Representing a county such as Kerry, which has benefited considerably from Land Commission activities over the past 100 years, it gives me great pleasure to contribute to this debate. Throughout the history of this country land and the law pertaining to it have been at the very core of social and economic life to an extent rarely equalled in important elsewhere.
The concept of land itself is a complex one, varying in meaning from age to age, from country to country, from one society to another, indeed from one professional group to another. For example, to agricultural scientists land is the soil, the basic resource for the production of agricultural produce. To the economist it is a factor of production along with labour, capital and management, while planners and geographers view land as the earth's surface or simply a space. To the legal profession land is property, and property confers rights, privileges and obligations. Conservationists see land as part of the natural environment. From a sociological point of view land is a basis of wealth, social status or class, power, prestige and security. Taking a wider view, land is a concept loaded with sentiment and symbolism.
Our history has given the Irish farmer an exceptionally strong attachment to his land, reflected in a tendency to withhold its possession until the last moment rather than pass it on to his successors or retire. Of course, in this country for centuries land has been linked to emotions and aspirations for freedom, independence and social equality.
As a commodity land has certain special characteristics distinguishing it from any other commodity know to economics. It is the source of all other forms of material wealth beginning with foodstuffs. It is God-given, not man made, though it can be modified by the hand and work of man. It is perennial, not subject to the processes which destroy other resources. If well treated and rotated it will remain, and has remained, productive throughout time. It is limited in extent and this is as true with regard to any individual country as to the overall surface of the globe. Since land is an essential commodity to all people its very existence cannot be over-emphasised. Therefore there ought to be wider distribution of land and property rather than having it piled up in the hands of the few.
The proper usage of land stems from its self-evident importance. Agriculture is this country's basic industry, the main source of foreign exchange being our agricultural exports. Indeed, the country's economic wellbeing and future growth are allied to our ability to earn money abroad. Agriculture accounts for about half of our total exports while continuing to have a very low import content. A substantial proportion of the country's working population is employed either on the land or in industries and services allied to agriculture. Therefore it will be readily seen that the development of the potential of our land is crucial to our economic expansion and wellbeing. Current emphasis is on efficiency, productivity and profit. The desire to modernise has emanated from the farmer himself and from the pressures of a competitive market. This highlights the need to ensure that land is maintained in the hands of those best equipped to use it, thereby ensuring maximum benefit to the economy.
In Ireland the issues of land ownership and reform are almost synonymous with the Land Commission. For example, in the 108 years since its inception the Land Commission have reversed the cumulative effects of centuries of strife and violence by restoring to the Irish farmer the land and legal rights filched from him by a succession of penal enactments.
I had intended to sketch briefly here the role and impact of the various Land Acts comprising the land code. However, as this matter has been adequately dealt with by the Minister and Deputy Doyle, I shall refrain from doing so. However, the reform brought about by the Land Acts under the British regime by the Land Commission and the congested district boards was substantial. For example, over 316,000 holdings covering 11 million acres were purchased by or for tenants for a consideration of £100 million. In addition, 750,000 acres of untenanted land had been divided among 35,000 allotees, either by way of enlargement of uneconomic holdings or by the creation of new holdings. Since 1923 almost 110,000 tenants have had their holdings vested in them by the Land Commission for advances totalling almost £18 million. In addition, over 2.3 million acres of untenanted land has been distributed. As has been pointed out by previous speakers, including the Minister, the Land Commission were concerned also with the human problems pertaining to tenants and allotees, whose lot they strove to improve.
When engaging in research in preparation for this debate I came across the following extract fromBusiness and Finance of a number of years ago which read:
Finally, it should be remembered that the Irish Land Commission since its earliest days has been dealing with problems which are not only of immense national importance but deeply human. Statistics on acreages acquired and moneys spent, endless legislation and mounds of paperwork can cloud over the fact that for the farmer battling against insurmountable odds to eke an existence from a few acres of rock in Donegal or Kerry, the Land Commission means a chance to begin a new life. It means an end to the uneven struggle against nature which has already probably killed his parents and forced his brother and sisters to emigrate, and an opportunity to return again in many cases to the region from which his forefathers were driven at the point of a sword. But it means a parting of neighbours and friends who have lived together for generations, who have helped each other through the bad times and who feel uneasy about the prospect of moving in among strangers.
