Three amendments have been tabled for discussion on this section, all of which would seem to be out of order. Deputies have been so informed.
Irish Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill, 1989: Committee Stage.
Only some of them, a Cheann Comhairle.
Amendment No. 1, in the names of Deputies Deasy and Connaughton, is out of order as it would clearly involve a charge on the Revenue. The second amendment, in the name of Deputy Ferris, is out of order for the same reason. This third amendment, in the names of Deputies Deasy and Connaughton, is also out of order as it would involve a potential charge on the Revenue. We may discuss section 2 and Members may give their reasons for putting down those amendments.
This section is the essence of the Bill in that it refers to the dissolution of the Land Commission. On the Second Stage debate we objected very strongly to the dissolution of the Land Commission without an alternative or substitute body being put in place of the commission. Unfortunately, our amendments to section 2 have been ruled out of order. We maintain our objection to the dissolution of the Land Commission without an authority being set up to carry out specific functions.
The passage of section 2 would lead to an open season on land sales. There will be no controls whatsoever. That is not good enough. There will also be a lack of control on the use of land. We have requested the setting up of a land use authority. I cannot think of a time in our history when the proper utilisation of our land was decided upon by a statutory authority, In recent weeks during the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy severe restrictions have been put on the supply of agricultural products produced in this country. That will leave a vacuum involving a considerable quantity of land. It is important that an authority be set up to ensure that the use of land is overseen in an ordered manner.
I have repeatedly put down questions about the use of land, having regard to wildlife in particular. My questions have been responded to by a pretty dreadful answer, if it could be called an answer at all. It appears that there is no co-ordination within the Government about the way in which land should be used. Land will be set aside, people will be compensated, land is being reclaimed and habitats for wildlife are being destroyed, but there is no co-ordination between the Department of Finance and the Department of Agriculture and Food. There should be. The only way to achieve co-ordination is to set up a statutory authority that would decide what land should be used for which purpose. We all know that a reduction in this country's agricultural output will require us to find alternative uses for the land that will be set aside and cannot be used because of quota systems. We all know that there will have to be some way of managing that land.
An authority is needed to direct landowners into particular avenues and to make sure that land is used in a specific way. It is just not good enough that the wildlife of this country should be exterminated while we in this House stand idly by watching the destruction of their habitats — whether the habitats be ponds, streams, marshlands, scrublands or wooded areas. We need to have in place a supervisory body that will decide what should be reclaimed and what cannot be reclaimed, which habitats should be retained and which habitats could possbily be destroyed in the furtherance of land reclamation. It is my view that no habitat should be destroyed but daily I realise that our future is being given away because of a lack of interest and a lack of a statutory authority. We are destroying the environmental aspects of this country. From now on we cannot exist solely from agriculture. We will have to use our land for other purposes, agri-tourism in particular. Land management should be undertaken in an ordered way. The Land Commission could have had some control over land usage. The commission is being dissolved and no body is being put in its place. The Government will have to find a substitute for the present system and ensure an organised utilisation of our land.
Just before the commencement of Committee Stage I received your notice, a Cheann Comhairle, that my amendment was out of order. I respect your ruling but in tabling my amendment I envisaged that the procedure outlined in the amendment would not necessarily have involved a charge on the Exchequer. I went into some detail in my amendment on the preparation of a land agency. I included a reference to time in order to make sure the Minister, the Department and the Government would have an opportunity to examine a structure that need not create such a charge but would in fact involve voluntary organisations such as the IFA, the ICMSA, Macra na Feirme, Muintir na Tíre and the Irish Countrywomen's Association. Voluntary organisations of that kind have a vested interest in the future procedure involved in land sales or transactions, particularly in relation to the resettlement of families.
Section 2 is the core of this legislation, in subsection (1) it provides for the dissolution of the Land Commission but in subsection (2) it provides for the revocation of any of the existing commissioner's power to acquire land by compulsion or even on a voluntary basis. In the past, the Land Commission did excellent work in this area when large estates became available which would not normally have been acquired by small farmers, small family farms and by people with fragmented holdings and all the other categories for which the Land Commission were specifically set up. As there will not be an agency in this area in future, I am concerned that nobody will have any powers in law to address the problem of family farms and fragmented holdings. This is still a major problem in parts of rural Ireland and it was on that basis I requested that my concept of a land agency would be in the area of representation, subject of course, to the Minister's approval. It would not have created a charge on the Exchequer because it did not necessarily need a statutory role requiring legislation and the involvement of public expenditure. My amendment was intended to address the problem which will arise in the area of land resettlement and restructuring of fragmented holdings.
