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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 5 Jul 1949

Vol. 117 No. 1

Land Reclamation Bill, 1949—Fifth Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I would like to say a word or two on the Fifth Stage. As in the case of the Works Bill, there is in the Bill now before the House in its present form considerable justification for the line we adopted during the Second Reading and on Committee. This measure now contains two very vital provisions which it did not contain when it was presented for Second Reading. One is the provision that in the event of the Minister and his officials entering upon land to do a certain type of work, the owner of that land shall get notification of the Minister's intention. The second is the amendment we have been discussing this evening to the effect that if damage results to any landower he is provided with a means of seeking compensation.

I know that I may not express any opinion on the provisions I think should be in this Bill; but I think it would have considerably improved this Bill from our point of view if the Minister had conceded the amendment on which we divided a short time ago. I cannot understand why the Minister introduced this Bill in the bald way in which it appeared in the House in the first instance. Neither do I understand how the Minister succeeded in obtaining the approval of the Government to this Bill. I understand that before any measure is introduced the Government must approve of it. I could find no reason on the Second Reading why the two matters that are now covered as a result of the amendment introduced by the Minister because of the pleas advanced by the Opposition were not covered in the measure in the first instance. Perhaps it was a tactical move on the part of the Minister. Perhaps he said to himself: "The chances are that I shall be pressed by the Opposition to accept amendments of one kind or another and it would be a bit awkward for me if, with all legal aid at my disposal, I endeavoured to make the measure too perfect; therefore, to the extent that I believe it is perfect I shall have to resist amendments, and I may be accused by the Opposition of being unreasonable in not meeting them in some respect." I thought of that as a possible explanation. But I do not think it can be the explanation because the provisions that were omitted are far too important. I was amazed when I looked at the measure on the Second Reading and discovered that the Minister responsible for it, holding the views he so often expressed here in the past, had come forward to the House with proposals which, if implemented without amendment, would run counter to the rights of private persons upon which the Minister so emphatically expressed himself in the past.

The Deputy has visions of the Bill on the Second Stage.

I shall not labour that point. There is another matter to which I would like to refer but I do not know if I shall be in order in referring to it now.

If it is in the Bill, yes.

It is largely administrative. Even in our discussions to-day the Minister has told us that Part I of this scheme is being operated in eight counties. I still cannot understand why it is necessary to limit the operations of Part I of this project to eight counties. As I see it, Part I is an enlargement of the farm improvement scheme. I am not advancing this in any spirit of criticism, but merely in the hope that I shall ultimately induce the Minister to change his mind. Part I is an enlargement of a scheme that is already in existence. The personnel is available in relation to that scheme. I can see a considerable amount of injustice being done to farmers who were in a position to avail of the farm improvements scheme in the years gone by and who must now wait at least six months, and possibly longer, before they may apply under Part I of this scheme. Meanwhile they will be deprived of the right of availing of any other scheme until such time as the Minister and his Department are in a position to operate Part I over the entire Twenty-Six Counties. The trained personnel is already available in every town and district of the Twenty-Six Counties.

Part I of the scheme is by far the most important. It will represent about 75 to 80 per cent. of the work that will be done when both parts are operated. Even at this stage I see no reason why the Minister would not reconsider his whole approach to this matter and extend the operation of Part I to the entire Twenty-Six Counties. I have no special district in mind. Many farmers who in the past availed of the farm improvements scheme will now have to wait. I know that the plea I am making is one which will commend itself to the approval of those who will suffer loss because they can no longer avail of existing schemes. This may be a more attractive proposition but the others represent, as the old adage has it, "a bird in the hand." I do not think it is fair that they should have to wait. Neither do I believe that it is necessary.

I think the Minister has been somewhat unfortunate in the type of weather with which he has been blessed while piloting this measure through the House. In normal times— that is, in wet weather—we would all be wildly enthusiastic about field drainage. But at a time when dry land is being completely burned up, when we see cows making for wet, waterlogged land for sustenance, one is inclined to feel not so enthusiastic as in normal times, but I suppose normal times will come again. I think that at this stage of the Bill it is desirable that the House should get a clear indication of what is in the Bill. The Bill provides for the carrying out of a certain amount of work by the Department. It includes field drainage, land reclamation and a number of other types of work. I want to ask the Minister at this stage what is meant by the words "land reclamation". At other stages of the Bill this question was raised. I had an amendment down to the Bill which, unfortunately, was ruled out of order.

And is still out of order.

It did seek to get a definition of "land reclamation" but I feel that my amendment does not really matter very much because I believe that the purpose which I sought to achieve by my amendment is achieved by this term "land reclamation". What I sought to achieve by my amendment was that land which does not require drainage, which does not require the removal of scrub, furze, rocks or stones, land which has been, perhaps, cultivated in the past but is still impoverished, would be dealt with and reclaimed under this Bill. Now I am satisfied that this Bill does provide for the reclamation of such land. I am satisfied that there is nothing in this Bill to prevent the Minister from going ahead, applying lime, phosphates and other manures to impoverished land which requires to be reclaimed. If there is any doubt in the Minister's mind as to what is the meaning of the word "land reclamation" I would advise him to follow a distinguished precedent and go to the dictionaries. I went to a number of dictionaries to find out.

