That a sum not exceeding £4,161,000 be granted to defray the charge that will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March, 1972, for the salaries and expenses of the Offices of the Minister for Lands and of the Irish Land Commission.
By agreement the following motion is being considered with the Estimate:
That, in connection with the supply granted for the year ended 31st March, 1971, the Dáil takes note of the activities of the Department of Lands.
In line with the agreed procedure adopted for the last few years, I propose to take the Votes for Lands and Forestry together this year also. However, as there was a fairly full discussion on 23rd and 24th March, last, on the Supplementary Estimate for Forestry for 1970-71, I propose to deal in the main, as far as Forestry is concerned, with the 1971-72 Estimate.
At the conclusion of the debate the motion in respect of Vote 34 referring to Lands will be put to the House. Vote 35 and the general motion on the activities of the Department will then be formally moved in turn.
The Lands Vote, No. 34, this year shows a net increase of £306,000 compared with last year, which, in turn, showed a net decrease of £473,000 on the previous year. I shall commence by explaining the salient features of this Estimate—especially those items which reflect a significant change from last year's provision—and continue with a review of the principal activities of the Land Commission during the two years ended 31st March, 1971.
Provision for salaries, wages and allowances is made under subhead A. The amount required this year represents an increase of £265,000 on last year's provision. This increase is mainly attributable to the full impact in the current financial year of the cost of the 12th round pay increases.
Recruits in the new sub-professional grade of estates officers referred to in 1969 took up duty last year. They are employed in various areas where they have taken on a range of the more routine type duties hitherto falling on the inspectorate, thus releasing inspectors for the more exacting and difficult aspects of the land programme.
The first part of subhead B relates for the most part to travelling and subsistence expenses incurred in connection with the inspection, survey and allotment of lands under the Land Acts. The increase of £36,650 is mainly due to the provision of £34,000 for office equipment. This is a new item in the Vote and is included in accordance with a recent arrangement whereby Departments will carry the appropriate provision for certain items of equipment in their own Votes. Previously the Vote for the Stationery Office had provided for the entire amount required by the various Departments and Offices for this purpose.
Part (2) of subhead B provides for direct payment to the Department of Posts and Telegraphs for all services rendered by that Department; this has now become standard procedure. The total amount required this year is £143,900.
The moneys required under subhead D are in the nature of statutory commitments. They represent the taxpayers' contribution in the current year towards the service of land purchase debt accumulated, since 1923, on both tenanted and untenanted land. The total contribution this year, viz. £1,373,500, constitutes one of the biggest items in the Vote and represents nearly one-third of the entire net Estimate. Of the total subhead provision, some £1,204,600 will be utilised to make good deficiencies in the land bond fund arising from the statutory halving of annuities under the Land Act, 1933. Indeed, the overall increase of £78,655 in the subhead this year is attributable mainly to the halving of purchase instalments payable by new allottees as land settlement proceeds. All allottees in congested areas, together with migrants and displaced employees getting holdings in non-congested areas, get the benefit of the halving of annuities.
As subhead G is in four separate parts, I think I can best deal with it by referring to each part individually. The funds being provided this year under subheads G 1 and G 2 amount in all to £175,000. This represents a reduction of £275,000 on last year's provision which, in turn, was £275,000 less than the provision for 1969-70. I need hardly say that, in common with other Departments, my Department has been called on to bear its share of the stringent limitations on public spending just at the present time.
Subhead G 1 involves two items, viz. the purchase of land by the Land Commission for cash in the open market and the provision of life annuities under section 6 of the land Act, 1965. As Deputies are aware, purchases for cash are now open to all the general purposes of the Land Acts. During the year ended 31st March, 1970, a total of 198 properties, aggregating 9,010 acres, were purchased for cash under section 7, at a price of £722,666. The cut-back in the cash provision had its effect during the year ended 31st March last when only about one-third of this area was purchased at a cost of £240,500.
Section 6 of the Land Act, 1965, provides basic authority for the scheme of life annuities for elderly, incapacitated or blind persons who voluntarily sell their interest in land to the Land Commission. This scheme and the scheme for self-migration loans to which I shall be referring later on were brought into operation early in 1967. The objective of the life annuity scheme is to facilitate land structure reform by encouraging elderly, incapacitated or blind farmers to retire so that their lands become available for active farming by younger ablebodied persons.
