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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 20 Jul 1961

Vol. 191 No. 9

Committee on Finance - Vote 40—Forestry (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:—
"That the Estimate be referred back for reconsideration."—(Deputy O.J. Flanagan).

On the question of sales of home-grown timber for ordinary commercial purposes, I am glad to note that a good deal of the old prejudice against native timber has died out. The practice that existed from time immemorial up to about 1948 or 1949, whereby the best Irish timber was sawn up and sold to the customer with the sap dripping out of it, did more damage than anything I know of. The result was that customers who burned their fingers with it would not touch it again. Since the starting of kiln drying by the Department in their mills, I am glad to note that other sawmills have installed adequate means of drying timber and of putting it on the market in as good shape as the foreign product.

The time has come for the Department to give a certain amount of protection to the name of Irish timber. It is not good enough to allow our own citizens, for the sake of profit and through carelessness, to destroy the name of one of our most valuable products. This is like the Department of Agriculture insisting that farmers, for their own good should rid their herds of T.B. and I think it would not be too much to ask those handling native timber to ensure that they do not damage its name or reputation simply through greed or carelessness.

I was very interested in the experiments carried out at my direction in the plantations established on the poorest quality peat land in the West of Ireland. There are three of them pretty close to myself and the Minister, one at Shrahmore. I think the name of the forest is Nephinbeg, a huge area planted on poor quality peat. There is a similar one at Cloosh in Connemara outside Oughterard and a third at Glenamoy in North Mayo. At Glenamoy, the quality of the bog is much better. The severest tests of the possibility of growing timber on poor quality land have taken place at Nephinbeg in Mayo and at Cloosh in Galway. The Minister might have referred to these in his opening speech and told us how they are getting on.

If I remember correctly, there must be about 5,000 acres planted at Nephinbeg where a large proportion of it is of a very poor type, so poor that when a small pilot plot was put down, the experts believed the trees could not survive. They got a little help by way of fertiliser. Even if we succeed in getting second quality timber to grow on such land, it will be well worth while and the shedding of the foliage of the first crop will condition the soil to produce a better crop in the following rotation. Would the Minister be good enough to tell us exactly what is happening there? His technical advisers will know all about these matters.

I was dealing before Question Time with planting in the west of Ireland. It is only right that the largest area of plantation should be along the west coast because there we have the greatest area of land suitable only for afforestation. While very fine plantations are established in Wicklow and some scattered places in the midlands, it is along the west coast that we must look for land for afforestation purposes. The Minister told us that something like 48 per cent. of the land intake during the year was along the west coast. I am very glad of that because of the very poor quality of the land there and it is from that area that the emigration is greatest. If we can use State money to establish plantations there and hold some of the people, we shall be doing good work. Such land is contributing a little towards agricultural output in providing sheep grazing but there is a factor now very noticeable to anybody going through the mountainous areas in the west, that is, the peculiar spread of ferns.

In 1950, Wicklow farmers told me that ferns had banished the sheep farmers off the land there and I see the same thing happening now in the West. It may be a climatic change. I do not know if anybody can account for it but more and more deaths of stock from fern poisoning are occurring. This, with other factors, discourages people on the mountain farms and timber seems to be the only thing that can be introduced. We cannot afford to leave such large tracts derelict. The situation will not be too bad if we can replace the livestock with timber after the ferns have done their deadly work of driving the farmers from the hills. Timber will hold some of the population.

I was very disappointed at the number of men now employed, 4,653, an average of 126 less than the year before. Although there is probably a very good reason for it, I find it hard to understand this fall. When I handed over the Department to Deputy Childers in 1957, if I remember correctly, the number of labourers employed by the Forestry Branch exceeded 5,000. At that time planting had reached about 17,500 or 20,000 acres and the number employed was over 5,000. Now when 5,000 more acres per year are being planted, the number of men employed has dropped. Is this due to the increased use of machinery?

Efforts to promote private planting have flopped, largely because the grants are insufficient. The cost to the Forestry Branch of planting an acre, including the purchase of the land, works out at about £108 per acre. That is calculated by taking the overall cost to the Department and dividing it by the number of acres planted. I admit there is not much comparison between private planting and what the Forestry Branch does, but the gap between £20 and £108 is too great and if we want to induce land owners to plant, we must sweeten the pill, so to speak, with better grants and also by offering to keep such land free of rates.

I take a great interest in this Estimate each year because I believe it is absolutely necessary to stop the outlay of £10,000,000 or £11,000,000 a year on imported timber and wood products. It is essential that we supply our needs from our own resources. We have the land, the people to produce the timber and a climate in which timber can be raised as successfully as in any other country. We must consider also the flight from the land and it is where the quality of the land is poorest that emigration is greatest. In those circumstances, the Forestry Section can do a very good job by keeping at least some of our population at home, even if it means changing from farming and wage-earning to a livelihood of complete wage-earning in forestry work. I have never known forestry workers, sure of getting constant employment, anxious to emigrate, although it is quite possible they could get better wages across the water.

I am very proud of our forestry development, although I feel a little embarrassment in speaking on this Vote each year, since I was largely responsible for bringing forestry to what it is today. That, however, will not prevent me from giving advice to whatever Minister is in office and from taking an active interest in forestry and trying to ensure that the baby I had in my charge for a while is thriving, thanks, not so much to the Minister, but rather to the officials of his Department who know their job and do it well.