The Land Commission has recognised this human problem also and has tried to ease it by migrating groups of neighbouring smallholders to new farms in the same locality. This group migration scheme has had the added advantage to do a better job for those who remain behind. In addition all acquired land is rehabilitated and fertilised before it is handed over to its new owners and holding for migrants are equipped with new houses and outoffices where necessary.
In the Land Commission, then, Ireland has a unique institution which has, during its 89 years' existence, reversed many of the wrongs perpetrated throughout seven centuries of turbulent history and inspired a body of agrarian legislation which is very much in line with modern thinking and could well prove to be ahead of its time in an EEC context. The role of the Commission has developed over the years from that of a rent-fixing tribunal to a major agency for the implementation of agrarian policy. As this policy develops, as it must under EEC conditions, the Commission is certain to have an increasingly important role to play in ensuring that the land of Ireland is divided equitably amongst our agricultural population and that it is used to produce for them, and for the nation, a wealthy harvest on which the future of this country must, to a very large extent, ultimately depend.
Indeed, many of the sentiments expressed in that article have been voiced by Deputy Nealon and several other contributors to this debate.
The Land Commission have been vested with extensive powers to acquire lands required for their statutory purposes. In granting those powers — now being revoked under the provisions of this Bill — the Legislature imposed strict limitations on them in order to safeguard owners' rights. Those limitations are carefully defined by statute and governed by rule. As a result, the legal process of acquiring land was a lengthy one which frequently tended to follow the line of most rather than least resistance.
Land acquired compulsorily was often non-residential or neglected and was not serving fully the national economy. In practice a substantial portion of the lands which came into the hands of the Land Commission was purchased on a voluntary basis. Full market value was paid to the owners.
Such a land policy as we have derives from the directive, Principles of Social Policy, as outlined in the Constitution, Article 45.2.v. which states that:
The State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing ... That there may be established on the land in economic security as many families as in the circumstances shall be practicable.
Since 1939 that policy has as its primary objective the structural reform of uneconomic holdings throughout the State, with special emphasis on the relief of the acute congestion prevailing in western countries. To this end performance in recent years was aimed at an annual land re-settlement programme in the region of 30,000 acres. In addition to the distribution of land among sub-standard land holders and the creation of new life-size farms, it was the policy of the Land Commission to re-arrange into compact workable units holdings which are held in rundale, that is in scattered strips, frequently unfenced and without any proper means of communication between them.
To keep pace with the upsurge in living standards the Land Commission found it necessary to review from time to time the concept of what a viable farm unit should be, with the result that the area has progressively been increased down through the years from eight to ten hectares to the current level of 16 to 18 hectares of good land or the equivalent in land of mixed quality. The adoption of this standard in 1962 was designed to take into account the then current outlook and trends in family income and development in farming techniques. It was considered that a family farm should be capable not alone of affording a standard of living comparable with that available to those engaged in non-agricultural employment but also of maintaining the farm family in comfort under conditions of intensified competition in the future. Indeed, that was one of the hopes we had when entering the Common Market. That policy certainly looked to the future and what was going to happen.
Two milestones in the recent evolution of land policy were (1) the report of the interdepartmental committee on land reform issued in May 1978 and (2) the White Paper on land policy published in December 1980. As regards the report of the interdepartmental committee on land reform, I would like to list some of the most important findings and recommendations of the committee. Firstly, as long as a considerable proportion of the country's land resources remain under utilised and unproductive the agricultural industry cannot make its proper contribution to the development of the economy. This gives the clearest possible justification for directing new policies towards ensuring that all land is, as far as possible, productively and efficiently used in the future. Secondly, the inherent productive capacity of the land is not exploited to anything like its full potential with the available level of technology. Estimates of the country's grassland potential point to considerable discrepancies between the technical capacity and what is actually being achieved. Thirdly, whatever growth is being attained is coming from two thirds of our land. The problem of achieving agricultural development on the low producing farms will not be solved simply by improving farm product prices, increasing the level of investment or applying modern technology. All these are necessary, but they will evoke a response only from those farmers who are able and willing to combine good management with a basic amount of land. Fourthly, the land tenure system, characterised by a high incidence of owner occupancy, and thus a virtual absence of long term leasing, coupled with a tradition of late transfer of family holdings, does not provide the basis for a high degree of land mobility from one set of users to another. The land market is limited and the way it operates is not conducive to the emergence of a more favourable farm structure. Many farms are small and of poor quality.
