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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a second time".

I have never been a great subscriber to the value of putting things on the Official Record of the House, and this is no reflection on your House, A Cheann Comhairle, but the fact is that the Official Report is seldom read other than by people immediately concerned. That is a sad fact. However, as representative of the area of Sligo-Leitrim I have an obligation to put on record my recognition of the work of that body and some reflections and comments on it. I should also like to make some suggestions in regard to the future.

I come to this Bill with mixed feelings. On the one hand I am pleased that effect is being given to the decision of the previous Government to abolish the commission. On the other hand, like many other Deputies, I regret the passing of a part of our history. The Land Commission have been in existence for over 100 years and have played no small part in the life of the country. Indeed, as far as the west is concerned, they played a major part in the land structure of the entire area west of the Shannon.

It is quite a coincidence that the man mainly responsible for the commission being set up in the first place and in the dissolution should have the same name, Deasy. The former Deasy, whose work was responsible for setting up the Land Commission — or brought it on would be a more accurate term — was Attorney General to the Chief Secretary in the middle of the last century. He was responsible for the 1860 Act which laid down that the land of Ireland belonged exclusively to the landlords and that the tenants had no rights to it, apart from those granted by the landlords. When that Act was passed the tenants could be thrown out on a whim without notice or compensation. The reaction to that was naturally a very vigorous campaign for agrarian reform which led in 1881 to the setting up of the Land Commission.

The second Deasy involved was my colleague, Deputy Deasy, who presided over the Department of Agriculture — now the Department of Agriculture and Food — at the time of the decision to abolish the commission. Originally, the purpose of the Commission was to ensure that the tenant had certain basic rights such as the fixing of a fair rent. Later, however, the demand was for the abolition of landlordism, and every schoolchild is aware that it became part of our political history of the late 19th century. The campaign was successful. The process of buying out the landlords and making tenants the owners of their own farms began towards the end of that century. It was completed by the Land Act, 1923 which was piloted through this House by the distinguished first Minister for Agriculture of the new State, Mr. Paddy Hogan. By the time the Cumann na nGaedheal Government had left office in 1932 the wheel had turned full circle and after years of confiscation and eviction the land of Ireland was back again in native hands.

However, while the abolition of landlordism was a great victory it did little to remove the poverty of the small farmers, many of whom were concentrated in the west. Indeed, some of them lived in parts of County Tipperary, where the Ceann Comhairle comes from. They continued to live in very poor conditions and in many cases they merely subsisted. Many of the farms were small and fragmented. Their owners had no capital to do anything about their holdings and no equipment. Over the last 50 years or so the Land Commission have helped many of those smallholders. They had wide powers to compulsorily acquire land that was put up for sale or that was badly worked for distribution in turn to smallholders. The aim was to bring as many of them as possible up to a viable standard.

At one time the standard was 22 acres and, as we know now, that is too small a holding but at the time it represented a reasonable holding in the opinion of the authorities and of the farmers who worked them. Later the standard became 45 acres of good land. Inevitably, there was not enough land to go around and this led to the problem of selection. Any Member who has served in this House for a long period will be well aware of that problem. The criteria were, acreage already being farmed by the applicant, family circumstances, number in families, distance from the land being divided and farming ability. The Land Commission re-arranged holdings which were scattered and fragmented to make compact units. They built houses, out-offices, roads where necessary and laid on water.

I have vivid memories of the first such activity I saw in the townland of Cloongoonagh, next to my home townland of Coolrecull near Aclare in south Sligo, being divided up in that fashion. Excellent houses were provided. I met the people involved in that activity as I went to school. About the same time the "striping", which was the term used, of a very large field, known as Clarke's field, took place. My own football club, then known as the Aclare Football Club and now known as Tourlestrane, got its first football pitch through an extraordinary development. I do not know the full explanation for it. Apparently, the field had first to be handed over to the Church and the Church, in turn, were in a position to give it to the football team. The Land Commission, for what reason I do not know, were not entitled to hand it over to the football team. The field served us very well and was used by many famous footballers. Two weeks ago a new pitch was opened in that area and we had as guests a famous Kerry team. I am glad to be able to report that Sligo drew with Kerry on that occasion. I am not suggesting that Kerry were at their full strength. Indeed, it was a team that my colleague, Deputy Deenihan, might have figured on had he wished even though he has retired from inter-county football.

Coming as I do from that background, and from the west, I must make mention of the migration scheme. I accept that there were very few migrants from County Sligo and that most of them were from Galway and Mayo. However, migration was very much a feature of the work of the Land Commission. The scheme began in 1935 and it was a great social experiment under which small western farmers gave up their land at home and moved to new holdings in the east. The farms they gave up were used to enlarge the holdings of those who stayed behind. Successful though the scheme was it brought with it great sadness. No person likes to leave the place where he or she was born, where their parents and grandparents lived and where their friends are. No one likes to move to a strange place even if it is located within their own country. It is important to remember that we are talking about a different era, in the thirties and forties. The leaving was accompanied by great sorrow and it was traditional in the west that the night before such departures the neighbours would call to the house for what was similar to an "American wake". Although people were moving to the other side of the country it was, in the context of travel at that time and lack of communication, similar to one going into exile. I recall a young reporter working withThe Irish Press in the mid-fifties — at that time it was a very good newspaper; although biased it had the best newsroom team in town — going to Westmeath or Meath to prepare a report on the last of the migrant families from the west settling in on their new holding.

The biggest migration was to County Meath and those who went were known as colonists. They got 24 acres of land, a house and a bank of turf. The Land Commission looked after them very well. Many people from the west are extremely grateful to them for their help. Contemporary accounts indicate that each migrant received three cows, two heifers, 12 sheep, one sow, two bonhams, 21 fowl, a horse and cart, a donkey and cart, harness, a plough, two harrows, a scuffler, a roller, ploughing tackle, a wheelbarrow, a turf barrow, dairy utensils and a share in a mowing machine and a potato sprayer. An indication of the change in times is the fact that many young people in County Meath have never seen some of those implements. Indeed, they would not be able to identify them.

The colonists were a great asset to their new areas and they brought with them a new culture, one that has survived to the enrichment of the areas they settled in. Their children have turned out extremely well and many of them subsequently became public figures. However, it should be said that the migrants from the west were not universally welcomed in their new homes and I should like to hear some Members from Meath comment on that.

However, I cannot detain the House too long with reminiscences of what was by any standards a great institution. At times we may have disagreed with the way they divided land; we had a different view from that of the inspectors. Deputies and Senators were intimately involved in such divisions and they did not always agree with the Commission. However, the Land Commission was a great institution and did a tremendous job. Before I leave the subject I should like to compliment another group, the Land Commission inspectorate, those who had to be Solomons in their judgment in the division of land. They had to divide land at a time when there was not sufficient land for all applicants. The question of selection always turned out to be a difficult one and those who dealt with that were the inspectors. While we may have had our difficulties with them and criticised them — on occasions we may have accused them of political bias — by and large the inspectors did a very good job.

I must also refer to the achievements of the Commission. The land settlement programme led to the division of 2.5 million acres among about 150,000 beneficiaries. That is the epitaph so far as the Land Commission are concerned. Farmers did not, of course, get this land free. The Land Commission paid for it in the first place and were repaid by "annuities", a word which needs no explanation to any Irishman. Indeed anyone of my age, or even considerably younger, who comes from the west of Ireland will remember annunities and demand notes being placed on the dresser to be paid at the appropriate time. Some of the annuities due on land purchased before 1922 led to the famous economic war with Britain in the thirties. The Irish Government of the day decided that enough was enough and refused payment of about £5 million per year to Britain for land bought before the Treaty.

Of course, we are not out of the woods yet. We still have need for a land policy. There are still a large number of holdings below an economic size and there are still very many people who want to get into farming. To help those with small farms to get a larger acreage I would support very strongly the views expressed by my colleague, Deputy Connaughton, when he was Minister of State. His idea was that small farmers wishing to purchase land coming on the market in their areas should be helped by the Minister's officials to come together as a group to purchase it. Some of these farmers might not have enough money to buy all the land and some of them — and it is important to remember this — might not be in a position to work all the land even if they got it. In that event they would be looking for a way to buy some of the land and the Minister's officials could act as a catalyst in this regard.

There is a particular kind of farmer affected by this problem. Generally speaking, he is a fairly young energetic farmer who has done a farming course of 100 hours or more but who does not have enough land and is not fortunate enough to have inherited a large amount of land or the capital with which to buy land. Those farmers are in a very difficult situation. What they need — and the Minister of State will have his own ideas about what form this should take — is some type of honest broker to act on their behalf. Even if neighbours and friends agree to come together to purchase a piece of land which they will subsequently divide, unfortunately, land generates more difficulties, more problems and more rows than anything else. We know that, it is part of our history. Farmers need some sort of outside body who will act as an honest broker and undertake that activity for them.

I see in this morning'sIrish Independent that Dan McCarthy of the ICMSA Family Farm Development Committee has called this Land Bill foul and a fraud. The reason he advances for this is that there will be no authority to replace the Land Commission. Dan McCarthy, who operated an organisation of his own for many years, is a man I greatly respect because he is always logical in his approach and he goes straight to the point. I believe he is right that some sort of authority must be established to take over the functions of the Land Commission when they are dissolved. He also mentions the fact that two and a half years ago, when the present Taoiseach was Leader of the Opposition Party, he promised the ICMSA that accompanying the Bill to dissolve the Land Commission would be a Bill to establish a new land authority. That appears to have been a specific promise. If the Government fail to do that, it will not be the first promise they have failed to deliver on, but it was a very significant promise.