The only thing the Minister has to be proud of is the fact that he did not tamper with the machine. He sat idly by and let the machine do the work. I offer him my sincerest thanks for not putting the machine off the rails; I congratulate him on leaving it alone. The Minister takes some interest in the Fisheries Branch. More power to his elbow. He should remember, however, that it is to the Land Commission and the Forestry Branch that many people look for a livelihood and for an improvement in their lot in life. The Minister should not stand idly by and devote all his attention to Fisheries, leaving the other machines to run as they will. I am glad he did not interfere with the Forestry machine, but, good as it is, there are still improvements to be made in it.

Steps will have to be taken now to absorb what I estimate at not less than 8,000,000 cubic feet of timber which will come out of our forests in seven or eight years time. I cannot see a local market for all that timber but it has to be remembered that we pay £6 million or £7 million every year to foreign countries for pulp produced from timber similar to what we grow here. Thinnings should be turned into paper, thereby providing very necessary employment and keeping so much sterling at home, while, at the same time, considerably decreasing our need for dollar currency. These are the things to which the Minister should turn his attention.

The planting programme of 25,000 acres annually initiated by the first inter-Party Government has been achieved and the programme is now running smoothly. I have complete faith in the officials of the Forestry Branch. I appreciate the difficulty there is in acquiring the necessary acreage each year to keep up the plantable reserve. There are some fairly big issues involved. One is the possibility of increasing the planting programme to 30,000 acres per year.

I impress upon the Minister the absolute necessity of making provision now for utilising the vast cubic footage of timber which will come out of our forests in the next eight or ten years. It will be a national crime if that timber is felled and allowed to rot, while we continue to pay £6 million or £7 million for imported paper, paper which we could produce ourselves from our own raw materials.

Finally, I should like to compliment the officials of the Forestry Branch on the excellent work they are doing, sometimes with very poor help from this House. It is only right we should acknowledge their work. In a few years time, this is one branch of Government activity which will pay its way. Instead of the Minister coming in here looking for money, he will be coming in with an account which will show a profit earned, a profit which he will hand over to the Minister for Finance.

I am prompted to rise by the Minister's statement that he feels a justifiable pride in the progress made in forestry development. I wonder is the Minister proud of the timber that is now coming to maturity, timber planted by the Cumann na nGaedheal Government? Or is he proud of the fact that last year a sum of £100,000 was left unspent? That surplus could have been diverted to dealing with unemployment and emigration. The fact that such things can happen shows there is a definite lacuna in Government policy. I am glad to see a sum of practically £3,000,000 earmarked this year. That is money that will be well spent, because it will come back. Afforestation is a long-term policy, but it is one with which we all agree.

I should like to draw attention to the danger of forest fires. Nobody should be allowed to park in any area adjoining a forest. One fire can undo 20 or 30 years' work. It can have devastating results. The Forestry Branch should enlist the services of the Garda and ask them to take better measures to deal with this matter of parking and the danger of fire in our forests. School children should be imbued with a greater interest in afforestation. The Forestry Branch should go all out on Arbour Day. I hope that in this financial year we will not have a surplus of money and a concomitant surplus of unemployed. A surplus shows a lack of policy planning.

I should like to draw attention now to a letter I got from the Forestry Branch in reply to representations I made on behalf of the Clonbur Development Society. They applied for a site for a swimming pool, a handball alley and a children's playground on lands adjoining an afforestation area adjacent to that village.

How does that arise on the Forestry Vote?

If you will bear with me, Sir, I will show you. The letter states that the Minister has fully investigated the possibilities of providing a suitable site and regrets that no such site is available on State forest lands. I put it to the Minister that these forest lands hold out the only hope for development of this village. The Minister may have the idea that no one should be permitted in the vicinity. Possibly that is so, but I should like to point out that these people cannot develop at the other end of the village. They must move towards the forests. I do not want them in the forest. I have already said that that is something that should not be encouraged because of the danger of fire and damage. In view, however, of the laudable work this committee proposes to undertake, I think the Minister should give way and provide some little corner. Our countryside is being denuded of youth. The young people are emigrating. The main reason for that is the lack of amenities. I suggest the Minister should reconsider his decision and try to meet those who have put forward this very worthy project.

With Deputy Blowick, I should like to congratulate the officials of the Forestry Branch. They have worked excellently, and under a handicap. I do not think the Minister can claim the kudos. Results have been achieved by the herculean efforts of the officials. I should like the Minister to have a more definite policy. If there is a surplus at the end of the year, it shows clearly that there is a lack of policy.

I rise to congratulate the Minister on his Estimate. He and the Forestry Branch are doing an excellent job of work. In my own constituency, I see the forests growing and expanding every day. Surely the Opposition must give the Minister some credit. I certainly would not deny credit to any Opposition Party, if they deserved it.

The previous speaker referred to money unspent. There is a reason, of course and I am sure the Minister will give the reason when he comes to reply. Some time ago, Deputy Coogan alleged here that houses were being closed in the vicinity of forests. I investigated that allegation and failed to find any house that had been closed. These are the forests in my constituency: the Rosscahill forest, the Cloosh valley forest, the Hill of Doon forest, Derryclare forest, and Maam Valley forest. I challenge anyone to tell me where there is a house closed around any of these forests I stand up here to contradict that statement.

I shall stand up at the crossroads and tell you where they are.

Reference has been made to an application by a group of people for a swimming pool, a handball alley and a playground in Clonbur. I have had some correspondence from these people and I was in the Department in that connection. I also led a deputation to the Minister who was very sympathetic but was sorry because the particular portion of land these people wanted has been planted for the past five or six years. The trees are approximately 10 to 12 feet high and if that request were to be granted, at least two acres of those young trees would have to be uprooted. That is hardly a reasonable request to make to the Minister for Lands. If land were available elsewhere, the Minister would be only too pleased to hand it over.

