Irish Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill, 1989: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I was saying before Question Time that so far as the dissolution of the Land Commission is concerned, for the first time in 50 years we now have no control over the amounts of land being purchased by outsiders, foreigners and, indeed, by persons inside Ireland who have no expertise in farming. This obviously must come as a great shock to people who genuinely believed there would be some mechanism to protect their interests. I had also gone on to talk about the group purchase scheme which I introduced when I was in the Department. For the life of me I can never understand why this type of scheme was not introduced many years earlier. One of the great problems with the acquisition programme was that it was not cost effective. It was too cumbersome and too much taxpayers' money was tied up in the actual purchase of land down through the years.

The particular scheme which I introduced four or five years ago meant that the State was not involved in the purchase of land. There were no land bonds — which would have been an advantage from the beginning — and that meant that the people who were most likely to farm the land well were those who were most likely to pay for it and get on with the job. We put it to the test and, as I said before Question Time, we have the figures to prove that if the Land Commission personnel on the ground understood the fears and the anxieties of people involved and there had been a vote of confidence in the staff of the Land Commission to act as the honest broker, then we would have saved millions of pounds to the Exchequer and we would have a much quicker, sharper and much more cost effective scheme. Unfortunately, in my view, that came about 15 years too late. By the time we were able to implement it the great disposing of the Land Commission staff had begun and in the last two years the ghost was given up altogether.

When I see a Fianna Fáil Bill proposing to dissolve the Land Commission I think I have seen everything in Irish politics. I fully understand the reasons for the Land Commission being wound up and am not objecting to that, but I am objecting to no authority being put in their place. I want to stitch the following matter into the record. Only four years ago a big farm came up for sale in Laurencetown, near Ballinasloe in County Galway. Everybody knew that for the previous five years the Land Commission had not been involving themselves in acquisition proceedings under any Government; they were just not purchasing land. We had introduced the group purchase concept and I was junior Minister at the time, with responsibility for lands. Naturally, the people concerned came to me and said there was something dreadfully wrong with a Government who would not provide money to buy that 300 acre farm and divide it out. I said that we were not going to do that and that the Government before us had not done it. I advised those men to buy the farm between them and promised to put the Land Commission staff at their disposal and for the various amounts of money that they had available we would allocate land at apro rata basis to them. It dawned on those farmers that that was the thing to do. Deputy Treacy, now Minister of State, was at that meeting and could see no reason that the Government would not take the farm over, pay the land bonds and give the land out in the ordinary way. Not alone that, he reckoned that the 15 persons residing in cottages adjoining that farm were entitled to a small number of acres for nothing out of the estate. That was only four or five years ago. Fianna Fáil have done a great turn-around in so far as that episode was concerned.

The acquisition of land, payment in land bonds and redistribution five or six years later was not cost effective. In so far as that part of the Bill is concerned, I shed no tears. However, I am particularly upset at some of the matters raised in the Minister's speech and some statements which have been made here this week. It appears that market forces will now be allowed to dictate. In other words, if you have the money you can buy the land and if you have not, nobody is there to help you in any way.

There are two other factors to which I wish to refer. I put forward the proposal earlier today that we should have some type of overall authority with a certain amount of bite, that would look into all matters relating to land policy. An agricultural country is entitled to that. It is important to realise that there is a number of areas in which, when this Bill gets through the House, there will be difficulty. What will happen to the group purchase schemes that are on the books but obviously are not being worked at the moment? Who will provide the manpower, the publicity campaigns and so forth?

Secondly, who will divide the commonages that are left? I am long enough in the tooth to know that in so far as many of the major problems in agriculture are concerned they do not extend to the division of commonages. However, if you happen to be a commonage owner, particularly in one of the western counties, and genuinely want to divide the commonage and have one or two people who are obstructive — these are in every townland in Ireland — how will it be possible to divide those commonages and get on with the show? We found it hard enough to divide them when there was a Land Commission man available to act as a referee, but what will happen when he is not there? Is there any system through Teagasc or the FDS or is any thought being given to that? In that last two years nobody in Agriculture House has given any thought to those problems, small though they may be. When you put the lot together as a land policy, you are obviously on the wrong track.