The main proposals of the committee in dealing with those problems were: future land policy to be based predominantly on measures which would promote the efficient use of land for agricultural development and a new land agency to be established in place of the Land Commission to implement future land policy. This agency was to monitor sales of agricultural land, and vendors would have to notify the agency of proposed sales and advertise the sales in a prescribed manner. The agency would be empowered to operate a system of control in land market transactions and maintain a register of priority entitlement land applicants to whom the agency would endeavour to channel land becoming available on the market. No purchaser would be allowed to acquire agricultural land which would bring his total holding in excess of a certain level. There would be no limit on the amount of land acquired through a direct inheritance or intra farming transfers.
A number of other proposals were made which I will not list here. Overall it was a fairly detailed charter for dealing with the problems of land use and land mobility and obviously one to which considerable thought was given by the committee. It is fair to say that the report has more or less been ignored to date. Certainly, this Bill, which deals only with the dissolution of the Land Commission and does not deal with any new proposal on land policy, reflects that this report was not considered when this Bill was being drafted.
In the event what followed two years later was a White Paper. The policy outlined in that had two broad aims: firstly, to influence the land market in such a way as to make it possible for smaller, more progressive farmers to procure additional land; and, secondly, to promote the more efficient use of land so that agriculture could make the greatest possible contribution to the national economy. Indeed, as Deputy Stagg mentioned yesterday the measures proposed were radical and it was unfortunate that they were not taken on board. I will list some of these proposals. All purchases of agricultural land exceeding a certain level would require the consent of the Land Commission or the Land Authority. Purchases of agricultural land would attract a surcharge ranging from 15 per cent to 50 per cent of the purchase price in the case of farmers depending on the size of the final holding and 60 per cent in other cases. There would be no surcharge where farmer's final holding did not exceed a certain limit; a small holder whose existing holding did not exceed a certain level could qualify for a premium in respect of such additional land purchased as would bring his final holding up to a viable level. A new farmers' retirement scheme was to be prepared and earlier succession to be promoted, leasing to be encouraged and facilitated, commonage division to be stepped up, etc. It also proposed that local lists of suitable farmers be drawn up who would have priority access to land coming on the market.
When you consider both the inter-departmental committee report and also the White Paper on land policy and what has transpired over the past seven or eight years, I could say that both were ignored except for an effort by the former Minister of State, Deputy Connaughton, to introduce more attractive long term leasing. Nevertheless, one could safely say that the efforts of the inter-departmental committee and also what was proposed in the White Paper were futile and in vain.
In the light of all that has been written, studied and suggested as a means of improving land use and land structure, where do we go? We must ask ourselves the basic question; "Do we need a land policy and, if so, what form should it take?" We can adopt the stance that changing the land structure pattern is best left to the free play of the market, which seems to be the policy of the present Government. This means that a fat purse will be the sole criterion of eligibility to purchase. In other words, whoever has the cheque book will decide on who will buy the land. The likelihood in that event is that the bulk of land coming up for sale will be bought by wealthy large farmers. There has already been evidence that half of the open market land went to people who were not full time farmers. If, on the other hand, it is accepted thatlaissez faire is not the answer, then the question is: “What should the aims of the land policy be?” Is it to promote the more efficient use of the country's land resources while allowing for a reasonable distribution of ownership? Is this a sufficient aim? Land is not an asset for the benefit of whoever owns it — it has a social dimension.
What are the problems which an effective land policy should seek to put right? I have already mentioned some, but I will summarise them. Under-use of land is one, because many owners are not able or sufficiently interested to develop their holdings. There is a considerable number of holdings which are too small to be viable for those who are dependent for their livelihood on agriculture and who are using land efficiently. The rate of land mobility is slow due to the smallness of the land market, late retirements and reluctance to engage in long term leasing.
The direction of such land mobility as exists is towards people with other occupations, rather than smallholders and young qualified landless farmers. We must ask if this House adheres to the long standing acceptance throughout the community of the philosophy that not only do we need a strong agricultural industry but that the basic unit of production must be the family farm where a decent livelihood can be had under reasonable working conditions.
In County Kerry we have lost over 2,000 from the land in the past ten years. We are losing small farmers at an average rate of 300 every year. Over 60 per cent of suppliers to North Kerry Milk Products, one of our largest co-operatives, have over 12,000 gallons of a milk quota. If this policy, or lack of policy, continues, these farmers will be cleaned off the land in ten years' time. I give another statistic. Only 5 per cent of those supplying the Kerry co-operative have quotas of over 50,000 gallons. In an area like Kerry where there are so many smallholders there is a need for a policy, for State intervention. Whoever owns the cheque book will decide on who will get the land. What we will have will be a small number of large farmers and the whole country will be devoid of its very soul, the small farming community.