Coincidentally, when the previous Government announced that they would introduce legislation to dissolve the Land Commission, members of the present Government initiated a campaign throughout the country to advocate setting up a land agency. This was set up through various county committees of agriculture, ACOT and the General Council of Committees of Agriculture and was the subject matter of a special committee of the family farm section of the IFA and the ICMSA. At the time I was chairman of the county committee of agriculture and the Minister of State, Deputy Hyland, was also a member. He fought for this concept——
It would not be the first time that a gamekeeper turned poacher.
I am arguing a legitimate case based on the need for solving this problem. There is a major debate at present about the Maastricht Treaty and the Protocol we managed to slip in when the midnight oil was being burned in December——
The Deputy should speak to the section.
If you will hear me out, a Cheann Comhairle, you will realise that it is relevant. The Danes inserted a Protocol in advance of the referendum which they held on the Maastricht Treaty which would preclude other people, particularly Germans, from acquiring their land. The Danish Government were concerned about protecting their own lands which they felt, for the future development of their country, should be within their own jurisdiction. As a result of the dissolution of the Land Commission, land will now be available to the cheque books from the nations within the Community or the Council of Europe. We are allowing strategic land here, which could be developed for organic farming and other uses, to be acquired by those who can afford to buy it. If the concept of my amendment had been accepted there would have been some input by the farming organisations who would have been charged with the responsibility of protecting the future of family farms. Of course they would have recognised that, constitutionally, people have certain rights to private property and the right to dispose of it to the highest bidder.
The Government — and previous Administrations — always envisaged that the land of Ireland was for the people of Ireland. It was always argued that people would have the right to own their own land; land in any part of the country is — and will in future — be very valuable.
I am concerned that the debate on Committee Stage has turned into Second Reading speeches. I wish to dissuade Members from making such speeches on Committee Stage. I have allowed Members to refer to amendments which have been ruled out of order by the Chair — for good and cogent reasons — and they should now concentrate on the section proper.
Of course, I accept your ruling on this matter. Perhaps the Minister will, on Report Stage, address some of the concerns which I expressed and the reasons behind the tabling of my amendment. We saw the farming organisations as having a major role, indeed their role in COPA would be of assistance to the Minister in debating a future agricultural development policy under the revised Common Agricultural Policy. I have respected the views of the Minister of State in this area for many years. He comes from a rural background and has served on county committees, county councils ACOT, Muintir na Tíre and other bodies who aspire to this concept. Even though my amendments have been ruled out of order, the Minister of State should consider their content. It should not be beyond the powers of an ingenious Minister of State with such a background to be able to address this problem. If we do not address the problem we will have no power to control even the exchange of land. Ministerial approval will be needed in that regard. Earlier in the century there were absentee landlords whose benefits derived from fragmented holdings so that the tenant farmers continued to argue with one another instead of trying to ensure that their parcels of land were convenient.
Section 2 is the Bill in total and if we dissolve the Land Commission without debating the possible alternatives, which are the responsibility of the Minister, we will have failed in our obligation. The debate on Committee Stage is very restricted and will be even more restricted on Report Stage. We want to express our reservations in the hope that the Minister will respond positively.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food with special responsibility for horticulture and rural development, Deputy Hyland, on his appointment. He has inherited this legislation which probably dates back to the time Deputy Deasy was in the Department of Agriculture.
At least we had a land agency.
The explanatory memorandum to the Irish Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill is dated 1986 and I can see no reference to the need to establish another land agency. I should say to the Minister of State that he will have an opportunity between now and the Report and Final Stages to reconsider all aspects of the Bill which he has inherited, which has been handled by at least three Governments and is only being debated in the House in 1992. He should not feel under any obligation to have the Bill, as presented, passed by the Oireachtas.
I have a number of reservations about this Bill and they relate to the powers available under the Land Acts. The Land Commission have served a useful purpose. When I was first elected to this House in 1977 the majority of the representations that I made dealt with the question of land redistribution and acquisition, while in south Roscommon there were major problems in relation to fragmented holdings. Those problems have not been resolved to date. Therefore there is still a role for a land agency.