This scheme is having but moderate success and just now the position is that we have 33 persons on the life annuity payroll following the sale of their lands to the Land Commission. Most of these people availed themselves of the very attractive feature of the scheme whereby the vendor may, if he so wishes, retain a right of residence for life in his existing dwellinghouse. As this scheme—which is entirely voluntary—is designed, in the main, for elderly people, progress is necessarily slow and the results to date are not as encouraging as was anticipated when the scheme was initiated. I would hope that, as the number of life annuitants grows, they themselves will provide the best stimulus of all to others to participate in the scheme. The scheme is kept under constant review in an endeavour to find ways and means for increasing its attractiveness.
For the information of the House, the overall position in relation to the scheme to a recent date is as follows: A total of 419 firm applications has been received under the scheme and, of these, 413 have been investigated. Some 194 applications had to be eliminated at an early stage—mainly because the lands offered were not considered suitable or required for Land Commission purposes—and a further 77 were withdrawn—the owners preferring to offer their lands to the Land Commission in the ordinary way for cash or land bonds. In all, 138 applications developed into potential life annuity cases and advanced to the stage where price negotiations with the landowners concerned were authorised.
Price agreement has, in fact, been reached with 41 landowners and, as already stated, life annuities have actually been set up in 33 cases, in amount ranging from £80 to £904. In three other cases, the necessary legal requirements as regards title, et cetera, with a view to setting up life annuities for the landowners concerned, are proceeding. In the remaining five cases the Land Commission are awaiting a decision by the vendors as to whether or not they will opt for a life annuity in lieu of all or part of the agreed purchase price. The cases already completed have released about 1,672 acres for land settlement purposes and it is expected that a further area of some 216 acres will be made available when the other eight cases mentioned are finalised.
The second part of subhead G stems from section 5 of the Land Act, 1965, in which resides authority for the scheme enabling the Land Commission to make loans to progressive farmers in congested areas for the purchase of viable farms of their choice, subject to making their existing lands available to the Land Commission for land settlement purposes. This, in fact, is really a banking or credit service, with an overall limit of £10,000 in each case including the price paid for the owner's old holding and is intended to augment existing land settlement schemes.
The primary objective of the scheme is to facilitate the Land Commission programme of land structure reform in the scheduled congested areas, as defined in the 1965 Act—Counties Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and parts of Clare and West Cork. The scheme is intended to encourage initiative by providing necessary capital, through the Land Commission, to enable progressive smallholders in the scheduled congested areas to improve their status by purchase in the open market of viable farms suitable to individual requirements, subject to making their existing lands available to the Land Commission as part of the loan arrangements.
Under the scheme, a total of 156 applications has been received to a recent date. Of these, 150 have been investigated and, perhaps, not surprisingly, a high proportion failed at an early stage—chiefly because the applicants and/or their lands were considered unsuitable for purposes of the scheme. In all, 60 applications progressed to the price negotiation stage and, in 13 of these cases, agreement on price was, in fact, reached.
This is a vital stage in the procedure as price agreement is an essential pre-requisite to acceptance of an applicant and to making him an advance under the scheme. It is only when agreement on price has been reached with a land-owner, that he knows the extent of financial assistance which he may expect from the Land Commission, thus enabling him to shop around for a suitable new farm, on the basis of what he will receive for his own holding, plus the amount of loan available to him.
Of the 13 cases in which price agreement was reached eight have been provided with self-migration advances and have now gone into possession of their new holdings. In one other case the necessary legal formalities are being completed and in the remaining four cases the Land Commission are awaiting proposals from the approved applicants regarding the new farms selected by them and the amount of loan they will require.
The eight completed cases—for which advances and free grants totalling approximately £32,075 were made by the Land Commission—have provided an area of 347 acres for land settlement. The holdings purchased by these eight successful applicants contain in aggregate 892 acres. The other five cases involve the Land Commission in a potential maximum commitment of some £37,950 by way of advances and free grants and, if these transactions can be successfully concluded, they will release a further aggregate area of about 155 acres for the land reform programme.