I am sure the Minister of State is very familiar with the problems being experienced by farmers in County Louth, although they do not have the same problems as the farmers in the west. He knows the problems being experienced by farmers in small holdings in Kilkerley and places like that and I am sure he appreciates very much the need for some sort of honest broker who will do the job for these young, energetic and enthusiastic farmers who are at present caught in a bind. In my constituency there are people who are anxious to come together but, as the Ceann Comhairle knows very well, it is very difficult to do that. Many people are very suspicious and if one man reveals his hand the other man will know what he is doing and the result is that what could have been a nice combination of small farmers who would buy out a neighbouring holding and divide it among themselves so that it would fit neatly into a good restructuring plan will not come together because there is no one to do that job. In addition to the work involved in the purchase of the land and bringing these people together, it would be equally important to have an honest broker involved in the division of the land so that he could decide what each person would get and the actual price each person in the group should pay. The Government should pay attention to what has been said in those areas.

Despite the compliments we have paid, we know a lot of work still has to be done in regard to restructuring. Those who have land on lease on a long term basis must be encouraged to come together to do the kind of thing I have been talking about. If we leave a vacuum in that area there will be major difficulties. In many parts of the country there are still holdings which are scattered and fragmented and the Minister must ensure that such holdings are rearranged in the interests of efficiency. It would be a great pity if, when the Land Commission are gone, we were to ignore matters such as those to which I have referred. Therefore, it is important that the Minister give his unremitting attention to them and ensure that a land policy is framed and implemented. I would welcome an indication from the Minister when he is replying of his intentions in this regard.

The history of the Land Commission is in turn part of the history, tradition and fabric of the west of Ireland and I want to pay a compliment to the men who are there now and their predecessors. It is only right to say that not only were the Land Commission a national institution but many of the inspectorate at local level would qualify to a certain extent as institutions in themselves. They did a very difficult job well and it would be a great shame if some body were not put in place to carry on from the Land Commission. We are not talking about acquiring land any more, that is all over, but we are asking for some body to be established so that if land becomes available small farmers can be grouped together to buy that land.

Something should also be done about the general overall fragmentation in many holdings. A good job has been done in regard to commonages and this is just as well because, as we know, many commonages were not producing to full capacity and when cattle were grazed on them disease could spread. With the emphasis finally being put on getting to grips with bovine tuberculosis it is essential that this kind of activity be eliminated altogether because it has no place in the future of Irish farming. That is the position.

I am glad that this Bill is going through the House. However, we need something extra. I have no doubt that the Minister of State when replying will give us some indication of Government thinking on this very important matter.

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.

This is a bit removed from the dissolution of the Land Commission.

It has all to do with the transfer of land and relates to what I am saying. I agree with the remarks made by Deputy Connaughton. We must still think about ways and means of ensuring earlier transfer or at least shared management of the family farm by younger men and women. In other countries there is a system of formal arrangements and contracts between farmers and their heirs, dealing with work, management and income sharing. A worthwhile farmers' retirement scheme could prove a very useful mechanism. This is a topic dear to my heart since I come from Kerry where the Land Commission had such a profound effect. During my speech I have raised many issues concerning land ownership and use. There are no easy answers. Nevertheless this Bill presents the House with a long-awaited opportunity to examine these problems in depth and try to come up with some solutions. We cannot gloss over the problems. They are there to be faced by us, acknowledged and dealt with. Do we deal with them now or pass them on to another generation? That is the point at issue. Dissolving the Land Commission will not solve the problems of young farmers with regard to land transfer.

We must demand a more imaginative response from the Government. Their intention as outlined in the policy document sent to Europe is to preserve the rural population. However, this is a step in the direction of causing further rural de-population. The Minister should consider new measures to ensure earlier land release and better land distribution to preserve the very fabric of rural Irish society, the smaller farmer.

In speaking on this Bill one wonders whether we should welcome it or not. I have listened to the previous speaker and it is a pity he was not in the House when such a Bill was first proposed in 1984.

It was proposed then to set up a land authority, but it did not happen.

It is a pity the Deputy was not here then because I admire much of what he has just said. The Land Commission have served this country well and given many farmers additional land, particularly smaller land owners and congested farmers. Agriculture is our greatest industry and hopefully will remain so for many years to come. I come from a rural area and know what the Land Commission have done in rural Ireland, particularly in the west, and the number of small land owners who have been enabled to make a viable living due to the land they got from the Land Commission some years ago.

The Land Commission made mistakes in the way they divided land. I want to strongly object to the way some land was divided quite recently. A small farm was divided and a farmer who had land surrounding this farm was not considered for an allocation. Yet we talk about fragmented farms, about TB and brucellosis spreading, and the amount of money it is costing the taxpayer. The division of this land has not yet gone through the Land Registry and it may not be too late for the Minister to do something. I appeal to the Minister to take another look at this case and consider giving this farmer those few acres of land.

The Land Commission are making huge profits from land given to farmers at the moment because of the cost of the annuities. I would support my colleague, Deputy Micheal Kitt, in his proposal that the Minister should make a once off sale of land to farmers who are in some difficulty with repayments. We introduced tenant house purchase last year. Let us do the same with land this year. Perhaps this could be done by way of amendment since there are large numbers of farmers, particularly those with vested land, who are unable to make the repayments because the land was so expensive when they got it and their headage payments are being stopped at the moment to meet the repayments. I am asking the Minister to take that into consideration, to include that in the Bill so that these farmers will no longer be penalised through losing headage grants and so on in order to meet these repayments.

Some time ago the Land Commission when dividing land would not allocate any to a farmer who was working, and many small farmers have to work to subsidise their income from farming. These farmers were not considered when a farm came up for division because they had alternative income, whether from part time or full time employment, and it must be accepted that there is no such thing as full time employment in factories these days.

I was never too happy with the land bonds. The Minister should wind up the land bonds and introduce a more suitable alternative. I hope something will be done about it in this Bill so that the land bonds will disappear forever.

The flight from the land, particularly from the farms in the west, has been mentioned. Thousands of small farms have closed up and have been bought by adjoining farmers. I welcome the group purchase scheme being introduced in this Bill whereby a group of small farmers can get together to purcahse a farm of land. It is suggested that we might have absentee landlordism if the Minister implements this proposal but I do not believe this will happen.

The small family farm is the most important thing in Ireland today. We see too much of factory farming all over Europe. The present Commissioner, Mr. Ray MacSharry, with responsibility for rural development, has an interest in small family farms. I hope he succeeds in what he is setting out to do in Europe, that is, restore the small family farm. We want to see this happen. We want to see the farmer with the small milk quota of 3,000 to 6,000 gallons being given an extra milk quota to enable him to make a living, because the only people who are making money from the land are those involved in milk production. An increase in the milk quota would be of great benefit to our young farmers. We should be encouraging those young farmers who have done their hours in agricultural college and qualified for installation aid. If we want rural Ireland to prosper, if we want people to stay in rural Ireland, we must look after the family farm.

In general I am happy with the Bill, although I am concerned about a few things in it. Again, my main purpose in speaking on this Bill today was to ask the Minister to make a once off land sale to the farmers who are in trouble with annuity payments and whose headage grants are being stopped at the moment because they are unable to make their repayments.

I have grave doubts about the Minister's intention to alleviate the position in regard to the mobility of lands throughout the length and breadth of Ireland. He is failing hopelessly to tackle the situation. He has no proposals in relation to the taking over of the work of the Irish Land Commission which served this country well over the years. Any problems in the Departments were certainly not the fault of the Land Commission.

The Land Commission officers were restricted in the division of land. Party favouritism bedeviled the Irish Land Commission down through the years and that was the cause of all the trouble. The Land Commission comprised a body of men appointed by the Department to oversee the distribution of any surplus land that became available, but for far too long their efforts were completely thwarted by political interference. I say this from experience because I have seen it happen in my own constituency, Cork South-West. For that reason I am very dubious of the action and the sentiments that lie behind this Bill. I do not think the Minister is genuine in his approach to the problems that exist in western Ireland.

I have listened to our colleague, Deputy Mattie Brennan, speaking from his experience of small farmers in his constituency of Sligo-Leitrim, which is very similar to the constitutency of Cork South-West. I know only too well of the major problems that exist in the division of land in all the constituencies from Donegal to Cork South-West. It is important that those farmers who are trying to eke out a living are given viable holdings. There is nothing in this Bill before the House to convince me that the Minister has the will or the capacity to seek a solution to this problem.

If agriculture is to make its rightful contribution to the economy it is the use to which the land is put that is of importance. It is vital that the rigidity of the system be replaced by mobility. The legacy of our historical land struggle is the most land-locked, tiered system in Europe. We have the second lowest number of young farmers and the second greatest number of elderly farmers in the Community. We also have a growing number of part time farmers. Only in Italy is the position worse. The need for land reform in Ireland is as critical today as it was in the 1870s when the first tentative measures were taken to replace the landlord-tenant system, which came about as a result of British colonialism, with a system of owner occupancy.

