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

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

When the debate on this Bill concluded last Thursday week I was about to refer to the failure to implement certain promises made in 1983. The principal promise was that a land authority would be set up on the dissolution of the Irish Land Commission, but, unfortunately, that authority was not been established despite the fact that Governments of both parties had an opportunity to do so. The main function of such an authority would be to oversee the equitable distribution of land among the smaller landholders. Nowadays when land becomes available on the market it is purchased by the person with the fattest purse. Anybody familiar with land and income from land will realise that the man with the fattest purse is certainly not the farmer down the road with 40 or 45 acres of land. The chances of such a farmer becoming the owner of a viable unit are very slim.

It is fine to allow the play of market forces in the sale of most properties but, for the reason I have just given, that is distinctly undesirable when it comes to the sale of land. A man with 40 acres is not likely to ever have enough funds to be able to compete on the open market. Unfortunately, it will not be his neighbour who buys the property, because his chances are just as slim. Invariably, it will be an individual or a group of individuals who have joined together to form a company who purchase the property having decided to take the land out of agricultural production and put it into forestry. There is nothing wrong with what is being done by the forestry people so long as everything is above board and in accordance with the law; as is said in other parts of the world, it is a "legit" deal. The people I blame for the present impasse are ourselves, the politicians, for not ensuring at any stage since 1983 that the promises then made to set up a land authority were realised.

In the past most of us paid lip service to the preservation of the family farm unit but, unfortunately, that was not backed up by practical application. The consequences of that have been a further flight from the land to the cities in our own country or elsewhere, and to have our small farmers sit at home and collect the dole. I am not looking for anything outrageous to support family farms, but it should be realised that the creation of one industrial job costs the State £14,000. A family farm provides full time employment for a farmer and his wife: the creation of two industrial jobs would cost the Government £28,000 and that amount could go a long way towards subsidising the purchase of extra land for a family.

Even though we have done nothing about establishing a land authority in the past nine to 11 years, we now have a chance to redress the wrongs successive Governments perpetrated on family farm units. Those wrongs can be redressed by the establishment of a land authority whose main function, as I have already said, would be to ensure that when land became available in a locality it was retained by local farmers for the production of food. That would provide practical help for those to whom we have paid lip service for so long.

From certain quarters comes the advice that too much land is used in the production of food. I do not subscribe to that way of thinking. Perhaps there is a surplus of food produced in certain pockets of the world, but we cannot say too much land is used for the production of food when half the world is starving. It must be borne in mind that people are becoming more "green" in outlook and that there will be less demand for food produced with a liberal use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. If the day came that the use of such aids were not required to the same degree — and it appears that it may come sooner than we expect — the quantity of food produced per unit would be reduced greatly. If we wanted to maintain the present level of production we would need more rather than less land, as appears to be the thinking in certain quarters at the moment. It is not uncommon for the powers that be to make a forecast and then, some years later, to turn that forecast on its head.

The Land Commission officers — about 60 throughout the country would be ideal people to oversee the operation of a land authority. To my mind, the sooner we allow them, or other people of their calibre, to operate such a scheme the better.

Winding up the Land Commission is very obvious when one looks across the road at the "For Sale" signs on the old Land Commission offices. Throughout its history, the Land Commission were a source of anxiety and concern to a great number of people, principally because of the responsibility and the authority they carried. Few people really understand what it means to own land in Ireland. Land ownership is a very personal, sensitive and emotive subject. Families and villages in rural Ireland have been split for generations over land acquisition and the dispensing of land. The history of the Land Commission is littered with anecdotes about the way cases were presented, how the commission inspectors were treated and the way expectations in relation to the division and allocation of small pieces of land rose and fell. The feeling for land ownership is as strong in Irish people today as it always was.

Deputies referred to the growing incidence of the purchase of land by people outside the State. One of yesterday's newspapers contained an article on an Australian interest purchasing more than 3,000 acres here. I assume that the section of the Act that applied to people from outside this jurisdiction applies to non-EC nationals in this instance. We have to determine what is the national land policy of this and future Governments taking into account the EC requirement for certain kinds of production and the availability of certain markets. Along the west coast, from Donegal to west Cork, isolated, remote, rural areas of great scenic beauty, land has been acquired by EC nationals, as is now their right. It appears that the ambition to own land in this country is held with equal strength by our EC counterparts. If that trend continues, with greater wealth being placed at some people's disposal, we must then ask: will we be allowing a new form of European landlordism to take root here?

I know that Irish nationals attempting to acquire property in any other EC country always faced difficulties, in particular in relation to the acquisition of land. The Minister of State present should certainly understand the ways of life and attitudes of our rural areas. Indeed recent conferences called by our bishops have highlighted not only the demographic trend, with the drop in population, the drift from the land and the drift from the west to the east but also its consequences socially, agriculturally and environmentally. That if further aggravated by the loss of milk quotas in many western areas, the existing buy-out scheme, under which those with wealth at their disposal have acquired small holdings with small quotas and have transferred those quotas within the country leaving the land idle or for planting, clearly illustrates that the nature of the terrain and its ability to sustain the fabric of rural life is being changed dramatically. Other Members' appeals for the Government not merely to examine that aspect but to establish some alternative land authority structure are well founded. Otherwise business people here, or those abroad with access to wealth or funds at their disposal will buy up every available square inch of land coming on the market.

I must agree with Deputy Foxe's comments on the last occasion this Bill was discussed in regard to the soil survey being undertaken throughout the country, that the destruction of that material was nothing short of criminal. Whether that material was intended for use to devise some type of land tax based on structured acres is immaterial in that it would have formed a modern, wellfounded information base on the potential of various types of soils in different areas.

Having raised the matter in the House on several occasions previously I read with interest that the esteemed Justice of the High Court, Miss Justice Carroll, has apparently made a recommendation in regard to the division of commonages which has been a serious bone of contention to very many farmers nationwide. I might add — and this is a personal view — I would have no wish to see our hilltops fenced off and divided. It is a different story entirely with low land commonages. I understand the Justice's recommendation was that, where agreement had been reached with tenants, or a proportion of them in a commonage, an area thereof could be divided by agreement among those tenants; that where objections existed the remaining portion would obtain as a commonage between the objectors, with the right of division if they so agreed at a later date. I understand that to be the general nature and thrust of her recommendation. Obviously it will be of continuing interest to farming organisations and those involved in agriculture generally. The use of commonage has been individual and particular, in many cases, those who might object vehemently being those who might have made greatest use of a particular commonage by grazing sheep and reaping the relevant annual headage and premium payments per animal. When replying the Minister might comment on the division of commmonages. Indeed I remember raising the matter in this house way back in 1976 with the then Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Jim Gibbons, when he agreed with me that having animals on commonage certainly can lead to the continuing spread of TB. However, where divisions take place, by agreement, it means that those involved can fertilise and drain those lands putting them to much greater use than had been the case before.

The matter of areas of scientific interest, at present the subject of appeal, has been raised by many Deputies. Obviously if the EC wildlife and habitat directives are to be implemented by the Government, action will be required. I have letters on file from emigrants in England who attempted to dispose of their properties, some to Coillte Teoranta some to private individuals, others to organisations, who were refused the right to do so because of a possible change in the usage of the land, it being deemed to be an area of scientific interest by the Office of Public Works. As a public representative I have been given details of the areas in the west deemed to be areas of scientific interest. Certainly I am not competent to judge why many of them have been so defined. Nonetheless I understand that a change of category, to environmentally sensitive areas — ESAs — would allow the Minister and the Government to make compensation of sorts available to those people wishing to dispose of their properties. There is much confusion among farming folk about the difference between areas of scientific interest and environmentally sensitive areas. Perhaps the Minister would clarify this for their benefit. If it is possible to redesignate an ASI area to being one of ESA, with attendant EC funding under the specific wildlife and habitat directive, that might be a source of agreement and be attractive to those wishing to dispose of property at present prevented from so doing, it being contended that if the property were to be disposed of it might lead to a change of usage.