The results from this scheme to date are not impressive, even allowing for the fact that the scheme is restricted to landowners in the scheduled congested areas and that approved applicants are allowed a period of 12 months in which to shop around for new holdings. I shall arrange that the scheme be examined with a view to improving its attractiveness. Informal booklets have been prepared for the guidance of landowners interested in both schemes and any Deputy who wishes can obtain copies by getting in touch with the Land Commission.
Subhead G 3 provides £6,000 for payment in cash of compensation for tenancy interests resumed on the small outstanding residue of Congested Districts Board estates. The fourth and final part of the subhead relates to the payment by the Land Commission of auctioneers' commission on relevant purchases of land for cash and land bonds.
Perhaps I should explain here that up to 1963 the practice was to pay auctioneers' commission only in respect of lands purchased by the Land Commission for cash under section 27 of the Land Act, 1950. This was extended in 1963 to properties purchased on a voluntary basis for land bonds and to uncontested compulsory cases where the auctioneer renders positive service towards agreement. The extension of payment of commission on the lines indicated proved a decided incentive to auctioneers to offer lands on their books to the Land Commission thus facilitating an acceleration in land acquisition for the relief of congestion. The decrease in the provision for the current year reflects the curtailment of purchases for cash, to which I have already referred.
Subhead H provides the funds for payment of gratuities pursuant to section 29 of the Land Act, 1950, to persons displaced from employment on estates taken over by the Land Commission for distribution. During the year ended 31st March, 1970, gratuities totalling £8,091 were paid to 33 ex-employees—an average of £245 each. The corresponding figures for the year just ended are a total of £13,058 paid to 39 ex-employees—an average of £335 each. Perhaps I should emphasise that displaced employees who are deemed competent to work land are automatically considered for allotments—indeed, this is only right and proper—but, where they are not found to be suitable for allotments, they are considered by the Land Commission for a cash gratuity depending on such factors as length of service, personal and family circumstances, availability of alternative employment, and so on.
It is difficult to make an accurate forecast of commitments under the subhead in any particular year because this depends on the level of acquisition activity and the extent to which estate workers become displaced from employment through these activities. A figure of £12,000 is provided for the current year.
Subhead I, in the main, provides the funds required to meet the cost of the various estate improvement works which are such an important feature of land settlement. These works include the erection of dwellinghouses and outoffices; the provision of access roads; fencing and drainage; provision of water supply for domestic and stock requirements; turbary development; repair and maintenance of embankments. These are all costly amenities and expenditure in the year 1969-70 totalled £957,539 including £561,501 on building works. During the same year some 436 men were employed on the various improvement works and their wage bill amounted to almost £313,000.
Having regard to the acute pressure on resources, the provision under subhead I for last year was fixed at £740,000, a decrease of £350,000 on the previous year's provision.
Accordingly, for the year ended 31st March, 1971, there was a necessary decrease in expenditure on improvements. A total of almost £780,000 was expended, including £466,000 on building works and £280,000 on a wage bill for some 300 men employed.
For the current year it has been found possible to provide an increase of £240,000 so as to bring the total provision for this subhead to £980,000. The bulk of this increase will be devoted to building and general improvement works.
Reference has previously been made to an important development which has been undertaken by the Land Commission in relation to lands earmarked for migrants and also lands intended for distribution to tenants whose holdings are being rearranged. All such lands are now being rehabilitated prior to allotment—the rehabilitation consisting of lime and fertiliser application. In addition, the Land Commission are also doing the preliminary, reclamation, work on these lands—such as drainage, removal of scrub, eradication of rushes and so on. The aim is to give these allottees the best possible start on their holdings. The major portion of the cost involved is being borne direct by the Land Commission—a small proportion being charged to the allottee by means of an addition to his annuity.
The question of improving designs for houses and outoffices being built by the Land Commission continues to receive full consideration. As Deputies are, no doubt, aware dwellinghouses provided by the Land Commission are fully serviced as to water supply and electricity, where practicable. The design and construction of these houses have recently been revised and some of this new series have now been completed. Many progressive features have been added to fit in with modern needs and trends. Improvements include greatly increased storage space and a utility room which can be used as a fourth bedroom to provide extra accommodation as the family expands and, all in all, the houses lack none of the amenities of urban dwellings.
