I think that the Minister's declaration is very fair. No concrete proposal has been put up in the course of this discussion. No proposal has been made which the Minister could accept. Certainly, none has been made which I would accept. This problem must be faced as a national problem. For years, on the Land Commission Vote, I have been drawing attention, under the sub-head dealing with the letting of moors for the shooting of game, to the conditions under which these lettings take place. I think that, ultimately, a section of that Department will have to deal with that problem if it is to be dealt with at all. The first essential is to appreciate the problem. Until you do that, you cannot provide an effective remedy. Since the passing of the Land Act of 1903, the protection of game has been disappearing year by year. When the landlord was bought out and when the entire sporting rights, including fishing and shooting, passed to the tenantry, the protection of game was nobody's business. The Land Commission, like all amateurs who never had anything to do with land, annually put an advertisement in the newspapers saying that over an area of moor situated at AB the shooting was for letting and they asked for tenders. There was not a word in that as to how many birds were on it, or how many birds should be shot on it. The man who took it could shoot on it and not leave a solitary feather for the following or any other season. That was obviously stupid. The people who put in the advertisement had no appreciation of their duty to the State, if game rights are to be of any value at all. You must look upon this with a balanced view, where millions of pounds of public funds and private investment are being spent on the building of hotels and hostels to attract tourists. Surely those buildings are not going to be in vain?
The visitors will come mainly, in a climate like ours, in the months of June, July, August and September. The best money in the tourist season is in August and September, and the very best in August. The only things you have to offer a tourist in the way of sporting rights during August and September are fishing and grouse shooting. I am profoundly sorry to have to say that my experience is that grouse in the main has disappeared, for the reasons I have indicated, through this policy of the Land Commission. They are the big owners of grouse shooting rights and have handled this in such a way that they have no conception at all as to the actual number of birds on any shoot of theirs, by not having a gamekeeper there to give the Department the approximate number of birds on it and the approximate number that should be shot, leaving a stock for the future years.
The Department will have to go further and import fresh stock regularly. It is difficult to be dogmatic about wild birds. In spite of the books that have been written about them for years and years, by men who gave their lives to the study of fish and birds of all kinds, it is impossible to say how and why these things work out. However, in the main, grouse now have become, in my opinion, inbred, as regards the stock that remains. You come to a point where your bird stock is going fairly well, but you reach the point where there has been no importation of fresh blood and then the decline is sudden, when breeding is so acute. For the last six or seven years the reduction of grouse on the moors has been particularly conspicuous. The ordinary man will explain that it is due to the non-destruction of vermin. In a sense that is true and explains the case, but it does not fully explain it. One of the main causes of the rapid decline now is the continuous inbreeding since 1912 or 1913, when the effect of the 1903 Act was felt, plus the effect of the 1909 Act, and then the landlords, having made up their minds that their day was finished, were finished also with the sporting rights. The whole thing became everybody's concern—which meant it was nobody's concern.
The first thing necessary is the destruction of vermin. It is pure waste of time to talk about the preservation of grouse, as they are not there. What is left is a mere skeleton, not worth being preserved. On account of the inbreeding there will be no virile development, so you must at once import new blood from Northumberland, Cumberland and Scotland. That was always done regularly about November, when I was a youngster.
We have heard various suggestions, all well meant, on the creation of stock farms. It is positively ridiculous to talk about setting up a farm for the preservation of grouse breeding. You have to assume that on a given day you import 50 hens and 50 cocks and let them out on the farm. Where will they be to-morrow? Instead of that, they must be taken in crates on a lorry over a moor and you let two out here and another two the distance of the Phoenix Park and another two some miles further on, but not more than two at any point. You must do it in the evenings, so that during the night they will settle down in the heather and get the atmosphere and not fly away. If you let more than that out together, they will fly off and no one knows where they may land. The propagation of grouse on a farm cannot be done.
Then we have the destruction of vermin. The war is over and there are plenty of guns and ammunition. The foxes which develop rapidly can be destroyed just as rapidly. During the war, they became a serious problem and turned even from hens to killing sheep and lambs. Then the farmer's son on mountain and hillside is directly involved. He did not care so long as it was his mother's or his sister's hens but when it came to killing his lambs he pricked his ears and got his gun or went to the chemist and got some strychnine to kill them off.
As to importing fresh blood, are the conditions in Northumberland and Cumberland as they were 35 years ago, when anyone at all could get a crate of birds? Have things gone wrong over there? I do not know how the landlords are getting on, but when they were preserving in the way I used to know, thousands and thousands of birds could be got and every five minutes the dogs would be on top of a covey. On one of the finest moors I have been associated with for the last 55 years, I do not think the two best guns in Ireland would get ten brace of birds in a day. I saw a party of two guns shooting 17 birds. That is the general position.
I know practically every moor in Ireland, having been up and down the whole country after dogs. I can tell the Minister candidly I have no interest whatever in it but the interest of the country, in the sporting rights of the country from the tourist point of view. I keep dogs, but keep them just because I like them and not for the destruction or shooting of birds. I never want to shoot a bird. We must approach the Department of Lands and get them to set up a section like the Fisheries Section attached to the Department of Agriculture. The machinery must be as simple as possible, as this can be done very simply by appointing some local game protection association or some committee of laymen in each district where there is a moor and let them appoint gamekeepers.