Let us consider the multiplicity of fragmented farms all over the country. It is quite possible that one farmer is quite prepared, under certain circumstances, to exchange land with the neighbour in order to make a more useful, economic holding. People who do not understand the system would say that if people are that eager about it, let them do it and not use taxpayers' money in doing so. Perhaps there should be a cost factor involved. One thing I am sure of from my four and a half years experience of dealing with the Land Commission is that unless there is some person, the honest broker about whom I talked, who has expertise in land and land distribution and understands the psychological reasons for the tantrums that people get into when dealing with land, no scheme will be successful. I proved conclusively, with the new purchase scheme, that you could settle matters in a month which took six years previously and cost literally several hundred thousand pounds of taxpayers' money. That may be an oversimplification but there are great grounds to believe that that scheme can be successful.

With regard particularly to the west, but this concerns other areas as well, there is the question of turbary rights. Nobody seems to lift a finger nowadays about this matter. You can phone one of the few remaining Land Commission offices and they say they are not geared for this. The fuel rquirements of many families is very important to them and if they knew who owned the turbary rights they could settle matters.

I spoke about the concept of some sort of control on land sales. I made it very plain that it would be a very loose arrangement. I believe that the owner of the land is entitled to the last penny at public auction, but it is very important that qualified, suitable, small family farmers are entitled to the first bite of the cherry. I said that one thousand times in the last 20 years and if I live another 20 I shall say it just as often. There is an obligation on the State to ensure, in some way or other — and I have to accept that this is a difficult case — that these small farmers are protected. We cannot wash our hands, do a Pontius Pilate on it and let market forces dictate. If that happens, let nobody come into this House and say that we carried the flag for a certain type of small to medium farmer. I am not talking about farms of five, or 12, or 20 acres. I am talking about the vast majority of farmers who are getting no State support, being deemed not to be entitled to it, who have a poor enough standard of living because they have very limited acreage and who are absolutely top class, qualified farmers. I am not talking about gombeen men but about the best in the business at a particular level.

The time is most opportune — and in fact has passed — to have some type of national body, statutory body in place. I sincerely hope that the next such legislation we will see, either enacted here in the House or as a ministerial direction, will provide for some body with the type of personnel I have spoken about here today. I could go on for two hours about this subject if I was allowed.

There is something about the agricultural community that I cannot understand. Unless there is an increase of ½p on the gallon for milk or 1p on the pound for beef, the structures always take second and third place in any discussion I had with any group of farmers, organised, unofficial or what have you. That is a great pity, because at the end of the day it is very important to have structures that can meet eventualities that will turn up in time, and great thought must be put into them. I remember in the lifetime of the last Government something we spoke about in Macra na Feirme years ago, a measure to expedite the transfer of land from father to son. However it is organised, it is important that there be a system that would make it attractive for a retiring couple to hand the land over. I introduced a long term leasing concept which in itself is very good. I cannot say it was a world shattering performance, but it needed to be done and it created a vehicle for quite a number of people. As it turned out, the income margin in farming became tight but I assume that from now on the basis for long term leasing will become favourable again or the climate will become favourable for it.

We pay stamp duty on the transfer of a farm from father to son, and this was linked up with the concept, provided certain educational standards were attained in the agricultural area. Several thousand small farmers were concerned in this. This Government for one reason or another decided to disband and discontinue that scheme. That is unfortunate. Maybe the rationale behind it is that it might be better to drop it for a year or two and reintroduce it, but I hear nobody, from the Minister or the two Ministers of State down, ever refer to this. If we believed the land of Ireland should be in the hands of people best equipped and trained for it, then obviously the younger the generation the better chance we have of shaping up to the problems of 1992. We went to great lengths for that and I do not hear too much from the agricultural press at the moment about the fact that it is not there, and I am not sure that the agricultural organisations are too worried about it. However, many medium to small farmers cannot understand why when they go to transfer the farm now it is costing thousands of pounds in some cases because of stamp duty. There is a fair case to be made there, particularly for any new monitoring body who come in to replace the Land Commission.

A land authority should have certain clearly defined powers. They should not be toothless, as we say, because we have too many talking shops. They should be composed of various people and interest groups who make up the whole agricultural arena. I referred to it earlier today and said certainly all the farm organisations and Teagasc, the advisory people, should be represented; and there is no reason at all why auctioneers and valuers and all such people should not have a big impact on such a body. There should be clearly defined Government policy and, working within those confines, this statutory board would do the things we believe would be good for the agricultural industry. Very little was said about this all week.