Today there is over 90 per cent owner occupancy of land in Ireland and this is seriously impeding the pace of structural change in Irish agriculture. The total agricultural land of Ireland amounts to 17 million acres, of which 10.5 million acres are used in grazing and pasture, 1.14 million acres is under cereal and other crops, 2.6 million acres represents rough grazing land and 0.75 million acres is covered with woods and plantations. The remaining 2.17 million acres are in various other uses. There is a general misconception that massive land resources are mobilised through the land market each year. The reality is that only 400,000 acres, or a mere 3 per cent of the country's total acreage, change ownership each year. Of that amount 84 per cent changes hands through inheritance gifts and 14 per cent through purchase on the open market, with a mere 2 per cent going to the Land Commission. Only 0.6 per cent of the total land in the country changes hands each year through the land market. That amount is so small that land mobility cannot be substantially effected. If we are serious about improving our land mobility and maximising our agricultural resources, we must aim for new measures to improve farm structures in a way that will not interfere with the hard-won Three Fs — fixity of tenure, fair rent and free sale.

Land is a very valuable commodity. The average farm size in Ireland has increased by only four acres, from 52 acres to 56 acres, in the past 20 years. This is a diabolical position. The small farmers are debarred from getting extra land, firstly because they cannot compete in an open market, secondly because of the inability of the Land Commission to divide the land among them, and thirdly because of a lack of direction from any Government Department.

I would encourage Deputy Sheehan to come back to the proposal to dissolve the Land Commission.

I am just spelling out the seriousness of the position and questioning whether the Land Commission should be dissolved at all but rather that they should be given more powers. Sixty per cent of all Irish farmers have holdings of less than 50 acres of land, well below the level deemed to be capable of giving a viable income to farmers under EC directives. Bearing that in mind, I would ask the Minister what steps he or the Department are going to take to ensure that they restore viability to Irish farms in conjunction with our EC partners.

The Structural Fund.

Live horse and you will get grass. Half the farmers of Ireland are over 55 years of age and one-quarter are over 65 years of age. That age group own about five million acres of agricultural land or approximately 30 per cent of our total land acreage. Less than 10 per cent of our farmers are under 35 years. This is clear evidence of the late age of retirement and succession and it underlines how the owner-occupancy of land encourages farmers to hold on to their land to an advanced age reducing the rate of land mobility.

Taking all the EC countries into consideration Ireland showed the slowest rate of increase in farming size over the past 20 years. Surely this is scandalous when we have had a native Government for over 60 years. If this is the result, I am afraid we have a long way to go. In France, Holland and Britain where owner-occupancy does not prevail as in Ireland, the annual rate of change is five times greater than in Ireland. About one quarter of all the agricultural land in Ireland is now being farmed on a part time basis. Of the 247,598 holdings in this country of over five acres of land, surveyed in the early eighties, 51.6 per cent are described as part time farms. Why? Everybody knows that it is because the holdings are not viable economic units, that they cannot sustain a farmer, his wife and family, the people who are the backbone of rural Ireland. To alleviate that problem a mechanism should be set up by the Government to replace the Land Commission.

Statistics show that stocking rates on part-time farms are only half that on fulltime farms, therefore the gross output is only half what it should be as well. There is evidence that part-time farming is increasing. The acreage under part-time farming increased by a quarter of a million acres during the last five years and the number of part-time farmers has increased by 6,000. The lack of an invigorating land policy limits the opportunity for people with drive, energy and ability to enter into farming so as to achieve a high level of productivity. In view of that, it is essential that the Department of Agriculture and Food steps into the breach immediately and ensure that the small farmers who are crying out for extra acreage are given an opportunity to survive where their fathers and forefathers survived before them in more difficult times. Is it the policy of the Government to drive every small, uneconomic farmer out of existence? What steps will the Department take to put amodus operandi into operation to replace the Land Commission? I am very dubious as to whether there is any policy at all apart from the emigration boat or plane, for the small farmer along the western sea board.

What about the western package measures that have been revised in recent times to take account of the needs of those along the western seaboard?

The farmers along the western seaboard have been completely ignored by the Land Commission down through the years in relation to achieving a solution to the problem of congested holdings. This Government have neither the spirit nor the initiative to tackle that problem. I am amused and amazed by the Minister telling me since I got up to speak this morning that the European package will be the salvation of the small farmer in the west of Ireland. There is nothing in that package to convince me that it will be the salvation of the small farmer along the western seaboard, because they are emigrating at the rate of 40,000 a year. I invite the Minister to my constituency where I can take him on tour and show him the number of doors that have been closed up over the past two years. The people have gone to England, New York, San Francisco and Australia, because there was no land policy implemented by this Government or by previous Governments who dragged their feet on this issue.

The time is ripe for the Minister to spell out what will take the place of the Land Commission. It is clear that when agricultural land is offered for sale, far too often it is passing into the hands of absentee landlords with very stout cheque books. Local farmers anxious to buy this land have been disappointed on numerous occasions when they were outbid by the wealthy absentee landlords of the twentieth century. The Government have an obligation to the citizens of the country and should ensure that there is a mechanism to enable farmers to acquire extra land in congested areas at a realistic market price to ensure the viability of small holdings.

What about the man selling the land?

I said "at a realistic market price". Surely it is not beyond the capability of the Department of Agriculture and Food to see beyond the ends of their noses and see the dangerous situation in rural Ireland? The rural school has gone forever. It has been sold to some fellow from East Berlin, West Berlin, Munich, Hanover, Dusseldorf or Amsterdam. The school that once was ringing with laughter and the sound of mirth from our Irish children is now closed forever.

The lure of the towns and cities which started 20 years ago still exists. The bright lights of London, New York, San Francisco and Brisbane drain the youthful talent from the west. As I have said on occasions, the policy being enacted by successive native Governments means that the emigrant boat is the only alternative left. This is a sad reflection on Irish national politics. I think the time is ripe for the Minister to come into the House and produce some concrete measure which will give some ray of hope to the beleaguered small farmers in rural Ireland.

What is the Deputy doing for agri-tourism in his constituency?

What did the Minister's party do when we looked for £1 million to keep the Cork-Swansea service going? The Government hesitated until the boat had left for the last time and offered a paltry £0.5 million plus £0.5 million loan to be repayed by 30 September. God help us if that is your party's attitude towards tourism and agri-tourism.

(Interruptions.)

The Deputy should not feel obliged to respond to questions or to interruptions.

Could we persuade the Deputy to leave Oliver Goldsmith andThe Deserted Village and all that and come to the legislation before us.

I would like to acquaint the Minister of the shortcomings of the administration and its lack of interest in agri-tourism.

There is much to be done in west Cork.

You will have to leave that for another day.

I would like to tell the Minister that it takes 70 acres of average quality land to provide a reasonable income for a married man, not taking account of his son, who may be helping him and that 60 per cent of all farmers in this country have holdings below 50 acres. How will the Minister make viable units that compare with our counterparts in Europe if he has not the will, the way, and the money to bring in a decent land policy?

There are many small holders in Counties Monaghan and Mayo and indeed in other counties who do very well in mushroom production.

I must point out that the work ethic is there.

I cannot allow this to develop into atete-à-tete between the Minister and Deputy Sheehan. We must allow Deputy Sheehan to make his contribution without interruption. However, again I remind the Deputy that he seems to be using a fairly wide sward in the area he is attempting to cover and he must confine himself to the legislation proposed here, that is the dissolution of the Land Commission. Deputy Sheehan is well enough experienced to know that what I am saying is correct, but he is choosing to side step it a little so I would ask him to come back to the legislation and to ignore any interruptions.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, when the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk who is listening to me across the House, side steps, I have to side step, too.

He back steps.

We are not tangoing here. We are confining ourselves to the legislation before the House.

You may not be tangoing with Deputy Sheehan but you are tangoing with the small farmer who is eking out an existence on the western seaboard.

There will be a lot of sidestepping on 15 June.

There will be a fair bit of side stepping on 15 June because many farmers on the register in the west are now domiciled in other countries.

We are dealing with the Irish Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill and let us proceed in an orderly manner.

The situation facing policy makers therefore is quite simple: regulate the land to improve market land mobility. As I said at the outset, only 0.6 of the land changes hand each year. Land mobility can only come from early retirement or inheritance, which certainly stimulates the mobility of land. What have this Government done about an early retirement scheme for our elderly farmers along the western seaboard? They have sat idly by. They have let the farmer die or sell his land to international business tycoons who come from other EC countries and can buy upab lib while our virile young farmers living in small-holdings from Malin Head to Mizen Head are completely denied the opportunity of enlarging their holding to a viable standard that would give them an opportunity to settle down and rear a family who would be of benefit to the nation in the years to come.

The Norman invasion brought about the dispossession of the native landlords by English colonists and saw leasing flourish. There were three classes of tenants: the bó-aires or affluent cattle owners, who never owned land but rented it; the saor-cheilís or free tenants and the bond tenants who were always poor. This description can be attributed today to the small farmer along the western seaboard after 60 years of native Government.

The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy when introducing the Bill stated that in the middle of the 19th century through confiscation and plantation the lands had passed into the hands of absentee landlords. I would like to remind the Minister that today in the 20th century land is now passing into the hands of cheque book farmers, many of whom can be described as absentee land holders living outside the country. This is the situation that exists in the country at present. In the middle of the 19th century the tenant farmer could be evicted at whim, but the Gladstone Act gave us a tenant farmer charter which introduced the concept of fixity of tenure, fair rent and fair sale. It is clearly evident that in the dying years of the 20th century the situation calls for change as much as it did in the middle of the 19th century. I only hope that the Minister in his wisdom will see reality and put an end once and for all to the congested farms that exists along the west and south west.