In the national plan the Government presented to Europe, various references were made to rural depopulation and to preserving the small farmer on the land. The reasoning behind the proposal to dissolve the Land Commission — various reasons were given in support of this and I know that it was proposed by my own party — was that something would be put in its place. Is it the intention of the Minister's party, as promised at the last election, that there will be a land authority to take its place? It is essential to ensure that the small farmer, especially in the west, will not remain an endangered species, as is the position at present.
Agriculture will remain our largest industry for the foreseeable future. When we speak of the farmer, and especially the family farmer, we are speaking of the worker in our largest industry. It is a harsh, unpalatable fact of life that there are still between 70,000 and 80,000 family holdings below the current standard of 40 to 45 adjusted acres. That acreage is threatened because of what has been happening recently on the land market. The fact that so many farmers subsist on uneconomic holdings and still can win a livelihood from the land is testimony to their industry and determination. In a recent article published in theIrish Times of 17 March last, Michael Dillon, on the occasion of the presentation of the Small Farm Development Awards, had this to say:
The progress of Irish farming was well demonstrated yesterday at the presentation of the Small Farm Development Awards. The standard of the winners of all the classes, and of many others who entered, was very high in any context, and provides a startling contrast with those in the first such competition about 30 years ago.
All of these people have shown that small enterprises can still be very successful, and that intelligence, determination and commitment to hard work can overcome most handicaps. Very many awards went to husband and wife teams.
The article dealt mostly with the enterprise of the small farmer and the potential that rests in that community. It bears out my point that the small farmer must be protected and given a chance.
The article continues:
The Minister for Food, Mr. Joe Walsh, who presented the awards, was particularly pleased with that sort of entry.
—meaning the small farmer and husband and wife team—
bringing an alternative enterprise on to the farm, at a time when expansion in traditional enterprises is being restricted.
At this juncture I turn to the Bill before us and must ask a very pertinent question. To what extent does it lay a basis for a national land policy which will eliminate, or at least lessen, the impact of the problems outlined? I see no reference in the explanatory memorandum to policy in relation to land use, to mobility or to structural reform. The tone is set in the first sentence which says that the purpose of the Bill is to dissolve the Land Commission, to revoke powers to acquire land under land purchase Acts, etc. I fail to see, in any of the provisions of the Bill, a mechanism of any kind for the development of a coherent land policy. Is land policy to be regarded as being of no significance in the future?
Under section 2, all powers conferred on the Land Commission by the Land Purchase Acts to acquire or purchase land are being abolished, except by way of exchange. Compulsory land acquisition has in the past been a difficult business, involving objections, court hearings, appeals and ultimately refusals, in many instances, to hand over possession. These powers were considerably curtailed by various High Court and Supreme Court decisions and judgments. These were the checks and balances that one finds in any democratic society. The rights of individual land owners were fully protected and the Land Commission had to prove their case for acquisition up to the hilt before they could acquire the land and then often only for very specific purposes such as relief of agricultural congestion in the locality.
These powers constituted one of the greatest array of weapons designed to provide the ultimate sanction against the neglect and misuse of land that should be put to better use. As far as I am aware no country in the European Community is equipped with such powers. Used wisely and discreetly, they are a great deterrent to indifferent land use. Now they are being wiped out. I feel that this may prove to be a big mistake. Could the Minister refer to this when replying to Second Stage debate? Why not let the Land Commission lie dormant on the Statute Books in case they need to be reintroduced at some future stage to counter abuses in the use and disposition of land, and stop undesirable accumulations which can leave real smallholders high and dry in their quest for additional land. The explanatory memorandum says "The intention is to revoke all powers to take over land (except of exchange) for land settlement purposes".
Both the report of the inter-departmental committee and the White Paper envisaged compulsory land acquistion as a last resort. Why is this concept being overthrown? I see that with the demise of compulsory acquisition the intention of Section 4 is that the balance of the Land Commission's functions will devolve on the Minister and he will be authorised to delegate to his officers such functions as he sees fit. I presume that these functions will include adjudicating on applications for purchase of land by non-qualified persons under section 45 of the Land Act of 1965. In this connection I must ask what are the criteria governing the method for dealing with these applications at present and what will they be under the new arrangements.