I should like to see the Minister speeding up the proceedings in regard to land offered for afforestation. I realise that this involves a great deal of work for the officers concerned. However, if there could be an inspection of the land carried out so as to give the people offering the land some indication whether the land will be accepted, these people would know where they were.

I wish to congratulate the Minister and his Department on everything they have done. The progress in forestry is a credit to them and I wish them every success.

There is a large measure of agreement on this Vote and we are all proud of the fact that there is a gradual expansion of forestry throughout the State. It does not matter who is responsible for it; it is there. Let Deputy Blowick take all the credit due to him. There is no doubt that during his term of office great emphasis was placed on the necessity for afforestation. Another gentleman who was in this House, the former Deputy MacBride, always advocated greater development in this direction. When men leave this House, they are soon forgotten, but, in fairness, that must be said about that former Deputy. There is a great deal to be said for the organisation called Trees because of the publicity they gave to our forest potential and the value forests are to our country.

It is a great thing to see Governments having continuity of policy on matters that are fundamental to the development of our country in order to maintain our own people. Even though there have been great developments, it must be remembered that we have been 39 years established as a free country and altogether to date, we have had only 330,000 acres planted, an average of about 8,000 acres a year. That falls very short of the target set for the past year and the target set for the coming year. At the planting rate of 25,000 acres per year, it will take four years to give us a plantable acreage of 100,000 and it will be 40 years before we arrive at the 1,000,000 acre mark.

I should like to ask the Minister if a survey has been made of all the possible plantable land. I agree that hitherto we have got the land that was perhaps most easily acquired; we have the flat portions on the waste lands of the countryside but there is a great deal of glen land and hill land that could be planted. That would add to the beauty of our country and would be a very valuable source of wealth if these trees could be utilised as contemplated. As the years go by, it will become more difficult to acquire land. The Minister has explained that there was a reduction in the current Estimate in connection with the acquisition of land. The Minister has explained that satisfactorily and those who have criticised it may not have been here in the morning when it was mentioned.

Forestry is one of our greatest potential money earners. It is the greatest form of development since the Shannon scheme and since rural electrification consequent on the Shannon scheme. It is a wise investment which will pay dividends eventually. It has a great potential for employment. It is very comforting to know we have today 4,600 forestry workers in this State. Not of least importance is the fact that forests transform the whole pattern of our island. There is nothing more beautiful than a growing forest. There is nothing in nature more inspiring than a young tree, so beautiful that no pen can describe it effectively and no artist can paint it realistically. That multiplied many times over in a forest gives that added beauty which is so enjoyed by those coming to this country.

We are glad to hear from the Minister that our timber has stood up to the analytical tests made on it and that for building purposes our timber compares favourably with that which has been used hitherto. Could the Minister say whether there has been any great research in regard to hardwoods? Is it possible at all to produce them in this island, in view of its humidity? In any event, it would be a comfort to know that there was continuous research and experimentation along those lines and that there was a possibility of increasing further the commercial potential of our young forests. We were glad also to hear that pinus contorta which is so common in our forests, has had uses beyond our conception and is very valuable.

The policy suggested by Deputy Flanagan of having large nurseries and eliminating the smaller ones seems to me to be a very wise one. There are 40 million plants produced out of those nurseries per annum. The time, care and attention involved in the propagation and cultivation of those plants must be considered. Whoever is in charge of the nurseries must have a good deal of anxiety because of pests and diseases of various kinds. It is a wonderful achievement to be able to produce 40,000,000 plants per annum. That is a fact that many people are not aware of.

Deputy Flanagan referred to publicity. The greatest publicity of all is the growing forest. The more forests there are throughout the State, the more their value is publicised. A certain amount of publicity is valuable and effective but we should publicise our nurseries and the fact that there are places like Avondale House, which has great historical associations, and which is now to be used as a forestry training depot. It is a pity it is not used also as a nursery to which regular visits could be arranged at a small charge in order to pay for the cost of upkeep and so on.

I should like to compliment the Forestry Branch on its selectiveness, good judgment and good taste in selecting Gougane Barra and the surrounding area as the first forest park in Ireland. I say that, not because I am a Cork man or Munster man, but because the scenery there is matchless. On the way through the pass of Keimaneigh towards the Kerry border and through Ballingeary on to Gougane Barra the scenery is breathtaking and along the Valley of Desmond by the banks of the Lee in its very early stages is something to be proud of. The terrain is very difficult and it will take a lot of excavation and labour to bring about the development the Forestry Branch envisage. It is proof of their courage and vision that they have undertaken a task of this kind and I hope when it comes to fruition it will be a monument to the Forestry Branch who were responsible for the selection of the site and will redound to the glory of our little island. Gougane Barra is associated with many historical epochs. It is in the Gaeltacht. For that reason I am very glad it has been selected as the site for the first forest park.

I am glad that this year I do not find myself in the position of having to force the Forestry Branch to take over a place that they had been offered for a period of 12 months. I am also glad that the lack of co-operation that heretofore appeared to exist between the Land Commission and the Forestry Branch in regard to taking over land has largely disappeared. On every other occasion that I have spoken on the Estimate for Forestry I have had to refer to that lack of co-operation. I am glad to be able to congratulate the forestry officials on the fact that the situation appears to have been considerably improved.