On the same page as "republic"?

I went to the Oxford dictionary, to Webster's dictionary and even to Woolworth's dictionary. The Oxford dictionary gives a fairly clear definition of what is meant by reclamaction of land. "Reclamation" means "to bring waste land or land formerly covered by water under, or into, a fit state for cultivation." The Oxford dictionary goes further and it quotes J. Walker in his History of the Hebrides as saying: “There has been more wild land reclaimed in Scotland by the use of lime than by any other manure.” I do not know who this gentleman J. Walker is, but he is quoted by the Oxford dictionary as an authority and he states that land can be reclaimed by the use of lime.

I challenge the Minister definitely to say that there is anything in this Bill as it is now before the House to prevent him from applying to impoverished land the necessary manures and fertilisers that will bring it into a fit and proper state for cultivation. I go further and say that the Minister will fail in achieving the high purpose he has set for himself in this whole land rehabilitation project, if he does not apply the scheme to poor land that does not require drainage or clearance. I would estimate that there are 3,000,000 acres of such land in this country. The Minister appears to be under an impression that that is an exaggerated estimate. On the other hand, I believe that his estimate of 4,000,000 acres of wet land or coarse, hilly land is entirely exaggerated. I do not believe the Minister will be able to find 4,000,000 acres of land which is potentially arable but which requires drainage or other improvement. On the other hand, if he turns his attention to the type of land I have suggested, he will find ample scope for his energy and the ability of his Department. If the Minister states that he is not prepared to extend this land rehabilitation project to such type of work, there is nothing we can do at the moment but there are always opportunities for the Dáil to decide the question.

Either the application of fertilisers or hard work to the land of this country will produce profit. The man who uses fertilisers and puts forth hard work should make farming pay. I am utterly at a loss to see why any man's neighbours should go in and provide profit for the man who owns land and will not cultivate it while that man sits upon his sash and collects the boodle.

They have drained his land in the past.

I do not think the House will go so far as to say that land the rehabilitation of which requires capital equipment far in excess of what any farmer in this country can ever hope to have, must for ever remain fallow because the community will not do it or because they do not want to. I have asked Oireachtas Éireann to take the middle path and to authorise me on behalf of the community, to do that which cannot be done even if the community does not do it, but not to charge me with doing the work of every farmer in the country while the farmer is content to sit on his sash and collect the boodle.

This scheme in Part I applies to eight counties because it is radically different from anything Deputy Smith has ever dreamed of. When Deputy Smith speaks of it in the same context as that most admirable scheme, the farm improvements scheme, he reveals at once that he just does not appreciate at all the nature of the work that we intend to undertake. I do not want to asperse in any degree the farm improvements scheme. I think it was a most excellent scheme, but how does the Deputy imagine that in the prosecution of the scheme some £40,000,000 sterling could ever be spent? It simply does not belong to that scale or concept at all, and I should be long sorry if anything I said or did left the Opposition under the impression that my purpose had any relation at all to the kind of work that was provided for under the farm improvements scheme. Were I to get the assent of the Opposition to this legislation on that representation it would be a false pretence for which I would be gravely culpable. The scale of work contemplated under this project is quite out of that category altogether and no Deputy who contemplates a mere extension of the farm improvement scheme should dream of assenting to the proposal which the passage of this Bill into law will suggest the Oireachtas approves.

The only reason why our operations are confined to eight counties is because I could not assemble the trained staff to do the kind of work we have to do in lesser time. Without apology, I tell the House that it is our purpose to have in those eight counties a very excessive staff, because we wish to make of the surplus a nucleus rapidly to train staff for a rapid expansion over the country. But we are quite resolved, bearing in mind the very large sums of public money that it is intended to lay out, that the work should not be committed to the hands of men who are not relatively highly trained and that it would be wrong to put on untrained men the kind of burden that the administrators of this project will have to bear in the field.

Even the first part of it?

What sort of work do you envisage for which those now employed have not sufficient training?

I think it would be inexpedient to cover that in detail now. I do want to say to the Deputy, however, that in many cases the work contemplated under this project will involve the virtual rearrangement of a whole holding.

This is your own map and I can see nothing in the work visualised and pictured there for which the men employed for years have not sufficient training and experience.

I take the Deputy's query as being bona fide and not designed to invite an abrupt answer.

I take it as bona fide. The work includes the erection and rearrangement of fences, the making of drains, the removal of rock, tree stumps and other obstructions which will involve heavy and expensive machinery. Perhaps the Deputy has overlooked the fact that under this scheme we hope that many of those who undertake to do it themselves and accept a grant will employ contractors to do that kind of work which could be done by lowly paid manual labour, but which we hope to see done by skilled workers operating modern machinery and remunerated at a rate appropriate to the skilled employment. I do not think the Deputy has fully grasped the different approach to this matter. For that I may be in part to blame. I may not have explained it sufficiently. But, when explaining it to the House, I said that I did not want the House to look upon it as an employment scheme or as a project primarily founded on the employment of great masses of lowly-paid manual workers; that our aim was to use the most modern machinery to carry out the work with the maximum expendition and to facilitate those working upon it by equipping them to earn, not the traditional minimum agricultural wage, but the wage of skilled workers appropriate to the volume of work that they would be equipped to do. I venture to prophesy that when the Deputy sees the work in progress he will realise that it does not partake of the picture that he has in mind.

