First of all, I should like to ask the Minister for Lands to follow the former Minister's observation in regard to the allegations of corruption made against, not the former Minister for Lands, but automatically, against the Land Commissioners themselves. I represent a constituency where there has been a certain amount of land division since 1938, when I first became a Deputy there. I have heard a great deal of agitation by those who did not get land in a particular area alleging that one or other of the political Parties had the major influence in the distribution that took place. In places where it so happened that the majority of people supported the opposite Parties and men received land there was the fiercest denunciation of the Minister for Lands for having yielded to the influence exerted by a Fine Gael Deputy in the area who, they alleged, had some personal connections with certain land inspectors. I invariably said I did not believe it was true and that if there was a majority of people of one political opinion who got land the chances were it was merely coincidence. There were other areas where people of our Party happened to be in a very great majority and where there were some people who were of the opposite Parties who complained that they had not received land, and the same allegations were made in the opposite direction.
I have watched the inspectors in Athlone-Longford, as my constituency was then, since 1938. The engineers performed their work with what seemed to me on the whole to be admirable impartiality. I think it is a scandalous thing that Deputies, such as Deputy O'Higgins, should get up in this Dáil and make allegations of that kind.
We do happen to be one of the ten or 11 countries on this earth—I think there are about 73—where corruption is almost entirely absent and to publish statements of an irresponsible character in the newspapers that can be read abroad seems to me to indicate gross lack of patriotism on the part of the persons concerned.
The Minister has got to answer the question at the end of this debate as to whether he considers the Land Commissioners to be men of character and probity who would be prepared to risk their position and their calling by drawing public attention to pressure brought upon them by the Minister of the day to award land, not on the basis of justice, but on the basis of the political opinions a man held. He cannot get away from answering that question because the two groups of persons are involved. The Minister for Lands is involved. He has made his own statement, a statement which I think, generally speaking, was magnificent, in regard to Land Commission policy and his attitude towards it. But there were also the Land Commissioners involved in this and Deputy O'Higgins perhaps did not realise that he was accusing men who have been a long time in the service of this State of the very grossest form of corruption and he was accusing them of being cowards because, according to the law, they are bound to distribute land without regard to political influence, and therefore they should use whatever measures occur to them against pressure brought to bear upon them. Therefore, I do hope we will hear from the Minister something in regard to that matter.
Secondly, I would like to ask the Minister whether he considers that the Land Commission is now administered in a spirit akin to the imperialistic spirit of long ago, whether he considers there are any major changes required of an administrative or legal character either to shorten the time taken to carry out division, to carry out vesting of land, or whether he considers the actual technical and legal apparatus is as up-to-date as it can be under the circumstances. It is a matter on which I would not like to pronounce judgment. There do appear to me to be undue delays in the division or the allocation of very small parcels of land in scattered areas, while, on the other hand, once legal difficulties are overcome, very frequently land is allotted in a rapid manner. It seems to vary from year to year.
I should like to repeat Deputy Moylan's question to the Minister. I should like to know what his opinion is as to the number of acres available for division. In the last 15 years our Ministers have varied in their opinions, partly because economic conditions were changing and partly because of the increase in the price of land arising from the emergency. I understood the total amount of land left for division was something between, 500,000 and 1,000,000 acres. How much of that is in the country west of the Shannon, and the Midlands areas? Perhaps the Minister will give some indication as to what proportion of that 500,000 or 1,000,000 acres—whichever he decides is the right amount—consists of untenanted land and what proportion is land not deemed at present to be worked according to good principles of husbandry?
The public would like to know what is the view of the inter-Party Government in regard to the amount of land available, for this reason, that there are thousands of small, uneconomic land owners who, through the fault of no one in particular but because of the enthusiasm of Deputies, and because of the land division policy that is being carried out, have a feeling that some day or other they will get a larger farm. The former Minister for Lands and the former Taoiseach, when they had some experience of land division, made it clear that even if you took the larger estimate of 1,000,000 acres it would go nowhere near towards solving the problem of congestion. You might solve the problem of extreme congestion, but as the average size of a farm is 30 statute acres it is obvious that unless you started subdividing farms of 40, 80 or 100 acres, the problem will probably never be solved.
It would be a great help to people living in a state of illusion if the Minister will be honest in regard to that matter and repeat the observations made within the past six years after experience had been acquired and the whole business examined by the former Minister for Lands and the former Taoiseach.
I come now to the question of land division in the eastern and midland areas. As I understand from the Minister for Lands, and as I understood from Deputy Moylan when he was Minister, the most urgent problem is that of relieving the extreme congestion in the West, of getting rid of the rundale system and resettling people in such areas. We will have to wait for some time before land division can recommence in the counties of Westmeath, Offaly, Laoighis, and so forth. I should like the Minister to give a frank statement on that matter. In Westmeath there has been agitation for years in certain areas with reference to grazing farms of 300 acres down to 100 acres. These are frequently owned by persons who live outside the county, and in some cases they are owned by people who have tillage farms in the West and bring their cattle for fattening to Westmeath. They keep this grazing land for that purpose. Year after year people have made representations to all Deputies in the county for the division of this land, and year after year the answer is that the Land Commission intends to take no action.
I think a great many people in these midland counties have an optimistic view in regard to the attitude of the Land Commission towards these large farms kept for grazing. The Minister would serve the interests of the country if he would be frank about the matter. Generally speaking, it is not considered desirable to take a farm in a midland area for the relief of congestion, unless there are exceptional circumstances, in which there are less than 250 to 300 acres of land. If that is to be the policy in general, there being evident exceptions, let the Minister say so. Let him settle the minds of hundreds of small farmers who live adjacent to small grazing farms of 80 to 250 acres and who have the illusion that some day that land will be taken.