It is not enough for Fianna Fáil to come along and say this happened in the Coalition's time, it was decided to cease the Land Commission's activities then, four or five years ago. Great time and effort were put in a few years ago to the concept of replacing them when this went before the House, but there is not a single word about it at the moment. It is no harm that the agricultural community know through this House what exactly is proposed for them or, if it is not proposed here, that they organise themselves to make sure that the powers that be, irrespective of who is here, will ensure certain proposals are put in train that will be to their benefit in the whole land policy area in the years to come.

I do not know what is going to happen in 1992. Can anybody foresee what is going to happen in many areas of Irish life? Certainly, the scene will never be the same again. Consider the prospect of many thousands of our valuable agricultural acres being marked up right across the country by people who have no commitment to this country or to agriculture who are coming here, maybe for financial reasons, maybe to bury money, maybe because we have a clean environment. Of course, we like them to come to this country; but do we like them to come at the expense or potential expense of many thousands of medium sized farmers who would make a very fruitful living had they got that extra land when they wanted it.

This House had heard this kind of talk for many a long year. This will be the last time we will hear it in the context of the Land Commission because they will be gone whenever this Bill is enacted. I make a very strong plea to the Minister here today to try to convince his colleagues in Fianna Fáil — and a great deal of convincing will have to be done right across the country — that a land authority is very important. At the moment I foresee little enough trouble for the next year or two. We will be on auto pilot and let everything happen that should or can happen; but if that is not planned for, then in the next five or six years there will be many very unhappy Irish farming families who will believe genuinely that someone somewhere let them down. Whatever you do, make sure there are some personnel in every county, whether under the aegis of the FDS, Teagasc, or anybody else, to do the jobs I am talking about in relation to group purchase, division of commonages, division of bogs and so on.

Let us make sure there will always be enough staff for years to come under the vesting section and other areas of the Land Commission. If it is decided to let the staff levels run any lower there will not be a solicitor or his client in the country but will be up the wall because they will not get the documents they are looking for. The documents are over there, as I know because it was my job to see them when I was over there, but it is like going through the eye of a needle at the moment to get them out because the staff are not there. Although this is not within my remit, let me say if a fee must be charged to get them out, then provide for that; but do not let the scene be such that technically you can come into the Dáil and say the system is there and we have it manned when it is not there.

It was not today nor yesterday the numbers in those offices began to fall. I have been approached by several solicitors on this and I know from my constituency that there must be some reasonable level in those offices — they will have to be there for many a year — and they will have to be staffed by the people who are good at that work, who have a great expertise built up, and, God knows, there are some of them left yet. In this cost conscious country of ours I would even go so far as to say that I would not oppose some small charge to ensure that offices are staffed and necessary documents are readily available. We must certainly not allow staff with expertise to leave and we must ensure that numbers are adequate.

This is quite a sad day for the country. A lot of people will miss the Land Commission, although it ceased to be relevant about 25 years go. Major policy changes should have been made then and a full-blooded land authority should have been established to do the things I have been talking about. I will always say in fairness to the people who dissolved the Land Commission that there was never a need for the State to buy land, pay for it in land bonds which nobody wanted and then spend five or six years distributing it. I accept that it was time to change that system but we must ensure that there is some kind of replacement authority.

I will begin by referring to the reasons the Land Commission is being dissolved. My colleague, Deputy Connaughton, hit the nail on the head when he mentioned that the Land Commission and its agencies had outdated procedures and functions for a number of years. They made themselves totally irrelevant. Thousands of acres were held by the Land Commission for many years without distribution and this caused aggravation to people who hoped they would receive an allotment. Further aggravation was caused by the fact that nothing was done with this land apart from 11-month letting, year after year. No money was being lost to the State but confidence was being eroded in the ability of the Land Commission to be decisive and function as it used to do.

The other problem which killed the Land Commission was inflation, which savagely overtook the whole problem of the re-allocation of land, particularly from 1975 onwards. Land prices escalated and the Land Commission had to pay very high purchase costs. When reallocating, the land annuities were such as to make it virtually impossible for the recipients to bear the financial burden. Countless people found themselves in severe financial difficulties. The Land Commission were very accommodating and anxious to assist in every way possible. The very fact that the problem arose repeatedly and was not catered for in any substantial way as the deathknell for the Land Commission.