Deputy Doyle referred in her speech to the question of unqualified persons and said that this cateogry should be carefully defined in view of the fact that large companies are now coming into Ireland and buying up large stretches of land, be it for forestry or other purposes, or just to leave it lie dormant.
It is our duty as legislators to ensure the land of Ireland will not become again the preserve of the rich and the ranchers with the very existence of our smallholders threatened. At present member nationals of the EC exercising the right of establishment can buy as much land here as they like without reference to the Land Commission. All they have to do is put a certificate in the deed of transfer to the effect that they are exercising the right of establishment. No records are available to show the extent of these transactions. We have no figures to show how much of the land of Ireland is passing from native to other hands. Again I would like the Minister to refer to this in his reply. It will be interesting to know these figures.
It may be argued that it makes no difference how many EC nationals are buying Irish land since they are entitled to do so. It is here the relevance of the land commissioners' compulsory powers is seen. These powers can be used to discourage undesirable accumulation of land, provided they are exercised in a non-discriminatory manner and used in an evenhanded way to discourage Irish speculators as well as non-Irish speculators. Leaving aside EC nationals, what about all the others who can now buy as much land as they like if they have enough money, regardless of whether they need that land? Will they continue to have a free hand? This House and expecially the Minister must address these problems.
Section 8 of the Bill deals with what has always been a difficult and controversial aspect of Land Commission work, that is, land division, getting rid of the land that will still be undivided when the Land Commission are dissolved. The Minister will now take over that job which has always been left to the independent and impartial discretion of the commissioners. Notices will be published in the paper alerting interested applicants that the lands are to be sold. How many applicants will see a notice inIrish Oifigiúil or in at least one newspaper published and ciruclating in the county in which the land is situated? Is there any real substitute for the detailed and solid local inspection and inquiries that take place at present where every smallholder living within a mile of the land is automatically considered and interviewed?
My experience of land division is that, while the choice of successful allottees might not always have been my choice, I still could not find fault with the thorough, painstaking efforts of the local inspectors who made such a detailed assessment of each applicant. Deputy Nealon referred to political interference and so forth by Ministers and, no doubt, because the Minister's party were in power for such a long time, land divisions were sometimes associated with being a member of the local cumann or whatever, but I would not blame the local officers in most cases. They only submitted their proposals. One of the reasons for the dissolution of this body was political interference; but whether that is true I do not know. Certainly, where I saw land distributed I thought it was done fairly in most cases.
Deputy Nealon referred to land annuities. It seems as if many people around the country who got land from the Land Commission are now seriously in arrears with payments of their half yearly instalments. I see no reference in the Bill to the possibility of enabling these annuities to be reduced or arrears written off. Under the new dispensation, that is when the Land Commission are gone, who will deal with these thorny issues of reducing or mitigating the effects of high annuities? For example, who is going to take responsibility now for these annuities? Now that land bonds are being abolished, according to recent announcements in the papers, would this not be a suitable opportunity to take a new look at the whole question of land annuities and see whether there is a case to be made for encouraging people to pay off the annuities on favourable terms? A scheme operated last year for house purchase where a number of local authority tenants purchased their houses. I suggest that the Minister of State present discuss with his Minister the possibility that people who have land and are paying annuities be given the chance of buying their land and buying out their annuities.
Another point I would like to mention is the question of rearranging intermixed holdings and dividing commonages. While these are very laudable and necessary operations, they are nevertheless marginal to the mainstream purpose of improving land use, structures and mobility. With the disappearance of compulsory powers to intervene in these activities, there will be no adequate measures for dealing with unco-operative and difficult tenants and commage shareholders. How will the Minister address this problem with the disappearance of these powers? How will he acquire this land compulsorily? What measures can be taken?
When the Land Commission have been consigned to the scrapheap of history we will have no body or agency to intervene on behalf of the many deserving small farmers and qualified young landless applicants who so desperately need land to make their livelihood. Deputy Nealon referred to an article in today'sIrish Independent in which Dan McCarthy of the ICMSA Family Farm Development Committee referred to this Bill. I quote from page 8:
The Minister for Agriculture, Michael O'Kennedy, is now presiding over the sale of land to "unqualified persons" at the rate of 3,500 acres per month, ...
This is staggering, really frightening—
This is happening at the same time as hundreds of well-qualified young agricultural people are forced to emigrate for the want of land, the chairman of the ICSMA Family Farm Development Committee, Dan McCarthy said.
"Foul and fraud" is the description given by Mr. McCarthy to the Bill now before the Dáil to dissolve the Land Commission.