Thousand upon thousand of acres of mountain commonage are still left undivided. We have seen the Minister for Agriculture and Food instigating measures to combat cattle disease, but I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, whether he realises that in countless mountain commonages throughout the country herds are intermingling. What steps will be taken to ensure that this will not cause the spread of disease at a more rapid rate than at present? What steps are being taken to bring in the compulsory division of mountain commonage? You would not need to be a genius to realise, Minister, that you are only cutting a twig to beat yourself or to beat the Department——

Many commonages have been divided.

——by failing to divide those commonages.

The Land Commission are being facilitated with divisions and those facilities will continue under the new arrangements.

I am sorry to say that progress is at a snail's pace. The Minister has failed to tackle the problem. If any of the tenants object a number of years may pass before it is divided. In fact, the person who objects may be dead and gone before the Department of Agriculture and Food make any move to divide the land. Unless there is a rapid division of commonages we will not alleviate the problem.

The Minister stated that landlords were bought out during the early years of the century and that the new Irish State intensified land purchase to relieve congestion. He also stated that Governments have created schemes of migration from the worst affected areas, such as Kerry, Galway and Mayo. He said that in 1976 it was decided to amalgamate the Land Commission with the Department of Agriculture and Food. He went on to say that an investigation committee found that the acquisition and redistribution of lands had lost its usefulness. I wonder if it was a case of the officials in the Department of Agriculture and Food who produced that evidence losing their senses rather than the Land Commission losing its usefulness?

Everyone is aware that there is as much congestion today along the western and south-western seaboards as there was 100 years ago. We are also aware that when major tracts of land are offered for sale they are being bought up by non-nationals at the expense of small farmers trying to eke out an existence on adjoining small holdings. What can be more frustrating for a small farmer than witnessing the opportunity to make his holding a viable unit being taken away through inaction on the part of the Department of Agriculture and Food?

The Land Commission have served a very useful purpose but, naturally enough, their role was eroded when other quarters began to interfere with their work. If the Department of Agriculture and Food take over the responsibilities of the Land Commission, the Minister should ensure that a section is established within the Department to aid the division of mountain commonages in congested areas among small farmers and to assist farmers to acquire land adjacent to their own at market value through a system of interest free loans for so many years.

There is no use in the Government saying that the structural funds will be the be all and end all of our problems. Our land tenure problems will continue as long as small farmers have to try to eke out a living from small, miserable holdings. To add insult to injury, the present policy of the Department of Agriculture and Food is to prevent and individual who has not got a viable farm unit from receiving cattle headage grants if his off-farm income is more than £5,250. That is diabolical in this day and age. The Minister must surely realise that these small farmers would not have to seek an off-farm income if they were able to eke out a living from their farms. This is the only country in the EC which lays down such a condition in respect of applications for cattle headage, suckler cow or beef cow grants. This anomaly must be erased by the Department of Agriculture and Food. If the Minister were to use his common sense he would, with the stroke of a pen, erase that off-farm income clause and give our small farmers the opportunity to make a living from their small holdings.

I represent a thinly populated rural constituency which has three peninsular areas — the Mizen Head Peninsula, the Sheep's Head peninsula and the Beara peninsula — and I know only too well how hard it is for our small farmers to make a living from their small holdings in that remote area.

What about the beauty and tranquility of the place?

The Minister should take a trip to South-West Cork——

I have been there.

——to take a look at the farms along the slopes of Mount Gabriel and Hungry Hill.

He would never come back.

He would never survive there.

He would run back to Louth.

He would make a bee line and get out of the place. He would be terrified and would not survive there for any length of time.

We have mountains in Louth, too.

Stay with the Land Commission, please.

I think——

Acting Chairman

It is not about Hungry Hill.

These are the areas which the Land Commission tried to divide but they were inhibited and impeded from doing so because of departmental bureaucracy and red tape. One almost needed to have a party ticket or a Cairde Fáil ticket before one could get any extra acreage on the division of farms in those areas during the past 20 or 30 years.

For that reason I appeal to the Minister, in order to ensure that as many as possible of our small uneconomic holdings are brought up to a viable standard, to introduce a scheme to help before it is too late. If the Minister does not act immediately it may be too late. There is an old saying that there is not much point in closing the stable door when the horse has bolted; it is no good bringing in legislation when most of our young farmers have emigrated. Therefore, I am dubious about the contents of this Bill as it has failed hopelessly to outline or to give any promise of substance to the beleaguered farmers with small uneconomic holdings.

Smallholders will not get much from the Bill because winding down the Land Commission and incorporating it with the Department of Agriculture and Food is not the solution to the problem. The solution is the creation of a land agency and the Minister must have plenty of information at his disposal to ensure that can be done. The time is ripe for the Minister to take action because if it is not taken urgently our young farmers will continue to emigrate.

There is a need to set up a strong body which can see the desirability of creating viable holdings.

The Land Commission were amalgamated with the Department in the mid-seventies.

If the Minister fails he will betray the small farmer and deny him the right to survive. The Minister is causing the export of the life blood of our land. The Minister of State is also failing to take positive steps to arrest the problem. Indeed, he is putting the problem into monthballs in the Department and there will be no incentive to the young, educated farmer to make a living at home. Land is a scarce commodity——

Why did the Coalition Government amalgmate the Land Commission with the Department in the mid-seventies?

That is not for me to answer. The Minister should easily be able to find out the reasons. A new land agency should be created which will give those farmers an opportunity to acquire any extra land that becomes available. If they have the heart, courage and determination to play their part in the economy of the country, surely it is time that the Department set a lead showing them ways and means of making their holdings viable? If that is not done it will soon be too late, if it is not already too late.

The Minister said that the Land Commission are an ancient institution which have played a notable part in our history and that their passing is an occasion of significance. It is also an occasion of sadness for Deputies coming from counties with small holdings.

There has been much criticism here of the Land Commission's delay in allocations and putting out land on conacre for extended periods. However, we must agree that there was a lot of red tape and we must take into account the number of files which each inspector had for the estate allotments. They operated under a very fair system whereby they interviewed all the smallholders within a mile of an allotment. We must concede that they did a good job considering that they were so restricted in many areas.

In most cases wise decisions were made and this is obvious in my county. If the Minister asked me to bring him to some of the best farms in the constituency I would bring him to men who started on very small acreage, who got additional allocations of land from the Land Commission and who are now very good and efficient farmers. My constituency does not have the same number of large estates or tracts of land as other counties. Land has always been at a premium and there was never enough for small farmers to increase their holdings.

Driving daily through County Meath one can see the small Land Commission holdings. Since this scheme came into operation about 2,000 families have benefited and 1.25 million acres were allotted to them. That gives an indication of the amount of work done and the benefit derived by the people who came from the western seaboard. They made a very good life for themselves and their families. They also contributed a lot to the State and to the county in which they came to reside.

The most important step to be taken by the Minister and the Department will be the setting up of an alternative to the Land Commission. I hope the structure chosen will avail of the expertise of officers who have worked with the Land Commission and have proved their ability to deal with all aspects of land division. A great deal of thought should be given to the new structure to ensure that it will cover all aspects of land policy.

The Minister, in the course of his speech, said that the committee who will deal with land policy in the future will exercise statutory control over the subdivision of farms and over the purchase of land by non-qualified persons, mainly companies, and non-nationals. That is important because it is annoying and frustrating for small farmers who are endeavouring to improve their holdings to discover that business people and non-nationals are in a position to purchase adjoining farms. Most of those people do not need those farms to make a living but purchase them as an investment. There should be tight control on the purchase of land by such people.

The Minister has told us that the proposed committee will consider the promotion of group purchase and the leasing of land as well as the provision of assistance for schemes for the re-arranging of commonage divisions. Many Members have referred to leasing and recalled that when a Bill dealing with leasing was going through the House some years ago they expressed hopes that it would fill the void. That has not occurred and farmers fear that if they lease land for a lengthy period it may affect their ownership of it. It is hard to change their attitude in regard to that. I look forward to the new committee determining the future of land mobility. They have a difficult task to perform.

Some years ago when farmers had to contend with bad weather they experienced great difficulty in meeting their annuity commitments to the Land Commission. Some of them have not succeeded in paying off the arrears accumulated at that time. I have no doubt that the amount owed to the Department for annuities is huge. The land was allotted to farmers at a time when it was fetching a high price and they were asked to pay high annuities. Successive bad summers, and the consequent drop in production, left many farmers in difficulty in trying to meet their commitments. I suggest that the Department consider introducing a scheme similar to that operated by the Department of the Environment for the sale of local authority houses to tenants. The Minister should consider offering the land to the tenants at half price. Another suggestion is that, like the tax amnesty, farmers should be given a once-off allowance to cover the arrears.

It is unfortunate that in many cases farmers will have no alternative but to sell their holdings to pay their debts to the Commission. I have no doubt that that will leave them worse off than they are at present. The Minister should give sympathetic consideration to the plight of those farmers who are finding it impossible to meet repayments. They are proving to be a great burden to them. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that it was intended to dispose of the land bank and that there would be no unavoidable delay in doing so. The land held by the Land Commission should be disposed of as quickly as possible after the changeover.

