Deputy Finucane was in possession.
Irish Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill, 1989: Second Stage (Resumed).
Before the break I dealt with the history of the Land Commission and the necessity for change and for putting something in place to deal with land problems. The original intention of the Land Commission was to give small farmers a livelihood. Small farmers have been the subject of many discussion in this Chamber. When we talk about small farmers I am concerned about the heavy dependence of farmers in disadvantaged areas on headage payments. I am deeply concerned about a proposal under the 1992 headage payments in relation to an RSI or tax clearance number for farmers. This would be a new departure. Many farmers to which headage payments apply are on unemployment assistance and there is a rather convoluted process involved in applying for that assistance. If these people are on unemployment assistance, have a medical card and have already been means tested, in most cases they are not eligible to pay tax. While we are all concerned that everyone should pay their fair share of tax will the introduction of this RSI tax clearance number be an extra penalty on small farmers? A leading farming organisation are meeting Deputies over in Buswells Hotel, as we are having this debate, to discuss this situation. We have experienced a lot of pressure with regard to this new departure. Many people have predicted that this Minister will be a good Minister with regard to rural development. I hope he will look at this whole scene.
In relation to farming in general, concern has been expressed in this House on many occasions about afforestation. There is probably not enough planning for afforestation and we have seen some communities being practically dwarfed by forests. Either Coillte Teoranta or a private organisation often buy 60 to 100 acres of good land for afforestation. If a farmer is interested in acquiring a small amount of good land from Coillte, Coillte should be sympathetic towards him. In many cases that extra little acreage will only supplement an inadequate acreage belonging to the farmer.
With regard to the transfer of farms, there is quite a process involved for a person who wants to transfer a farm to a son or daughter having regard to eligibility for old age non-contributory pension. There is a need for some help in that area.
It is time to dissolve the Land Commission. I trust that the Minister can gainfully employ the people who were employed by the Land Commission in other areas, making use of their skills and that he will consider the establishment of a land agency to succeed the Land Commission, or some body with an overview of developments. I wish the Minister the best of luck in his new appointment.
I join with previous speakers in congratulating Deputy Hyland on his new appointment. We are very fortunate to have a man of his experience and wealth of practical knowledge of working the land who knows the requirements of the farming community. Deputy Hyland will no doubt live up to our expectations of him.
I welcome the Bill which was held up for a number of years. Through no fault of the Land Commission they were semi-sterile. They had no work to do and they had no targets. They were in a state of limbo for a long time. I am delighted with this breakthrough. Integration is to be the key note and a new agency is to be set up incorporating Land Commission staff in a new role. The modern land section in the Department will have many new chores. There should be continuity in the various areas and people with experience of dealing with problems on the ground should be retained in their local areas. Staff from the rural areas should not be shafted into Dublin andvice versa. The experience of the people on the ground will be a great help in doing the new chores which will be allocated to former Land Commission staff.
If the Minister is looking for chores for the Land Commission staff I can give him a list. The first area would relate to scientific interest. I have a list of over 100 locations in Mayo and Galway which have been designated as areas of scientific interest. The people in the wildlife section of the Department in Bray, without any consultation with farmers, without even visiting the west, decided in their wisdom to identify certain tracts of land in every county as being of scientific interest. The Department have no statutory power to designate tracts of land as areas of scientific interest. A person whose lands were designated as an area of scientific interest in the Clifden area — Deputy McCormack is aware of this — brought a case to the High Court against the designation and won his case. I am glad the Judiciary found that the Department have no statutory right to designate land as areas of scientific interest. Quite recently the members of Mayo County Council decided to set aside those areas designated as of scientific interest and as a compromise we added them as an appendix to the review of the county development plan. There is no statutory basis for designation of lands as areas of scientific interest. I suggest that the Minister give this job to the new land commission section within the Department.
Land can be designated as an environmentally sensitive area. In this case the Department of Agriculture and Food consult with the farmers concerned who are allowed to have controlled grazing in the particular area and they are also paid on a hectare basis under an EC Directive that deals with the control of flora and fauna. As the farmers are consulted and are part of the scheme I would therefore encourage the establishment of environmentally sensitive areas.
The EC also issue a habitat directive. I believe I submitted the first habitat directive to the Office of Public Works but this is also relevant to the Minister's area of responsibility. The EC has issued a directive to preserve and control habitats. It allows controlled use and controlled grazing of the land but it pays the farmer compensation. I suggest that the Department should become involved in this area.