The last thing which the Deputy wished me to explain was how it came about that the Government consented to the incorporation of an amendment to meet a matter which the Deputy felt might appropriately have been met when the Bill was being drafted.

I do not think I put it just that way.

I think the Deputy said that he converted me to the suggestions made by the Opposition and that they improved the Bill and made it a better Bill then when it was introduced.

The way I put it was that I was surprised that the Minister was able to secure Government approval for the proposals as introduced by him.

That was a somewhat less gracious way of saying it. I was putting a gloss on it. I do not think any of the amendments inserted at the Deputy's instance or his colleagues' are of the least value, but he does. I have already said that I cannot subscribe, and I do not subscribe, to the doctrine laid down on the authority of the ex-Minister for Industry and Commerce (Deputy Lemass), who is a colleague of Deputy Smith's. His agent said that most people have come to regard Deputies as drones in our particular hive.

There is no reference to that in the Bill.

That is the reason I have accepted the amendments submitted. The Deputy says it is because they improved the Bill. I say "no." It is out of deference to the Opposition. May I contrast that with the estimate of his colleague?

It has nothing to do with the Bill.

All right. I invite the Deputy to read his colleague's opinion; it is on record. I invite him to read his colleagues opinion of this Parliament to which he and I belong.

If the Minister invited the Deputy to read the Bill I would understand it.

It is because I dissent from that estimate, it is because I regard——

Is the Chair going to insist that when a ruling is made the Minister will obey it?

The Chair will insist on a ruling being obeyed by every Deputy.

It is because I regard this House as having privileges and prerogatives and because I believe the House to be a deliberative assembly in which representations of the Opposition are entitled to deference and respect, inasmuch as they are made by virtue of the fact that members of the Opposition represent our people, that when they ask for certain alterations to be made I conceive it to be my duty to examine the Bill carefully with a view to seeing whether it is possible, without rendering the whole plan inoperative, to meet their wishes. I will ask them to bear that in mind, when they make proposals for the alteration of measures submitted to this House, since it would be a pity if they were made without the realisation that they would be considered on their merits and every trouble taken to meet them if it were possible to do so. I hope Deputy Smith will agree with me that that is the proper approach on the part of a democratic Government. I think he would make it easier to maintain that proper approach if he would recognise it for what it is and not allow himself the very understandable indulgence of saying that the willingness on the Government's part to meet the Opposition feelings is evidence that the Government has ill-considered the legislation before they submitted it to the House. Not one of the amendments here inserted at the instance of the Opposition, in my judgment is necessary. It is none the less a pleasure to me to accept them, or to introduce others, in so far as they meet the Opposition's request.

I believe that, when this Bill passes into law, it will be more truly judged in operation than it can be in anticipation. I believe that it provides for a Minister for Agriculture an opportunity no other Minister in this country has ever had. If it fails of its purpose, the Minister who fails to make it a success must bear the blame. This Bill, Sir, should not pass from this House without a note being taken of one very relevant matter. It envisages the expenditure of a very great sum of money. Ultimately, in this State and in this Government, the Minister for Finance is the Minister responsible for the control of the public purse. Without his sanction no expense can be recommended by a Government to the Oireachtas. It takes a man of vision and a man who has great confidence in the agricultural community to stake his reputation as Finance Minister on the use they will make of the unexampled resources which his financial genius has provided for the purposes of this project. Without the financial wisdom and guidance, this Bill would never have seen the light of day. Without the knowledge that his unexampled financial skill approved these measures, the Government to which I belong would never have brought them before Oireachtas Éireann. A very important part of whatever benefit accrues to our community, as the result of the improvement in agriculture which I believe this project will produce, is due to the Minister for Finance who made it possible. Much of the kudos of performance will inevitably attach to the Minister for Agriculture and the House need have no apprehension I will claim my share. But what is important is that Deputies on all sides of the House should know that one Minister, perhaps least associated in the public mind with matters of this kind, is the Minister to whom we should be most indebted for that we can now embark on the task of completing the work begun just 70 years ago when the land war was declared. Our fathers had a part in that: we and our children shall have a part in finishing it. I hope that when our work is done our children will have as good a reason to be proud of their fathers as we have of ours.

Might I ask the Minister one question? Does the Bill as it stands empower the Minister to rehabitate impoverished soils by the application of lime and fertilisers? Has he legal power to do it?

So long as I am Minister for Agriculture, nobody will have power to spend public money on a farmer's land, to earn profits for the farmer, while the farmer sits on his sash waiting to collect the boodle.

Has the Minister power? I hold that he has, but that he refuses to use it.

Question put and agreed to.