We have heard a lot of talk about farm sizes and it is doubtful if 50 or 60 acres can be considered a viable holding. The system of farming is what should be taken into consideration. A farmer with a 40-acre holding who has a milk quota of 30,000 gallons can make a comfortable living on such a farm, but a farmer with 70 acres and livestock may be living in poor circumstances. A viable holding is not defined by the size of it but by the operations that are carried out on it. Some farmers who are involved in cattle dry stock would not have a viable holding even it they were allotted a lot of land.

The Department of Agriculture and Food, in conjunction with other Departments, should examine the off-farm activities carried on by small farmers. The Minister and his Ministers of State are doing everything possible to get EC support for alternative farm enterprises such as the production of rabbits, deer, goats, horses and involvement in agri-tourism. However, the return from such projects is very little in the initial stages, particularly when one considers the huge investment involved. There has been massive development in mushroom and poultry production in my constituency, two of the most successful farm enterprises taking place in the country. Those involved are getting a steady income which enables them to rear their families. However, we must look further down the line and consider getting involved in processing. The IDA and other agencies have an ideal opportunity to get involved in such work. I have no doubt that EC aid will be available for those projects which would be of great benefit to small farmers. We only process 15 per cent of our poultry, pig and beef produce as against 40 per cent in some EC countries and 60 per cent in America. That is another area which will have to be examined.

As I said the Land Commission did much valuable work. I was involved with a co-op during the mid-sixties when fairly substantial acreages of land were held by the Land Commission. The Land Commission drained, limed, fertilised and sprayed that land with the result that it was a show piece. They were the leaders in the pilot areas scheme which was operated during the mid-sixties and they did very valuable work in that regard.

Mention has been made of land mobility and the farmers' retirement scheme. The farmers' retirement scheme was introduced in, I think, 1973 but it did not prove to be a success. It did not bring into play the amount of land it was anticipated to bring in at that time. Since then the long term leasing system has been introduced. We have got to realise that the amount of land which changes hands and is available each year is considerably less than what was available 20 years ago. Twenty years ago a small farmer could live with the hope that he would get a portion of a larger estate which was near him but that will not be so in the future and because of this he will have to look at other areas.

While I regret the passing of the Land Commission, I recognise that times have changed. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the structure which is set up in the Department of Agriculture and Food will safeguard small farmers so that unqualified persons, whether they be companies or non-nationals, will not get an opportunity of securing land which is badly needed by those who have an interest in farming.

I could almost concur with everything said by Deputy Jimmy Leonard. It is great to hear somebody who knows what he is talking about coming into this House. He is a Deputy I particularly admire because he is always constructive in what he says. In particular, I would endorse what he said about farmers who have severe borrowing problems and which I believe certainly relate to land. I will not go into the history of why very good farmers got into difficulties but the Minister, the Government and all of us will have to ensure that the worthwhile farmers who, through no fault of their own but perhaps because of health problems or because of very high interest rates, are in difficulties will get every assistance. This assistance could be provided by the new land body in conjunction with the ACC and the banks.

As the House knows various schemes were carried out by the Department over the years. These schemes were moderately successful and helped many farmers but they did not get to the root of the problem. As Deputy Leonard said, this problem could have been solved by introducing some type of amnesty where a farmer would have the option to either sort out his problems or sell out. In this way we could find out whether a farm could be made viable and put back into business again.

During my childhood years I remember hearing a lot of criticism of the Land Commission but I have to say that the Land Commission featured prominently in rural Ireland. They were an integral part of the new Free State and they organised, for instance, the transition of land from one sovereign state to another. Purchases of large areas of land from the then landlords was successfully negotiated and for the first time farmers had title deeds to their properties and felt safe in their holdings. They were no longer mere tenants of their farms depending on the whims of the owners and whether they needed a particular section of land to facilitate whatever enterprise they were engaged in. For the first time in maybe 500 or 600 years farmers were the owners of the land. That must be the real hallmark of the Land Commission.

In the late twenties and early thirties, more land came on the market for distribution. In the early thirties there was a disastrous situation in the farming industry when many farms were abandoned. I remember in my locality the owner of a fairly substantial farm walking out and leaving his farm. The Land Commission had to move in and erect fairly expensive fencing, build dwelling houses and out offices and divide the farm. If they made a mistake it is probably that they made the farms too small but perhaps at the time 35 acres was thought to be a reasonable holding. They tried to allocate such farms to deserving young farmers. It was said often that they divided the farms among friends of political parties etc. I do not think that accusation was justified. Whatever their politics by and large they turned out to be very successful farmers. The rents for these holdings were small. If the Land Commission failed in that regard it was simply because the farms were too small. At that time the Land Commission did not appreciate what a viable acreage was but as time went on they learned from their mistakes and allocated more land to farmers and, where possible, increased the size of farms by giving additional acreage to small farmers. The term "viable holding" came into vogue and it was generally felt that a farmer needed 70 to 80 acres to survive.

With the worldwide boom in agriculture in the late thirties and early forties land prices jumped and for the first time the Land Commission had to enter into the open market in order to obtain land for subdivision. Having successfully arranged the transition of the lands of Ireland from British landlords to Irish tenants they ran into very real trouble for the first time. During the late forties and early fifties many farmers who were interested in buying a neighbouring farm had their bids thwarted by the Land Commission who had moved in to take over the farm for subdivision. This was considered by farming organisations to be very unfair. Their interference was resented and criticised, it being felt that they were engaging in a sort of fair trade, freedom of sales type operation which the Land Commission should keep their noses out of. In the end the Commission pulled back but that was when some of their real problems commenced. They went and bid on the open market. This meant that in the late sixties and early seventies when the price of land went through the roof they had to pay more than the land was worth. That led to a new type of tenant — one who was no better off than his counterpart who had gone to the bank — who had to pay an exaggerated price and rent because the Land Commission had to charge such exaggerated rents which very often presented farmers with considerable difficulty.

I should like to compliment the Land Commission on their tolerance and leniency towards such people. For example, methods were found of transferring or delaying payments from one year to another. They were reasonablevis-à-vis arrears of payments, interest and so on. At that time I was very involved with farming organisations and such groups. I must give local officials working on behalf of the Land Commission much credit in this regard. They were down to earth men who understood the local scene, maintained close contact with the people and, in turn, had their confidence.

Indeed, the commissioners themselves, those who had to take the final decisions, were, like the Judiciary, above politics. This has not been mentioned in the House before. Of course, some people might contend the commissioners were a law unto themselves. But their decisions and arbitrations were final; their powers were greater than those of the Minister. The earlier criticism of the thirties had to fizzle out as people became more enlightened, knowing that, in the final analysis, those four commissioners were independent and would reach the correct decision.

The moneys advanced to farmers by the banks in the early seventies, when interest rates were fairly low, meant that farmers found easier, cheaper ways of increasing their holdings. For the first time in my area anyway a good system known as group buying was initiated. This meant that rather than have three or four farmers bidding against each other for a farm no one of them could afford they brought it between them. Again that takes us back to the Land Commission and subdivision, when there were no problems encountered; they were facilitated. I know we should not mention names in this House but there was a gentleman called Tom Carroll who should go down in history as one of the best men who ever handled deputations and politicians. Certainly in the seventies his vision helped farmers in the purchase of land.

With regard to future farm structures it would appear that the dairying farmers are bent on purchasing all of the land coming on the market. They are the only farmers with really fat cheque books at present while tillage and beef farmers are experiencing very real problems. This is something which worries me. In saying that, I do not begrudge the dairying farmers expanding and developing but I do not like to see it happening at the expense of the tillage men. I am delighted the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, is present to hear what I have to say about this. We are still not putting sufficient effort into bringing the tillage farmer into his own. We tend to rely on the old faithfuls, grain and sugar beet, along with a certain amount of disorganised potato growing and a limited amount of horticulture. But I contend we are losing a golden opportunity and I have said so before. It was a good exercise to appoint a market coordinator in the potato industry but that is not really getting at the root of the problem. Rather we should do something worthwhile in order to salvage the tillage farmer, to enable him retain his holding against the dairy farmer. In this respect we should remember that the dairy man is not somebody from Germany or elsewhere, he is the farmer down the road. As Deputy Jimmy Leonard pointed out, the tillage man will have to engage in alternative enterprises some of which can be dicey.

There is no gainsaying that we can grow the best potatoes in the world. The Minister of State has said so, as have I: he believes it as I do. We got the Irish Farmers' Co-operative established but it did not take off as it should have done. I have no hesitation in saying why — for the simple reason that the year it was established there had been a massive surplus of potatoes with everybody wanting to join that co-operative and ensure proper marketing for their produce. However, in the following two years there happened to be a scarcity of potatoes when everybody reneged on the co-operative, did not want to be subjected to its disciplines.

It has to be remembered that we are here talking about family farms. It would appear that the EC have lost sight completely of family farms and are losing sight of agriculture which is even more worrying. We seem to have a sort of nuisance value now in Europe. Every time I read the European Parliamentary News agriculture appears to be put to one side, in other words, they want farmers to retire. It is bad enough to want politicians to retire but to be advocating farmers to do so is a concept totally foreign to an Irish farmer; they do not want to know about it. In addition, when one analyses the matter, one realises that we are not creating any surpluses in Europe. For example, all of our dairy produce finds a ready market. We are at the top of the league with the Germans French and Italians with regard to our meat products. We can sell everything we produce. I say: let those countries producing the surpluses pay the penalties. However, that is the type of difficulty we confront.