We need to take a new look at afforestation. Forestry must be productive and the nation must recoup its investment. Thinnings are now coming on stream but we are not geared to deal with them. The thinnings are piled up on the piers and harbours and rot before they are exported. We do not reap the benefit of this product. For that reason I believe we must have some programme to ensure that we reap the benefits of afforestation.
The Land Commission officials did not have time to deal with our offshore islands and I suggest that they should now be dealt with under their new structure. Turbary rights are running out in some areas. Unless we acquire turbary rights immediately people will be unable to acquire new plots in order to harvest the turf. Bog can be acquired and divided in such a way that the turf can be harvested by machine. The day of the slane is gone. Very few are now cutting turf with the slane and the work is now done by machine. For that reason it is important that plots are divided in such a way that the machine can harvest the turf.
The EC provide assistance for areas of high altitude. We should have a look at this because no area in this country has been deemed an area of high altitude. I ask the Minister to ensure that his officials treat this as special work. Some areas would qualify for special grants.
There is also work to be done on mountain grazing. This will provide work for the existing staff. At present it is impossible to get a Land Commission official to go out and subdivide commonages. Commonages have been sterile over the past number of years because it was impossible to get a Land Commission official to subdivide them. The Land Commission officials felt that they were in a limbo situation because they did not know what the future held for them. I can assure the Minister that there is plenty of work to be done in subdividing commonages, for which there is a big backlog of applicants. Farmers are now in favour of dividing the commonages. In the past, there were a great many absentee landlords and the commonage was used by only a few, but people are now becoming aware that it is a very valuable asset and they want to ensure that they have their share and have the commonage subdivided. I ask the Minister to look at this again.
Sometimes the land around our coasts does not belong to any particular tenant but for coastal protection purposes it is required that somebody owns it so that the county council, the Department of the Environment and other State agencies ensure that the land and housing is protected from coastal erosion by the continuing rising tides.
Nobody wants to hear about land drainage any more because we were overproducing agriculture produce, but I think that is a fallacy. Drainage is always a necessity. Arterial drainage is still necessary. I ask the Minister to take account of this because there is still a great deal of work to be done under the Arterial Drainage Act, and the drainage schemes. It is important that the Department officials liaise with Teagasc, the research body. There is great scope for this liaison. There is a great deal of work to be done on the installation grants for young farmers and some of this work should be taken from the overburdened Teagasc staff. The Minister's officials could help in many ways to assist small farmers with tax returns. Many farmers are unused to these forms and are paying large sums for the services of accountants.
Officials could also assist the inspectors with regard to sheep tagging and cattle headage. A sheep farmer receives a notice telling him to have his sheep ready for inspection on a given date. That date may not be suitable with regard to his lambing programme. If ewes and lambs are put into small pens for inspection there is generally some fatality, at great loss to the farmer. If there were organised tagging and headage inspections the loss would not be as great to those farmers. Inspections should be held at a time when it is convenient for farmers to bring their stock down from the hills. Anybody who is familiar with sheep farming areas is aware of the climatic conditions and the problems which can be caused by poor visibility and so on. It could take weeks to round up sheep and make them available for tagging. It would be a great relief to farmers if the departmental staff could be involved in this work and it might prevent the trampling of lambs in pens.
We have fallen behind in the TB eradication scheme. For many years we have been trying to achieve a reduction in the incidence of TB in the national herd and we could speed up that process with the assistance of the staff in the Department.
It would be invaluable if we could complete the work of land allocation. Farmers, especially those who have completed 100 EC hours or who have completed farm apprenticeship schemes, as well as installation farmers, should get priority in any land distribution programme. Some support must be given by the Department to those small farmers who are trying to eke out a living with very limited resources. Any land that becomes available should be given to people in the three categories I have mentioned. Farmers could also be subsidised to buy land or else be enabled to borrow the necessary money at a very low rate. The Department could also be very helpful in implementing the Leader programme and the staff are also well equipped to deal with the extension of the disadvantaged areas.
I pay tribute to the Land Commission who did wonderful work with limited resources. Their main achievement when they took over from the congested district boards was to institute the change whereby land annuities were paid to the Irish Government rather than to Britiain. That was a great breakthrough. The acquisition of land is not always easy. They did away with the landlordism which some of us remember. Under that old system a tenant could be evicted at the whim of the landlord. Those days are gone and people now own their land. Most people own their houses also and this is to the credit of successive Governments.