This work could be done by the Department of Agriculture and Food. Indeed, I would have great confidence in the ability of the Minister of State to do this work, with the support and assistance of Teagasc, other State agencies and the workers employed in the Land Commission, if he was given this responsibility. I would have no objection if the Land Commission were restructured but the residual powers should be retained having regard to the vital referendum that will take place on Thursday, 18 June, when, I hope, there will be a decisive "Yes" vote in favour of the Maastricht Treaty.
I should say in response to Deputy Ferris that the Danes had a Protocol included in the Treaty which relates to the acquisition of their land by non-nationals. Despite this, the Danes did not vote in favour of the Treaty. I can assure the House that we, too, have a major difficulty at present in relation to the purchase of land and property by non-nationals and I would like the Minister of State to assess the purchases which have been made in recent years. Land sales have been uncontrolled because the Land Commission have not been functioning for some time, because of the Bill introduced by the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government to dissolve the commission.
Post-Maastricht, it will not be possible to restore these powers as this would not be in keeping with the Treaty arrangements. Fortunately, this Bill will not be passed before 18 June. I say this because we will have an opportunity to review its contents, specifically the proposal in section 2 that the Land Commission be dissolved. It is my understanding that all legislation in place prior to 18 June will still be relevant. In the circumstances, the Minister of State should take this opportunity to recall what was said in the discussions that took place at the meetings of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party in 1984, 1985 and 1986 on the excellent paper on land restructuring drawn up by the present Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith. This document should be studied by the officials in the Department and, I suggest, re-studied by the Minister of State.
The powers available under the Land Acts are substantial. In relation to cutaway bogs, thousands of acres in the constituency of the Minister of State will have to be redistributed. Who will have the responsibility to define policy in this area? I believe it should be the responsibility of a revamped land agency under the aegis of the Minister of State.
In relation to the redistribution of commonages this was not a characteristic feature of my constituency but some commonages have been successfully redistributed by the Land Commission. It is my understanding, however, that difficulties are being encountered in other constituencies, for instances in Mayo. I am sure my colleagues, Deputies McDaid and O'Donoghue, will highlight the problems being experienced in their constituencies of Donegal and Kerry. This matter will have to be dealt with by some residual agency. We would be confident that an agency under the auspices of the Minister of State would be independent and would have the powers that are available under the Land Acts.
It is my understanding also that the Minister of State — he may wish to comment on this — is examining the question of annuities which are being paid by farmers throughout the country, given the hardship imposed. Farmers in my constituency of Longford and Roscommon are experiencing great difficulty in meeting their repayments of annuities which were based on high land values in the late seventies and early eighties, when land was sold for up to £2,000 an acre. At that time the Land Commission bought a considerable number of holdings. I know of small farmers who are against the wall. We should provide some assistance to help them to have the date extended or the repayments reduced.
All the amendments have been ruled out of order. Many complaints were received about the manner in which land was redistributed. However, the Land Commission also received many compliments. I believe that they have not completed their work. The Minister of State who has special responsibility for rural development and horticulture may find it useful to have an agency under his auspices to control the redistribution of land to ensure it is retained in Irish hands and to avoid the possibility of non-nationals buying land.
In relation to the afforestation programme, some control should be retained. Again, the Land Commission could be given responsibility to control afforestation because in some areas top quality land is being planted. In parts of my constituency trees are being planted by ordinary farmers but, as against this, multinational companies are now buying large tracts of land, probably even in your own constituency, a Cheann Comhairle, that is if you still have a constituency at this stage——
I have, indeed. I am also concerned about the Committee Stage of this Bill. Clearly, we are having Second Reading speeches and that is not good enough.
With respect to you, a Cheann Comhairle, as far as I know you are serving your second term and even before your term this Bill was before the House. This is 1992 and, in fairness, it must be said that we are dealing with a Bill initiated as far back as 1986. In those circumstances surely it is time that Deputies had an opportunity of debating all the issues relevant to 1992, the pre-Maastricht Treaty agreement and the post-Maastricht Treaty agreement? It is time our land was properly managed. The only organisation capable of doing so is the residual group within the Department of Agriculture and Food, who would have overall responsibility for such management. That is why I am concerned and am expressing here today grave reservations on the dissolution of the Irish Land Commission.