Presiding as we are at the dissolution of the Land Commission, there is a need for some regulatory agency. The party opposite made many loud noises about a replacement agency when this matter was mooted by the previous Government. I am sorry that the same noises are not being made now. I would reiterate the necessity for a land agency or some regulatory body. The whole physical and social structure of rural life is likely to change dramtically in the next few years. Whatever body is established must take account of the role which will have to be played in the future.

There is much talk about 1992 and about the level playing field, open competition and market forces deciding the order of the day. A number of countries in the Community have their own social policies in order to preserve the fabric of their society. Some of them have made a number of mistakes, from which we could learn. Because of the number of small farms and land units in various parts, we have to accept that it is virtually impossible for a farmer with a family to exist as they did 50 or 100 years ago on 25 or 40 acreas. They cannot eke out a worthwhile economic income. The obvious conclusion is that there will have to be a combination of two jobs. A person with a small farm will hold down a job in industry and at he same time look after the farm, perhaps growing vegetables and fulfilling other household needs. This trend is already developing. Unless we are to see the complete erosion of the society which exists in rural Ireland there will have to be greater acceptance of this type of thing. With modern technology it will be possible for young people using fibre optics to work in industry without leaving their home. It matters not whether they operate from the centre of the city or from the provincial town. Perhaps they will work in the environment in which they are born and reared. It is unlikely that this will be allowed to happen unless some regulatory agency is established to guide developments towards that objective. It will be too late to begin in five or ten years time. Given the kind of emigration we have experienced in recent years and the rate at which it is likely to continue over the next couple of years, it is imperative to create a situation where such people can acquire a small property in the country, in the case of those who come from that type of background. If we do not take such action we could find ourselves, as Deputy Sheehan so colourfully said, with a lot of high flying executives in rural Ireland with no knowledge of or commitment to the fabric of the rural structure. They would not blend in well and are not the ideal solution.

A rural development agency might fill the necessary role. There is an important area which I hope will not be forgotten. The fabric of rural society must be preserved at this important time of evolution in our society. I would ask the Minister to consider setting up some kind of regulatory agency in the evolutionary period into which we are now heading.

The land has always been an emotive issue and always will be. Life was lost for it. It will continue to be an emotive issue regardless of how unimportant it may seem in high financial circles. For that reason it is important that the ideals and the motivating forces that guide the people who live on the land are not forgotten.

The level playing field and the open market can be positive, but they can be a destructive and fragmenting influence also. A milk quota can have a dramatic effect on the value of the land when a small farm is put up for sale and this, in turn, can have a dramatic effect on access to that land by the people in the area. Suddenly it is out of the control of those who were born and bred and lived on the land and into the control of the people with the cheque books, the people with access to high finance, and it is a totally different ball game. There has been an inflationary trend recently which has not been helpful in dealing with the transfer and acquisition of land or its productive capacity in terms of those who are attempting to purchase it.

In recent times we have seen that inflation is rearing its head again. The peculiar thing is that it seems to be accepted by some as a positive thing. Of course it is always helpful and positive to somebody who wishes to dispose of property if they suddenly find that property is worth more; but once a property of any description takes on a value which is totally unrelated to its productive capacity on the original cost of construction there is grave danger. We should remember what happened from the early seventies onwards when land prices escalated to such an extent that there was competition between the various purchasers who went to their bank managers and were able to dictate the price of the property depending on how friendly the bank manager was. The price related not to the production capacity of the land but to the availability of finance or credit. Five or ten years down the road the people who had been lured into borrowing vast sums of money from banks and various other financial institutions who, in turn, spent years trying to squeeze it back out of them ended up destocking and leaving rural areas. People were so overburdened with debt that the only recourse they had was to close the door behind them and leave the country.

For that reason it is important that there be some regulatory agency with powers to guide the people who will be influential in determining where land will go over the next eight or ten years and so preserve the rural fabric of society at which people from all over Europe marvel when they come here. We should try to ensure that it does not disappear.

I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate. I have listened with interest to the contributions of many speakers, whose number shows there is a keen interest in what is happening in the House today. This is a sad day for the country. We are discussing The Irish Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill, 1989 and there is nothing to replace it. That strikes fear into the hearts of the small farmers of the country, the very people we are supposedly protecting. There is nothing in place now to protect them from unscrupulous outsiders who can come in and take land that is becoming available in the countryside.