The Land Commission were also responsible for the valuation of land. In some cases they over-valued and in others they under-valued the land, but they did the best they could. Some farmers have experienced difficulty in paying land annuities in latter years, perhaps because the original valuation was too high. Land annuities are assessed by the purchase price of the land. The Land Commission cannot be blamed for the severe financial strain which some people are suffering. They carried out their task with sensitivity and patience.
Land division is a cemetery for a politician and if he puts his head into it he will not be around much longer. If one farmer gets land, ten others are disappointed. We never got involved in that field of activity and, perhaps, that is why we are here today.
The expertise obtained by the Land Commission is invaluable and must not be lost to the State. I welcome the integration of the existing staff into a new section in the Department of Agriculture and Food and I am confident they will meet the challenges of today and of the next century.
At the outset I compliment the Minister on his recent appointment. Indeed, it is with a sense of optimism and confidence, given the new look team in the Department of Agriculture and Food, that many farmers welcome the appointments and await with expectation the achievements which are heralded with their arrival. I thank my colleague, Deputy McCormack, for allowing me to speak ahead of him: the train does not wait for seniority.
It is with a sense of nostalgia that we are here closing the final chapter on the Land Commission. The Land Commission had a very positive impact on the development of a rural economy and gave many farmers a viable holding when they were involved in the distribution of land acquired among smaller holdings.
The question of land policy in Ireland has always been an emotive one and was probably best captured by the recent film "The Field". The graphic story of the attachment which the Irish people had to the land and the whole impact which that had on our politics for generations — indeed for centuries — was truly captured in that film. That attachment to land is equally strong today. In closing the final chapter on the Land Commission I do not think this House can walk away from its obligations and responsibilities in policing land policy. While the Land Commission have outlived their usefulness, I am of the opinion — and I would like to hear the views of the Minister and the Department on this — that some regulatory body will have to be put in place to police land policy in Ireland. I do not believe that an unfettered market approach to land sales is socially, economically or environmentally desirable.
I have had no direct dealings with Land Commission farms being subdivided but, coming from a political household, I vividly recall representations from farmers interested in acquiring additional land to make viable their existing smallholdings. In that regard I see evidence of the success of the Land Commission in many parishes and townlands throughout my constituency. That visual success reinforces the belief that we cannot walk away from this area of responsibility in agricultural matters.
I am concerned that some unfinished business with regard to the Land Commission's dealing in the subdivision of commonages remains to be completed. This work is of considerable importance and is controversial in my constituency. Many of us are awaiting the outcome of a court ruling on a particular case. For those who are in a limbo at present it would be desirable that judgement be delivered on that matter as soon as possible. Subsequently, when that decision is given, what mechanism will be in place to police the possible subdivision of commonages if that is the outcome of the court hearing, or is that matter to be left unresolved? That is certainly unfinished business that has to be taken into account in the winding up process.
I would like also to express concern, as has been done by a number of speakers, with regard to the staff. It is my understanding that in any winding-up of State or semi-State bodies the procedure adopted is voluntary redundancies or redeployment of all existing staff. Given the provisions in theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress that there are to be no compulsory redundancies in the public service, I would like to know what is happening with regard to the staff who were former employees of the Land Commission?
This is a very difficult time in agriculture, given the proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy and the conclusion of the GATT negotiations. I had occasion to attend a farmer's meeting recently where those present understood that not alone was reform of the Common Agricultural Policy affecting their livelihoods but its place in the renegotiation of the GATT agreement was widely understood by the agricultural community.
One of the principal planks advanced by the EC Commission for reforming the Common Agricultural Policy was that it would facilitate a return to more environmentally friendly farming. That is a welcome development, but it is illogical to have that principle as a plank in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy when our own national Government are involved in grant aiding the destruction of many environmentally sensitive habitats, when land reclamation grants are still in existence when the Commission are paying money to set aside the best quality land in the country. I would like to hear the Minister's views on that anomaly.
Despite efforts — inadequate efforts — over the past number of years, the trend has been towards fewer and bigger farm holdings. In the absence of a body like the Land Commission to police land sales that trend is likely to escalate and the number of people employed in agriculture will decrease rapidly. It is regrettable that there has been no co-ordinated rural development policy by any Government for many years which would recognise that a central plank of job creation has to be the maintenance of the maximum possible number of people on farm holdings in rural areas. The preservation of barely viable holdings was enhanced by the activities of the Land Commission over many generations when they provided additional land for smallholdings.