Therefore, I would appeal to the Minister of State, perhaps in conjunction with the market co-ordinators, to revert to the producer groups. The Minister will remember, when on this side of the House, he helped me in the organisation of the horticultural groupings which are now doing so well nationwide. For example, there is a farmer near my home with seven acres of land — who featured in a farming magazineBiatas recently — who is double-cropping, making a handsome living out of that acreage. Of course we must also devote attention to the processing of potatoes but we must first organise their producers, when we would be doing a great day's work.

With the abolition of the Land Commission, more than ever before we need a land policy to ensure that land finds its way into the hands of those best able to use it. I must reiterate my congratulations to the Land Commission over the years in allowing farmers ownership of their land, on their compulsory purchase policy to relieve congestion, thereby creating additional economic holdings. This has led to a gradual build up of viable family units, farmyard enterprises. In turn this meant that farming families enjoyed a good standard of living and through their industry, they created local employment in dairy and meat processing, vegetable sales and processing. The growth of the co-operative movement, the massive giants we now have, was based on the solid family farm, economically viable, which was supportive of the co-operative movement. This scene is changing, and it is not for the better. The Euro outlook, as I said already, seems to be: produce less and we will pay you to do nothing as we have too much food. Where is the future for the family farm especially if the owner does not have a milk quota? We, as someone said recently, are becoming the Aran Islands of Europe. We are getting the worst of all worlds. We have quotas imposed on us in the dairying scene, where we could probably survive on prices. Now we have savage price cuts in grain, where we should have quotas — in other words, we have the worst of all worlds.

The definition of a family farm has taken on totally new connotations. Grain farmers in the present scenario need many hundreds of acres to survive while the dairy farmer could do very well on less than 100 acres. With all the emphasis on world poverty, and I said this in a recent debate on agriculture, and the ongoing discussions on disarmament, surely our MEPs — we will all probably be before the people very shortly — could do something about it, if they are serious about Irish land and Irish farmers, by persuading the super powers of Europe to cut back even 25 per cent on armaments. With that exact figure of 25 per cent enough food could be grown and paid for to feed the hungry of the Third World. That is a reality. If they are as Christian as they are supposed to be in Europe, then surely be to God that is one of the first things they should do.

While we are now discussing the demise of the Land Commission we need to have a land policy which would continue to divide and finish the division of commonages and to continue to give help and encouragement for long term leasing. Indeed, the author of long term leasing, group purchasing and sub division of farms by a number of farmers, Deputy Connaughton, is behind me now. A land policy should ensure that farmland stays in the hands of those best equipped to make a success of farming. When the Land Commission goes we need something to replace it. We must retain control over the purchase of land and the creation of non-viable holdings to ensure that we hold on to as many people as possible on the land. The Minister, who must by now realise the predicament of the tillage and the beef farmers, should immediately restore the research and development side of Teagasc to ensure that all aspects of diversification, so ably dwelt on by Deputy Leonard, would be fully explored. Expert guidance is needed now more than ever before, otherwise we will be left with just the dairyman. This is a bad time for cutting back in this regard.

Undoubtedly, the land leasing policy started by Deputy Connaughton has now more meaning than ever before. Young farmers can now lease land over a long period, which allows them time to plan and to put out proper fertilisers and fencing on that farm. It allows them to spend money on that land in the knowledge that they will have the use of this land over a long period of years — and all this can be done without sinking themselves into debt by overborrowing in order to purchase land. The landowner on the other hand — thanks again to the Land Act, 1984 — can be equally assured that at the end of the letting period he can resume possession of his farm.

I have witnessed a number of group purchase schemes by farmers and these have proved highly succesful. The permission to subdivide came readily from the Land Commission and from the Department of Agriculture and Food and each farmer has a welcome addition to his holding for a modest investment. On this score, however, I must say that urgent legislation is needed to simplify the registration of property since this is still a slow, archaic and far too expensive a process. It is totally ridiculous to go to the Land Registry and find that there are stacks upon stacks of unsorted problems there in this day and age when we have computers and everything else. We find letters are toing and froing from the legal offices to Dublin, each one costing in the region of £25 to £30. No lending agency would dream of lending a £10 note without the title deeds and if one cannot get the title deeds one is in the height of trouble for day to day spending.

I hope that, in conjunction with a proper land policy, the Minister will retain in his Department a nucleus of competent people to ensure that land leasing and group purchases can be encouraged and that a watching brief can be kept on the sale of land to ensure that arms do not move into the hands of non-qualified people — for example, insurance companies, etc. That is a very real danger. That is something which always had to be watched and now more than ever. The Department should not relinquish lightly the powers which are there since the foundation of the State, but I will not go into the detail. However, because of these powers the agrarian problems we have had over centuries and particularly sensitive issues in rural areas were sorted out because everybody, whether or not they liked the Land Commission, had to admit two things — first, that they had the power to act and, secondly, that they were independent and competent and were prepared to act.

We hear much about integrated rural development and the rural economy. Of course, this is as it should be. Now more than ever we must develop along these lines. The rural tourism programme is now supported by the EC, as announced by the Minister. That is very welcome. Also welcome — and this is something I have been plugging — is the help for the non-thoroughbred horse industry. I have no doubt that agri-tourism has potential, as has the horse industry; but here we must have an advisory back-up service for such ventures. Teagasc must be restored if we are to succeed.

At the Spring Show at present we can see what can be achieved with deer farming and indeed with various food ventures. I know the acting Chairperson, Deputy Barnes, has a particular interest in certain food ventures — I support her in her ideas — that is the production of health foods. The natural production of food is something that is a very real alternative, and there is no great mystery about it. You may have to spend some time on your knees weeding the onions and so on, but you will be adequately remunerated for it. I do not know of anybody on the land who is afraid of work. If people in Dublin, London, people such as Marks and Spencers are prepared to pay extra for organically produced food and if there is market for it, by all means give it to them. It is like the old argument with beef, where ill-informed people come along and tell the Minister of the day that we should stop the hormone ban and that we should use hormones. It could be proven medically and scientifically that natural hormones are no harm. Of course, they are no harm; but the Berlin housewife will not accept that. She has seen the damage caused by the excessive use of artificial hormones. If she is prepared to pay £6 per pound for Irish beef then we should give it to her the way she wants it. If people in Marks and Spencers want genuine hormone free meat and free range eggs we should not do a Glenroe type of skit on it; they should get the genuine article. I know the Acting Chairperson is getting worried about me because I am straying away from the Bill.

We need a back-up service if we are to go into new ventures. Deputy Leonard mentioned deer farming, rabbit production and a whole range of other products. From experience I know these are highly expensive ventures. There is no lending agency at present which would support these ventures except where they were totally confident that there would be a back-up service that would ensure that the people who spend the £6,000, £7,000, £15,000 and £20,000 knew what they were doing. It is great to talk about new ventures and we need to have them, but all that is left at present is the dairyman and perhaps a man with a good sugar beet acreage. Certainly, the big run of farmers at present outside of dairying depend on basic tillage. They will not survive without help.

Something that has not been mentioned in the whole debate about the Land Commission, land and land distribution is that trying to make middling land out of very bad land is a waste of time. A new approach should be found to this problem. We are wasting scarce national resources on trying to make land out of something that would never be land.

Now that we have the new company, Coillte Teoranta, I should like a system to emerge under which, like land leasing, the owners of the land would continue to be the owners and insurance companies, banks and the State would become involved because EC grants would pay for the planting, but the husband and wife team would be allowed to stay on the farm holding and be paid a living wage or income to look after that 90 or 100 acres of forest and watch it grow. When the timber was harvested the land would still belong to the owners. We should look very seriously into that matter. While driving around the countryside, I saw many areas where such a system would keep people on the land.

I conclude by hoping that the Minister of State who is listening attentively will think very carefully about the market co-ordinator. To coincide with that, we should all get round to organising the potato growers and the potato industry. We would all be with the Minister on this. There is the graph of ups and downs, surpluses and scarcities, massive imports during times of scarcity and dumping in times of surplus. We need regulation about the amount of potatoes needed and the same co-ordination that has existed in the horticultural groupings. I hope the Minister will retain in his Department the necessary group of people — Land Commission people are still around — in a small section in his Department and not apologise to anybody for it. That action would hold the powers, that have been in existence since the foundation of the State, to carry out those operations that are as important as ever. If there were a change of heart in the morning, or a change of pattern, or a need for re-expansion or rebuilding, the nucleus would be there but, more important, the powers would be there.

When Deputy Hegarty was speaking about hormones and eggs, I thought the Acting Chairman would interject to remind him of Edwina Currie's fall from grace some time ago.

The Deputy is some chicken.

Let him be careful.

It is interesting to see who is in attendance at this debate — good farmers in their own right, members of organisations who have represented farmers down through the years. The real Government are also here with us——

Represented by the vacancies.

I am referring to the Civil Service. They would do well to listen to all of us.

It is not the fault of the civil servants.

I am certain that the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, will ensure that this happens. I was very interested to hear all that has been said and have to agree with itin toto.

The Land Commission and the Office of Public Works were probably the most maligned public bodies ever, in that people who expected results from them claimed they acted unnecessarily slowly and insensitively. I would have to agree with the Minister that much of the criticism was unfounded and unfair. The Land Commission did serve a noble purpose in adjusting the land ownership system and addressing the land question. The old system under which landlords railroaded their tenants and treated them in most cases, not like second class citizens but more like animals to be herded at their whim, certainly demanded a change. The Land Commission largely changed the face of agriculture from that point of view and progressed from that unhappy era.

