Committee on Finance. - Vote 48—Forestry.

I move:—

That a sum not exceeding £764,700 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 Salaries and Expenses in connection with Forestry (No. 13 of 1946), including a Grant-in-Aid for Acquisition of Land.

The net total Estimate for Forestry in the current year shows a net increase of £523,570 over last year.

Sub-head A—Salaries, Wages and Allowances, £103,595; and sub-head B —Travelling Expenses, £12,250. The increases here are due principally to increases in the number of the technical staff.

Sub-head C (1)—Acquisition of Land Grant-in-Aid, £85,000. This is an increase of £20,000 over the amount provided last year. As this is a Grant-in-Aid any unspent balance at the end of the year is carried over to the next year. The balance from last year was approximately £32,000, making a total of £111,000 available for the present year, the remaining £6,000 being required for the payment of annuities to the Land Commission, and of rents of leased lands.

Deputies may wish to be given some account of last year's operations. During 1950-51, eight new forestry centres were opened, bringing the total to 143.

The total area of land acquired during 1950-51 was 21,594 acres, costing approximately £51,200. This compares with 9,122 acres acquired in 1949-50. Since the 1st April a further 5,914 acres have been acquired at a cost of over £20,000. Agreement has been reached with private owners for the purchase of 19,533 acres to cost approximately £100,000. In addition offers to private owners have been made for 20,690 acres, the total cost being £120,000. Negotiations are proceeding with the Land Commission for the transfer of some 1,222 acres to the Forestry Division at a cost of £8,776 and a further 6,830 acres are due to be inspected jointly with the Land Commission.

The figures show that, with the aid of additional staff, acquisition proceedings have been expedited and good progress has been made. Further and more intensive effort will still be necessary if we are to make certain that a three years' reserve of plantable land will be available and, of course, such effort is still more imperative assuming that the rate of planting continues to increase. The total acreage of plantable land in hands amounts to 30,000 acres.

The F.A.O. expert whose report is being printed and which will, I hope, be circulated to Deputies in due course, recommended 3,000 acres as the minimum for an economic forest unit, as compared with the modest 300 acres which the Department insists upon as necessary for a start in a new district. Blocks of 3,000 acres of plantable land can very seldom be secured anywhere in Ireland nowadays in one transaction, and they must be built up patiently by a series of smaller purchases. Provided there are good prospects of expansion in a district, the Department is still prepared to commence with 300 acres or thereabouts, but the practice of declining to acquire small and detached areas except in the immediate neighbourhood of existing forests, or where there are very definite prospects of expansion in the immediate future, must be adhered to so long as other areas for the time being afford a better prospect of economic development.

Sub-head C (2)—Forest Development and Maintenance, £925,500.— There is additional provision this year amounting to £493,920, or almost 90 per cent. of the overall net increase in the total estimate. The very substantial increase asked for is necessary to meet an anticipated increase in planting operations; increased rates of wages now being paid to forestry labourers; the stock-piling of fencing materials; the purchase of the greater part of the heavy machinery, and the building or purchase of a number of houses for occupation by foresters. It is hoped to erect 12 houses, and to purchase two or three existing houses if suitable buildings become available for sale adjacent to any of the forests where there is at present no dwelling-house for the forester in charge.

Practically two-thirds of the money provided under this sub-head is spent on labour, and that is an encouraging indication of the social value of afforestation. During the past year the number of men employed varied from about 2,300 to 3,000. This number will be increased during the present year. To meet future needs, the number of State nurseries has been increased to 50, comprising approximately 600 acres.

Planting operations last winter were much impeded by weather conditions. The total for the year was 9,100 acres, and while this is the highest figure yet reached, I am advised that it is less than would have been achieved in more favourable or even normal circumstances. This programme involved the erection of about 150 miles of standard wire fencing.

The situation as regards the supply of fencing materials is uncertain, and in view of rising prices and possible interruption of supplies, efforts are being made to make forward purchases of wire netting, etc. It is not yet possible to say whether, or how quickly, the orders placed will be fulfilled.