In addition, yard areas have also been increased and black topping of yards, approach roads and access roads is now being undertaken as a standard feature of improvement works associated with the provision of buildings on new holdings.
To comply with the agreed programme for the building and civil engineering industry the metric system has now been introduced in Land Commission construction works. Staff have been trained and all general improvement works are now measured in metric units.
The sub-item entitled "Housing Loans" refers to the scheme under which advances of up to £500 are made to farmers to supplement grants from the Department of Local Government for the erection of new houses and for reconstruction work on existing houses. During the year ended 31st March, 1970, the total amount paid out by way of loans for this purpose was £33,000 to some 90 applicants. Early in 1970 the whole question of the future of these loans was under consideration but I am glad to be able to inform Deputies that it is proposed to continue operation of the scheme and during the year just ended some £38,000 was paid to 93 applicants.
The Management Services Unit continues to produce worthwhile results which amply justifies the foresight and initiative shown in taking the then novel step of setting up this unit in February, 1968. Significant savings have been achieved on the management services side while the work study section of the unit, through method improvements and the incentive bonus scheme, contributed to maintaining a very high level of productivity on outdoor works.
It has been the usual practice to give, at this stage, some figures to indicate the level of Land Commission activities during the previous year under some broad general heads. The figures I am giving refer to the year ending 31st March, 1971. Comparable figures for the year ending 31st March, 1970, are shown in the tabular statement attached to the material which Deputies already have.
On the acquisition side, the aggregate area inspected during the year was 40,000 acres while the total intake of land amounted to about 26,000 acres. The total area in the acquisition machine at 31st March, 1971, amounted to some 81,000 acres. As regards land settlement for the year, the total area allotted amongst 1,600 allottees was 30,000 acres. The acreage distributed included the provision of 49 fully-equipped holdings for migrants and the rearrangement of 260 fragmented holdings. In all 103 new dwellinghouses and 97 new outoffices were provided for tenants and allottees during the year.
The vesting of holdings and allotments was continued and about 2,800 holdings, parcels and rights of turbary were dealt with. Tenanted land—including residues of CDB estates—outstanding for vesting at 31st March, 1971, comprises approximately 4,300 holdings. These residual holdings, situated for the most part in western congested counties, now represent the remaining hard core of difficult tenanted land cases and their release for vesting is at present getting special attention.
The position as regards collection of land annuities continues satisfactory. Out of a collectable total of £2,831,601 for the year, the amount actually collected by 31st March, 1971, was £2,683,717.
In this connection I should like to refer to an important change which the Land Commission are making in the manner of payment of instalments of annuity. Because of the decision to decimalise our currency and also because of the progress made in the computerisation of the work of the collection branch, it was realised that the system of payment by means of a ten-year receivable order which was issued to every annuity payer would have to be reassessed. The ten-year receivable order did not fit easily into the new system of processing payments by computer; nor did it meet the requirements of new machines introduced into the banks. In addition, each ten-year receivable order would have to be amended to show the decimal equivalent of the sterling amount of the half-yearly instalment—a formidable task in itself which would have to be done by hand.
For these reasons it was felt that a change was inevitable and after full consideration it was decided that the issue of a demand each half-year would best meet the requirements of the new age of decimalisation and computerisation.
In response to representations from various interests it has been decided to include the folio number on all relevant demand notes. It is expected that this information will be shown on the demands which will be issued for the November/December gales this year.
For some time now the Land Commission have had in hand a study to test the overall worth of a system of combined, or group farming, involving the pooling, not merely of machinery but of livestock and land as well.
An estate at Grennanstown, Athboy, County Meath, has been selected for the first experiment and a group of four families from County Kerry went into occupation there in April last having first surrendered their existing holdings to the Land Commission. The total area of land given to the group is 232 acres-equivalent to about 170 acres of good land.