In his remarks Deputy Deasy referred to the potential of many of our hillsides. From a reading of earlier records it becomes obvious that at the turn of the century shooting of grouse was a popular activity along the west coast and indeed all over the country. It was then possible to import grouse from Scotland but that is no longer possible because of fowl pest and so on. It is fair to say that the Government actually pay farmers on Scottish hillsides to systematically burn mountainsides. It is well known that the grouse population live in one kind of heather and feed on another, so that, if this is burned indiscriminately, it can destroy the habitat and breeding cycle of grouse. Possibly that is an untapped source of income and wealth and could well lead to a new interest here if properly examined and exploited. It can readily be contended that many of our hillsides lend themselves to that kind of treatment; the controlled burning of heather, under licence from the Department — bearing in mind the interest of gaming people — might well be worthy of examination from that point of view.

The Land Commission were given a very difficult brief. It was not easy to be a Land Commission inspector. The inspector was expected to rearrange and satisfy the claims of a great number of people with regard to a commodity which was not available in sufficient quantity. The theory was put into practice in a number of model cases that the Land Commission can produce. In these cases the farm was consolidated and there was a reduction in fragmentation of the land and there followed an improvement in the ability of the farmer to derive an income from his holding. Other divisions did not work out as well due to envy or differences of opinion, and villages and families were turned against each other because of the difficulties in trying to grapple with a social, personal and traditional problem. Deputies used to receive letters from Land Commission inspectors and, depending on how the letter was phrased, the farmer involved could expect to get a portion of land. There was a subtle way of conveying information, long before the advent of the computer and a smile was brought to many faces by a particular phrasing in some of the letters from Land Commission inspectors.

They were generally very reliable.

They were. Will the Minister comment on the position of the Land Commission staff who have nothing to do? That is not good enough when we consider there are almost 300,000 people out of work. These people have experience and are willing to work but they have nothing to do. If one asks for a file from a particular county it is very doubtful now that the file could be produced because of lack of staff and lack of co-ordination in the service.

The Minister is a rural man who understands the difficulties. On the dissolution of the Land Commission I hope a land authority will emerge which will do what we want with regard to land and its ownership in the future. Our history has been intertwined with the land question for hundreds of years. It is part of what we are. I hope that what emerges from the dissolution of the Land Commission will not result in a great change in our traditional philosophy.

I wish the Minister well in his appointment.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Ar an gcéad dul síos, ar eagla go bhfágfainn ar leataobh é, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Aire. Guím saol taitneamhach dó in a phost nua agus go n-éireoidh leis a lán oibre a dhéanamh ar son na bhfeirmeoirí, mar tá saol crua acu faoi láthair. Is dócha go mbeidh fadhbanna deacracha os comhair an Aire ach tá súil agam go n-éireoidh leis iad a réiteach.

Go raibh maith agat.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): When I went to primary school many years ago I went to a two teacher school where we left Mrs. Honan's junior section to go into Master Conway's during sewing time. I must have been up to second class only when I went into his classroom one evening and on the blackboard was written “The farmers of Ireland began to feel courage and hope when Michael Davitt founded the Land League”. That was in the days when parsing and analysis was done. It should still be done, although it often is not taught in schools today. The teacher had that sentence on the blackboard for parsing and analysis. For some reason that sentence never left my mind and I reminded my students of it several times as I taught them about the Land League and the impact Michael Davitt had made on the land scene here. Were it not for Michael Davitt we might not have had the Land Commission and the Bills that were introduced as a result of the stand he took for the three Fs — fair rent, fixity of tenure and freedom of sale. Later, under the Land Commission, fair rent turned out to be a difficult proposition for many farmers.

We got the Land Commission because of the agitation in those years and the Land Commission produced one great writer, at least, in Hugh Leonard who luckily left the Land Commission to devote his talents to writing. It is amazing that one of our leading playwrights, John B. Keane, wrote a play, The Field, based on the land and it made a great impact. The power and importance of the land has not diminished over the years.

When I left college and went to Carlow in 1957, on the road was written "divide Browne's Hill". Browne's Hill, which was not owned by ancestors of mine, unfortunately, was a very big estate and there was agitation to have it divided for the small farmers. It was eventually divided and many of the smaller farmers were set up. Some of them did extremely well, and some, perhaps because they did not get enough land or they were not really into farming to the extent that they should have been, had to sell land, which was a blessing for those looking for sites on which to build houses. Those farmers were criticised because that was not why they got the land. On the other hand, they had to have an income to repay their loans. It is easy to be critical when one is not in that position. Even in the heyday of farming when we joined Europe and money seemed to be coming back in bucketsful, many farmers started off from a bad base.

Since then prices have dropped. Senator Tom Raftery raised this issue in the other House and gave some startling figures relative to incomes. The Senator compared 1985 and 1990. Cattle prices were 10 per cent lower in the autumn of 1990 than in 1985 whereas the price of beef to the consumer was 18 per cent higher. That is a startling figure; milk prices were 7 per cent above the 1985 level in 1990 but butter and cheese prices were almost 40 per cent higher; cereal prices were roughly the same in 1985 and 1990 yet the price of bread was roughly 25 per cent higher in 1990. Because of the price of foodstuffs the public might imagine that farmers are making a fortune but they do not realise that the price might drop for the farmer while it is rising for others. Senator Raftery also mentioned that the margin between what the farmer got and what the consumer was paying widened in many cases. For example in the case of steak the difference was 32 per cent, lamb, 46 per cent and pig meat 56 per cent. With that sort of drop in income farmers were not as well off as it would appear.

People often fail to realise that farmers sustain losses. Cows are calving at present, but many calves are dead at birth and some of the cows may die after calving. This goes unnoticed and only those involved in farming realise the losses they suffer quietly. An outbreak of tuberculosis can devastate a farmer and annihilate his herd. Nothing must be more distressing than to see your herd being wiped out while you look on and have to wait for nine months or whatever length before restocking and then have to accept the possibility that the replacement herd may be wiped out. That must be absolutely heartbreaking for a farmer, and all of us know someone who has suffered this fate.

Some farmers are in difficulties with their repayments because they bought land at a very high price. The banks seemed to contribute to the madness of spiralling prices and some farmers thought that no matter what one paid for land one would manage to repay the loan. That turned out to be a complete farce and has led farmers into all sorts of difficulties.

The Land Commission have been abolished and I join with others in asking that the promised land authority be established. Land is very valuable and it is appalling that there is not a land authority to deal with problems arising out of the use of this valuable resource. I realise that staff from the Department of Agriculture and Food are very busy and should I get the opportunity I will raise on the Adjournment the issuing of regulations on the Abattoirs Bill because this is a very important issue. In the motion I submitted, I have explained that Carlow County Council are down £75,000 as a result of employing a veterinary officer to fulfil the legal requirement but this is the fourth year the Government have failed to bring in the regulations.

I do not know how the Department of Agriculture and Food are going to do the work carried out formerly by the Land Commission in addition to carrying out their day-to-day work. I sincerely hope the Department will not get bogged down completely.

We do not know what may happen to farming as a result of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. It is very important to have a section dealing with land use. If farmers are to be paid to do nothing with their land it will be very important to ensure that the land does not become an absolute wilderness and used for purposes other than its former use. This greatly worries me. Financial incentives may be given to farmers to stop production but after a year or two I can see these payments being reduced or ceasing eventually because taxpayers will get very tired of paying people to do nothing. I consider this an abuse of land. when one considers the hunger in the world it is amazing that we can even think of what I would call a mad scheme.

Some milk quotas are being sold out of necessity and others because the farmer no longer wants to continue with the difficult life of a dairy farmer. He is tied down morning, noon and night and if he goes to a wedding or a football match the cows have to be milked when he gets home. There is a possibility that some of our farmers will get bigger and that the small farmer will disappear. At the risk of upsetting those who think I do not read modern poetry, may I again quote from the Deserted Village by Goldsmith, as I am always amazed at his wisdom.

Ill fares the land, to hast'ning ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;

but a bold peasantry, their country's pride,

When once destroy'd can never be supplied.

Our rural areas could be decimated and it appears this is the trend as smaller farmers will not be able to survive. They will only survive if they will accept payment to do nothing. Goldsmith was certainly thinking of something like this many years before we ever joined the EC.