Mr. McCarthy said the Bill was foul because it will permanently damage the viability prospects of thousands of very good small farmers. It is a fraud he said because the Taoiseach scarcely two and a half years ago when he led the Opposition, promised the ICSMA that accompanying the Bill to dissolve the Land Commission would be a Bill to establish a new Land Authority.
"The Minister for Agriculture is now presiding over the sale of land to unqualified persons at the rate of 3,500 acres per month" he said.
"This cannot be defended, particularly at a time when hundreds of well qualified young persons with either Green Certificates, or one year's training at an agricultural college, or on completion of the three year Farm Apprenticeship Scheme, are forced to emigrate, for the want of land.
This bears out the point I am making. What kind of mechanism does this House consider should be brought into play to enable these deserving and enterprising applicants to gain access to the land they are more than willing to work to its full potential if they can obtain it?
When I was researching for this speech I came across a quotation from the Most Reverend Doctor Philbin, Bishop of Clonfert, away back in 1959, writing on rural problems and I will quote an extract from it:
In Ireland we should not allow ourselves to become pessimistic to the point of passivity about what is happening. We have advantages and assets which we ought to cultivate in order to balance the difficulties we must contend with. The chief reason why I am confident that we can maintain a wide distribution of land ownership is the attachment of so many of our young men to the land and their desire to become farmers, even in a small way.
This may seem an extremely controvertible statement in view of the extent to which young people are deserting the countryside. Yet, to anyone who examines the picture carefully at close quarters, the most significant fact is not the numbers that are leaving the land but the extent to which the love of farming and the desire to become farmers are rooted in the bulk of our rural population. This attachment to the land is surely our greatest single economic asset. It behoves us to give every encouragement and satisfaction to it to see that it secures the recompense without which it cannot survive and to neutralise, as far as we can, the influences that are countering it. I am convinced that if we build upon this foundation, we can go a long way towards minimising the evil effects of emigration and rural depopulation, even though we shall probably always have to accept a certain measure of these.
This was back in 1959. Would these stirring words be easily translated to 1989? Dan McCarthy is echoing the same sentiments today in theIrish Independent.
There are many other points I should like to develop on this theme of attachment to the land and facilitating easy access, but I do not wish to take up too much of the time of the House. I will refer briefly to some other matters which should have been dealt with in this Bill. Long term leasing of land is one example. Should we not think in terms of incentives to encourage a general change of attitude to this form of land holding, the advantages of which are manifold? It is accepted that in addition to actual transfer, leasing could be an answer to the problem of getting land into the hands of younger and more enterprising farmers. However, it is a practice which at present has hardly any place in our land tenure system and there is no easy way to ensure immediate and widespread acceptance of it. The short-term letting of land on the 11-month system is common, with very often the same land being taken by the same person for several years in succession. It would seem to be a short step from that to a system of leasing for an extended period of five to six years, for example. Yet this does not happen. The Land Bill introduced by the then Minister of State, Deputy Paul Connaughton, tried to do just that but there is no evidence that it has succeeded on the ground. I appeal to the Minister to try to make long-term leasing more attractive to farmers. There is a fear regarding land ownership and so forth but if the farmer feels he is protected by law and is given the right incentives I believe he will be prepared to lease his land on a long term basis. That attitude does not prevail at present among the vast majority of farmers. They are afraid to lease their land for more than 11 months in case by some means they could lose it.
Another aspect of land ownership which worries me is the relatively slow rate of transfer or mobility. Deputy Connaughton, speaking some time ago, said that the great bulk of land passing from one management to another is by way of inheritance or gift from one parent to son or daughter. The Deputy went on to say that late inheritance in Irish farming has been a much debated problem for generations and that the tradition that the Irish farmer remains active in farming and in control of the land right up to his death means that the heir to his farm is denied control during his most enterprising and ambitious years. Deputy Connaughton concluded that this obviously has an adverse effect on agricultural development, especially in the present day and age when we need the initiative and enthusiasm of younger farmers to cope with the demands of modern farming technology.
The young farmer establishment aid scheme was an incentive to farmers to hand on farms to their sons. It has been reasonably successful but unfortunately a farmer must have one labour unit to qualify. The people with one labour unit are generally the bigger farmers. The problem remains at the level of the smaller farmers who do not have one labour unit and therefore do not qualify. The Minister might indicate whether it is the intention to change the qualifying requirement for young farmer establishment aid. An EC directive stipulated one labour unit but that prohibits a large number of young farmers from applying.