Four dwellinghouses have been erected on the Meath estate and each of the four heads of families will have individual ownership of his house, with about an acre of land adjoining it and a small outoffice. The four are forming a company and the land, apart from the small plots adjoining the houses, together with the livestock, machinery and other resources, will be held and managed by the company. One comprehensive block of outoffices—including cow-byre, milking parlour and silo-serves the four. The design of this outoffice complex was settled in consultation with the Agricultural Institute and the local agricultural advisory service.
The whole is an entirely new feature instigated by the Land Commission and progress of the experiment will be kept under close study by officers of the Commission, the Agricultural Institute and the Advisory Service.
If a novel departure such as this is to succeed—if the idea of combined farming is to take on—it will be necessary to wear down the ingrained doubts and fears of the farming community. For that purpose it is necessary to make the rural population and the publicists aware of what is being done and to set them thinking about it.
Towards this end, I publicly inaugurated the project on the 28th September, last.
As Deputies know, there is now in operation a system of direct control by the Land Commission over the purchase of rural land by persons who are not "qualified persons" as defined in section 45 of the Land Act. 1965— principally non-nationals. The position generally now is that no interest in non-urban land can vest in a person who does not come within the categories of "qualified person" as defined in section 45 (1) of the Act except with the written consent of the Land Commission. In general, permission is not granted to non-nationals to purchase land in order to engage simply in those forms or lines of production commonly practised by our farmers; "white-elephant" properties unable or unlikely to attract Irish purchasers in the market could be entertained for sale to outsiders. A non-national who could illustrate that he was going in for some special line with expertise and capital to back it up, and with export possibilities could very well be acceptable. During the past year—apart from what might be called unobjectionable transactions, for example, those (a) arising solely from mortgage interests, (b) involving areas not exceeding five acres and (c) representing transfers between one non-citizen, individual or company, and another—the total acreage in respect of which the consent of the Land Commission, pursuant to section 45 of the Act, was given to the vesting of interests in land in non-qualified persons as individuals, or companies controlled by non-citizens, was 3,045 acres. A substantial proportion of the acreage involved consisted of the types of property which could hold no attraction for the ordinary Irish purchaser.
Turning to the Forestry Vote the total net provision for Forestry for 1971-72 is £6,387,000, an increase of £545,700 over the 1970-71 provision. The original Forestry Estimate for 1970-71 at £5,084,000 was increased by Supplementary Estimate of £657,300 to £5,741,300. To this sum has been added an amount of £100,000 formerly borne on subhead L of the Vote for Lands, making a total 1970-71 Estimate of £5,841,300. Deputies may take it that subsequent references to the 1970-71 Estimate are on this basis.
There is no change of consequence in subhead E. So far as the remaining subheads are concerned the following is the position.
Subhead A—Salaries, wages and allowances—at £1,533,250 shows an increase of £180,550 over the provision for 1970-71. The increase is mainly due to the effect of the 12th round of pay increase for a full year.
Subhead B 1—Travelling and Incidental Expenses—at £290,500 shows an increase of £18,000 over the 1970-71 provision because of increased travelling and subsistence rates and provision for some increases in miscellaneous expenses.
Subhead B 2—Post Office Services— at £116,100 shows an increase of £54,500 on the 1970-71 Estimate. The increase is due to increased Post Office charges for handling of stores, an increase in the cost of postage and the extension of forest telephone services.
Subhead C 1 is the Grant-in-Aid for the acquisition of land. The balance remaining in the fund on 1st April, 1971, was £151,581. I am providing in this Estimate a sum of £460,000 so that the total sum available for land acquisition in the current year is £611,581. The sum provided is indicative of the upward trend in land acquisition. Deputies will recall that in 1968-69 the gross area acquired was only 14,108 acres. In 1969-70 the figure rose to 25,128 acres, in 1970-71 to 34,436 acres and in the current year we hope to achieve a gross intake of some 40,000 acres. The immediate picture is, therefore, that we have turned the corner as far as land acquisition is concerned and are beginning to reap the benefit of the new price structure and streamlined negotiation system introduced a few years ago. Current trends in our land acquisition negotiations show good future prospects.