All of us who have a sense of responsibility in regard to Land Commission matters realise the difficulty of dividing a small farm of that kind. There is the fact that only two or three out of 50 people will get the land. Frequently there are tenants on the land who have to be first settled. There are all sorts of difficulties. Land has to be left around the demesne house, if the demesne is to have any value. The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary know very well all the difficulties that have to be surmounted. It would be a good thing if we had a further indication of policy with regard to these smaller farms and then in regard to the larger farms.
The same thing applies to public opinion in regard to the amount of employment that should be given on a midland farm. One of the factors which count in deciding what constitutes good husbandry on a farm is the amount of employment—the way a man works his land and the number he employs. There have been farms in County Westmeath where no one has been employed, where no effort is being made to maintain the grass according to modern methods, and where no one is employed to herd 300 to 400 acres of good grassland. There are uneconomic landholders in the district looking for that land. There the case would seem very clear.
But there are other farms. I know of one in Westmeath that I visited some three weeks ago. There were people speaking to me about the desirability of dividing that land. There are some 150 acres, on which five persons are employed all the year round, indoor and outdoor hands. I told these people that I thought that would be regarded as rather adequate employment and it would be unlikely that the farm, apart from its size, would be acquired for division. We have always to consider the fact that there are 133,000 agricultural labourers in this country, of whom only some 70,000 are employed all the year round and land division must not be allowed to interfere with the employment of agricultural labourers. If land were to be given to uneconomic landholders the result would be the disemployment of agricultural labourers, and we would be no nearer the settlement of the land problem in this country than if we had left the farms in the possession of those who owned them and who would continue to give employment to agricultural labourers. I would like a few more indications from the Minister on his views with regard to this matter. Equally, when one examines the land division that took place in the years preceding the war, it does appear that the Land Commission showed a favourable attitude in the case of a farmer who had a tillage farm further in the West and who took grazing land in Westmeath in order to fatten his cattle. By inference it appears that the Land Commission did not regard it as desirable to take all those grazing lands. They took some of them but not others. What is the view of the Land Commission in regard to the matter? Is it considered a permanent policy that you must leave grazing lands for persons who own tillage land in the West of Ireland, is each case taken on its own merits or what is the general policy in the Midlands? With regard to that fact, it would be interesting to hear the Minister's views.
I would like the Minister to tell us how many years are going to elapse before land division commences in Westmeath and the midland areas generally, since it is quite evident that it has been postponed. I would like to ask him what are his general views with regard to the division of land in that area.
I think also we can profit by experience in connection with land division in improving the design and amenities of Land Commission houses. I am not a farmer myself, but I have been in Land Commission farms and seen the outhouses and I could tell that they were badly planned, it was evident that they were very badly planned. This was due, no doubt, to the fact that there was urgent necessity for housing schemes. The design and amenities of these houses and outhouses seemed to vary. In some cases they seemed to be all right and in other cases they seemed to me to lack the necessary amenities and to be built of rather poor material. I would like to ask the Minister to see that some officials of the Land Commission should concern themselves with designing better houses and outhouses in the case where new land division is taking place, now that more materials are available for housing.
Next I come to the problem of division of turbary in the Midlands. During the war, county councils were empowered to acquire turbary for letting to tenants and I understand that that power is lapsing some time this year consequent, I think, on the ending of the Emergency Powers Act The powers which were given to county councils were very beneficial, even apart from the emergency. There are farmers living, for example, in Coosen, a peninsula north-west of Athlone, who at the beginning of the war had to go some seven miles in order to get their turf. The Land Commission reported that there was absolutely no hope whatever of dividing the great bogs within two or three miles of their homes and the county council acquired turbary there temporarily. Roads and drains were made and these people were able to get their turf without taking a long dreary journey or going to the expense of hiring a motor lorry for a distance of seven miles. When these powers lapse a new situation will arise. The tenants in Longford and Westmeath have got used to the idea that if their own bogs are worked out or if they are far away from a bog, turbary will be made available for them. But if the extreme congestion in the West is to be relieved first and vesting is to proceed there, the division of the great bogs of Westmeath and Longford will be delayed further, even beyond the acquisition of land in Westmeath. Could the Land Commission suggest any method by which the division of these bogs could be expedited? Even though coal is coming into the turf areas and although it is being bought by publicans and shopkeepers at £8 10s. per ton in an area completely surrounded by bogs, there will still be people who will want to go on getting turf for themselves in the most convenient way possible. I would like to ask the Minister whether there is any interim arrangement he can make to replace that emergency arrangement that was so useful and that had more than emergency value in order to enable turf to be acquired easily and made available for the people whose bogs are worked out or who bought coal before the war or had to go a long distance to get turf. There are large stretches of untenanted bog throughout the Midlands. The Minister must be well aware of the problem and he must have had letters with regard to it. The matter needs further consideration.
That is all I have to say except once more to ask the Minister, as far as he can, to give us his up-to-date views on the problem of land division in this country and to set before the people what he considers the maximum that can be achieved. Let the people of the country know that his maximum is 500,000 acres; that he will go just so far towards solving the problem of congestion and no further and that it is no use for them to dream night after night that they are going to get land. In fact only a small proportion of them can get land because of the size of the population and the average holding in this country. If he will do that, he will end a great deal of the agitation that continues. He will give hope to some people. He will make others face the reality of the situation and he will enable land division, as far as possible, to be continued on a non-controversial basis. There are two subjects on which there should be no real cleavage in the political life of this country. They are the final agricultural policy and the final policy of the State with regard to the resettlement of land. It is undesirable that there would be serious political cleavages on either of those two matters.