Before I go on to speak on general policy in regard to forestry, there are one or two small points of perhaps local interest which I should like to bring to the notice of the Minister. The policy of the Forestry Branch in marketing timber is to sell large quantities in the biggest market. That is a reasonable approach because they get a better sale and it is perhaps more economic to sell timber in that way but I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that the Vote for Forestry is provided by the taxpayers as a whole and there are, as the Minister knows, many small timber merchants scattered throughout the country who require timber and who have very little opportunity nowadays of buying timber other than from the State as the State owns practically all the forest land.

When they apply to the Forestry Branch these small merchants are inevitably told that the timber cannot be divided into small lots, that that would be uneconomic and that it is the duty of the Forestry Branch to sell in the most economic way. I consider that it is also the duty of the Forestry Branch to give small timber merchants an opportunity to buy timber. It should be quite feasible and possible where a large quantity of timber is for sale to divide it into a few small lots in order to give local people an opportunity of bidding for it. The State forests are their forests too. They should have equal rights with other citizens.

It seems to me that the overall direction of local forests and nurseries is conducted by people in offices in the city of Dublin, in the Department of Lands. It may very well be that the official directing policy may originally have been a forester and lived and worked in forests but in many cases that is not so. It does not seem to me to make for efficiency, nor is it an encouragement to a local forestry officer who is keen on his work, if he has to take direction from people who, to put it bluntly, have no practical knowledge of the work although they may have considerable theoretical knowledge. If the Minister has any doubt on this point, I should like to tell him that it is the policy in other countries to train persons connected with the Forestry Department on the spot as foresters or in forestry colleges and when they have acquired a practical knowledge of the work to return them to roost, so to speak, to the Department. In this country we tend to have overall directive policy conducted from the central office.

I do not want to say anything derogatory of the forestry officials but it is true to say that there are forestry officials directing overall policy who have no practical knowledge of woods. They may have gone from time to time in their motor cars from Dublin and looked at the woods but I doubt if they have worked as practical foresters.

Reference has been made to homegrown timber. The Minister referred to analytical tests, and so forth, as to the quality of homegrown timber. I do not think homegrown timber has ever got a fair chance. We must remember that, due to the climate we have here, timber matures and grows much faster than is the case in colder countries, such as Scandinavia, which goes in extensively for afforestation. I speak subject to correction by those who carried out analytical tests, which I have not done, but I suggest that where timber matures faster, as in this country, the tendency is to get a softer type of timber, which requires a longer maturing period.

In my travels in Europe, in France, Germany and Scandinavia, I have noticed that when a tree is felled it is immediately stripped of its bark, then put to lie out in the wood for a certain time to mature and subsequently transferred to the lumber yard where it remains for a considerable period. It is almost true to say that the average length that a felled tree lies in the forestry yards or forests of Europe is nine to twelve months before it is brought into the sawmill, cut up and used. That is why I say Irish timber has never got a fair chance.

I think it is perfectly true to say that Irish timber has stood the test very well and I think some direction could be given in some way by the Forestry Department— and it would not be very difficult for them to give that direction as they own most of the timber in Ireland — that a period should be given for the timber to mature. You would not then have the adverse comments one gets on Irish timber nor would there be that urge on the part of builders who use timber to look for the product outside their own country.

Now I come to the overall policy of the Forestry Department. Their aim is to acquire and sow 25,000 acres of timber annually. I have not got the actual figures before me but gradually over the years the amount of land they have acquired has been growing. The amount of land in the forestry pool has been growing from year to year. It is a fact about the Forestry Department or about any State Department in this country that anything they get they hold and never give it up again. I wonder is it good policy for the State to hold so much land? I wonder is it good policy for the Forestry Department to acquire land, plant it and keep it for all time. That is not the policy in other countries. In other countries the policy is to decentralise forestry.

Our policy has been praised by the Minister himself in his opening address and by other speakers. The amount of private afforestation is limited but private afforestation has been encouraged in other countries by handing over to private enterprise on a long term lease timber which is partially mature. It is very hard to convince people that they should sow timber when they themselves can never reap it in their own lifetime. It is very hard to convince people, farmers in particular who are busy at other things, to sow one, two or even more acres of timber starting from the beginning, because in the first instance they have little or no knowledge of timber or of the benefits of timber. They have never really seen plantations or studied timber. They have never had the opportunity of becoming timber minded.

I would suggest to the Forestry Department, who in their large acquisition of land are increasingly bringing us to the position where the State are getting control over more and more of the land of Ireland, that they could well consider laying off that land. In other words they have the experts, the personnel, at their disposal and they would still give employment. They would plant the land and have responsibility for maintenance, preserving fences and looking after the forests. It is true to say if you plant timber that after the first five years you have got to do a good amount of thinning, cutting down undergrowth and so on and that creates employment. The State therefore would create employment if they had to look after planting and laying out good forests, but if they rented those forests so that it would be free to private enterprise to look after them they would create an interest in the community as a whole in timber. That is the only way you will get an interest in the general public of this State in growing timber.

That is nothing new. It is done in every other country. If the State is prepared to lay out the plantation and after five years to lease it for 45 or 50 years at a certain annual rent when the land comes to maturity these people will use the timber. They may not be the same people who leased it. They may be their descendants, but it will create a timber minded feeling among the people of the country. That is done in Norway, Sweden and in all the countries of Europe. Practically all the forests in Europe are not completely State-owned. They start by being State-owned but then they are let to municipal or local authorities. They create employment, reduce the rates and provide firing as well for local institutions. We have now got to the state in this country — and it is a bad state of mind to get into — that the State must do everything for us: let us get the State to buy everything, look after afforestation and give all the employment.