There is a sharp rise in the "Price Agreed" category in particular. This is the category covering cases where price agreement has been reached and which are being processed on the legal side for clearance of title. A figure of 28,325 acres representing 607 cases in this category at 30th September, 1968, has increased at 31st March, 1971, to 1,233 cases totalling 59,092 acres. Immediate future prospects for acquisition can, therefore, be regarded as quite favourable and the difficulties which we are at present encountering in putting together a planting programme will be progressively eased. I must, however, emphasise that sustained progress in land acquisition will be required over a long period if we are to improve our reserve of plantable land to the stage where efficiency in the planning of work programme can be secured and steady and secure employment of our staffs can be maintained.
Subhead C 2—Forest Development and Management—This is the main expenditure subhead in this Vote. The major provisions in the subhead relate to the raising of nursery stock in the State forest nurseries, the establishment costs of all new plantations including ground preparation and fencing, road and bridge construction, the development of facilities for public recreation in our forests, the purchase and maintenance of all forest machinery and the hire of suitable machinery from outside sources, the general cost of maintaining and protecting all our existing acreage of forest plantations, now standing at 543,000 acres in extent, and, finally, the cost of such timber felling and conversion as we undertake by direct labour in our forests. The Estimate of £4,701,500 shows an overall increase of £358,000 on the provision for 1970-71. This increase arises almost entirely from wage costs due to the impact of the 12th round of wage increases over a full year.
Deputies will recall that in replying in March to the debate on the Supplementary Estimate for Forestry for 1970-71, I mentioned the problems associated with matching financial resources to rising wages and costs generally and the difficulty we would have despite the improvement in our land reserve, in restoring the planting programme this year to the target acreage of 25,000. The Estimate as introduced provides for the planting of just over 20,000 acres but a Supplementary Estimate will be introduced later this year for an additional amount, estimated at this stage to be of the order of £100,000, to enable planting in the current year to be expanded to 25,000 acres. With the improvement of our acquisition rate and the consequent enhancement of our plantable reserve position we would be in a position to maintain our full target of 25,000 acres in 1972-73 and I am happy to convey to the House an assurance that funds will be made available next year to carry out that programme.
As a result of this, forestry in the latter part of this year will employ about 100 more than would have been possible on the basis of the Estimate before the House. There will, of course, still be local ups and downs. That has always been inescapable in the context of changing distribution of work loads between the forests.
The provisions in the subhead for State forest nurseries and the establishment of plantations are covered by what I have already said in relation to the planting programme. Under "New Roads and Buildings" we are providing for continuance of our construction programme at approximately the same level as last year. The general forest management head reflects on the one hand the increase in the total acreage of the forest plantations but on the other the continuance of our efforts to minimise management costs. The long term objective of selling timber in an open market at prices competitive with world trends requires continual re-appraisal of input costs in relation to return in terms of both volume production and timber value as wages and prices of materials rise.
The timber conversion head covers the meeting of our current requirements of timber for departmental purposes and the maintenance of our active programme of provision of transmission poles for the ESB and the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.
Under "mechanical equipment" provision is made for normal replacement needs and the general maintenance, et cetera, of forest mechanical equipment. I shall deal later with the provision for amenity development— an area in which our activities are continuing to expand rapidly.
Subhead C 3 — Sawmilling — at £59,550, shows an increase of £21,800 on the 1970-71 Estimate due to the 12th round of pay increases for a full year. Subhead D, at £25,000, will be adequate to cover payments during the year in respect of private planting grants at the present rate of £20 per acre. Applications for grants have been running at approximately 1,000 acres per annum and there is general agreement that the grant scheme needs to be reviewed. I hope that by next year we will have completed a review of the whole grant scheme designed to make it more effective.
Subhead F—John F. Kennedy Park —at £32,000, shows an increase of £8,000 on the provision for 1970-71 again due to the impact of the 12th round of wage increases over a full year. Although only a few short years in existence, the park has become internationally known as a centre of arboricultural importance. At present the number of specimens planted in the arboretum amounts to 5,000 all of them carefully indexed, labelled and recorded. A total of 102 forest plots varying in size from 1/4 acre to an acre, have also been laid out. Apart from its scientific and educational importance the park has become a major tourist attraction. In the four months June to September, 1970, there were 90,000 visitors to the park and the total for the year was in excess of 120,000. In co-operation with the South Eastern Regional Tourism Organisation two tourist advisors are employed for the summer months to assist in furnishing information to the public. Additional features to cater for the public are steadily being provided. Last year five walks were developed to direct visitors to the major features of the park, these being self-guided with the aid of a small booklet. A restaurant for the provision of light meals was recently completed and is now in use.
