asked the Minister for Agriculture whether it has been brought to his notice that for some months past the sanctioning of new work under the Land Project has been so drastically curtailed as to amount comparatively to an almost complete shut-down, and that contractors have had to dispense with almost 80 per cent. of their skilled men, and that some have had to dispose of their machinery; and, if so, if he will make a statement on the matter.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Land Project Schemes.
I am not aware and do not accept that the position is as set out in the Deputy's question. The position, in fact, is that expenditure under the Land Project up to the 30th November in the current financial year was £2,012,000 as compared with an expenditure of £1,866,000 during the corresponding period of 1955-56, that is an increase of £146,000. A balance of approximately £679,000 is available for the remainder of the year and it is anticipated that approximately the same amount will be expended this year as last year, when the expenditure was the highest ever recorded.
On the 17th October last, I received representatives of the Land Project Contractors' Association and discussed the operation of the project generally with them. I pointed out that the number of contractors had increased considerably and that with the technical skill they have acquired they were disposing of work more rapidly with the result that work and earnings were necessarily more thinly spread over their increased numbers.
In 1954-55 there were 126 contractors seeking contract work under the Land Project; there are now 174, and it is manifest that unless it were thought desirable to expand the annual appropriation for the project indefinitely and to increase the staff to an unwarranted extent, it would not be possible to provide continuous employment for a continuously increasing number of contractors engaged on land reclamation work.
I am satisfied that work under the project is proceeding normally and will continue to do so.
I should like one point clarified. I presume the Minister is aware that the question as I worded it asks whether the matter has been brought to his notice? Would the Minister now state whether the people who made representations to him, that contractors had to dispense with 80 per cent. of their skilled men, were making representations on what are now discovered to be untruths?
I make it a sovereign rule of life never to allege deliberate untruths against my neighbour——
There are certain exceptions to prove every rule. But that there may be misapprehension or misunderstanding on the part of people who have overlooked the fact that their own numbers have increased from 126 to 174 is to my mind very understandable. However, the fact remains that, from my point of view, I cannot give as much employment out of the same sum of money to 174 contractors as I did to 126 and unless I ask Dáil Éireann to give me unlimited sums of money and authority to employ unlimited numbers of civil servants to supervise the expenditure of the money, I cannot undertake to employ all the contractors no matter how many enter into this business.