Tributes have been paid to the work of the Land Commission, and rightly so. They were not without their faults, but they had a very difficult task to do. Dealing with land is never easy. People think hard before they surrender land. It takes a lot to persuade people to the idea that tidying up parcels of land that are scattered or far removed from the farm or the household is in their best interest. The Land Commission did a lot of good work here and their job is not finished.

It is only right to point out that during the last general election Fianna Fáil campaigned on the promise that there would be a land authority put in place of the Land Commission. I would like to know where are the proposals to bring in this land authority. There is no point in talking about it in 12 or 18 months time when the expertise of the people whom we are now going to make redundant is lost. What will happen to the inspectors, the people with a deep knowledge and commitment, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting and dealing with over the past 20 years in my own county of Cavan and later in the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan? They went about their duties in a manner that was a credit to them and which would be a credit to many Departments if the same painstaking effort were made in coming to a decision about things that matter.

It appears to be the policy to get rid of the small farmer. The county committees of agriculture were abolished. We now have Teagasc. Agricultural advice is no longer available to small farmers. It is available to the larger farmers who can pay for it. We have agricultural instructors who got out of the system, took redundancy and set themselves up as agricultural consultants, and I admire them. That is fine for the people who can afford to pay them the sort of money they would be seeking for the advice they have to give and the work they were doing in this country from the foundation of the State.

I would like to quote here from Article 45.2 of the Constitution:

The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing:—

v. That there may be established on the land in economic security as many families as in the circumstances shall be practicable.

We have a duty in this House to protect the rights of the small farmer. I wonder if what we are doing here today is constitutional? This is not a policy to be adopted or disregarded at will. It is a solemn directive to the Oireachtas and the principle that should dominate all farming choices.

Let me give some idea of what has happened here in relation to small farmers since 1946. In 1946 the number of people working in agriculture was 575,000 or 40 per cent of the working population. By 1971 — a quarter of a century during which the national population remained static at just under 3 million — the number engaged in agriculture had dropped to 273,000 or less than half the 1946 level. By 1981 — and this is more relevant — a decade later during which the national population had increased dramatically by 15 per cent, the number in agriculture had dropped by a staggering 30 per cent to 189,000. By 1986, a mere five years later during which the national population continued to expand, the number of people working in agriculture had dropped still further to 171,000, a fall of over 10 per cent. Throughout that 40 year period there has been a steady and unrelenting decrease of over 2 per cent each year in the farming population. In other words, where there were nine farmers five years ago, there are now eight; where there were nine farmers 15 years ago, there are now six and where there were nine farmers 40 years ago there are now two and a half. The message is spelled out clearly in those facts.

In the early fifties the indications were that the farming population should decrease to about 300,000 over one generation in order to achieve viable and healthy stability. By 1976 that marker had been significantly overrun and despite the smaller numbers it was apparent that no more than one-third of farmers had achieved viable status, that the future was in the balance for another one-third and that the remaining one-third would not survive. By 1980 there was a reduction by one-third in the 1970 figure. Today, when the farming population has shrunk to a catastrophically low and unacceptable level, one-third of farmers still have no prospects of survival, one-third have an uncertain future and one-third are secure. It is the farmers with no prospect of survival and those with an uncertain future about whom I am concerned. Without the Land Commission or an up-dated land authority to take their place there is no hope for those farmers.

Forty years ago there were 575,000 farmers farming 11 million acres and there are now about 65,000 farmers, with a reasonable prospect of survival, farming about four million acres to good effect, whereas there should be 200,000 farmers farming 11 million acres to good effect. Our national farm base continues to shrink at an unabated rate. To reduce the numbers in farming is certainly not the answer. The startling aspect of this statistical review is not so much what has happened but that it is still happening and is set to continue at an unabated pace unless very active and immediate steps are taken, first, to slow down the epic tide and then to hopefully reverse it to as healthy a level as the Constitution envisages.

