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

The Chair is happy to congratulate and welcome the new Minister of State, Deputy Liam Hyland.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his kind words of welcome. The purpose of this Bill is to dissolve the Land Commission and to provide for attendant matters. The Bill was previously before the House in May 1989. However, before Second Stage was completed the Dáil was dissolved. It is now necessary to start the legislative procedure again.

When introducing the Bill in 1989 the Minister gave a brief outline of the history of the commission. It is not necessary to repeat this. The full text is available in the Dáil Official Report of 2 May 1989.

We all acknowledge that the Land Commission are an ancient institution who have been closely associated with the land situation in this country for over 100 years. Starting in 1881 as a rent fixing body, they took on the responsibility in later years of buying out the landlords and making the tenants proprietors of their holdings. While much of this work was done before independence, it was only under native administration that the operation was completed. By 1930 over 400,000 holdings had been bought out, covering an area of approximately 14 million acres. In the process landlordism was abolished and the land of Ireland was back again in native hands. Such a transformation in the land tenure system could only be described as a major social revolution.

With the completion of land purchase the Land Commission moved on to the third phase of their long and varied career. This was to improve the physical conditions of so many of our holdings. These conditions were rather grim, particularly in the west of Ireland. The holdings for the most part were small and badly fragmented; the productivity of the land was low due to lack of drainage and farm buildings were primitive. To meet the situation the Land Commission embarked on a vast programme of structural reform which aimed, through the acquisition and distribution of land, to enlarge and rearrange small holdings and generally to relieve congestion. One of the constraints in achieving the latter aim was the fact that in areas where the problem of congestion was most acute there was often little land available for acquisition. In such circumstances the only way of getting land was through migration. This meant that a land holder gave up his home holding and was given a new holding elsewhere. The land given up was then used to enlarge and rearrange the remaining holdings.

This programme changed the face of rural Ireland. The worst agricultural slums were abolished through migration and distribution, holdings were enlarged and rearranged, fragmentation was reduced and farm size increased. New buildings were provided to replace the old ones and water supplies were laid on. The overall effect of these improvements was to give hope to the smaller farmers and provide them with a solid base on which they could build for the future.

By the end of the seventies, however, it was generally accepted that the Land Commission had outlived their usefulness. There were a number of reasons for this. In the first place the pool of large estates available for acquisition had declined considerably. Accordingly, the Land Commission found themselves acquiring smaller unused properties, the acquisition of which in general proved long and tedious as owners availed of their statutory rights to oppose proceedings to the limit.

Debate adjourned.