The role of Teagasc does not appear to be taken seriously. We had rows some months ago about the closure of research stations but surely this is the time that research is needed most. As farming is getting into more and more difficulty, should we not put more money into research to find alternative uses for milk, in particular, so that other products can be made of it? The fact that somebody has been chosen to fill the post of director in five years time is very discouraging for the staff because no matter what skills they accumulate or talent they have, they can take it for granted that they are not at the races as far as the top job is concerned. That should never have happened. I hope sanity will prevail in the coming months. The researchers have had to work under difficult circumstances and financial constraints, yet they have slogged on and done what they could for farming.

The land authority could be given a leading role in regulating land and ensuring there is no abuse. Farm pollution can damage our rivers and lakes. It would be no harm to carry out research into the long term effects of the chemicals put on land. The land authority could take an overall view on this valuable resource. The various Ministers have to look after different aspects of agriculture but it is important that we take an overall view and do not forget that land is a valuable resource and the land authority have an important role to play in protecting our environment.

I do not know how farmers can budget at present as their premium and subsidy payments are made at irregular intervals. The Government have difficulties in trying to live within their budget, but farmers have even greater difficulties because they never know when the premium payments may arrive. As a rural Deputy the Minister is well aware of the difficulties being experienced by farmers in completing their application forms for the various schemes. For example, if a farmer submits a tag for a heifer he may be disqualified from all EC schemes. I accept that the scheme is administered by the EC, but the farmers deserve something more sensible than the Mickey Mouse regulations that disqualify them from getting their entitlement. As long as it was quite clear that the farmers were making valid claims and were not claiming for sheep dogs, they should receive their headage payments. It is time the Government took on the EC and ensured that sensible arrangements are made to see that justice is done.

I can be relatively brief on this topic because we debated it at the end of 1989 before the dissolution of the Dáil. We are now back to dealing with the dissolution of the Land Commission. Many speakers have referred to the history of the Land Commission and the valuable work done in the 110 years of their existence. We could say the Land Commission is a tale of two Deasys. In 1860 the then Attorney General and the Chief Secretary implemented the Act laying down that the land of Ireland belonged exclusively to landlords. The basic reason for bringing in the Act was to make landlords completely powerful over their tenants. There was no idea of basic rights or the fixing of fair rents for tenants. The fixing of rents was to be exclusively the province of the landlord under the Act.

Agrarian protest against the Act brought about the setting up of the Land Commission which in its early days was involved in fixing fair rents and the like. Subsequently landlordism was abolished and the Land Commission were involved in the division of huge estates among smaller farmers and tenants. They then proceeded to acquire land to be used for the expansion of holdings or the transfer of farmers from congested western areas. That history is well documented.

It was decided that the activity of the Land Commission was winding down during the eighties. The second Deasy came on the scene as Minister for Agriculture and he spoke in this debate a short while ago. It was his decision that the Land Commission should be abolished, but it was postponed by another election. Then in 1989 the second attempt was interrupted. I know that things took a little more settled at present but having listened attentively to the Taoiseach's speech at the Árd Fheis, one never knows when the minor partners might find that they are not so cosy. I think he was suggesting that if they wanted to go they could do so at any stage. Let us hope that this Bill will be completed before anything like that happens. None of us particularly wants to face the country for a few months anyway and we will be quite prepared to see this legislation completed before that.

The Minister, whom I congratulate on his appointment, will be interested in following up the vast amount of work that will remain when this Bill is completed. If my party have a reservation it is that there is no structure left when the Land Commission is finally dissolved to deal with land use as an instrument which could confront the structural problems which will remain.

When I became a Member of this House in 1969 many questions were put on the Order Paper concerning land which the Land Commission had acquired but not distributed. Many of these holdings were in my constituency and it was the practice regularly to ask what acreage remained in the Land Commission's possession and whether it was being let out rather than divided. Representing an east coast constituency, we had mixed feelings about the Land Commission in the seventies because it seemed that many of the small farmers in counties like Wicklow were at a great disadvantage when compared with some of our friends from the west who could get land much more easily from the estates being held by the Land Commission. The rule was that a farmer, in order to expand a small holding had to live within a mile of the estate and in exceptional cases that it might be stretched to two miles. It had something to do with the speed and distance a cow could walk. It was said that farmers who did not live within two miles of the estate could not drive cattle from their original holding to a property they might seek to acquire in a share out of land.

This caused some problems for those of us who represented the farming community in Wicklow.

Fast walking cows.

They certainly were not Traceys or Ben Johnson; they could only move at a certain speed. They could not be taken along the roads at present because they would either fall into potholes or be run over. There are many stories about the Land Commission. I am sure a definitive book will be written on the Land Commission and perhaps a television series will be made. It would be most interesting.

Over the weekend I watched an old black and white film,Captain Boycott, which featured many Abbey actors, some of whom are still alive. It reminded me of the problems which are part of Irish history in former centuries. The Land Commission played a spectacular role in settling land in Ireland and when it is dissolved there will be a void. We will not oppose this Bill because when we were part of Government we would have been involved in proposing it. I am concerned that there will be no instrument available to confront structural problems such as farm size, distribution, fragmentation and the age of farmers. My party favour a progressive farm structure set up on an agency basis capable of dealing with the problems I have mentioned and implementing a land policy. There is no other comparable instrument to carry out that policy when the Land Commission disappear. Without their replacement, the Government are signalling the abandonment of a land policy.

Fianna Fáil in 1980 produced a White Paper on land policy. It was not simply a party document; it was a Government document. It was radical and positive and contained very definite proposals for streamlining and enhancing the role of the Land Commission. It contained proposals for surcharges on land purchases by non farmers which were very specific and detailed; assistance with the purchase of land for small holders, 20 per cent of the price to be provided for land holders with a £30 valuation or under; control of land purchase with non farmers not being allowed buy more than five acres of land without the consent of the the Land Commission; a priority list or a register of people for land allotment by the Land Commission. Paragraph 31 of the 1980 Fianna Fáil White Paper on land policy states:

Even with the introduction of the foregoing measures, there will still be a need for compulsory acquisition for as long as a substantial acreage of land remains under-utilised in the hands of owners who are not interested in its development. It has been estimated that over 30 per cent of the land of the country is taken up by farmers which have shown no significant growth in recent years. To abandon the compulsory machinery of the Land Commission would be to accept, if not encourage, bad husbandry. Accordingly, in line with a policy which aims at the promotion of more efficient land use for agricultural development, the main thrust of acquisition in the years ahead will be directed at those lands which are substantially under-utilised or neglected and not contributing their share to agricultural output.

That was a well worded document at the time. Paragraph 32 states:

In western areas there are, additionally, structural and demographic reasons for the continuance of a programme of land acquisition and division in the foreseeable future.

It also dealt with the retention of the use of land bonds rather than direct financing and the purchase of land by non nationals. They would have to acquire land bonds in order to acquire whatever land would be allowed by the Land Commission. Paragraph 42 states:

The Government have considered whether the Land Commission as an institution should be abolished and they have decided that, on balance, the establishment of a second body to implement land policy would not be justified at this juncture. The intention is, therefore, that the Land Commission will be responsible for putting the new policy measures into effect as well as operating the existing programme on whatever scale may be determined by the Government from time to time.

Paragraph 46 of that White Paper reads as follows:

The Government intend to introduce legislation at an early date to give effect to the new measures outlined in this White Paper. In arriving at their conclusions, they have been conscious of the economic and social importance of land tenure and of the complex and sensitive nature of the subject. They are satisfied that the policy proposals now being put forward will have significant economic and social effects and will make an important contribution towards creating the conditions in which Irish agriculture can develop further in the years ahead.

If those proposals have not been brought to the attention of the Minister I would ask him to take the opportunity to examine them and to consider putting into effect some form of a land agency. If those proposals were put before us in a Bill we would be in a position to enact the appropriate legislation. The policy was a forward thinking one and would commend itself to most people in rural areas. We in the Labour Party would find much to agree with in a new land agency which would implement those proposals. Such an agency would receive the fullest co-operation from our party.