In reply to a question put down in this House to the Minister for Agriculture and Food on Wednesday, 26 April asking him to give an up-to-date list of estates that are to be divided in the year 1989-90 in the counties of Cavan and Monaghan, the reason for the long delay in the division of such estates and if he would made a statement on the matter, he indicated that over 1,000 acres in counties Cavan and Monaghan have still to be divided. I would like to know how this land will be divided. The Minister stated in his speech on Second Stage of this Bill:

I should like to make clear that the enactment of this Bill will not affect the continuation of certain work and functions of the Commission. These are the disposal of land on hands; the revesting in the names of the new owners of land already allotted and land yet to be allotted; the exercise of statutory control over the sub-division of farms and over the purchase of land by non-qualified persons, mainly, companies and non-EC nationals; the promotion of group purchase and leasing of land as well as provision of assistance for schemes for rearrangement and commonage division, miscellaneous statutory and other obligations, such as the collection of annuities, custody of title documents and the management of lands awaiting disposal.

How can this continue if these people are to be made redundant and if there is no mechanism in place to continue the work they started?

This morning I listened to the spokesperson for the ICMSA — an organisation who have their ear close to the ground and I compliment them — Dan McCarthy, coming out very strongly against what is happening in the House today. I believe that over the weekend there will be a storm blowing in this country as a result of what we are about to do. Perhaps before we dissolve the Land Commission we should step back and take a look at the necessity of putting into place an organisation that can look after the welfare of the small farmers. When I am talking about small farmers I am not harping on people with 15, 25 or 30 acres. About 25 years ago 30 acres could have been seen to be a viable holding, but that is not the case today, but it is still possible to have a viable holding on 50 acres of Cavan land. I am not talking about the midlands or the south where I am sure you would need fewer acres because the land is much better. Because of the thriftiness and the ability of Cavan-Monaghan farmers to roll up their sleeves and do a day's work, they can still survive.

They are a bit erratic, like the football team.

We are coming back, watch out for us.

Those people can still survive on 40 acres. I visited a 40 acre holding last week where there are 25 cows and the quota is 52,000 gallons. You will not read about these people in the papers, but they have set a very high standard. These two brothers are doing an excellent job on that farm and earn an excellent livelihood. I know their figures are way above the average, and I am sure there are big inputs, but a very high standard has been achieved. The income from such a farm would keep a husband, wife and young family and they would have no fear of the future. That is not possible in many cases because of the quota restriction and the availability of the quota to small farmers. That is another area that may not be totally relevant to this Bill but it is part and parcel of the whole scene. Two months ago a quota of 45,000 gallons of milk was transferred from the north-east to the Minister's end of the country for £110,000 cash. I was at an EC committee meeting yesterday and I asked officials if this was possible and they said it was. It can be done with in the regulations, and it has happened.

The Land Commission are being abolished, the farm advisory service has been reduced and milk quotas are being transferred to the south, with the result that the whole north-eastern region will become totally depopulated. That is not good for the country, and it is certainly not good for that region. For that reason alone I am asking the Minister, in the name of humanity and fair play, to set up a land authority to give them further powers and to let them get involved in the whole business of land and milk quotas. That is the type of organisation that is needed as we approach 1992. Perhaps the whole issue of the internal market has been blown out of all proportions and after 1992 people will probably wonder what it was all about. Certainly barriers will be lowered but if people from European countries come here and buy land that would be serious and we would need some mechanism to protect our people.

Under the present policy of afforestation, good agricultural land is being bought up and planted. Years ago the policy in the Department of Forestry was that non-arable land, land far removed from main roads, would be planted. What is happening now? It is costing too much to make roadways into these backward places, as the people in the forestry business will confirm, and it is much handier and cheaper to plant trees along the main roads, but that was not the original intention. It was not intended to plant good land that was convenient to roadways and to services but rather to plant the backward, mountainous areas and marshland. I would certainly support the planting of that type of land but I would not agree with people competing with small farmers for much needed acreage. Seven, ten or 15 acres can make a great difference if one is under pressure.

I have a high regard for the Minister who was quite factual at the RDS yesterday when he told people what sort of job they were doing. That is what we want, not humbug. If people are told the truth, they will produce results. I appeal to the Minister to go back to his Cabinet and tell them that they have to put something in place of the Land Commission.

Some of the Minister's own backbenchers were reluctant to come in and support the Bill. Unfortunately, I was out of the House so I did not hear their contributions, but I have a high regard for the people who I know have contributed, and I have no doubt that their contributions were in line with what I am saying. We need a system to protect the people with regard to the restructuring of land.

