That a sum not exceeding £895,900 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1952, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Offices of the Minister for Lands and of the Irish Land Commission (44 & 45 Vict., c. 49, sec. 46, and c.71, sec. 4; 48 & 49 Vict., c.73, secs. 17, 18 and 20; 54 & 55 Vict., c.48; 3 Edw. 7, c.37; 7 Edw. 7, c.38 and c.56; 9 Edw. 7, c.42; Nos. 27 & 42 of 1923; No. 25 of 1925; No. 11 of 1926; No. 19 of 1927; No. 31 of 1929; No. 11 of 1931; Nos. 33 and 38 of 1933; No. 11 of 1934; No. 41 of 1936; No. 26 of 1939; No. 12 of 1946; No. 25 of 1949; and No. 16 of 1950).
The net Estimate for Lands for the present year (1951-52) represents an increase of £64,370 over the amount voted last year. The increase is mainly accounted for under four sub-heads:—
Sub-head I (Improvement of Estates, etc.) at £390,000 represents an additional £35,200 over last year's grant. Expenditure last year was £339,000. The increased provision for improvements is due largely to the necessity for the erection of buildings for the accommodation of a larger number of migrants from the congested areas and also to the recent increase in the rate of wages for Land Commission labourers. These labourers are now paid at the same rate as county council road workers.
Sub-head A (Salaries, Wages and Allowances) accounts for an extra £20,074. This increase does not represent extra staff but is due to the usual increments in salary, etc. Sub-head N (Advances to Provide Funds for the Maintenance of Embankments or other works) shows an increase of £5,585. Sub-head H (3) makes additional provision amounting to £4,000 to meet deficiencies in the Land Bond Fund arising from the revision of annuities under the Land Act, 1933.
Almost half the entire Estimate for Lands is allocated to sub-heads H (1), H (2), and H (3) for making good the deficiencies in the Land Bond Fund. These deficiencies arise from the halving of annuities and other State aids to land purchase, for example, costs fund and statutory bonus to vendors of estates over and above the prices repayable by the tenant purchasers.
The last four sub-heads, that is, Q, R, S and T are the direct outcome of the Land Act, 1950, and of these R and S are the most significant in that they provide the funds for the purchase of land for cash and the award of gratuities to ex-employees.
Any review of the Land Commission's activities falls naturally into two main heads, namely, (1) the completion of land purchase by the transfer of ownership to tenants and allottees by vesting and (2) the acquisition and allotment of untenanted land.
Under the first heading more than 70,000 cases still remain to be vested. This is a sector of the Department's activities in which work should be pressed forward as speedily as possible.
The other main branch of the work is the acquisition and allotment of land. Progress under this head was dislocated to some extent while awaiting the enactment of the Land Act, 1950. The provision for the payment of market value for land meant that, pending acquisition, proceedings could not be concluded until the Bill was passed into law. In addition, on the passing of the Act many cases had to be revalued with resultant duplication of work. Thus the acquisition machinery was thrown out of gear for a time. The result of the year's working was that some 20,000 acres were ultimately taken over. Of lands receiving attention for possible acquisition 41,000 acres on 350 estates were inspected and valued during the year while proceedings were instituted for 24,500 acres on 288 estates.
As regards land division, 28,700 acres were allotted to 1,300 allottees during the past year and of this area 23,000 acres are in the scheduled congested districts. In this work relief was afforded to about 1,000 congests through enlargement or rearrangement of holdings and 27 tenants were migrated from congested areas.
Perhaps, as this is a new Dáil, I should refer briefly to the various legal and other requirements which have to be complied with before lands can be taken over and made ready for division. The legal process of acquiring land is still a lengthy one, notwithstanding the many provisions embodied in the more recent Land Acts which aimed at speeding up procedure. When particular cases are brought to notice, initial inquiries are necessary for the proper identification of the lands and arrangements are then made for preliminary report. The next step is a detailed inspection and valuation. This involves visits to the lands by the inspectors and a survey of local conditions in order to ascertain the extent of congestion in the neighbourhood and generally the desirability of instituting acquisition proceedings.
When, following consideration of the inspectors' reports, the commissioners decide to institute proceedings, statutory notice have to be published in Iris Oifigiúil after which the owner has one month in which to lodge objection to the proposed acquisition. If, as usually happens, an objection is lodged, arrangements are made to have the objection listed for hearing before the Land Commission Court. If the lay commissioners, having heard the objection, disallow it, the owner has an appeal on a question of law only to the Appeal Tribunal.
If there is no appeal, or if the appeal is turned down by the Appeal Tribunal, the next step is to fix the price. An offer of price is first made and failing agreement, recourse is had to the price-fixing machinery provided by the Acts. A statutory notice of the fixation of price is published and again at this stage the owner has a right of appeal to the Appeal Tribunal. The price fixed, preparation of a scheme of division is put in hands and when the scheme is received and approved by the commissioners, possession is taken and the scheme put into operation.
The work involved in the preparation of the actual division scheme is the most difficult and troublesome of all. Even on comparatively small schemes a great deal of time has to be given by the inspectors concerned in the investigation of individual applications, interviewing applicants and examining their circumstances for the purpose of the detailed reports which must be furnished to the commissioners. Where, as happens in the majority of cases, a scheme is intended to provide for migrants, lengthy negotiations are usually necessary before it can be settled in final detail.
Another feature which calls for very careful and expert consideration in all schemes is the provision to be made for works of general development and improvement of the estate including the laying down of roads, building of houses and out-offices and the making of drains and fences.
There is one other aspect of Land Commission activity on which Deputies may wish to have information, that is the purchase, under the 1950 Act, of land for cash at auctions or by private treaty. I have not yet had an opportunity of examining the position fully or of estimating the extent of the contribution to the solution of the congestion problem which future proceedings under this head may afford. Activity to date under these headings has been very limited. One auction was attended without success. In private treaty cases agreement on price has been reached in four instances and negotiations are in progress in five others. An additional 15 cases are with inspectors for report at the moment.
The position as to payment of annuities continues to be satisfactory. Total arrears at 31st March, 1951, amounted to £204,490, which represents less than .5 per cent. (point 5) of the total sum collectable, viz., £43,073,940 since 1933.