Are we wise in doing that? What is the answer if you do not do it? You are going on with the State acquiring more and more land and the Minister for Lands coming year after year to tell us that he has sown 25,000 acres and employed 5,000 men. As the years roll by — and they roll by very quickly —we shall reach the state of affairs where the State owns too much land. In my humble submission they own too much already. We are a free people devoted to our private rights and private property and Dáil Éireann should be slow to encourage a policy of gradually handing over everything to the State. Anything done by private enterprise is done better than by the State.

Admittedly in the case of forestry you have to make a beginning, work out the plantation of trees, clear them, fence them and look after them, but having done that, I submit that State control should then end. I am not asking them now to hand over everything. I know I am talking to deaf ears as far as the Forestry Department are concerned. Their policy is to get hold of land, sow it, keep it and never surrender it again, but surely there must be some little thinking done in this country and some Minister will have the courage and initiative to institute a new policy, reverse the present policy and utilise the Forestry Department to build up forests but ensure that it will not be the Forestry Department or the State that will benefit but the nation as a whole. I have said this nearly every year in Dáil Éireann since I became a Deputy. Perhaps this might be my last run because one never knows what might happen in the next few weeks, but perhaps some time I shall not find that what I have said has fallen on deaf ears.

I have just a few remarks to make, mainly local remarks, because I do not want to hold up the debate. I want to ask the Minister why there has been such a significant decrease in the area of new plantations in County Wexford. There has been an overall increase in the area planted over the last two, three or four years but there has been a significant decrease in some places. One of them is Wexford. Others are Louth and Carlow, for example. If there is to be, as there has been, a continuous forestry drive over the country, it is only right that various areas should participate equally. The Minister has stated, he has boasted of the fact, that afforestation has gone on apace in the West of Ireland, in Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon and other parts. Everybody welcomes that because such work and such employment is desirable in the West, in the Connaught counties, where tillage is absolutely nil and grazing is not as good as in other parts of Ireland, but the decrease in new plantations in Co. Wexford has been from 843 acres in 1958-59 to 535 in 1960-61. There has been a big decrease in Carlow where in 1958-59 the areas of new plantations were 439 acres and have now gone down to 117 acres.

The Minister may say that there is difficulty in acquiring land. I could understand that to some extent but if the Minister continues to offer the price he has been in the habit of offering in Wexford, at least, it will be very difficult for him to get more land, not necessarily in Wexford.

I had occasion during the past few months to make approaches with regard to offers of small areas of land and I gleaned from the reply to a Parliamentary Question that the average price per acre was £6, £7 or £8. I know the type of land needed for forestry is not supposed to be of excellent or very good quality; but I do not know what the Minister expects to get for £6, £7 or £8 per acre. Therefore, I should be pleased if the Minister would comment on what I describe as the spectacular reduction in the area of new plantations in Wexford.

I should like to support Deputy Blowick in his plea that there should be a discontinuance of the abandonment of small nurseries and the establishment of big nurseries. That certainly could militate against employment. I do not want forestry to be regarded as a social service but the Government have accepted the obligation of providing employment through afforestation and I think they should have regard to the amount of employment given as against the amount of timber produced. It was very unwise of the Minister and the officials of his Department to abandon the nursery at Bree in Wexford. It gave a substantial amount of employment. It was not successful in accordance with the economic standards laid down by the Minister and the forestry experts, but I believe it should not have been abandoned in the way it has been abandoned. It may not have been absolutely economic but it could have been made a little more economic than it was.

There is no nursery centre now in Wexford that I am aware of. The nursery centre for two or three counties is in some part of Carlow. I should like to stress again the fact that those nurseries do provide a certain amount of employment which is badly needed in the rural areas, not only in Wexford but in other counties as well.

Deputy Esmonde said that it is not the duty of the State to engage too actively or for all time in afforestation and accept the responsibility of providing employment. I hold the contrary view. Now that the Department have accepted that it is their job to develop afforestation, they also have the obligation, and should accept it, in consequence of that decision to provide employment.

If the nurseries are to be abandoned in certain counties, and if there is to be a reduction in the area of new plantations, I certainly think it will affect employment as I am sure it has in Carlow, Louth and my own county of Wexford.

I should like, first of all, to thank the different Deputies who paid tributes to the officials of the Forestry Division of my Department. I think those tributes are very well deserved. The results of their labours over the past year, or indeed the past two years, show that the House and the nation are well served by our field staff, by our executives, and by everyone connected with the work being carried on by the Department.

Deputy Flanagan spoke at some length about the comparative State aid available for private forestry in this country and in various other countries. He quoted Sweden particularly as a place where large private afforestation is being carried on. The Deputy must realise that, in Sweden, the forestry area consists almost entirely of land which was never reclaimed for agricultural use. So far as I know, over half of the Swedish forestry is held in private ownership. They have very large stretches of forest. They have had natural regeneration for years and conditions there and the whole set-up there are completely different from the conditions we have here. I would say that our State aid to private forestry is at least as generous, so far as I can find out, as it is anywhere else in the world.

Deputies may not realise the magnitude of the task undertaken here in keeping up a planting programme of 25,000 acres per annum. In relation to our population, that is the largest programme being undertaken anywhere in Western Europe at this time, if not, in fact in the world. While I am always optimistic, let me say that we will be doing very well if we are able to keep that programme going steadily, and to get the necessary amount of land that is required to keep it up, and to keep a reasonable plantable reserve. I gave particulars in my opening statement as to the number of transactions involved in getting in sufficient land for that programme.