I referred to over 1,000 acres in Cavan-Monaghan, but that is not the whole story. A lot more land is involved when one starts reorganising and swapping the land about. Ten or 15 years ago, it was difficult to get a farmer to agree to swap with a neighbour a field which he had inherited because the field was more convenient to the neighbour. That mood has changed now and because of disease control and so on, people realise that it is important to have their holdings in one unit. In dividing 1,000 acres I am sure another 1,000 acres would come on stream in swaps and reorganisation generally.

I hope I got the message across. I am speaking on behalf of the farmers of Cavan-Monaghan and on behalf of the 12 western counties. Some foreigners and others seem to have the cheque books to buy on the open market, and good luck to them. We are not in that position but we are improving. However, we still need the structures to help us to continue the job. I would not say that outsiders are not welcome; of course they are; but the people on the ground are entitled to the first refusal. They will not get that opportunity unless we put a mechanism in place to replace the Land Commission.

Now that the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk has come in, I appeal to him to take on board this problem, although the problem would not be as acute in Louth, where we tend to think that the farms are bigger and the land is better although it is not that far from the Monaghan border. I hope that when this Bill comes back before the House it will encompass our proposals. We would admire the Minister for doing that. We have supported the Government in the past by pointing out where they have gone wrong. The Minister should take on board the propositions I have made and the figures I have quoted fromThe Application of EEC Funding to Rural Development in Ireland a booklet well worth reading. There is aid and goodwill available from the EC for rural development in Ireland. The EC are concerned to protect the small farmer. The funding is available but we must fight our corner to get it.

Coming from the west of Ireland, and representing a segment of the people there, it is appropriate that somebody should refer to the fact that the land question has for 700 years been part of what we are. Michael Davitt would turn in his grave if he knew that the Government were about to abolish the Land Commission. We need a land settlement policy. It is preposterous that the Government should propose to abolish the Land Commission without replacing it with another body. The history of the Land Commission is a social study of the development of Irish people. The Minister understands that.

Land Commission inspectors were a peculiar breed. When faced with public representatives making representations in relation to portions of land, the Land Commission official would be very noncommittal, in case there might be a perception that a certain person would get a certain portion of land. Over the years, we were blessed with many Ministers for Lands, some of whom have gone to their eternal reward. As I grew up, I often heard stories from Fianna Fáil Cumann meetings. Most of that period was Fianna Fáil dominated and at these meetings individual Ministers for Lands divided estates between members and he might forget about the Comhairle Ceanntar chairman who, at the end of the night, might say "You have not given me anything at all" and the whole lot would be scrubbed, they would start all over again and work out a new land division before ever a Land Commission inspector came near the place.

The Deputy will regret that those days are gone.

Many a quietly supportive farmer went home happy in the knowledge that he had secured 50 acres from the Minister's visit and 50 years on, his grandchildren are still waiting for it to arrive, but it never did. Those days are gone and the Government obviously intend to nail them completely.

In dealing with small farmers, the division of estates was very important. It created a lot of bitterness and division but it also created unity among those who were going to get portions of the land. TDs at party meetings were faced with irate people who wanted to know how the other fellow could get the land, and the argument changed when a different Government came into office. This always was and always will be part of what we are. I regret the Minister's proposal to abolish the Land Commission.

When Land Commission officials were moved into the land tax area they disseminated a whole new range of information and knowledge. Farmers who might have had the use of a grandmother's estate or an uncle's estate might not be very forthcoming in having that declared. It was a fact of life, certainly up until a number of years ago, that a great deal of land was not vested in the names of those who had the beneficial use of it. The Minister for Social Welfare's investigations brought a certain amount of this to light. It is fair to say that while a farmer may have the use of 20 to 25 acres of land through family connections or legacies from America, far more land could be made available. The Minister understands what I am talking about.

When there were attempts to transfer former Land Commission officials from land tax to their own area there was a total collapse in the system and Land Commission officials were at work but had nothing to do because there was no land to divide and their role was very unclear. Those officials who had dealt with farmers down through the years were not accepted too kindly into tax collection.