As a backbench Member of the Fianna Fáil Party I appeal to the Minister to review all aspects of this Bill before it is returned to this House. I sincerely believe there is need for the residual powers to be retained within the Minister of State's section of the Department of Agriculture and Food. I suggest that he be afforded that opportunity over the summer recess. I strongly recommend that this Bill should disappear from sight for another few months, that he study it over the summer recess with his Departmental colleagues and his colleagues within the majority Government party. If necessary I will return on Report Stage to put this case again. I will be lobbying for a change in this Bill and for the retention of the powers of the Irish Land Commission within the Department of Agriculture and Food.
As the amendments tabled by the Fine Gael and Labour parties have been ruled out of order can you tell me, a Cheann Comhairle, what are the means available to Members of this House to have some section included in the Bill for the establishment of a land agency or authority, as was promised in 1983 when the dissolution of the Irish Land Commission was first mooted? Is there any course open to Members to have the legislative formation of such an agency included in the provisions of this Bill?
Deputy Leyden was going to vote with us; that would so ensure.
We will all have a chance of voting in a few minutes time.
Members may table as many amendments as they like but they can only use persuasion. Such amendments must not involve a charge on public money.
The Deputy opposite introduced the Bill himself.
I will give Deputy Leyden all he wants in a few minutes.
If I correctly interpret what you said, a Cheann Comhairle, the only way such a land agency may be established is by having this Bill defeated at the next vote.
The Deputy should not seek to involve the Chair in the debate.
I was merely seeking information. The position at present is that any land that becomes available for sale goes to the bidder with the largest wallet or account book. Unfortunately, that does not suit the vast majority of Irish farmers; in fact there are very few of them it would suit at present. The only people that process would suit are those who want to invest money in land or in some business, people who are not very interested in engaging in farming at present.
There is still no curtailment on people planting trees to within a few yards of somebody else's back door. Therefore, the establishment of a land authority or agency, with authority to oversee the planning of forestry and the allotment of land to existing farmers, is vital. It is not in the best interest of the country or of our farmers that land should be allocated to the highest bidder. Since the only way in which a land agency or authority may be established is through the defeat of this Bill, then I look forward to seeing it defeated.
I object very strongly to two or three features of this section. Millions of words have been spoken in this House on the Land Commission. When I hear the pious platitudes expressed here this morning about a Land Commission that has been dying on its feet over the past ten or 15 years, when apparently nobody has really tried to do anything about it.
Deputy Connaughton did himself.
We did the best we could in the mid-eighties through the land agency.
In reply to Deputy Leyden, I should say I remember his colleague, the then shadow Minister for Agriculture, when he was on this side of the House, insisting there would have to be a replacement or a land authority. In fact they put it to a vote some four or five years ago. I cannot understand why there has been such a remarkable change. Deputy Leyden will be given a chance in a few minutes time to put his feet where his mouth was a few moments ago and show the people of Roscommon that he genuinely wants a land use authority; that is the sum total of it.
That is not the way one achieves change.
The Deputy appears to have been very ineffective in achieving it any other way because, in a few minutes time, the Irish Land Commission will be gone forever.
The Deputy was a fair man at giving away land to his own supporters.
Anything I ever did I did above board and can stand over. I defy Deputy Leyden to give me one such example. I defy the Deputy to do so.
Order, if the Chair were addressed perhaps we would have less interruption. I would dissuade Members from entering into personal attacks.
A Cheann Comhairle, there is a very serious charge involved in what Deputy Leyden said. It means that the Land Commissioners were influenced by Deputy Connaughton when he was Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture. That amounts to a charge of corruption. That is not true.
Perhaps Deputy Leyden would like to comment on that. It is a personal remark that should not have been made.
I do not think Deputy Connaughton should be so sensitive. Would he not admit that, when he served as Minister of State in that Department, he had a personal interest in the overall management and distribution of land. Would he not have had any say in it? Would he not have had representations from farmers and others in his own party in that regard? Is that not in order?
Deputy, please, there is a personal imputation involved; the Deputy knows that——
Not at all.
——that should be withdrawn.
A Cheann Comhairle, I insist that that remark be withdrawn.
Deputy Leyden, I do not mind charges being made in the House, that is quite common and usual, but there is a personal imputation alleged against the Deputy which I feel, on reflection, Deputy Leyden would wish to withdraw.
None was implied. The Deputy, when he was Minister of State in that Department, was responsible for the Irish Land Commission. Would he like to say at this stage that he never ever considered or——
The Deputy should not compound the accusation.