It is also true to say that as time goes by, the problems of the intake machinery of the Forestry Division will get more and more difficult. From my recent visit to the Forestry Commission, I discovered that in Wales the average size of the lot now taken in is down to 30 acres. Wales has had forestry traditions down through the ages and it is a place where they were used to getting areas of 2,000 or 3,000 acres in one stretch. It is true that the position is not quite so bad in Scotland but the British Forestry Commission are experiencing the same difficulty now. As time goes on, the amount of land becoming available is getting smaller and smaller on the intake side.

The House, therefore, should realise that while I do not set 25,000 acres as the ultimate limit — and in fact as I have told the House, we exceeded that in the acreage planted this year— with the practical difficulties we are experiencing on the intake side and in maintaining plantable reserves, we shall be doing very well if we can continue with the record figures for intake and planting which have been achieved during the past two years.

Some Deputies inquired about what progress had been made, or what we have learned, as a result of research in afforestation on deep peats. Provability resulting from such researches becomes available only after a long period. Initial indications however, are quite favourable and are influencing our view in our current planting programme. One of the matters I might mention in this connection is that it takes time to estimate and assess the effect of windblow on peat that is planted. While the young plants that have been put down under recent experiments are doing very well, even in these very exposed areas in Glenamoy, Cloosh and elsewhere, it is too soon to estimate how they may stand up to wind exposure — and you have very high velocities in these areas — in the future. In so far as they are progressing at the moment the evidence is very satisfactory. They seem to be doing quite well but it would be unrealistic at this stage to be positive about the results of these experiments particularly in respect of what I have said about windblow.

We have seen and collected some interesting information from the Afforestation Commission about these problems. There are different theories even amongst the experts as to whether crown thinning is the more desirable form of development, or whether the type of thinning we do here is the better form of development. As I said, experts are divided in their views on these issues and only time will prove whether these experiments, from the point of view of effectively standing up to great exposures and great wind velocities, will be successful. At all events, in so far as we have gone in these experiments the results are quite encouraging and we have got a vast amount of information as to suitable species and how they will do and progress under different soil conditions and at different altitudes.

Deputy Flanagan raised the question of the handing over of the cutaway bogs by Bord na Móna. I can inform the Deputy and the House that my Department are in touch with Bord na Móna on this issue. There are difficulties there but it is a matter that is not being lost sight of and discussions are going on at this time.

Some Deputy, if not more than one Deputy, made some point about the use of thigh boots by foresters. I answered a question on this matter in the House not very long ago and, as I said, any medical opinion that is available to me on the matter assured me there are no medical grounds on which anybody can object to somebody utilising another person's boots, or boots that had been used by another man.

Would the Minister say if he would like to use the boots of somebody else?

As the Deputy puts that point to me, I think I stated in reply to a Supplementary Question, that time and again when I was going fishing I used other people's boots. Whether I was able to fill them successfully or not is another matter. Recently when my opposite number in Ontario, Canada, was visiting here and we were out in the forests, he had no objection to using my boots and he survived. Some people may be sensitive on this issue. I want to tell the House that this type of boot is rarely in use and it would be impracticable to assign boots permanently to individual workers. There is, of course, no objection in the world, as I stated, to any worker who is very sensitive about the odd occasions he has to use these boots, bringing his own. He is quite entitled to do so and there would be no objection from my officials or my Department to his bringing his own boots and utilising them.

If they could bring their own boots that would solve the problem.

I can assure the Deputy and the House they are quite entitled to do so. There would be no objection from my Department if they did wish to bring their own boots and use them. The Deputy also inquired whether anything could be done to secure more roadside planting of poplars. As the Deputy and the House is aware, such planting can only be done by the owner of the land adjoining the road, or by the local authority if it owns the roadside or owns the land adjoining the road. I should say that there is a special grant for planting poplars. It covers row planting and it will be freely available where the soil is suitable for poplars. In this connection we have given considerable attention to what I call amenity planting and that aspect of our work will become more and more prominent as time goes on.

I agree with Deputy Manley with regard to what he said about the beauties of Gougane Barra. It was while on a visit some time ago to the forest at Gougane Barra that I decided it was the obvious place to start our programme of bringing forests to the people and opening them for tourism. I could not agree more with the Deputy when he states that the scenery there is breathtaking. It is particularly so in what the Americans call "the Fall" of the year with the wonderful blaze of colour between the Japanese Plane trees intermixed with the conifers which we have there. It was for that reason — its natural beauty and the forest enveloped in all its colour — that we have decided to make it what I would call the first free park that we have in this country.

Let me say also that the amenity aspect of forestry will become more and more apparent as time goes on and as plantations grow. One of the difficulties is that by virtue of their locations our forests are not very well known to the public. They are usually off the beaten track and, in many instances, the public are unaware of the progress that has been made and the amount that has been planted. I have no doubt at all that, in a few years' time, some of our forest centres will become as popular, from a tourist point of view, as the Black Forest is in Germany and the forests in other countries which attract so much interest and so many visitors. In this connection I shall have something to say before I conclude dealing with the necessity for educating our people and especially our young people in regard to guarding against forest fires arising from carelessness.

As the House knows, we have not a forestry tradition. I believe that in many cases it is due to ignorance that people make a mess of the place around a forest. We have instances of vandalism and, in particular, people are careless about throwing away cigarette butts or lighting fires in the vicinity of forests. I hope to enlist the aid of the Minister for Education in getting this lesson home in the schools. It is necessary, now that there is such a large investment of State capital in forestry here and such a large development of forestry throughout the country, that our people as a whole should become more forest-conscious and more alive to the dangers of being careless in the vicinity of forests.