Like most other speakers, I would like to thank the Land Commission staff for their tremendous work over many years in settling numerous disputes which, because of our history, were and still are commonplace. I thank the Land Commission for making so many holdings viable. They are about to be abolished. I am not sure that it is a good move that they should be dispensed with without a replacement of some sort. There are some criticisms that could be made, but now that they are being abolished it would be pointless. In my connections with and representations to the Land Commission, I was not always happy that they acted with speed but, generally speaking, I have to agree with the results they produced. Often, the more haste the less speed was the philosophy to which they adhered, and one which on most occasions was successful.

The Land Commission helped farmers to become viable and we must now consider farm incomes. That is the bottom line. The average farm income here has recovered to almost the level of 1984 following a rise of 31 per cent in 1987 and a little more in 1988. These figures come from the preliminary results of the National Farm Survey published by An Foras Talúntais, now Teagasc. Despite the very considerable gains recorded in 1987 and the slight improvement on them in 1988, a high proportion of farmers continue to have a very low income from their farming activities. It is very difficult to get this message across the length and breadth of this country. Farmers, farming people and their representatives and those of us here who represent in the main the farming population, can easily understand, but to get the message across to the urban population is very difficult. Irrespective of who puts forward figures, urban people are till reluctant to accept them.

The preliminary results confirm the findings of previous surveys which showed a wide difference in income according to the system used on farms, the size of farm and the region in which it was located. The volatility in farming incomes in recent years is highlighted in this survey. Average farm incomes declined by 9 per cent and 11 per cent in 1985 and 1986, respectively, probably because of the very bad weather conditions. They rose again substantially in 1987. This puts the income level attained in 1987 at about 6 per cent above that of 1984 in current terms, but this still represents a decline of about 6 per cent in real terms over the same period.

The main concept of the income used in that survey is family farming. This is the difference between the value of gross output and operating costs and represents the return for their labour to all family members working on the farm. This could be husband, wife and children and, of course, management and investment. For every two farms where income increased in 1987 it fell for the third. Despite the very considerable gains recorded in the last few years, a very high proportion of farmers continue to have a very low income from their farming activities. While about 10 per cent of farms have had an income of £15,000 or greater, about two-thirds of farms had income of £5,000 a year or less from farming. With the limited opportunities now for expansion in the current policy climate a very high proportion of farms will continue to have low incomes. Also a factor of the pattern of change between 1986 and 1987 was that larger farms had a bigger relative increase in income than small farms.

The major factor linked with persistently low incomes from farming is low output. I suppose the Land Commission played a part in years gone by in that if a farmer were able to increase the size of his holding it should follow that his capacity for greater income should be there. Therefore, if expansion in output is curtailed because of EC policy or the other developments then farm incomes can be maintained or increased only by more direct income support or by a reduction in farm numbers, something we must be very careful not to do. I and my party wish to see as many farm families continue to exist as is possible.

I would like to give the number of farms in various categories in 1987: 88,700 farmers had income from zero to £2,500; 37,000 between £2,500 and £5,000; 20,000 between £5,000 and £7,500; 15,000 between £7,500 and £10,000; 12,000 between £10,000 and £15,000 and, as I said, 19,000 of £15,000 or over. Believe it or not, in 1984 16,000 farmers had no income whatever. By 1986 that figure had increased to 27,000. For 1987 the estimate is 26,000. That is a reflection indeed of the way farmers in those categories are being treated. When they sought help from the various State agencies they found it very difficult indeed to come by any assistance. As I go on here today I will continue to say that a little assistance at this stage will keep those people going; it will keep them off the dole queues competing for resources that are already heavily competed for.

There is an urgent need for a policy of small and medium size farms in the non-disadvantaged areas, whether this be by way of replacing the Land Commission with another body or increasing the amount of land at present classified as disadvantaged areas. In Wexford, my constituency, up to now we have had something like 3 per cent of the land of the county designated as disadvantaged, whereas our neighbours Waterford have something like 60 per cent. Whether that is because there was a Minister for Agriculture from there in the recent past I do not know, but many people believe that. Kilkenny has in excess of 40 per cent, Carlow 40 per cent and Wicklow 45 per cent. Let me repeat, Wexford has 3 per cent, as if the impression should be that when you cross the border from those counties into Wexford you are entering the promised land. The land in Wexford is no better than that of any of its neighbours. I do not know whether it is because we are poor lobbyists or not good at whining, or whether the Wexford farmer was prepared to get up in the morning and make the best use of his time and the bit of land he had, that we were not successful in getting more land included in the disadvantaged areas. Because of the Government's intention to increase the disadvantaged areas in the fairly near future I, like all my colleagues in Wexford, have been invited to have a look at the land in the constituency. Being the only practising farmer among them, I hope I know a little more than the rest about this; but I have to say they fully support the case being made by the Wexford farmers that at least 33 per cent, which is still below the average of our neighbours——

Would the Deputy like his own place to be included?

Indeed, I would. My own farm is very disadvantaged in that I happen to be the farmer.

I know that.

We have been invited to places like Macamore, which Deputy Connaughton and the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, have heard about on many occasions. The land is so bad there that one of the farmers who was ploughing there last October, when the weather was reasonable, had to give up when bad weather came. He still cannot finish ploughing that field, and this is 4 May. It is difficult for anybody outside Wexford to believe that is the case but, unfortunately, it is. Quite an amount of spring barley and sugar beet are still to be sown in Wexford, even at this late stage. Therefore, I say to the Minister that, in order to keep as many of the farmers in Wexford and all over the country on the land of Ireland, assistance from the disadvantaged areas schemes would be sufficient to do that. The option is to take them from the land, put them on the dole queue and they will compete with all that unfortunate group already on the dole queue for resources; whereas the small bit of assistance at this stage through the disadvantaged areas scheme, which in the main is paid for by the EC, will keep them going. That is the way we must look forward if we are keen on keeping our people in dignity and at work and keeping the dole queues as small as possible.

Any policy should indicate clearly what help is required to provide a decent standard of living for farmers on low acreages and help them achieve the necessary targets. I do not think the small farmers or farmers generally have been over demanding. In the absence of a real recognition of the plight of these farmers and little effort being made to help them in their difficulties, many have already applied for the assistance I have spoken about. It is a sad reflection on all of us that proud farmers, who were prepared to work for maybe 18 hours a day in order to survive, are now coming to our clinics and asking us to get money from the health boards literally to put bread on the table. It is a very sad day when that happens, but that is not the saddest part of it. When they approach the various State agencies they are treated as if every farmer in the country were a millionaire, as if because you have land you should be able to survive. It is easy to sit down in an office in Dublin and say a cow gives so much or you can plough 200 acres a day when it is raining, but out on the ground it is a different scene. Unfortunately, many things are not taken into account. Assistance should be considered by those who understand the position. I would not dare ask for anything for nothing. If people are in genuine need, that need should be recognised without their being treated as second class citizens or regarded as always telling lies and looking for something for nothing. I know there is an enormous amount of social welfare fraud and I am delighted that this Government have been quite successful in dealing with it but, on the other hand, we must be careful to treat people with respect and dignity. I call on the Minister to insist, with the Minister for Social Welfare, that anyone assessing a farmer's means should understand the farming situation on the ground.

I now refer to the question of cereals and how badly off the cereal grower is. This matter relates to the Bill in that it would now take 200 acres of spring barley to accommodate a farm family. Most farmers in my area are tillage farmers and the average holding is 60 acres. Quite obviously that would not generate sufficient income. If the Land Commission are dissolved and there is no protection for these people they are likely to go to the wall.

Deputy Hegarty has already said that we need to consider greater diversification. I would mention vegetables, particularly since the Minister of State with responsibility for horticulture is with us. I compliment him on his achievement over the past two years in a very difficult area. None of us expected that he would cure our import ills. Various figures are given but it seems that about £400 million worth of vegetables are imported each year which we ourselves could grow. The Minister has succeeded and has created an attitude of mind that we can grow our own. I would ask him to continue along this road. There must be scope for vegetable growing and general horticulture since we still have enormous imports of vegetables.

We are sometimes inclined to forget cereal substitutes. I understand that 14 million tonnes of substitutes are imported into the Community. Our surplus is more or less of the same magnitude. The simple answer would be not to import and to let the mountain disappear, but that is a very simplistic attitude. It is not quite as easy as that. I would appeal to the Minister and the Government to take a much harder look at the position and to take a much stronger line in Europe in regard to substitutes. Is this wonderful European Community to subsidise people from outside or are we to look after the cereal growers within the Community? We must do the latter. Our own people come first.

I have the feeling the Deputy is drifting a bit far afield. Perhaps he could concentrate more on the Bill.

I know you are well acquainted with the farming scene. Since the Land Commission are about to be dissolved, I wonder how the cereal grower will get extra land in order to make his holding viable. The Minister said he intended to let market forces dictate the ownership of land.

Ten years ago it was nice to be in farming and it was very easy to get money from the lending institutions to buy land. The banks and ACC competed in dishing out money. The bank manager almost ran after a farmer asking if he had enough money. Many farmers ran into trouble. In Wexford, 800 of the 5,000 farmers in the county borrowed heavily to increase the size of their holding, but when interest rates went up they found themselves in severe financial difficulty. Even to this day, we are attending banks with constituents trying to alleviate the problem and to get write offs. In many instances there were family splits arising from the freedom with which the banks and ACC dished out money.

