so, in regard to land division, or to interfere with the real rights in the ownership of land it was done in the case of the people from whom the land was taken. When new men were put on to the land, they were put on in the expectation that they would become eventually the vested owners, with the same rights and privileges as we hope the ordinary small farmer has at present. However, they have got to earn their title to that, by making some demonstration that they have used the land, rightly for a number of years before they become vested. There should be some definite conditions and it should be made certain that they fulfil them. When that has been done, the land should be vested quickly.
I do not care a snap of my fingers if a decent allottee, having got land and having worked hard and decently for four or five years on it, and having become vested in it, sells it then to someone else. I do not see that any great harm has been done to the State or to the people in general, if an allottee, having got a small parcel of land and having worked it for four or five years, decides, for some reason or another, to sell it. Why should he not do so? What would it mean but the passing over of the land from one small allottee to another? The change will not do any harm. One of the things which may have led up to the difficulty is the delay in vesting. There should be a quickening up of the system. Those allottees who are there at present should have their holdings vested. There are many decent men who have been working their holdings for ten or 15 years but still are not the owners. I know of estates in my own county which were well divided by the Land Commission, where there are very few delinquents, where the land is worked well and is manned by men who are a credit to the country, and whose farms are a credit to them; but they are not yet vested and they do not own the land. That is a lamentable state of affairs and should be corrected.
In accepting the principles of this Bill I repeat that an attempt must be made, and that the Minister was right in making it, to undo the mischief which had been created, to set right the conditions he found in his Department when he came into it. I am familiar with particular cases in my own county, where people got farms worth up to £1,000 many years ago, who have made no endeavour whatsoever either to work the land or to live in the houses, which are now falling down. I know that the Department made efforts to warn those people year after year that if they continued in that way the land would be taken from them. They went so far as to ask them to give up possessions, but it seems that the Minister found that, for some reason, he was not able to go further. He brings in this Bill now on that account. Should we refuse to give him the power to deal with such people? These are the people with whom the Minister primarily wishes to deal.
We have the extravagant case made by Deputy Dillon and others, that this Bill is levelled directly at the allottee with ten or 15 children, who miraculously grew up since he was given the farm. It is to be hoped that some of the farmers were not such a long term there, that is, for some 15 or more years. As to the figures mentioned by Deputy Dillon and Deputy Giles, regarding the unfortunate families of 15 or 16 children, planted there and now to be evicted, when did they get their land? They must have got it before this State existed, as they could not have raised 15 or 16 children in the last few years.