This is a far more serious problem than some people would have us believe because many of the bigger companies and corporations with surplus funds and profits are now investing in land acquisition. Resource companies who are acquiring property all over the country are being set up on a fairly regular basis. That is in fact a trend not only towards national landlordism, which is happening in some counties, but towards international landlordism. It is only right and proper, fair and feasible that there should be some restraint on the trend whereby significant quantities of this country's soil is being bought and held in hands of multinational companies, foreigners or other EC nationals. On the Continent they do not have the opportunity nor, in some cases, the right to ownership because of the cost or structure of the acquisition of land, but they always like to say that they have a place they can call their own. Continentals, French and Germans in particular, have a very great tendency to want to acquire a place of their own. Right along the west coast, from Donegal to west Kerry, significant numbers of foreigners have acquired land in the past decade. This is a serious trend and we, as Irish people, have to ask ourselves whether we want to sell our country, lock, stock and barrel to these people, though under EC law they have the right to purchase land here. However, I think it is only fair that there should be a method of restraining this trend.

There has been significant development in forestry plantations. In my own county a significant number of individual householders have had vast areas of plantations put right up to their front doors while 3,000 to 10,000 hectare plantations start at the edge of rural communities. This destroys the whole fabric and character of an area. I know that forestry is important, but there has to be a land use policy. Some countries, on an acreage basis have ensured that every single acre is zoned for a particular purpose. There is indiscriminate development in many areas in our country. That is regrettable. It is important that a specific land policy be brought about whereby land that comes on the market or that is available for transfer should come within a Government backed co-ordinated land policy. If the Government of the day wish to have a land policy they must be prepared to pay for it. It appears to me that the Government are not prepared to make the resources available to implement a land policy or a decent reusage or settlement process. It is only when the water in the tap runs dry that people appreciate the value of it. It would be regrettable if, in ten years time, we would have left our decreasing farming community in a position where they would be unable to acquire land either because of the price of it or because it would be snapped up immediately on an open market by international companies or by foreign individuals with plenty of money to spend.

I want to address my remarks on commonage to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food Deputy Kirk. There are different kinds of commonages and the division of some of this has caused problems for the tenants or shareholders. The law states that where a majority require division it can be done through the courts, but often there are objections because a minority group or an individual tenant holder might have much greater use of the commonage than other shareholders. The use of commonage lends itself to the spread of bovine TB and I remember raising this issue with Mr. Gibbons when he was Minister for Agriculture. This question needs to be looked at seriously. However, there are particular types of commonage that cannot be divided because of an interest by the wildlife section of the Department of Forestry. I will send the Minister information on some of these commonages. There is an EC directive by which funds can be made available for commonage areas that are unique and that are part of our distinct heritage in terms of flora, fauna, botany and all of that. There is a number of such commonages in the west and they have caused a great deal of controversy. The Minister might deal with the directive and sort out some of the problems of funding. If the Government wish to have a land settlement process and land re-use proposals, they must be prepared to pay but it appears that this Government are not prepared to put up the resources to provide a structured and ordered land policy.

As I have said, there is a trend towards international landlordism. Many of the spectacular scenic areas of the west have been purchased by people from abroad. While there is no legal restriction on them, I think it would be a shame that such areas could no longer be in common usage, as it were. Archbishop Cassidy used to operate a system whereby the produce of diocesan land was used to assist Third World countries. There is a strong moral argument that we, who have had our own difficulties for hundreds of years, should not allow land to lie fallow when it has an inherent capacity to produce food that could assist those who do not have enough food to live, thereby saving a great number of lives.

As I said, forestry development has become a very significant factor in land use.

Deputy Kenny is giving a delightful treatise but is it entirely relevant to the legislation before us?

Forestry is a very important part of the development of land.

We are dealing with the Irish Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill.

The Land Commission officials would always talk to farmers about the bit of commonage when they were proposing to give them additional land. Land Commission officials dealt with land that was either given to the Department of Forestry or sold to them by individual farmers so I think it is somewhat relevant, although your interpretation, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle might be more accurate than mine. The history of the development of land is unique and has caused a great deal of strife. The essential point is that there should be a restraining force in regard to the sale of land in this country. In his speech the Minister went into the background behind the introduction of this Bill. He said the Bill is designed to bring about the dissolution of the Land Commission, the revocation of the power of the State to take over land, except by exchange for land settlement purposes, and the transfer to the President of the High Court of the jurisdictions vested in the Office of the Judicial Commissioner and the Appeals Tribunal. Were the existing land commissioners consulted about this matter? Were they asked for their views and any poposals they may have? Were they asked how they would see land policy developing in the years ahead?

Debate adjourned.