There is a need to examine structures and to give some hope to young people who at present have no possibility of getting into farming. Macra na Feirme members have often written to me — and I am sure to other Members of this House — telling of the difficulties they encounter in becoming involved in agriculture despite having pursued a certain path in their education. There is not much hope of a future on the land for these people unless some type of agency is set up by the Government to ensure that proper arrangements are made to allow people to leave the land. There are many bachelor farmers over the age of 50 — some without successors — who, if there was a proper retirement scheme would make land available for our young people. I suggest the Minister look at that situation rather than bringing in a Bill, which puts an end to an historic and worthwhile body, albeit one for which perhaps there is little use at present. There will be a void as a result of the demise of the Land Commission and this void should be filled as quickly as possible by means of legislation along the lines of the proposals of the Fianna Fáil White Paper of 1980. If that is done we will be able to discuss how the resulting land agency can ensure that young people are brought into agriculture and the dwindling numbers involved in agriculture can be reduced or, at least, stemmed in the future.

I am happy that we in County Wicklow are involved with proposals emanating from the EC which seek to stabilise the number of people in rural areas. Pilot companies have been set up under the Leader programme and I hope some money will be made avilable in the near future to ensure that the stabilisation of the population in rural areas can be achieved by way of that programme. It is only one initiative — the allocation is reasonable for a pilot programme — but it is one I hope can be expanded in the future. Allied to that type of programme, the Labour Party would be proposing that a land agency be set up to ensure that any moneys under the structural side of farm funds could be best directed from such agency. Perhaps the Minister would be put in charge of some such agency — in former days we had a Minister for Lands — and have responsibility to ensure that the benefits and the ideas emanating from Europe, such as the Leader programme, could be utilised and expanded and we could put our proposals to Europe for additional aid and resources from the Structural Funds.

I did not intend to dwell unduly on this subject. We will not be opposing the Bill but I have given my ideas on the void what will result from this legislation. I earnestly suggest to the Government that that void be filled. Many problems which could have been dealt with by the Land Commission will remain after this Bill goes through. I urge the Minister to consider the ideas I have put forward.

As others have said, the enactment of this legislation, which seeks to abolish the Irish Land Commission, is an historic event just as its establishment by Gladstone's second ministry in 1881 was certainly an historic event. That government who, of course, were dependent on the Irish Members for their survival, adopted this radical approach in response to the major social problem in Ireland at the time, the land question. The Irish Land Commission flourished during the remaining 20 years of that century and perhaps the first 40 years or a little longer of this century. While they were subjected to a great deal of criticism there is no doubt that they made a major contribution to social development in rural Ireland in that an enormous amount of Irish land, which had predominantly been in the hands of large estates up to the turn of the century, was redistributed in an orderly way to the Irish tenant farmer. This was a major step, although it was a long and tortuous process. Most people would have criticised the Irish Land Commission for being too slow but nevertheless they attained many of their goals. At the end of the day they made an impact which is imprinted in the history, in particular the social history of this country.

Deputy Kavanagh quoted from the White Paper on land policy which was published by the Government in 1980. I would like to quote from that document the first paragraph of the introduction. It is interesting to note that a great gap now exists between the aspiration expressed in that document and the reality of having no land policy today. Incidentally, that White Paper was laid before the House in December 1980 by the then Minister for Agriculture, the present European Community Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Ray MacSharry. I presume that this was the Government's and I presume, his policy at the time. That paragraph reads:

In Ireland, agriculture is of fundamental importance to the national economy. Therefore an effective land policy must take account of the country's economic aims by ensuring the highest possible return from the use of the land. Such a policy must, however, also concern itself with the national social principles as enshrined in our Constitution. These principles dictate that as many families as practicable be established, in economic security, on the land. In effect, this has meant that the family farm is afforded a special importance, not alone as the basic unit of agricultural production but also as a fundamental part of the structure of rural society. The reality of the land holding pattern and traditional attitudes to the possession of land are further factors which must be taken into consideration in the formulation of land policy.

I am sure the House will agree that that was a good beginning to the document published way back in 1980, 12 years ago. While there have been changes of Government in the interim we have to admit that no initiatives have been taken in relation to a land policy. Literally, it was taken off the agenda following the publication of that policy document. While we are all to some extent to blame I would apportion most of the blame to Fianna Fáil Governments because they wrote this White Paper on land policy and made many specific promises in subsequent general election campaigns to introduce a land policy along the lines enunciated in that policy document. As I said at the outset, we are a long way from what is contained in that policy document.

It is amazing that we pay so little attention to the need for a land policy given its fundamental importance to people. Last year exports of agricultural produce amounted to some £3 billion. Approximately 16 or 17 per cent of the labour force is employed directly in agriculture while 30 per cent of the labour force is employed in agriculture when we take allied industries such as food processing into account. For some strange reason and against that background, we still do not have a land policy. I often wonder if we have an agricultural policy which refers to production and to what we will be doing in ten years time in this sector which forms a major part of the economy. We do not have a policy which addresses this major national resource which is still in many minds our only national resource.

Some amazing things have happened in the meantime. We do not have a proper analysis of the 1991 census, which I am sure will raise our eyebrows, but the findings of the 1986 census, which covered the period from 1981 to 1986, showed that 32 per cent of our farmers disappeared from the land during that five-year period. Strangely enough, the number of landholdings decreased by only 5 per cent. On the census form, completed on 6 April 1986, 120,847 people declared themselves to be full-time farmers who depended solely on the land for their livelihoods, whereas five years earlier the figure was 32 per cent greater. Therefore there is an astonishing development in relation to the profile of rural society. I am sure that an analysis of the 1991 census figures will show that a further 30 per cent or perhaps more will have disappeared from the land. Mr. de Valera and others of his era often quoted the words of the Constitution, in particular as regards the need to maintain as many families as possible in secure employment down on the farm but this is what is happening all around us.

Apart from the need for a land policy we have never addressed the age structure of our farmers. It is interesting to note that in 1986 there were only 14,400 farmers aged between 25 and 34 out of a total of almost 121,000 full-time farmers; there were 23,000 farmers aged between 35 and 44, while 50 per cent of all landholdings and farms were held by people aged 50 and over, and that trend is continuing. We will therefore have to look at the 1991 census figures to discover what happened in the following five-year period but I predict here in this House this evening that we will find that the figure has accelerated with the result that the basic structural problem in agriculture is being exacerbated. If we do not have enough young people with initiative and innovativeness, agriculture cannot survive, and therefore, the land must be retained by these people.

In reply to a Dáil question recently the Minister informed me that the number of young farmers entering education and training is declining at a time when we are withdrawing finances from that area and from research and development in agriculture. It is amazing that we allow this to happen out of neglect when we depend so much on this industry. We have policies written down on paper and there are plenty of ideas; every second day we read good articles in our agricultural newspapers and our national daily newspapers about land policy and structures, but there is no will on the Government side to do anything about it. There are good articles in agricultural newspapers and in our daily newspapers about land structures. However, there is no will to do anything about it.

It was said a few years ago that the food industry would be the motor of our economy and that from it nearly everything else in the economy would grow. It was said it would be one of the areas of greatest expansion in terms of output, employment and exports. However, to implement a policy of that kind we must have a correct land structure and land must be in the hands of people who will be able to make a success of that kind of policy. Over 50 per cent of farms are in the hands of people aged 55 years and over and 10 per cent are held by farmers between the ages of 25 and 35 years. That terrible imbalance needs to be addressed.

There are now new requirements under EC laws about nationals buying land here and it is not easy to put an agency in place to regulate the land market. However, something should be done to improve access to land for young people who cannot afford to buy it. Financial incentives should be given to young trained, educated people in agricultural disciplines or practices to enable them to acquire land. The number of new people entering agriculture has declined from 6,000 a few years ago to fewer than 2,000 per year at present; more than nine-tenths come into agriculture as a result of family farm transfer. Somebody who does not have land and takes an agricultural education to work in that area finds that the whole system shuts them out, primarily because of our land-owning problems but also because farms are passed on as part of the inheritance system and because there is not a pool of land for enthusiastic, trained young people who want to make a career in agriculture. There is something wrong with our structures when a land pool is not an inbuilt part of our land-owning, land-working system.

The age profile of new entrants to agriculture as a result of succession is very high. I know a person who became an owner of land at 65 years of age, his father owned it until he was 90. A very high proportion — not as bad as the example I have given — of people enter agriculture at an age when they are closer to retirement than to the years when one is innovative and ambitious regarding a new career. It does not augur well for the industry.