In the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy it is likely that part-time farming will be of greater significance in the rural economy. I fear that if we do not have a policing body, such as the Land Commission, to facilitate the creation of viable units the march of bigger landowners in swallowing up the available land at the expense of smallholders will result in the numbers directly employed in agriculture being significantly reduced and the capacity to participate in part-time farming will be eroded.
One of the more welcome developments in relation to the incoherent approach adopted by the European Commission in reforming the Common Agricultural Policy is the introduction of the Leader programme. It gives us an indication that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the first semblance of a rural development policy. I hope that post-1993 the pilot programme will be significantly enlarged and the funding available for it will be greatly increased because it has enormous potential to revitalise rural economies.
The Department of Agriculture and Food have been extremely helpful in assisting the groups involved. I am familiar with two successful applications from my own constituency and I would like to make an appeal to the Minister on one issue. I am not sure, however, if responsibility rests with his Department or with the Commission but the regulations which require each successful applicant to submit information to the Department on the extent of the Leader project impinge on the flexible approach adopted to date. The individual project managers are currently considering certain programmes and submissions which transcend the immediate area concerned. I understand the Department have requested that a map delineating the extent of the project be submitted. This is the first indication of obtrusive interference on the part of the Department and it is not helpful. The project managers should have maximum discretion. The bottom up approach has been exploited to the maximum extent under the Leader project to date and any restrictions would be counter-productive.
In conclusion, let me return to my original contention. I do not believe the Department can walk away from their responsibilities with regard to policing land sales in this country. Now that the Land Commission are being wound up we need a regulatory body, under the aegis of the Department, to police land policy. I do not believe that it is either socially, economically or environmentally desirable to have no regulations laid down by the Department in that regard.
The purpose of this Bill is to dissolve the Land Commission and provide for attending matters, to quote the Minister's speech. It is significant that this Bill has been before the House before. It was first introduced in May 1989 but before Second Stage was completed the Dáil was dissolved. I am confident, with the new team in place, that Second Stage will be completed on this occasion. I would like to congratulate the Minister on his appointment. I suppose if Second Stage had been completed on that occasion I would not be here now to make a contribution on the Bill.
Such an expression of humility is very unusual for Deputy McCormack.
As I said, the purpose of this Bill is to wind up the Land Commission. However, the matter should not end there. We should have a land policy or a land body to deal with the matters which will have to be dealt with once the Land Commission are dissolved. Such a body could utilise the expertise available in the Land Commission. Indeed, there is a necessity to establish such a body.
We have to accept, however, that it is no longer necessary to carry out the functions that the Land Commission were established to carry out and that the commission have outlived their usefulness. They acquired land, and or an estate, sometimes by way of compulsory purchase orders, and then subdivided it among smallholders. It was their policy to try to establish viable holdings throughout the country of approximately 45 to 50 acres. However, that figure no longer holds true as the Land Commission would now find it impossible to establish viable holdings on that basis. Given the way agriculture has developed one would need to have a farm approximately three times that figure if it is to prove viable.
Their policy at that time, as I said, was to buy and hold land for a number of years and then subdivide it. Sometimes this system worked. Indeed, Deputy O'Toole said that it could prove to be a graveyard for politicians if they tried to interfere in this process. I bow to his wisdom in that matter, but there was a famous politician in my own area, who shall remain nameless, who believed that he should make representations on everyone's behalf. If six or seven farmers in an area "were in for a piece of land" at least four or five were given a piece. Therefore, he got it right four or five times out of six. He believed that it was a fairly good system. I would not go along with him but then again I have never been involved because no large tracts of land have been subdivided since I became a Deputy.
The Land Commission also relocated smallholders from the west, principally from my own constituency — they gave up their unviable holdings which were then subdivided among local people — on larger farms in Counties Westmeath or Meath. This was partially successful because the transition proved too difficult for some. However, it was of help to the counties which adopted those good people from places such as Clonbur and Cornamona in Galway. Indeed, a Gaeltacht was established in County Meath. We exported our culture to County Meath and helped them in that regard. We also exported a few footballers. I noticed that a few of the people on the Meath football team which won the All-Ireland title were of Galway descent.
They also have been abolished since.
I am sure they have played their part in County Meath, too. Much of the work the Land Commission carried out was useful. With this in mind we need a body to replace them. Not alone did Deputy O'Toole ask for such a body to be established but he spoke confidently about the work that they could do. Perhaps he knows something that I do not know and that such a body is on the way. There is plenty of work that they could do. They could be involved in the division of commonages, which has been referred to. Much work remains to be done in this regard, given the test case taken in County Mayo.