During the past year delivery has been taken of seven heavy tractors and 13 special type drainage ploughs. More of these machines are on order. These machines will be utilised, in the first instance, for the drainage of peat areas already in hands. The forestry branch is very hopeful that the planting of certain limited areas in the Western counties offers distinct possibilities for future development. Operations have begun on an area north of Newport in County Mayo, and at Bally-bofey, County Donegal, and development work will be put in hands elsewhere as soon as the additional tractors come to hand. Similar areas of peat land may be acquired as soon as the planting of those already in hands is nearing completion. In addition, with the aid of another type of plough which is being ordered, subsoiling operations will be commenced upon areas already in hands where the presence of an underlying mineral pan has proved inimical to tree growth. The use of subsoiling machinery will, it is hoped, enable planting to be carried out profitably in considerable areas in the south-west, which would otherwise be unsuitable for planting. I regard these operations as being very largely of an experimental nature for the present.

Under part (1) of sub-head C (3)— Timber Conversion, £106,190—provision is made for thinning and felling operations and for the working of portable saw-mills. Under part (2) provision is made for the running of the Department's fixed saw-mills. The two principal mills are at Dundrum in County Tipperary. and Cong, County Mayo. During the past year the mill at Dundrum has been entirely rebuild and re-equipped with modern machinery. The results of the installation of drying kilns at Dundrum are encouraging, and represent a highly significant achievement in expanding the field for the utilisation of native timber. It is the intention to erect further drying kilns with the saw-mill at Cong.

An increase of £500 is required under sub-head D—Grants for Afforestation Purposes, £2,500—for the payment of grants to private persons or public bodies undertaking planting operations on their own land. I should like to see a great deal more planting undertaken by farmers and landowners. I am convinced that they could make a substantial contribution to the planting programme.

As to sub-head E—Forestry Education, £1,290—with the expansion of the planting programme the intake of forestry trainees, which has never exceeded 12 per annum, has become too small, and it will be necessary to increase the number to double that figure.

It was originally intended to build an extension to Avondale school and a sum of £15,000 included in the provision under sub-head C (2) was earmarked for this purpose. The recent acquisition of the Shelton Abbey estate near Arklow for forestry purposes has, fortunately, solved this problem. The Shelton Abbey buildings can with comparatively little cost be put to use as a new forestry school to replace Avondale House. With Shelton Abbey the Department acquired 920 acres and an appreciable quantity of valuable standing timber.

Sub-head H—Appropriations-in-Aid. £116,240—The receipts from the State forests continue to increase annually and it is estimated that an additional £20,000 will be realised this year. Heretofore, there has been some difficulty in disposing of small thinnings, but I am glad to be able to state that a market has now been found for the entire output. Increased revenue is also anticipated from sawn timber.

In regard to the Forestry Act, the number of felling notices received during the past year shows a marked increase upon the previous year and this is probably due in part to the increasing cost of imported timber and in part to the fuel situation. The period for replanting allowed under licences granted under the Forestry Act of 1928 will expire at the end of this year, and, as there are now ample stocks of transplants of most varieties to be had from the commercial nurseries, the Department will insist on the fulfilment of these replanting obligations without further delay.

I would like to ask the Minister when he expects to get the remainder of the heavy machines on order for some months. There was a danger at one time of their never reaching us because of the disturbed world conditions. There were 18 tractors and 20 or 22 ploughs of various types on order and I should like to know if they are coming or if there is a reasonable prospect of the last of the orders being delivered. As to acquisition proceedings, the Minister has a good staff in the acquisition section at the moment. I would advise him, if a further increase in staff is necessary to keep up the inflow of plantable land into the pool not to hesitate to recruit additional staff, because the whole work of the Department depends upon keeping up the proper inflow of land.