There are about 170,000 farm holdings, 40,000 of which are held by people who declare themselves as having off-farm employment. The figures for 1986 are the last we have in this regard, of the 120,847 full-time farmers only about one-third are commercially viable. In other words, two thirds are either non-commercial, transitional, marginal or uneconomic. There is no policy to address the problem of a whole pool of land, a potentially wealth creating national resource, in the hands of people who do not have an incentive to give it up. There is also no incentive for people who have the ability, training or education to work it properly for the wider good of the country.

I should like to refer to what is happening on the rural scene in the absence of land policy; I am thinking in terms of integrated rural EC development policies. Some of them certainly touch on land policy, use and holding but they all lack a certain vision. In spite of all that has been said about it, it is merely anad hoc system. For instance, all the money allocated to the agri-tourism programme had been spent before the Department could process about one-tenth of the applications. It was amazing to see the number of people interested in agri-tourism. It was trumpeted in this House how great a scheme it was and the tremendous potential it had in offering alternative employment to people in agriculture who were not farming viably at present. However, it lacked vision and after eight months in operation there is no money left. If my information is correct we will have to wait for two years before the fund is replenished. The Department of Agriculture and Food or any other Department, should be planning for the future to see how many non-viable farms could be made viable with the alternative enterprise of agri-tourism. However, it was a piecemeal system.

It is the same in regard to all the other programmes which will be introduced, there will be no long term commitment and nobody to say that in five years they will have preserved a certain sector of the rural population or contributed to preserving it. We must tackle this fundamental point. When we put in place new sets of proposals which are fundamental to the future of the industry we must have proper planning. I know there are faults in the market supports but, at the same time, it meant the transfer of about £1.2 billion to this economy. While 80 per cent went to the largest and most successful farmers — I do not know whether that is true — 20 per cent went to poorer farmers. There is some truth in that because the average family farm income in the west was only two-fifths of the average family farm income on the east coast in 1987. Nevertheless, it was money coming into our economy and being distributed — however unevenly — through the economy. Teagasc estimate that we will lose perhaps £450 million to £500 million of that transfer within the next couple of years as the Common Agricultural Policy "reforms" are put in place. I do not consider them reforms. To compensate us for that loss of transfer there will be transfer through the rural development programmes which, of course, in money terms will amount to about half the loss on the market intervention side. To make matters worse — I hate repeating the point — when they are implemented it will be in a piecemeal fashion. The Government have no plans. They cannot say what impact the proposals will have on rural development in terms of maintaining the rural population, maintaining viable farms or giving people new livelihoods in enterprises and activities which are allied to agriculture but which are fundamental to owning land. While the word "integrated" sounds good, there is very little integration.

Deputy Kenny made a very interesting point which again goes back to our dearth of a land policy, that is, the need for a new soil classification office. The previous soil classification office was the first attempt to assess the land since Mr. Griffiths concluded his famous valuation of Ireland in 1847. All our information on the size of farms and fields and the type of land we have — the term "we had" is probably more appropriate as it is very much in the past tense — is all based on the survey carried out by Mr. Griffiths and the slightly earlier ordnance survey of Ireland.

During the early eighties the the Coalition Government set up a soil classification office to reclassify all of the land of Ireland, tell us what the land was worth, how much was primary agricultural land, how much was appropriate to forestry, how much should be designated and environmentally sensitive and how much should be used for recreation. However, in one of our greatest pieces of policy madness we closed that office in 1987. We were using Land Commission inspectors, who have since been made redundant, to carry out that work for us. This office did not cost any additional money to what the Land Commission cost the country at that time.

There was great opposition to this office because it was believed that the results would be the basis of a new land tax. However, this was only part of what they were going to tell us. They were going to tell us what we do not know about the land. How can we have a land policy when we do not know the real valuation of our land in present day terms? Instead, we have to refer to a valuation which is almost 150 years old. It is extraordinary that this can happen in a country which depends both directly and indirectly on agriculture. If the Government want to do one thing which will be of benefit, they should reopen the land classification office. I am not saying it should be opened as the basis for a land tax, but to glean information which we badly need. I hope the Minister takes this proposal into account.

I wish to refer to the farm retirement scheme. I see in this additional measure — this is more EC jargon — a proposal for a new farm retirement scheme which provides financial incentives for a farmer over 55 years to hand over his land to a younger member of his family or to someone who has been properly trained. I sincerely hope the Government implement this scheme, which is one of the better parts of the Common Agricultural Policy reforms. However, I question whether it will be like the last farm retirement scheme which was a disaster and in many ways was tailored to be a disincentive to people to hand over their land — and the results are there to prove it. Only a few hundred people availed of the scheme and every one of them regretted it.

An old friend of mine who died recently availed of the scheme in the early seventies after its introduction. It was one of the greatest regrets of his life because for the next 20 years he had to live on a small fixed pension. It was only two years ago under the revised rate of means for qualification of an old age pension that he was able to get the minimum amount in a non-contributory old age pension of about £5 per week — and he was in his eighties at that stage.

The Government should implement this new farm retirement scheme. I understand it will be up to the member states to implement this scheme which will be co-financed — I think we will only have to put up 25 per cent of the finance. The scheme should be implemented in an imaginative way so that it will be a real incentive and give proper compensation to people who ought to retire. It should also be implemented in such a way that it will make a contribution to the well being of the country and to economic growth. I plead with the Government to ensure that the scheme is comprehensive, contains enough vision and is sensitive to the needs of people who want to retire. If the scheme is successful it will make a major contribution to economic growth and the national income in the long term which will far outweigh the 25 per cent contribution this country will have to make initially. We need to think in the longer term when we are dealing with such matters.

If we accept the logic of the Common Agricultural Policy reforms we will be shutting out the contribution Irish agriculture can make to economic growth. During the ten year period 1980-90 the Irish economy grew by 22 per cent or 23 per cent in GDP terms. I estimate that Irish agriculture — many people would argue that it made a greater contribution — accounted for 8 per cent of that growth by increased output. However, as a result of the quotas which have been placed on virtually every product, we will shut out for the next decade, or even in perpetuity, the contribution agriculture, perhaps our single greatest industry, can make to economic growth. That is the reality, and no agricultural expert will dispute it. Because production will be frozen agriculture will not be able to make even a 1 per cent contribution to economic growth over the next ten years. The contribution made by Irish agriculture to the economy over the past ten years — they were not good years for agriculture; they were not nearly as good as the seventies — was probably 8 or 9 per cent. This shows how badly askew our thinking and policies are in regard to land and agriculture.

At the outset I praised the Land Commission and the historic role they played in the social revolution in Ireland and I do not take back what I said. However, there was an enormous number of irritants and vexatious problems associated with the commission and one of these related to vesting. In some cases land which had been redistributed by the Land Commission was not vested in the new owner for 20 years. If the new owner wanted to sublet some of the land he could not do so because the vesting had not been carried out and the examiner of title in the Land Registry had not completed his work on it. As a result, the person who had been allocated the land seven or 20 years previously was not the registered owner. I believe the average delay in vesting land which has been allocated by the Land Commission in the name of the new owner is between seven and ten years. On the dissolution of the Land Commission our priority should be the non-vested allotments made over the last seven to ten years. That would be greatly appreciated by many people who have been allotted land which still has not been properly vested.

There is a problem with regard to land annuities on land purchased by the Land Commission in the seventies and early eighties when land prices were very high. At that time the Land Commission were forced to pay £3,000 or £4,000 per acre, which was uneconomic and unrealistic. That resulted from gross over-optimism about EC membership and gross irresponsibility on the part of financial institutions in giving money to anybody who wanted it to buy land. As a result, a totally inflated land market was created which ruined many farmers. The Land Commission were very active in the early and mid-seventies, at the time of the land boom, and up to 1983. Land was allocated to farmers at annuities of up to £1,000 per acre per annum. So great has been the collapse in prices since then that there are many acres of land that could be sold today for the value of the annuity at that time.

We have asked in this House that land annuities be rescheduled taking account of the fact that they were unrealistic in the first instance and that they no longer reflect the economic return from the land, which in the mid-seventies and early eighties was twice that of today. Something should be done now because tenants are finding it extremely difficult to pay the annuities. I plead with the Minister, in dissolving the Land Commission, to solve that problem. Relatively few people are involved but for them it represents a major problem. The Land Commission have accumulated arrears from these people and there is no way they can recover this money because the economic resources are not there any more.