There is other work that such a body could do without the need to acquire land at all. I noticed that there is great fragmentation of holdings in County Galway. Often in a townland there are five or six farmers, each with a little division of land, separated from another person who has a similar division of land. While it is always very difficult to get local people to agree on the allocation of their land, to bring all their units into one, very often a person from an agency such as the Land Commission — or what will now be a land authority — will be successful in having this work carried out.
Much work remains to be done in this area, particularly in County Galway. The new body should also look at the whole aspect of areas of scientific interest. I have been interested in this matter since it became a great problem in County Galway in 1990. At that time people discovered that large tracts of their land were in areas of scientific interest although they did not have any knowledge that this was the case. I tabled a question to the Minister for Finance on Thursday, 8 February 1990, asking him to outline the powers which the Office of Public Works have to designate areas of scientific interest. He replied that, in accordance with the overall functions of the Minister for Finance to conserve threatened species of flora and fauna, it was necessary to list areas which contain these species and which are known as areas of scientific interest. He said the Wildlife Act empowered him to create reserves in areas of scientific interest.
Without consultation with people in County Galway, mainly in Connemara, large areas were marked on maps as being of scientific interest. I do not think anybody visited them to discover what they contained before they were designated as areas of scientific interest but farmers discovered when they applied for relevant grants that this was the case. On 22 February 1990 in this House I raised on the Adjournment the case of a person who had applied for a forestry grant. The forestry inspector visited the area and told him to proceed with the work. However, when he had about one-third of the land planted he received a letter from the forestry division saying they were sorry they had not contacted him sooner but, due to a problem with his application, they could not do so before now. Apparently most of the townland of Ballyquirke falls into an area of scientific interest, they referred to No. 32 on the map, sheet 14, County Galway. They went on to say that because of the regulations to which they had to adhere, they could not recommend any areas which fall within those of scientific interest for grant-aid.
That farmer was clearly discriminated against. Indeed, this happened on a widespread scale in Connemara, if that farmer or somebody else wished to offer their land or part of their land for sale it was reduced in value by a quarter — and maybe by three-quarters — depending on what use could be made of it because it was declared an area of scientific interest. This caused great anxiety and inconvenience to farmers in Connemara and led to public debate. It became a national issue when there was an application for the building of an airport on a strip of bog outside Clifden. Later, when they applied to Galway County Council for planning permission, it was discovered that the proposed airport strip was in an area of scientific interest. Planning permission was subsequently refused. A case was taken by two landowners in the area, it was recently heard in Dublin and it was ruled that it was unconstitutional to declare areas of scientific interest without the knowledge, consent or consultation with the landowner. That is as it should be but it took two farmers in Connemara, who could ill afford it, to take a case to prove that their constitutional right was being interfered with in having their land declared an area of scientific interest without their knowledge.
Other unfinished work of the Land Commission which must be dealt with by a land body — or whatever the new body is called — is land acquired by the Land Commission and subsequently divided. Farmers obtained land at an annual annuity of probably £90 per acre. That is now over the 11 months' rated renting value of the land and, with the decline in farm incomes, farmers were unable to meet the annuities. It would have been better for some of them if they had never acquired this land because they are not able to meet their financial obligations. Something must be done to clarify and rectify this.
I should also like to mention environmentally sensitive areas which are totally different from areas of scientific interest. The Minister of State, Deputy Hyland, has already taken action in this regard, he announced details of a programme last week and kindly sent me a copy. He designated those lands as special areas of operation and some of them are in my constituency near Clifden, Errislannon, Doonloughan and Bonowen, places I know well as I had occasion to visit them before to negotiate business successfully. It is a beautiful area and there is nothing wrong with what the Minister proposes to do there because those areas will be designated only where people agree to co-operate in reducing stock rate and natural farming practices. It would not be very hard for the people of those areas to continue natural farming practices because of the quality of the land. I have no doubt that a scheme will be taken up and welcomed enthusiastically in those areas.
With the dissolution of the Land Commission I do not know whether there should be a watchdog committee in relation to the fact that non-nationals, or at any rate, those outside the EC, can acquire any amount of land here provided they are able to pay for it. Of course, they are probably in a better position to pay for land than nationals or local people who wish to acquire more land. Even now, in areas like Connemara, when an old house, site or a few acres come up for sale they are generally bought by non-nationals. I do not know whether we can do anything about this. It is probably not a desirable practice because it makes it impossible for people who wish to stay in their own areas to acquire a house, site or an addition to their holding. They are not able to compete on the open market.