I should also like to remind the Minister that the Forestry Department cannot be run properly unless it has a full three years' supply of land in hands in advance. There were only 9½ tons of seed sown this year, about 7 tons last year and about 7 tons during the first year of the expansion of the forestry programme. I want to make it clear to the Minister that the planting of seeds without having sufficient land on hands is groping in the dark to a great extent. One year there may be land available for hard wood and another year there may be an intake of land for soft wood. Before the Department can do things with security and in the knowledge that what they are doing is right and that they are not making any mistake, it is necessary to have approximately 70,000 acres of land in hands. That is what I was working up to. Without that, the programme cannot possibly be a success. This year we had something like 1,000,000 soft wood larches for which there was not land available. Until the inflow of land builds up to a pool of at least three years' supply, which would be in the neighbourhood of 70,000 or 80,000 acres, it is impossible for those in charge of the nursery section and the director of forestry properly to judge the right type of seeds to sow.

I should also like to ask if the Minister has definitely decided to change the forestry school from Avondale to Shelton Abbey. That is the purpose for which it was bought. A temporary structure was contemplated and certain steps had been taken when Shelton Abbey came on the market. It was my intention to transfer the forestry school to Shelton Abbey and also to establish a research institute there to deal with forest pests and diseases and the soil testing which is absolutely necessary. Without that research institute we are like a man working a horse without shoes. A great deal of damage might be done by some pest descending on us out of the blue if we have not the research institute to deal with pests. When Mr. Cameron was here some two years ago he mentioned that in one district in Canada with which he was familiar a very large area of virgin forest was wiped out in four or five years by some insect which suddenly appeared and multiplied as fast as bacteria are supposed to multiply.

The next point is that in Mr. Cameron's report he mentioned 3,000 acres as a forest unit. That would be the ideal thing if we could reach it. During my time I chose to be guided by the officials of the Department. As they have acquired a vast amount of experience for which I have the greatest respect, I recommend the Minister to take their advice in this matter. While they have set their goal at 3,000 acres, a 3,000 acre block in my opinion is definitely too large. It would be the ideal if we could reach it, but the peculiar system of land tenure here and the land hunger which exists in certain places preclude us from setting our goal so high.

I should like to know what planting programme the Minister is undertaking in the present year. I know there were arrangements made in the Department for a planting programme of very close on 20,000 acres. It may not be wise to plant 20,000 acres this year, as the director and the officials will have to use their judgment as to how the fencing material and other materials which are not available in the country are coming in. It may not be wise to use all the fencing material this year and have a crop of young transplants in the nursery coming on for planting with no place to plant them or the necessary material to protect them. I ask the Minister to be guided entirely by the staff of the Department in that regard. It is too big a question for any one man to decide, particularly a non-expert. I was anxious to reach the 20,000 acres goal myself. If the officials of the Department advised me that it would not be good management taking the long-term view into account, I would not have done it, much as I would have liked to achieve that goal. I ask the Minister not to go to the full 20,000 acres even though I suspect that the Department are in a position to plant 20,000 acres this year. I believe the correct figure is 19,700 acres for this year. It may not be wise to use all the plantable land and the fencing materials if there is not a reasonable certainty that the supply of fencing material will come in. If the present conflict in the East comes to an end, perhaps the position may ease off to a large extent.

I ask the Minister to let us know what he intends to do about Kinnitty Castle. Foresters' houses are very necessary. The Department has been hamstrung ever since its birth, I might say, by reason of the fact that there was not suitable accommodation for foresters. Until sufficient accommodation at forestry centres is provided, staff cannot be moved around from place to place or the good men used to the best advantage.

Dundrum sawmill has been completely reorganised and is turning out the very best dried timber, and the most modern wood-working machinery has been installed there. I say to the Minister: Go ahead and do not limit yourself to 12 houses per year, because there is something in the neighbourhood of 90 or 100 houses needed in all the forestry centres of the Department. Until that target has been reached neither the Department nor the foresters will be able to go ahead to the best advantage with their work. I do not know how the new sawmill in Cong has progressed, but I am aware that the machinery is already installed. I hope that the Minister will not close his eyes or throw any obstacle in the way of that project because, from the financial point of view, there is a very valuable and a very jealously watched item at the end of the Estimate called Appropriations-in-Aid. I do not want the Minister to stop at the erection of Cong sawmill; I would like him to erect many more like it.