Under Subhead G—Game Development and Management—£81,250 is provided. Part of the expenditure formerly carried in subhead L of the Lands Vote has now been transferred to this head. £18,750 of the £100,000 provided in that subhead in 1970-71 actually related to conservation activities now covered by subhead H of this Estimate, but for convenience the entire amount of that former subhead is shown here under the 1970-71 column. The game development and management subhead covers grants paid to regional game councils in support of their general programmes of development of game resources and improvement of game habitats; grants to assist tourist projects promoted by my Department in conjunction with Bord Fáilte; expenditure on game development and management in the State forests and miscellaneous other expenses in connection with the Department's general programme of improvement of game resources. The main cost is that related to grants to the regional game councils.
I have told the regional game councils that for the current year our support of their activities will have to be kept within last year's expenditure level and with their co-operation we are streamlining the whole system of grants so as to secure the most equitable distribution possible of the finance available between the different counties to the best advantage in terms of improvement of game resources.
Our co-operative work with Bord Fáilte in the development of tourist projects in the game sector is specifically aimed at increasing off-season tourist revenue by providing facilities for visiting sportsmen. The scheme has been in operation for five years and the joint committee established by my Department and Bord Fáilte to manage the scheme are now reviewing the results of their programme to date and will shortly be submitting to me proposals for future action.
Subhead H—Conservation (grant-in-aid)—this head was first set up by the Supplementary Estimate taken in March last when a sum of £100,000 was provided in pursuance of an undertaking in the 1970 Budget statement that funds would be made available to defray the organisational costs of a comprehensive national programme for conservation. There was no expenditure from the fund in the closing weeks of March and the full amount of £100,000 is carried into the current year.
For 1971-72 I am providing an additional sum of £150,000 for conservation. This sum includes provision for conservation work previously carried in subhead L of the Vote for Lands to which I have referred already and provision also for work carried out by the forest service and hitherto funded from subhead C 2 of this Vote.
In terms of practical progress on conservation, Deputies may already be aware that the first seven nature reserves on State forest lands were dedicated earlier this year. These reserves comprise some of the last precious remnants of the primeval forest which in prehistoric times covered the greater part of Ireland and are therefore, an important part of our natural heritage.
These areas have been the subject of ecological survey by officers of my Department and as this survey extends, other areas will be similarly dedicated. Because these particular areas are fully controlled by the forest and wildlife service, they can be accorded protection without new legislation but the broader question of full statutory protection for nature reserves, including reserves in private or corporate ownership, is being considered in connection with the new game and wildlife legislation. Attention is also being devoted to the extension of our list of bird sanctuaries. Ireland is in a position of unique importance in respect of the maintenance and protection of certain species and it is fitting that we should aim at a high standard of protection for bird species generally. This year the number of sanctuaries has been increased from ten to 18.
Further expenditure on development work at our major refuge, the North Slob, Wexford, has recently been undertaken. Future plans include the provision of an observation tower to enable members of the public to view the unique population of birds to best advantage. Major expenditure from this conservation head will be called for in the establishment of field study centres. I have already told the house of the proposal for such a centre at Gartan Lough, County Donegal and my Department have undertaken a positive commitment to fund the project. The details are still under discussion with the Department of Education.
On a less ambitious scale we have been concerned to assist a proposal by the Dominican Fathers for the conversion of a holiday camp at Knockadoon, County Cork as a field study centre. The project is supported by the Cork Scientific Council. These and other cognate projects will call for a measure of expenditure from subhead H in the current year but we can expect that much of the future expenditure on conservation will be generated by the new legislation on game and wildlife which will be brought before the House shortly.