Would the Minister not consider soliciting the support of Radio Éireann and having warnings repeatedly broadcast in relation to the danger of forest fires?

We issue warnings from time to time. I shall have the Deputy's suggestion considered. There is an urgent need for more public co-operation in the protection of our plantations. Since the beginning of this year no less than 310 fires occurred in or near State plantations. They had to be extinguished by the forest staff and local fire-fighting services, assisted in some cases by military personnel. Fortunately, the damage caused is slight due to the efforts of the fire fighters but the danger of really serious damage is becoming progressively more real with the rapid increase of the area under plantation.

The burning of gorse, heather, and so on, in the vicinity of plantations by mountain farmers is a serious menace. If our farmers engage in such burnings without giving notice, as required by law, they might find themselves not only liable to prosecution in our courts but also to the payment of compensation in respect of any damage caused to forest property. If, on the other hand, they co-operate with my Department, and give advance notice to the local forester, these burnings can be carried out safely and under controlled conditions.

There is a special danger of forest fire in County Dublin and County Wicklow. Large numbers of people, particularly young people from Dublin City, visit the forest areas in South County Dublin and in County Wicklow at holidays, weekends, and so on. Most of these people respect forest property and are careful to do nothing to damage it but there are the thoughtless and irresponsible few who cause serious damage to the young plantations of these areas. The extent of the depredation done by some of these people is appalling. Trees were cut or damaged. Fires were lighted in the middle of plantations. Fire warning notices were pulled down, defaced or destroyed.

As far as our evidence goes, there have been a few instances of deliberate fire-raising by some of these irresponsible young people. Only for the vigilance of these foresters as well as of the Gárda Síochána there is no doubt that serious damage would already have been caused. Hitherto, my officials have been rather lenient with these people. They have been inclined to warn them and let them get away in the hope that they will learn something and appreciate the value of our forests and our plantations to the nation. I fear that in view of some recent evidence that has come before me I shall have to direct my officials to deal with these vandals with the full rigour of the law from this on. I ask the support of the House in taking these steps to ensure that this vandalism will be discontinued.

That is the only way to deal with it.

Deputy Blowick raised a number of questions on this Estimate and, as briefly as I can, I propose to deal with them. As far as the point that the Deputy made about small plantations is concerned, I think Deputy Manley very effectively dealt with that issue. The small nurseries were not done away with solely from the point of view of economy. Indeed, economy was the last question involved. The position, as Deputies will realise, is that a huge amount of young plants are now required to deal with the intensified planting programme. Many of these small nurseries were located on unsuitable soil, subject to all the hazards of disease. Production was inefficient. The end product, the plant, which is so vital, was not up to standard. It was to deal with that aspect of the matter rather than any aspect of economy that more suitable nurseries, nurseries of more suitable size, have been acquired and are now in production.

The Deputy mentioned the nursery at Moore Hall in County Mayo which comprised two small plots totalling 11 acres which had a very modest employment capacity, not the figure quoted by the Deputy. This nursery was primarily closed because of the adverse high lime content in the soil. The general nursery policy of concentrated large units is not an economy measure at all. It is for the purpose of producing better plants on better soil. It is part of the planned programme in which the Forestry Division have been engaged, although Deputy Blowick and some other Deputies accused us of not planning ahead.

For these nurseries the Forestry Division pays not the amount that we generally pay for forestry land. Nursery land, as I am sure is apparent to most members of the House, is a different thing altogether. We need special soil conditions. We require special properties in the land in order to have a successful nursery. My Department are now engaged in acquiring suitable nurseries of suitable size with the best type of land for that purpose. That will be reflected in the better type of plant that will be available not alone for State forests but for the nursery trade as a whole.

I think it was Deputy Blowick who inquired as to how we sold or dealt with the amount of thinnings, including the surplus plants, we had during the past year. In the main, the thinnings went to the wallboard factory in Athy and those other pulp factories we have, and portion of them went to the Clondalkin paper factory that is now producing newsprint on a limited scale and, I must say, producing it very well.

I entirely disagree with the Deputy when he suggests that private enterprise is not able or will not be geared to deal with the production of pulp products in this country or to deal with the increasing output of our forests. Indeed, all the evidence I have seen is to the contrary. There are already a number of industries building up based on our raw material that is available and is becoming available. A national survey is being carried out by my staff in both an aerial and factual form to assess what the output of our forests will be.

I cannot foretell what the intake of our acquisition machine will be in 1970. I can only estimate what will become available by way of raw material for industries based on wood pulp or thinnings over a number of years to come. We are engaged in that very job at this time. I have no doubt at all from what I have seen in this country and abroad that private enterprise will be fully able to deal with the output as it becomes available in our forests here. I have compared the plants operating here with those abroad and, comparatively speaking, they are doing the very excellent job for which they are geared. I have no doubt that if the raw material becomes available, these people or others like them will get geared for the increased output of our forests when they are assured that it will be there.