The Minister is afraid that it will cost a lot of money. It need not do so at all. The landlords who formerly owned these shoots did it very cheaply and Deputies from country areas will know what happened. The landlords gave some farmer's son or some small farmer who occupied a strategic position on the moor, from the point of view of watching the approach of poachers, the sum of £5 a year, which he was very glad to get, to preserve the game. We need not set out to let people know that we have a highly valuable possession, because, if we do, it will push up the price of its protection; but it can be done quite simply. The machinery is there that will effectively do the job. The Land Commission now is the absolute owner of the sporting rights conveyed to them and there are also the rights asserted by the Government in regard to turbary which make the appropriate Government Department complete owners of bog lands and this matter of protection should be made the responsibility of the Department of Lands. There are plenty of men associated with these little societies who would do the job voluntarily because they are sportsmen, and, whatever may be said about us anywhere, we are all sportsmen and will do things for the sake of sport that we would not do for any other reason. The Land Commission could get these men to act voluntarily in this matter.
We have nothing in the country at present to offer the men who come in in August and September as visitors except the prospect of sitting in a hotel and they are not content to do that and will go somewhere else. The question is how this matter of preservation is to be done effectively. There is no use in the Minister asking for sums of money, no matter how big, if they are to be handed over to some of these local bodies perhaps to be squandered and perhaps to get into the hands of men who are not sportsmen at all but who merely want to create some new racket, and we are quite good at that sort of thing. It should be done on a voluntary basis, outside the cost involved by the provision of a gamekeeper who will not cost a large sum. There are men who go out through the sheep every day, who are on the move around the moor every day and who can tell you to within ten or a dozen birds how many are on a moor on a given day. These men will be glad to get £5, or whatever sum will cover their rates and annuities. There is not a district in Ireland in which men of that type, men who have been amateur sportsmen in the true sense all their lives, could not be got to do this work voluntarily.
These are the problems: the destruction of vermin and the restocking of the moors. Pheasants are quite a simple matter because they can be easily reared. It is possible to buy the eggs, have them hatched and rear thousands of young birds in the one year in one meadow. Upwards of 2,000 young pheasant chicks can be reared in one area of 10 or 12 acres, but grouse are a different matter. The only way in which that problem can be met is by getting them from Northumberland, Cumberland and Scotland. The question is who is to get them there. There is no use of talking at present about game preservation, because, in the main, there are no game to preserve, so the game must be got and I suggest that those Deputies who have spoken on this subject should put their heads together and put up a proposition to the Department with a view to having a section set up for dealing with it.
We have seen recently millions of money being invested to attract tourists, but there is no use in spending that money unless we can take full advantage of it and reap the full harvest. For the last 50 years, since America became a great industrial country, industrialists from that country have been coming to England and Scotland and have paid huge sums for shoots. We have no such attractions to offer these men at the moment. There is not one grouse shoot in this country for which I would ask any visitor to pay a price.
Serious allegations have been made against poachers and I have no defence of the poacher to offer. I have been associated with a moor all my life. It is a moor from which grouse have completely disappeared and in the last ten years I should say that not five brace of grouse were shot by poachers there, so that the position is not due to poachers, but to other causes, these causes being vermin, inbreeding and no restocking. I do not know of a solitary bird having been imported into Donegal since 1913. For over 30 years not a solitary drop of new blood has come in there, so that we have to start at the bottom. We are down at rock-bottom and we must create the machinery to enable us to get back. It can, as I say, be done quite easily, and our policy should be to have that machinery as a permanent substitute for the work done by the landlords. These landlords were all absentee landlords and when their interest in rents disappeared, they disappeared, and now there is nobody to do the work they did, and did well and very cheaply for themselves. They reaped the benefit at the time but they provided a source of money for the country and there is no reason why we should not do the same. Do we intend to do it?
I am not prepared to vote for handing money over to private individuals for the carrying out of this work. It should be done by the Department of Lands, the Department vitally concerned. That Department is also planning huge forests which will involve such game as pheasants, which are wood birds. Nobody can touch these forests but the Department and there is, in addition, an enormous acreage of moor on which they own the sporting rights, and these are paramount reasons for the Department adopting what I have urged on every Estimate for the Department of Lands. It is a step which is long overdue, but, when something does not press too hard, one is inclined to put it on the long finger. I do not believe in putting this matter on the long finger. It is a matter which was always urgent from the point of view of tourists coming to this country, because all that the man with the big money, the man who can afford to pay any price in reason, who comes in the months of August and September, and mainly in August, wants is a good service, rivers well stocked with salmon and moors well stocked with grouse—he has gone before the partridges arrive.
These are the things for which he is prepared to pay big money. We have not got them now, but they are potentially there. A small sum of money will do it. In my opinion, it is not a question of money; it is a question of a simple and efficient machine that would carry that out. I suggest to the Minister that he should not bother going to the Department of Finance until he first sets up the machinery to do that. Then he can appeal to the Minister for Finance and, of course, to the country and lay the foundation of what will be a great national asset in the future.