A valuable amount of commercial timber stands in our forests all over the country and wherever there is a suitable block of such timber it should be cut down and replanting done. Replanting has grown in the course of the past few years from something like 40,000 or 50,000 acres to round about 110,000 acres this year. The acreage should be double that amount, because we will not have any proper regard for forestry until we can see it as a paying proposition. The only way to prove it as such is to make full use of the timber growing. Our country has one of the most suitable climates in the world for growing timber, apart from tropical countries.

The policy of afforestation and the policy of relieving congestion are very closely interlocked. As I have said dozens of times, the Land Commission could do very useful work in areas where the quality of the land is poor. We do not look for large blocks of forest land in those areas. They cannot grow as excellent timber as the fertile plains. However, from a national point of view, it would not be good management if we were to use for timber production fertile land which is so suitable for agricultural purposes, food production and so on. No matter what the Land Commission does in the mountainous areas, it can never improve the quality of the land, thereby bringing it the necessary prosperity.

Planned employment of a productive nature is what these areas require. I do not want to harp on the point too much, as I believe the Minister knows as much about it as I do. Let afforestation be developed in the mountainous areas and wherever there is congestion. Depopulation should not be allowed to occur there, and it can be stopped to a large extent by bringing in foresters. These forestry officials know their job, and they have been working in close harmony with the Land Commission in that regard. The Forestry Department can do much more than the Land Commission to stem depopulation of rural areas from which emigration is heaviest. The few localities where forestry centres have been opened in the West of Ireland have proved that fact already. Young men have relinquished good wages in England and come home, just for the sake of being at home, even though they receive here only half what they earned in England.

I do not intend to dwell any further on that point. I would like to say much more if I had sufficient time.

The final point I want to make is this. The Minister made reference to a market for thinnings. Shortly before I left office, I think Wallboards were very interested in thinnings, and I would be more than delighted to hear that they are prepared to purchase.

They are.

I am glad of that. I hope the Minister, when replying, will tell me what use he intends to make of Kinnitty Castle and, if he has the actual figures, how much of the land that came in—I think there were about 1,200 acres there—will be given to the Land Commission for Land Commission purposes.

I am not in a position to say.

I do not know if the Minister is going to be allowed any time to reply.

There and a half hours were allocated for discussion on the land group and included in that group was the discussion on forestry. I, as a member, have been here since 5.45 p.m. waiting to speak on forestry. I do not want to make it difficult for the Chair and the House. I believed that when there was a so-called gentlemen's agreement in the House, that agreement would be kept. I listened to members speaking here breaking the time limit on discussion. Apparently forestry in this country is not a national problem. To many members it is of no importance. Even the ex-Minister showed lack of co-operation, in so far as the Minister took ten minutes and the ex-Minister took 17 minutes. It is useless for us to speak on forestry, and I say now to those present and to the members who are not in the chamber it shows their lack of sincerity in discussing this vitally important matter when, through lack of co-operation and through personal ideas of their own, this Estimate is being treated in a disgraceful and dishonest manner. It is being left to the officials again in the future, as in the past, to continue something that some of us do not believe in and on which, though we do not believe in it, we have been denied the right to speak.

The House made an order fixing the time limit in respect of each Estimate.

Might I ask the Minister to endeavour as far as possible to reply to the question raised by Deputy Blowick in regard to Kinnitty Castle and to give an indication as to what amount of land in the Kinnitty Castle estate will be acquired for forestry purposes alone? I should also like to know if he will take steps to see that the lands which are arable will not be planted but divided among local and deserving applicants.

I am not in a position to make a definite answer.

Will the Minister make inquiries?

The Minister might let us know by letter.

We have not yet decided on this matter. The intention was to send the second year forestry trainees to Kinnitty Castle. At the moment we are dealing with Shelton Abbey, trying to get the place in order for the transfer from Avondale. We have not got the tractors. I am informed that we have got all the ploughs but that there has been some difficulty. However, I will try to let Deputy Blowick have further information about this matter in which he is interested.

With regard to the programme for the coming year, I do not know about the 20,000 acres mentioned here. If this was the target, it seems to be greater than what is now found possible; 12,500 acres is what is expected.

Vote put and agreed to.