I would like to make one final point about forestry. Many complaints have been made, about afforestation, particularly in the west and in County Roscommon. I am not against afforestation. It is important that a greater share of the national land be planted with trees. As has often been said, of all the countries in Europe Ireland has the lowest percentage of the national estate under trees. If we are to believe the experts — one has to be careful about these predictions — the developed world will be very short of timber for the next 40 or 50 years. A synthetic substitution for timber may be found with the result that no economic value will be placed on trees, but trees are environmentally important and enhance the visual beauty of an area. The problem in Ireland is that there has been a great deal of forestry on unsuitable land. There are too many conifers on unsuitable lands. In my county there are many raised and blanket bogs, and people perceive a relationship between raised bogs and poverty. Nowadays this type of land is unique in that it is the last of its kind in Europe. Indeed, all these areas are now the subject of ESAs. The Department planted conifers on thousands of acres of raised bog. That is an example of a totally inappropriate use of land.

Many farmers are angered to see good agricultural land being planted with trees while marginal land that is appropriate only to forestry is not being used for that purpose. There are tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of acres of good agricultural land in this country and our farmers, especially young farmers, would like to buy it. However, they cannot compete for it because the banks are no longer open to farmers who want to buy land. There is a gloomy outlook for farming for the foreseeable future. The banks and financial institutions are buying this land because they are the only customers in the market. They are paying what is generally regarded as the market price, and then they plant trees. Very often they plant broad leaved trees, which is acceptable, but they plant conifers on good agricultural land when everyone knows they would grow on marginal land. That matter needs to be considered.

What is needed is an afforestation policy, but distinctions should be drawn between lands that are appropriate and lands that are inappropriate to forestry. We should not lose the natural resource of productive agricultural land to forestry. One bad harvest in the United States or perhaps in the Ukraine or the great grain growing countries of Asia, could change the food production scene for several years in the developed world. I repeat that we need to consider carefully a policy of afforestation. We need to plant more trees from an economic and an environmental point of view, but we must be careful about the kind of land on which we plant these trees.

I thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for giving me the opportunity of making my contribution. I hope the Minister will take on board some of my suggestions. Our party have no fundamental opposition to the dissolution of a body that have been redundant for ten years. On Committee Stage we will have a good deal more to say about a replacement for the Land Commission when they are finally abolished.

I am delighted for the opportunity to say a few words on this Bill. When I was growing up in the sixties a large number of small farms were allocated to people from the west so that many families got the opportunity to become involved in proper farming. The Land Commission were involved in taking over many large estates in my county, and in other counties. As a result as many as ten new families were allocated land on the one estate. The size of those new farms, including houses and out-offices provided, was usually about 45 acres. At that time each farm was an economic holding. Changes have occurred since Ireland joined the EC and for a dairy farm to be economic today it should consist of about 100 acres and 150 to 330 acres is required for any other farming activity. Especially in the past ten years many owners of those small holdings have either retired or are about to retire, and none of their families are prepared to get involved in agriculture because of the lack of confidence in any future in farming.

It is accepted that the Land Commission are redundant and there is no point in them continuing but we must have a vision and proposals to put forward for the development of rural Ireland in the next 20 years. There had been a lack of proposals to date. It will be an indictment of all Members if we do not replace the Land Commission with a system that ensures that families are able to provide for themselves on small holdings. Proper development will not take place if we do not introduce a rural development policy for alternative enterprises. Throughout the length and breadth of this country, but especially in the west — this is happening in my constituency — many young to middle-aged farmers are giving up hope for a future because of the proposals of the European Commission and Commissioner MacSharry. The Government should produce proposals for alternative enterprises. Through the Leader programme — about which we heard so much and which both parties in Government hailed as the saviour of rural Ireland — the rural development proposals and other mechanisms, people should be given the opportunity to develop and change their units to help them make a living from an alternative enterprise such as agri-tourism.

Deputy Connor's comments about the retirement scheme are very true. The scheme gave no incentive to many farmers to retire early to give younger members of the family the opportunity to take over the running of the family farm. The scheme was a failure and any new scheme will fail if it is not realistic. The retirement scheme provided for a fixed pension and 20 years later the pension was still fixed. Who thought up such a scheme? More to the point, who introduced it in the House? With all due respect, whoever was involved at the time was not living in the real world.

The development of rural Ireland will not take place, whether under the Leader programme, the rural development policies or any other proposals, unless there are changes. At the moment the Department of Agriculture and Food deal with some aspects of the development of the tourism policy while Bord Fáilte carry out inspections and make proposals on applications for a development grant. The Minister for Tourism, Transport and Communications told the House only two weeks ago at Question Time that everything was rosy and that the tourism plan for the next three or four years would be the saviour of the nation in that it would result in a big increase in the numbers of visitors. There is no point in having an agency working with the major tourist interests to increase the number of visitors to this country from three million to 4.5 million if the Government reduce their investment in the main organisation that carries out the work. Why should that happen? The Government are not reducing their take of the amount of money being collected by the tourist sector. In each of the past five years that take has increased. To ensure that rural Ireland is developed properly to accommodate the extra visitors, the Government, whether through the Department of Tourism, Transport and Communications or through the Department of Agriculture and Food, must produce a proper policy for rural Ireland so that a percentage of the people can earn a living outside of farming.

We are now proposing the dissolution of an organisation that helped thousands of families. The organisation was based in every county within our jurisdiction — one of the recent "buzz" words in the Dáil. Changes must take place in the two Departments I mentioned under rural development schemes or the Leader programme. I do not say that merely because the Culliton report recommended that in the industrial sector there should be an international and national arm of the IDA.

Our tourism regions should be reorganised, perhaps reduced to five in number throughout the Twenty-six Counties, the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Tourism, Transport and Communications giving to the people in those regions dealing with tourism the overall task of dealing with all grants, applications and the work involved in redeveloping the country under those two headings. I do not say this because the Culliton report advanced this proposal from their overview of industry. I have been making this contention for the past four or five months arising from my interest in and investigation into how tourism is or is not successful in certain circumstances.

If this Government are in earnest about our rural areas they should advance proposals on Committee Stage of this Bill to change our antiquated system which is clearly not functioning properly, eliminating the overlapping of work of various Government Departments which leads to ever more duplication and greater hassle for applicants with, in turn, less progress on the ground in the expenditure of the moneys coming onstream from the different EC schemes to ensure the development of tourism in rural areas.

The Fianna Fáil component of this Government over the past five years have been hailing the increasing number of tourists, applauding the extra numbers who have travelled here in the years 1987 and 1988. I heard the new Minister engage in this exercise some three weeks ago. However, she did not say that the summers of 1985 and 1986 were the worst we had experienced in 25 years. The only thing for which she did not claim credit on that occasion was the change in the weather. Those of us who remember further back than the Minister was prepared to go will fully realise what brought about that change.

Many farmers who received land from the Land Commission have become involved in planting some of that land with forestry as an alternative enterprise. Deputy Connor referred to the principal people involved in the planting of major tracts of land nationwide, namely, the banks, life assurance and investment companies. While welcome in itself I contend that the next stage of that type of development has not been addressed by this Government. We must provide the requisite facilities to deal with mature timber at home rather than sell it for export, reimporting it in its final processed form to be used nationwide.

I accept the philosophy of selling State assets as long as two things are done with the relevant funds. No later than three weeks ago in the case of one of our food companies which had been privatised, a substantial proportion of those funds having been used to offset our national debt, the remaining £35 million of shares it was agreed with the social partners would be sold in order to balance the books for the budget for 1992. For the life of me I cannot understand how the social partners agreed with Government to sell off State assets for the day-to-day running expenses of Government. I should be delighted if somebody could answer that question. If such funds are not used for the reduction of the national debt then they should be invested in, say, afforestation or the establishment of a company to deal with the proper marketing of our food produce. Those are the only two areas in which funds from the sale of State assets should be invested.

We have approximately 170,000 farmers here, many of whom have part-time jobs in an endeavour to make ends meet. If the proposals on the table in Brussels are implemented I predict a substantial number of them will decide to opt out of farming altogether in the belief that their holdings will no longer be viable. In addition, we have a number of major co-operatives, some of whom have decided to float their shares on the open market and are now plcs, leading to their competing with their Danish and other European counterparts who have invested large funds in the marketing of their produce from factory farms across Europe.