I ask the Minister to ensure that any body set up to replace the Land Commission — everyone seems to be in favour of such a body, and I presume they will be set up — will examine the previous role of the Land Commission in sanctioning the purchase of land. We have to face up to this issue and see what can be done. Farming is going through a difficult period at present. These problems will not be alleviated if farmers are not able to increase their holdings by buying land on the open market. This is the area in which the Land Commission will probably be most missed. I look forward to the establishment of a body to replace the Land Commission. Hopefully, they will use the expertise gained by the Land Commission over many years in regard to such issues as fragmentation, subdivision and allotment of land to farmers.
I hope the foreboding of my colleague, Deputy McCormack, has no relevance at present. I am sure none of us wants to take to the hills within the next 12 months. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Hyland, on his appointment. I wish him every success in his new post.
The abolition of the Irish Land Commission was first mooted in 1983. We were told then that they would be replaced by a land authority. We have been waiting since then for the establishment of a land authority, but they have not appeared on the horizon. Around the same time the Department of Finance decided that farmers were not paying their fair share of income tax. At that time some farmers were in the happy position of being able to pay income tax. However, very few farmers are in that position at present. The amount of income tax paid by farmers during those years was based on the poor law valuation of their farms. The constitutionality of this system was tested in court. During the last century a valuation was put on the land in each county which for one reason or another was not very equitable. Some parts of Counties Roscommon, Leitrim and Mayo were valued as highly as some of the more fertile plains of County Laois, the Minister's county. The unconstitutionality of that system was upheld by the courts and no tax could be collected from farmers for a certain period of time.
Not to be defeated, the Department of Finance instituted a soil survey of land in the Twenty-six counties. The people employed to carry out the survey were former employees of the Land Commission. This survey, which began in 1985, was based mainly on soil type, soil depth, the altitude of the land and general topography — the ability of land to grow crops, including grass. Needless to say, the Department of Finance knew that farmers who had fewer than 40 acres, 50 acres or 60 acres would not be liable to pay much income tax. Therefore, the first farms surveyed in each county had more than 250 acres; the next farms surveyed had between 200 and 250 acres, and so on. The survey was carried out from August 1985 until 1 March 1987. Approximately 20 per cent of the farms in County Roscommon — I would say this was typical of the entire country — were surveyed. Because of the vagaries of political thinking, the then Government were deposed and Fianna Fáil plus their——
Most certainly not. One of the first things Fianna Fáil did when they took office in 1987 was to abandon the soil survey. I understand that the information which had been collected by the survey team up until then was destroyed. This meant that the survey was of no use.
Since that time the Irish Land Commission have found themselves in no man's land. At present approximately 60 Land Commission inspectors are located throughout the country. These are mostly based in the five counties of Connacht, Counties Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Longford, Clare, parts of Kerry and parts of Cork. What will become of those people when the Bill is enacted? We have been told that some of them will be brought back to Dublin where positions will be found for them. If the Land Commission inspectors are brought back to Dublin rural Ireland will lose a valuable asset. These people know the quality of the land and the type of farming carried out in various counties. It will be a pity if their services are lost to rural Ireland at this vital time in the history of farming.
When land comes on the market farmers must pay the open market price. Some people have formed companies to buy land for afforestation. I am not against afforestation in certain parts of the country. Indeed some land should have been planted years ago. However, this does not mean that we should allow for a situation where every plot of land can be bought by companies for afforestation purposes. If a 40 acre farm comes on the market it should be possible to divide it in three so that three local farmers get 13 or 14 acres each. Alternatively, the land could be divided in two so that two farmers get 20 acres each. This could mean the difference between a farmer having a viable holding or a non-viable holding. A farmer with 30 acres, 35 acres or 40 acres of land will not be able to compete on the open market for any land which becomes available.
I mention this point because I believe the former employees of the Land Commission have a role to play in this area. They are very highly qualified and they know more about soil types and farming types than anyone else. They could have a role to play in deciding whether land should be sold for afforestation purposes or sold to local farmers who are trying to eke out a living and make their holdings viable. This point is of the utmost importance at present, especially since the alternative appears to be the transfer of these men from rural Ireland to the cities, where the knowledge they have gained over the years will be of less value and where they will possibly vegetate. The main problem with farming at present is its non-viability due to very low incomes.