——made representations, when he served as Minister of State, I will accept that.
A Cheann Comhairle, I am still not satisfied. That is a conditional withdrawal as such. I will not take that from Deputy Leyden or from anybody else. I stand absolutely over my record. I never interfered with the distribution of land. The land commissioners will verify that. I say that here openly and publicly to the entire nation. I would want Deputy Leyden to do better than that because, as far as I am concerned, that has put a slight on my character here today and I am not prepared to take it.
It is a cheap shot because Deputy Leyden cannot stand over what he said.
Deputy Leyden, again on reflection, I ask you to amend the accusation made.
A Cheann Comhairle——
Please, Deputy Leyden, I interpret what is in order or is not in order in this House. I am asking you to withdraw unreservedly the inference that the Member concerned interfered.
I never implied interference, A Cheann Comhairle.
The Deputy withdraws it then?
I withdraw it but I never implied interference.
Thank you. Let us keep personalities out of this. Let us adhere to the provisions of the Bill before us. I admit that this Bill has taken a long time to reach Committee Stage in the House, that there has been a great lapse of time, but Members are clearly interpreting that as a right to make Second Stage speeches. Within reason I understand their feelings.
In so far as the amendments we tabled were ruled out of order, particularly taking into account what Deputy Foxe said a few moments ago, the only chance now available to the Opposition of ensuring a signal to the Government that this, as an agricultural country, needs a land authority of some description — into which I will go very briefly in a moment — is to put it to a vote on the floor of the House here in a few moments time. If there is a majority in favour of not having a land authority, as such, then everybody will know exactly the Government's intention. It is as simple as that.
There are two or three very important reasons we should have a land authority, one of which is of historic significance. The Land Commission have always been the poor relation in the Department of Agriculture and Food. I have no doubt that in the future they will not even be regarded as a first cousin in the Department. Once the people in the Land Commission retire or are moved out there will not even be a semblance of a land policy in the Department of Agriculture and Food. I say this having had five years experience in the Department of Agriculture and Food.
As Deputy Deasy and others said, the work carried out in the future by a statutory land authority will be completely different from the work carried out in the past by the Land Commission. All Governments over the past 20 years have to take some blame for not changing the land policy of Land Commission quickly enough. Many things needed to be done in this regard. The system of land acquisition and allocationper se was the most costly, cumbersome and outdated system one could come across. I genuinely hope we do not revert to a system of compulsory land purchase, where land is held for five or six years — and by the time it is allocated it is in some cases, impoverished — and that it will be allocated on the basis of social justice. I believe that in many cases the allocation of land had little to do with a farmer's ability to farm it. Having said that, I wish to point out that the Land Commission did great work during the early years and many people would not now be in farming if it were not for the Land Commission. The joint purchase scheme initiated during the eighties was a great scheme. I understand that 300 to 400 projects were set up under that scheme during one year at almost no cost to the Exchequer. However, because the Land Commission inspectors were sent elsewhere the scheme was scrapped. The scheme enabled small farmers to come together and gave them a purchasing power which they did not have as individuals.
Many people refer to the purchase of land by nationals and non-nationals. I accept that there is a problem with non-nationals but our biggest problem relates to the purchase of land by people who have a great deal of money but are not involved in farming. There are no restrictions on the purchase of land by these people. As the Minister knows — he has a great interest in this industry — all that people need nowadays is money; if they believe they can make a few quid from land they go ahead and buy it. We should not fool ourselves about this.
I wish to refer to the type of land authority which should be set up. I will be very brief because I think my views on this issue are fairly well known. I think they are in line with the views of most of my colleagues in the House. Any land authority who are set up will need to be very broadly based. As Deputy Deasy has pointed out on a number of occasions, we need a land use policy. Many people who have nothing to do with land will want to have a say on how the country is run from the point of view of land use. I am referring to the development of golf clubs, recreational facilities and the very successful afforestation programme carried out in many areas. People in Connaught, particularly those in County Leitrim, are very worried that trees are being planted in areas where they should not be planted. They believe that there should be a planning aspect to the afforestation programme. The Department of Agriculture and Food, youth organisations', auctioneers, universities and a whole range of people should have an input to any new land authority. It is very difficult to say how such a body should be constituted. I am very worried that the Government do not intend to replace the Land Commission with a land authority. All the Minister of State said was that their functions were being transferred to the Minister for Agriculture and Food and they would be operated by him. I put it to the Minister that if no greater interest is displayed in this issue than was displayed in it over the five or six years, then a land policy will be a thing of the past.