Germany has been a main contributor of funds to the European Community and the Common Agricultural Policy. German unification has meant that they have a major part of their united country in which to invest their funds, resulting in their having fewer funds to support the Common Agricultural Policy and GATT.

Had there been any vision on the part of the Government, especially on the part of the Minister for Agriculture and Food, over the past five years, of future events in Europe in so far as our EC supports were concerned, in circumstances in which 82 per cent of our beef would go either into intervention or be sold to Third World countries in respect of which we would receive export refunds——

Deputy Farrelly is making a very comprehensive and far-ranging contribution. I know that he has the capacity to relate it to the defunct Land Commission.

My point relates to the small farmers who will no longer be protected by the Land Commission. About 82 per cent of beef we produce is either going into intervention or for export refunds. There is a proposal to reduce that to 68 per cent with the balance being made up with supports to the producer. I mentioned what happened in other countries and asked if the Minister or the Government have any vision with regard to investing pound for pound in our co-operatives in order to develop products to be marketed on the European markets. We have only a small part of the market for the products we produce while we are losing perhaps thousands of families because co-operatives who also rely on intervention, did not develop alternative products. The Government should have got involved with the co-operatives and invested in them in order to develop new products and new markets. This would have kept many thousands of farmers on the land. The new Minister and the Government should reinvest the profits of food companies in which the State has a share — food companies which were established through farmer involvement down through the years — in order to develop other products, thus keeping small farmers on the land, farmers who are now deciding to get out of the business because there is no future in it.

It is not up to Opposition Deputies to develop policies. That is the Government's duty. I hope changes will be made on the basis of my proposals in order to help small farmers. The Land Commission provided many farmers with a start. As a result small farmers could provide for their families. They want to continue doing that but they cannot unless there is co-operation with the powers-that-be in the food industry in the production of alternative products and in researching the market opportunities.

From my experience in agriculture and in this House I can say that we never had appropriate policies or provided enough investment in order to develop alternative products. We can still keep many thousands of farmers on many Land Commission farms if we have the will to do so.

Some of the Land Commission officers are to be given alternative employment dealing with Leader programme applications and implementing the Leader programme. The county development teams in the west were allowed to deal with the Leader programme applications and to implement the programme but in the midlands and a little further out many of the counties were left naked in so far as approval of applications was concerned. The country as a whole should have got a fair crack of the whip.

There are county development teams in our part of the world who are not allowed to deal with Leader programme applications. I conclude that the Department of Finance have control over some of the development teams. They have not control in my county and in the surrounding counties. It looks as if the Government and the Department of Agriculture agreed to allow the Department of Finance overall control of this work. I do not agree with it. I believe two people are to be appointed to my area. That will duplicate the work. Where will offices be provided for them and how much will it cost to set them up? We already have development teams in the counties to which I am referring. A decision was made to reallocate staff for the sake of reallocating staff without taking into consideration whether or not it would cost money, because the job could have been done by existing teams. Was it all because the Department of Finance wanted control of the overall set up? I believe that was the case.

The dissolution of the Land Commission was inevitable. Land was extremely expensive over the past ten years and the Land Commission had to compete when the banks, the ACC and other financial institutions were free and easy in providing loans to farmers. Small and medium sized farmers acquired land at between £100 and £120 per statute acre. Other Members have mentioned that farmers who succeeded in acquiring land have now run into difficulties with their repayments. Indeed, I had a case no later than three weeks ago where a farmer with five children owed £6,500 in annuities and his grants and headage payments amounting to £3,500 and £4,000 were transferred directly and he got a note from the Department to say they were doing this. He has no income. I do not accept that Government bureaucracy should deal with people in that way. I believe every problem can be negotiated.

Many families across the length and breadth of the country are in similar difficulties. Have the Government given any consideration to taking on board these services by restructuring, or possibly writing off, some of the moneys owing because of reducing farm incomes over the past two years? I have no doubt that the Minister knows what I am talking about because, in fairness, these people have not a hope of paying off their loans.

If the land acquired by these people over the past five to ten years is repossessed and put on the open market and sold to someone who can afford it, the original owner is left with no chance of providing for his family. If the Government do nothing, the debt grows and eventually the land is repossessed and the person no longer has an economic holding. He will then receive some form of social welfare. That is the reality as I see it.

I have gone through the figures with a number of farmers and if the farmers are not dealt with on a one-to-one basis with the Government willing to resolve the problem, the State will end up providing social welfare forever and a day when the land is repossessed. Which is better in the long term?

Any Member from a rural constituency is very much aware that many farmers who never received land from the Land Commission have ended up in financial difficulties as a result of excessive borrowing. However, to their credit the banks and financial institutions have decided to restructure the loans and allow the family to remain in the family home and get on with living. Because of developments in the late seventies many people got into difficulties in the early and mid-eighties, but I am sorry to say that the problem is on our doorsteps again. I know of cases where people are working full-time on re-negotiating their loans with the financial institutions in the same way as they did before in order to save the family home from being sold. The financial institutions are prepared to look at the overall problem and allow the individual to start again and try to deal with the long term problem. At least those people can live on the land. Those who do not accept that this is happening are not living in the real world.

Let me emphasise to the Minister of State that he must ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to bring to Cabinet a proposal to deal with the people's problems today and not in 12 or 18 months time because at the end of the day if we do not deal with this problem, their land will be repossessed and they will be on social welfare for years. Many of these people do not want social welfare, they want to make their own living if they can. Even though they are in receipt of beef and suckler cow subsidies they are working, which is in the interest of the family. The problem should be faced head on, because it will not go away if we do nothing about it. The Minister for Agriculture and Food should bring this to the notice of the Cabinet.

Many Land Commission officials did trojan work over the years and I thank them and, indeed, many farmers owe a debt of gratitude to them for the way they dealt with them. Years ago there was a saying that if one did not belong to a certain organisation one would not have a chance in hell of getting an allocation of land. I do not believe that was true, but it was said in rural parts. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle may not know anything about that because migrants would not have been looking for land in his constituency.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is a Mayo man.

I did not refer to his constituency.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has some Land Commission land.

I must have a look at it.

The Deputy might learn something.

The Deputy might ask him where he got it.

The Deputy should not suggest that, because I just might happen to do so. While the Land Commission did a good job, the legislation was not kept up-to-date so that they could adapt to changes in the eigities. This was probably a missed opportunity. Many Members have mentioned that Land Commission officials were still dealing with the assessment of land in the eighties. It was a mistake that it was not finalised to the benefit and knowledge of the country. If that survey had been finished, we might have had a far better case in looking for a greater part of our country to be designated as disadvantaged. The whole country should have been declared a disadvantaged area, with a ceiling on incomes to prevent people, who did not require them, getting subsidies. It is believed abroad that we have brilliant land, most of which should not be included in the disadvantaged areas, but factors not taken into consideration are the distance from markets and the cost of transporting our produce. Why was the decision made to stop the inspections? It was a political decision.

The Deputy should be fair. He knows that is not true.

It was a political decision. I am delighted the Minister has been listening to my speech.

The Minister has listened attentively to every word every Member had to say.

Knowing the Minister concerned, I have no doubt about that. I have represented the county with him and I know he is an excellent representative. I wish him every success. I would not like him to think that decisions were never made on a political basis.

I am not so naive.

We are living in the real world. The organisation of rural Ireland must be dealt with on a regional basis. The Land Commission was successful because they had an office in every county and they knew exactly what was going on. People did not have to travel to and from the city to consult the commission.

I would ask the Minister to consider carefully the points I made regarding arrears.

Coming in rather late in the debate gives one a certain advantage. I have listened carefully to speeches made on all sides of the House. We find the traditional divide here. Fine Gael speakers have been quite supportive of the Minister and of Government policy in dealing with this matter. The Labour Party through Deputy Ferris have been quite critical of the lack of Government initiatives following the basic dissolution of the Land Commission in 1983.