Since Fianna Fáil came into office things have improved substantially. Farmers are becoming a little more confident and are seeking to buy land. However, land prices have increased drastically during the past year. Land is now being sold at unrealistic and uneconomic prices, I can see the same situation developing that we had a few years ago. The banks, who never take risks, will be calling in those people. They should manage their money more carefully. The ultimate responsibility rests with the farmer who should also be very careful about the amount of money used for the purchase of land. I have confidence in the future of farming but I have seen too many people go under because of bad management in the past. I am disgusted at the way the banks, ACC and the lending institutions generally have behaved during the past ten years.

The number of farmers here is declining rapidly year by year. The Land Commission were able to slow down that process to some degree. The Government now intend to dissolve the Land Commission and I am wondering if there is to be another body to replace them. As things stand there is quite a lot of undivided land. I would like the Minister to tell me, when he is replying, how soon the undivided land will be allocated to farmers. Since the Minister's intention is to do away with the Land Commission I would like to know how he intends to look at the exorbitant rents farmers are paying for land. In my constituency in some instances it is £160 per acre, which is completely uneconomical. In fact at this stage some groups of farmers are prepared to let land got from the Land Commission fall by the wayside. I have made representations on behalf of groups and individuals and the response to these is slow. I know the staff in the Commission is small but, before the final whistle blows, let us make sure that the question of the price per acre is resolved and that the land already in the Commission's hands is divided.

It is my belief that a little assistance for the small farmer at this stage will keep him off the dole queue and working for the State. We must be conscious of the need to keep as many people in rural areas as possible with a little assistance by way of help through the social welfare system, including them under the disadvantaged areas scheme, or giving them extra capacity by giving them extra land.

It is sad that the Irish Land Commission is being dissolved. I had the pleasure and privilege of being in charge of that body for four and a half years during the lifetime of the last Government.

In regard to the demise of the Land Commission it must have been obvious to everybody that unless there was a major change of policy the Land Commission as we know it would have no future. There is no point in being hypocritical about this; there has been enough hypocrisy in this House in the last few days in regard to the Land Commission generally. The Land Commission was set up to do a particular job 100 years ago and they did that job particularly well. We found ourselves with vast estates, often owned by non-nationals which were not being farmed very well, and thousands of small peasants, as they where called at the time, who would have had no future here without some body to ensure that they got parcels of this land. I have great admiration for the Land Commission. I know it has shortcomings but I would not go so far as some of the leading journalists in agriculture who castigated every single thing the Land Commission tried to do in the past; but that is all history now. There are many generations of Irish people who have nothing in the world to do with land at this stage, who have passed on from rural Ireland and are now living in our towns and cities but whose families made a living on the land parcelled out to them by the Land Commission. Such people will regret the fact that the Land Commission will not be in existence after this week.

I have strong views on the Land Commission and on land policy. It would be unfair to say that Fianna Fáil are the only ones to let down the Land Commission. Successive Governments in the last 25 years let it down because they did not change the policy which was one of acquisition and subsequent redistribution of land.

The Land Commission had far flung power to acquire land. If one were looking for such power through our courts now one would not get it. The Land Commission had the power to acquire land in a whole range of situations. That power will be gone after this week, such is the way our judicial system and our way of thinking have evolved in the last 25 years.

The bottom line now is whether we are to allow outsiders from anywhere, the US, Holland, Denmark etc. the right to buy agricultural land on the open market just like people who are trained and make their living from agriculture and who are not trained for anything else. Everybody who has anything to sell, from a house or car to the clothes he wears is entitled, if he decides to sell, to get the best price on the day. Nobody would countenance a situation where that right would be taken away. If we go that far with agricultural land, where does that leave the stated policy of trying to keep the maximum number of people on the land — and the person has not been born yet who could say what the optimum number of farming families is? There would be nothing whatever to stop a foreigner from coming into the heart of County Galway or any other county and buying the land provided he or she has enough money. In Agriculture House where permission must be obtained, they are writing permissions as if they were merely dog licences because there is no one there to decide who is and who is not entitled to buy land. The only question I see being asked over there is whether there is a typist to type the approval to let people in. These are hard words, but true.

Following the admission by the Minister, at which I am not surprised, that market forces will be allowed to dominate the whole scene, let nobody talk to me again in this House about keeping the small farmer on the land because his days are well and truly numbered.

I have always been a critic of one aspect of the Land Commission policy over the years and that was dividing land on the basis of numbers rather than on ability to farm. If there was 40 acres for division and there were five farmers in a townland, usually each farmer would get eight acres and no consideration whatever was given to their ability to farm. From the first day I went into Agriculture House I was a critic of that policy but the horse was well gone at that time. The reason for that practice was that there was such pressure, political and otherwise, that it was very difficult for any officer to say farmer A was more entitled to land than farmer B. Basically at the end of the day you would be choking off an avenue by which a family made a living. That was a very difficult problem to overcome and it certainly gave the Land Commission a bad name in the sense that much of the land allocated often went on the public market or was rented to another farmer. It certainly did not augur well for the method of distribution.

It now appears that the only criterion that is necessary to acquire agricultural land in Ireland is money. If you have the money you can buy land where you like, when you like and as much of it as you like. Now that the Land Commission are being dissolved, that in itself is not a tragedy; the tragedy is that nothing is being put in its place. I heard Dan McCarthy of the ICMSA — I publicly congratulate him — speaking on "Morning Ireland" this morning and I have to concur with a lot of what he said. He said it is very important that there be an overall monitoring body to deal with all aspects of land policy. I do not think Fianna Fáil have the slightest intention of setting up such a body.

I do not want to be political about this because there has been a plague on all our houses for the past 25 years as far as the Land Commission are concerned but in more recent times farmers and the organisations that represent them have been allowed to take a very prominent part in, for instance, the ERAD scheme. I see no reason why a national body, council or some kind of statutory body could not be formed to oversee land policy in the future. They could do a different job altogether from that carried out by the Land Commission.

In an advisory role?

No, not an advisory role. They would have to have some power otherwise nobody would take the slightest notice of them. One thing I have always said about the Land Commission is that they were regarded as the Cinderella in the Department of Agriculture. I am prohibited from mentioning names but there are two or three people — one of whom I am looking at today, Tom Duggan, and some of his collegues — who have done great work in this area. I have never met people with such expertise in land policy. At least four or five people spent their lifetime working in this area and if they had been taken notice of 20 years ago the position would be much better now. I am not being political because this is not the only Government that did not take notice of them.

At this stage it is important that an overall statutory group be set up, comprising farming organisations such a Teagasc. I do not see why the auctioneers and valuers' association, with whom I had a lot of discussion when I was Minister, the banks and other bodies should not be included. They are also entitled to be listened to. The biggest problem that would arise in this regard is that there would be a conflict of interest on that board and that is why the Government are not going ahead with it. For instance, a farmer who owns 300 acres may decide some day that he wants to buy another 300 acres — technically there is nothing wrong with that if he can afford it — but what about the farmer living beside him who owns 40 or 50 acres but does not have the purchasing power? He would be submerged before the sale goes ahead. As a society we have to make up our minds whether we will provide some help for such a farmer. I said earlier that we should not in any way impede or obstruct a public auction, and the people I am talking about would obviously have to come up with the money but they should be given some chance to get the first bite at the cherry while at the same time ensuring that the seller gets the full price on the day. It is very difficult for a smallholder to come up with that money but the worse thing we can do is to throw our hands in the air and say we are not interested, and to let the market forces operate. If we do that we would be committing those people forever to the bottom of the pile.

The land authority I was speaking about had a lot to do in many other areas on the agricultural scene. When I was in office I introduced a Bill dealing with long term leasing. There is no point saying it shook the agricultural world, but it was a step in the right direction. The reasons for its introduction was, first, to get across to the elderly people who had land they were not using that there was in operation a legal system whereby if a deal was made between the lessor and the lessee, for whatever number of years was specified, the tenant would have no right to the land after that time. That provision was not included in previous legislation. It opened up a horizon for young people and was greeted at the time with great enthusiasm.

I travelled extensively around the country at that time and I saw many young people attending the meetings in all areas. Maybe some people thought there was more to the Bill than was the case, or maybe some people thought that Exchequer moneys should have been provided for the system, but whatever our personal views of the matter at the time, it was obvious the Exchequer could not get involved to the degree that could create an artificial limit in regard to land leasing. There was also a price squeeze in farming at that time and it is only now that long term leasing is becoming a great possibility again.

Because the Land Commission were not getting State funding to purchase land in the ordinary way — obviously everyone knew the Land Commission were on the way out then — I introduced the concept of the group purchase scheme. There were two or three very basic principles involved and at least I proved it could work. The figures in the Minister's Department show that it was actively administered.

Basically, the concept was that where three or four farmers in a townland had not financial resources to buy the farm, they joined together and bought it as a group. There was one very important factor in that and that was that one had to have a referee, somebody without a chip on his shoulder whom the four could trust and who would have expertise in dividing land. The land was not necessarily divided into quarters, as one man might have £5,000 to spend and another £20,000. That was where land division experts came into account. They were the honest brokers, and it worked.

We still have it.

But they have gone. That is the trouble. The inspectors are not there nor is there anybody else at the moment with that expertise, so that concept is scuttled as well.

Debate adjourned.