I think Deputy Blowick inquired about contorta pine which was tested at Prince's Risborough and where it was grown. It was grown at a level of 700 feet on shallow peat overlying mineral soil. It was only 27 years of age, and an important factor there is that though it should give less favourable results than might be expected in older timber, the results, taking full account of the source and age of the material tested over there, and the promising report, legitimately justify optimism in relation to contorta pine grown on western peat soils. Lack of fertility in the western peat lands which retards growth and affects the timber quality has not been adverse, and if this test has proved one of Deputy Blowick's pet theories wrong, I can only say that the experts have given us this report, not here but from abroad, and that it encourages us to believe that pinus contorta is going to be a very valuable timber from the usage point of view, and we are encouraged in our planting programme to take cognisance of the reports we have got on these samples we have sent there.

I do not know where Deputy Blowick got his calculation that a State forest costs £108 an acre to plant, including the acquisition price. I can only say that he must be as wrong in that conclusion as he is and has been in many of his other conclusions as expressed here, because the actual cost, including the price of the land to the State of acquisition, planting, and fencing is £36 an acre. How Deputy Blowick blows this up to £108 an acre, I do not know, but, as I have said, I cannot indicate to the House what form of reasoning or mathematics he used to get that fantastic figure.

He suggests that the grant is not sufficient to interest people on the private planting side. On the contrary, it is more than generous. Indeed, where people go in for planting on a large scale, as they are entitled to do, I should like to point out that it is more than is available in any other country I know, and I have already pointed out elsewhere that hard-headed business men with an eye to the future have been taking advantage of these generous grants in making a private investment in private forestry in this country.

It is true to say, of course, that the amount of private forestry here is small. The big job has been commenced by the State and will have to be largely finished by the State. There is a big State investment in this business, and it has been progressing apace.

It is true that the labour force approximates to something like 4,800 at the moment, and what has been aimed at by the Forestry Division is stability for those working in the industry. It is also true that due to the incentive bonus scheme, the output of the workers is far higher now than it was. Let me say that I consider it more desirable to have a steady labour force permanently employed rather than have a flush of labour for one season and unemployment for half of them the next.

It is untrue to say that machinery or mechanism has played any part except a helpful one in this business. Indeed only for the mechanisation in ploughing of much of the type of land planted now, there would not be nearly so many men required, because we could not plant it. It is due to new techniques that have been discovered, particularly in mechanical ploughing and manuring, that a lot of planting can be now done, so that machinery which has been used to bring forestry land into production which a few short years ago was regarded even by our own experts as unplantable contributes in its own way to the employment of more men. I should like to assure the House that any judgment or assessment that can be made in my Department indicates that the machinery contributes to more employment on forestry land.

The fact is that all men working at forestry, like men working in any other line, acquire skill in the course of their experience, and an ordinary hardworking forestry worker with a few years experience will have a much greater output than a raw worker brought in to do forestry work for the first time. Therefore, as time has progressed, what I call the hard core of the labour force are now virtually all experienced men, whose output is higher, and the incentive bonus scheme, which applies to skills acquired by those men in the different types of forestry work, has contributed to higher output from a smaller number of men. That is the real reason we are planting much more and getting much more work done with a lesser labour force that possibly was employed before the job was planned some years ago.

If this programme continues, it means, as I said in my opening statement, that there will be employment for more and more men. The more the intake of land and the more we can continue year by year with the planting of 25,000 acres, the more will be the number of people who will be employed in the industry, not only in the industry in the field, but in the factories and industries that use timber in any of its forms for their raw material.

In the main, I know that this Estimate is acceptable to the House and that the progress being made under this section of my Department is praised by Deputies on all sides of the House. Before I conclude, perhaps, I should say this. I am accused by Deputy Blowick of standing, as he puts it, idly by and doing nothing about forestry. He suggested to the House that I am solely interested in the Fisheries Section of my Department. If I am standing idly by, I want to assure the House that I have some figures for my Department which do not indicate idleness over the past two years.

Last year we achieved, as the House knows, 25,000 acres of planting which is a record for this country. It was the first time in the history of this country that that figure was achieved. That figure has been beaten this year. It is near 26,000 acres. There is a big difference between that and Deputy Blowick's effort in 1956. His maximum effort in that year was 14,996 acres. It may be difficult for the Deputy to swallow the figures I am quoting. I do not regard, as the Deputy evidently did, the purchase of Belgian rabbit wire as Irish forestry. I regard as progress that progress which has been made under this administration, the actual planting and acquisition of the land which is what the Department is there for.

The most extensive new afforestation in the western counties — 10,000 acres in 1959/60 and 11,000 in 1960/61 — was achieved for the first time. The figure is 44 per cent. of the total planting programme for the country. Both the acreages and the percentage I have quoted are record figures for forestry in this country. The greatest volume of work in existing plantations has been achieved during the past year and is being achieved this year. A record mileage of forest roads was constructed last year which was 60 per cent. higher than any previous figure since forestry started in this country.

We had the biggest annual spending on direct rural employment in State forests. It was £1.5 million in 1959/60 and £1.6 million in 1960/61. We had the greatest State investment in forestry to date — £2.5 million gross in 1959/60 and £2.9 million in 1960/61. We had a record forest revenue of £380,000 in 1959/60. This increased to £457,000 in 1960/61 and will increase still further to £500,000 in the current year.

These record figures have been created under my administration of this section of my Department I think it is an indication, even to Deputy Blowick, that we are not asleep in the forestry section now. I can only suggest to the Deputy that he scratch his head and wake up to the reality of the figures and records achieved under the forestry division for the past two years.

I should like to listen to the Minister's speeches and the speeches of Deputy Blowick in the next Dáil election. I am sure it would be very interesting. I would nearly leave my own constituency to go down and listen.

Question: "That the Estimate be referred back for reconsideration" put and declared lost.
Vote put and agreed to.