On behalf of the Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, I will be opposing this Bill. I realise my opposition is merely symbolic because the commission has ceased to operate. Had I found anything in the Minister's speech to indicate a Government commitment to issue a White Paper on land policy I might not be so opposed to this Bill, but there is nothing in the Bill to hold out any hope of this. The Land Commission basically ceased to operate in 1983 and this Bill is merely a tidying up operation. Hence I suspect the Minister did not give a great deal of thought to the contents of his speech. If he had given the matter any great thought he would not have displayed the degree of complacency and smugness which showed up at every turn of phrase. He set out briefly what the Land Commission was set up to do and rightly praised the commission for putting the land of Ireland back into native hands. However, he is not on such sure ground when he talks about the completion of land purchase. This implies that there will be no likelihood in the future of a commission being required to deal with large land holdings which are being accumulated both by nationals and non-nationals. I will refer to this in more detail later.

One could, of course, criticise the way the Land Commission worked and the policy of increasing farm size. Obviously, the larger the farm the fewer people employed on the land. We do not want rural Ireland to be a large rural slum, grossly over-populated and poverty stricken. In the sixties and seventies those leaving the land could to some extent obtain work in the towns and cities or perhaps in Europe, but this is no longer the case, as we know from the appallingly high rate of unemployment here and the quite serious rates of unemployment in other EC countries. It is quite clear that many of these people cannot find employment abroad.

The Minister referred in his speech to the commitment in the Constitution regarding the settling of people on the land. He did not quote it in full but it is worth quoting. We have in many ways a very fine Constitution. Article 45.2 states:

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.

I put it to the House that this aspiration or directive principles on Social Policy has been consistently ignored by successive Governments. What is needed in rural Ireland is the adoption by the Government of the principle of an unconditional basic income for all its citizens. This would replace the so called farmer's dole which is an impediment to progress in rural areas, as was pointed out by Fr. McDyer of Glencolmcille in his autobiography.

The Minister referred to the exercise of control over purchases of land by non-qualified persons, namely, companies and EC nationals. He did not spell out how this is to be done. Is adequate legislation in place? He does not say so. If not, does he propose to introduce such legislation? These were roles which the Land Commission carried out very successfully. The Minister has not spelled out to my satisfaction what he proposes to put in its place.

Many of us have been saddened by the purchase of land by EC nationals who have closed off rights of way and have prevented access to beaches and other amenities by both locals and tourists. The fact that reciprocal arrangements are in force is of little benefit to us. Stronger legislation is needed to replace the traditional acceptance of these rights-of-way in the past.

The Minister referred to the necessity to produce viable farms. That is a rather narrow concept and should be replaced by the philosophy which would regard a small farm as only providing a partial income which is topped up by a basic income scheme and, perhaps, temporary work during the tourist season. The viability of people rather than farms is what we should be aiming for.

I wish to refer now to a very disturbing fact which is becoming more evident in the land business: that is that business and professional people have emerged, particularly over the past year, as the single biggest force in the land market, edging out farmers in the competition to buy farm land. In some areas around large population centres, as much as 60 per cent of the farms which came on the market in 1991 were bought by non-farmers. These include people in nearby big towns who are often in business related directly or indirectly to farming, such as butchers, livestock hauliers, dairy co-op executives, greengrocers etc. They also include professional people who have been buying medium-size — 40 to 50-acre — residential holdings as country homes to keep a few horses for sporting activities for themselves and their children. Another category of buyers last year comprised emigrants who had businesses abroad, notably in the building trade. Usually they are farmers sons who manage to fulfil a lifelong dream of owning their own farm back in their own locality. Of course we would have no objection to this provided they were coming back to farm the land and not to let it.

In the absence of any official figures it is safe to put the business professional buying at about 40 per cent to 45 per cent. When one adds to this the buying by non-nationals, a figure which varies between 10 per cent and 20 per cent depending on the area, this puts farmers in the minority of buyers in the market for the first time. This development, although not unexpected in the circumstances, is surprising because the business and professional buyers are by no means moving in for a killing in the market which has collapsed. In fact there are very few bargains to be had because the price of farm land has held up remarkably well, despite the continuous battering of farming confidence throughout the year from the proposed Common Agricultural Policy and GATT reforms.

Farmers could be said to be victims of their own propaganda because of their over-energetic campaigns against Common Agricultural Policy and GATT reforms, which convinced their bank managers that this was the end of civilisation as we know it; and it may have been the unusually high level of interest among business and professional classes that kept farm land prices up.

Finally, where the Minister really goes off the rails and shows his inability to think this problem through is in his references to Common Agricultural Policy. He makes the most amazing statement that the Government no longer need a land policy because of the support for agriculture through Common Agricultural Policy. On re-reading his speech I wondered whether the incoming Minister of State found it on his file, perhaps written in 1989, when the Bill was first moved. Surely everyone in this House knows this game is up. The EC taxpayers are no longer prepared to bail out Irish agriculture. For the reasons I have given I will be opposing the Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation. I regret the passing of the Land Commission. It is very easy to be critical. On the sideline we can all be critical of the player on the pitch but if any one of us were given a pair of boots I wonder whether we would be any better: generally not, but it always seems when one is at a football or hurling match in this country the best players are on the sideline. So it is with the Land Commission, people are very critical of their operations and their slow progress. The Minister would be well aware, as I am, that dealing with land and land ownership is a very difficult problem. Nobody was more aware of that problem than the officers of the Land Commission. I held in high regard those with whom I came in contact in my own constituency and occasionally further afield, when relatives or friends of somebody in my own county, was in touch about land in a different county. I always found them prepared to listen and to go into the background of the problems involved. They knew the families and the difficulties.

Ownership of land is cherished in Ireland. Maybe that is unique in Europe, but certainly the ownership of land was always prided, the inheritance of a farm from a father by a son was aspired to; a bachelor would pass on his land to a close relative or an in-law who was interested in developing the farm. When the Land Commission became owners of large tracts of land, generally estates, its division was a difficult task. It was difficult to get farmers to give up a parcel of land in order to gain another parcel closer to their own homes so that the unit could become more compact. The field of two or four acres had been passed on to them and it was their intention to retain it and hand it on to their descendant. The Land Commission officers had to deal with that problem which necessitated sitting down in the kitchen, having a cup of tea, and chatting to the husband and wife or the bachelor or spinster as the case might be and advising them that it was in their interest to give up that parcel of land. They had to give the people an opportunity to consider the proposals put to them and to bring them gently towards concluding a deal, and they succeeded. In the meantime large tracts of land built up and they were criticised. I was as critical as anybody else and I tabled questions in the Dáil. The Land Commission were understaffed. In the lead-up to 1983 we were told the Land Commission would be phased out and that there would be no replacement. That was wrong. We need a land authority even more now than ever. Some people say there is not much interest in the land and that driving around the country one will find a number of houses closed down. I accept that but that is because the farms are too small to provide a livelihood. Statistics indicate that the transfer of ownership of lands in this country is at an all-time low. Because of the tax net people are reluctant to transfer ownership, yet, there is a tremendous interest in it. I have known farmers with 40 acres of land and a 30,000 gallon milk quota who are anxious to procure, ten, 14 or 20 acres adjacent to them but, lo and behold, as the previous speaker said, a professional person from the local town or a foreigner outbids them. German and French buyers are commonplace in the market and the local farmer, aware of the result of excessive borrowing in the seventies and early eighties is reluctant to seek a loan. If we had a land authority, a unit which would give a livelihood to a husband and wife and their family, could be developed. The person who puts up the parcel of land for sale is entitled to get the highest price but at the same time if somebody with the knowledge and experience of a Land Commission officer discusses the matter with the owner it may be possible to reach agreement. In the past much time was taken up in reaching such agreements. When very little progress was being made the Land Commission were criticised in that they performed a task for which they were never intended and were accumulating large acreages of land and setting it for ten, 15 or 20 years, but there was a background story to most of that. Nevertheless there is still a considerable amount of land to be divided. I presume that before the Land Commission are dissolved all the land on their books will be divided and handed over to those who have an interest in it. I hope, however, that a land authority will be set up for numerous reasons. As I have already said, while driving through the countryside, one comes across progressive farmers who have excellent buildings and green fields. It is obvious that their farms are being developed; yet, around the corner one comes across farms which have been neglected, but there is probably a reason for this.

Debate adjourned.