In regard to public education generally it is beyond question that a great awakening of concern with the problems of our environment has been brought about by the activities of Conservation Year, 1970. Conservation year, as I have said before, was concerned primarily with people's attitudes and I am satisfied that in this respect the undertaking was an outstanding success. Once public conscience becomes alerted to the importance of the natural environment, the public will itself act most efficiently as a watchdog in maintaining the quality of life which it desires.
This new awareness on the part of the public is evident in the very keen interest expressed in the eight nature trails which have so far been made available by the Forest and Wildlife Service and plans are in hands for seven others. The trail at Bellevue, Glen of the Downs has attracted 80,000 visitors since it opened in July, 1970, and I am happy to report to the House that since the trail was opened, there has been a noticeable absence of vandalism, and our experience in regard to litter and fires has been extremely good. The demand on the forest as a place of public recreation is increasing apace and this brings me back to the work which is being carried out with funds provided for amenity development under subhead C 2.
A second forest park—Gougane Barra was the first—is now fully developed at Dún an Rí, Kingscourt, County Cavan. Work is proceeding on the major Lough Key forest park development in Roscommon in conjunction with Bord Fáilte. There is already substantial public usage of the facilities so far developed and the caravan park there is now in operation. Several other centres are planned as major forest park centres and work will be undertaken according as time and financial resources permit.
On a more widespread plane, there is a vast potential in our forests as a whole to cater for the recreational needs of our people. Work on the development of this potential is being pushed ahead much more rapidly than most people realise. Specific amenity works have so far been carried out at some 70 forest properties and steps are being taken to have these properties sign-posted from the public roads. A comprehensive list of these properties has been prepared with an indication of where they are situated and what facilities are available, and the list has been extended to cover the huge number of forest properties where no particular facilities are provided but where the public are being admitted on foot to enjoy quiet walking in the forest environment.
These lists have had wide distribution through Bord Fáilte and the regional tourism organisations, and, on my instructions, all Deputies and Senators were furnished with copies some months ago.
Subhead I—Agency, Advisory and Special Services—at a figure of £34,520 represents a decrease of £20,000 on 1970-71. The 1970-71 figure included provision of £20,000 to defray expenses for European Conservation Year which was particular to that year and is non-recurrent. The main constituent of subhead I is a figure of £34,500, provision for defraying the cost of timber technology research undertaken on behalf of my Department by the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards.
This programme is complementary to the research being carried out by the forest and wildlife service which concerns itself primarily with problems in the establishment and growth of tree crops under actual field conditions encountered here. The work assigned to the institute is concerned with Irish timber as a material and a start has been made with the publication of authoritative data on the mechanical and chemical properties of our native timbers. These are the data to which the architect, engineer and industrialist can have recourse to establish the wide range of use for the growing quantities of timber now flowing from our plantations. In its programme, the institute is studying the preservation of Irish timbers and their use in building construction and as transmission poles. An aspect of this programme involves the testing to destruction of a range of home produced poles and the establishment of comparisons with imported species. Results of the investigation thus far are encouraging.
Subhead J—Appropriations-in-Aid at a figure of £1,150,000 shows an increase of £150,000 in estimated revenue over the estimate for 1970-71. Revenue last year actually amounted, however, to £1,045,000. Sales of timber at a figure of £1,078,000 account for the entire increase anticipated. Sawlog material has been selling well for some time past and we are now in a position to increase gradually the amount available for marketing. Thinnings are also finding ready sale and all available supplies are being taken up in the expanded demand of the existing processing factories.
The long-term forecast of timber production was completed early this year and discussions have taken place with the timber trade on the general implications of the figures and on the form in which the forecast should be prepared for issue to them. We have had, of course, an earlier forecast of thinning production prepared in 1961 which has formed the basis of industrial planning in the timber sector up to date. That forecast has proved in the outcome to have been remarkably accurate but the new forecast will be a substantial improvement in that it covers clear-felling as well as thinning production and classifies the production in size categories; it covers each year up to the year 2,000. The forecast has been issued to the trade and to all those bodies who have sought information regarding timber production on a national or regional basis. It will form an extremely useful instrument for forward planning by my Department and by all elements of the timber industry.