Many of the points made by other Deputies will arise again in the context of later amendments. The Minister will run into trouble with the legal profession if various offices are allowed to be run down by a reduction in staff. For example, the records section is under-staffed at present. I say this from personal experience. This is a very important office and something needs to be done so that there is greater access to records.
It has been represented to me that there are minimum qualification standards for entry into farming in all other European countries. I should like the Minister to say if there are any restrictions on the purchase, by way of public auction, of a farm in Ireland by a farmer from France, Germany or Holland? Is any examination carried out to see if those people are entitled to start farming here? I know there are restrictions in the case of non-EC nationals. If an Irish man or woman wants to buy a farm in Denmark they have to meet the requirements laid down in the regulations for entry into farming. I would be very grateful to the Minister if would explain this point. I should like to know the qualifications for entry into farming here and whether these regulations are standardised throughout the Community.
In view of our huge dependence on agriculture it is inconceivable that we would not have a land authority of some description. I make a final plea to the Minister to indicate to us today that the Government are striving to set up a land authority. I believe all the farm organisations and all farmers want a land authority. It does not matter whether it is a statutory authority or an interdepartmental group. We will have done a very bad day's work for agriculture and our people generally if we do not replace the Land Commission with a land authority.
Before calling Deputy O'Donoghue, I wish to remind the House that we are dealing with the Committee Stage of proposed legislation. I have looked at section 2——
It proposes to abolish the Land Commission.
Yes. While the Chair can appreciate that there will be a certain nostalgia, history, reminiscing or folklore indulgences about it——
I note that in subsequent sections there are indications of what might happen. As we are dealing with section 2 we should limit our comments in so far as possible to what is in that section and retain other observations for later sections when they might be more appropriate.
The Chair is being a little hard on us.
The Chair always endeavours to apply himself to what is in the Bill so that the end product is much better than if we have perpetual "Rambles in Éirinn".
I do not wish to become involved in fairy tales or any of the matters mentioned by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle but the section leads to general statements being made. Section 45 of the Land Act, 1965, provided that the Land Commission would have to consent to the sale of land to a non-national. That is a very interesting point in the context of the debate that took place this morning. When we joined the European Community in 1973 section 45 of the Land Act, 1965, as it related to EC nationals, all but became defunct. An EC national was allowed to purchase land here, either through an agent or on his own application, on a "rubber stamp basis". Section 45 of the Land Act, 1965, had no application in practice to EC nationals. The EC is structured in such a way that this must be the position not just in relation to Irish nationals purchasing land abroad but in relation to EC nationals purchasing land in Ireland. That is a major culture shock and, perhaps, places the entire situation in relation to European Union in its proper perspective. That is the position and neither the Minister of State, Deputy Hyland, or anybody else can do much about it.
I welcome the provisions which, as Deputy Connaughton suggested, provide that non-Irish nationals would have to have certain qualifications prior to entering farming here. This would have a restrictive effect but would not prevent EC nationals from purchasing land here, which they were unable to do long before this Bill came before the House.
In the context of the dissolution of the Irish Land Commission there is a very serious problem, which did not crop up today or yesterday, relating to fishery rights in Irish rivers. Under the land Acts fishery rights on many rivers here were vested in the Land Commission. However, if one were to investigate the stretches of river owned by or vested in the Irish Land Commission it would take a considerable period of time to ascertain the true position simply because one would have to go back 100 years or more in order to discover ownership. This causes a considerable problem and has a debilitating effect on the Irish tourist industry.
Where fishery rights have been identified large multi-national corporations and very wealthy people are purchasing the fishing rights on some of the best rivers and lakes here and retaining them for their exclusive use or for the exclusive use of their friends and others without regard to the common good. In the context of the dissolution of the Irish Land Commission I strongly urge the Minister to identify the fishery rights along the rivers of Ireland to ensure that ownership is ascertained and that there is a broad national policy to prevent one of our most valuable natural resources from being handed over to or bought out by a chosen few. There are indications of this along the rivers and lakes of this country. It is of crucial importance in the interests of the tourist industry and the Irish people that the matter be resolved in the context — I stress this — of the dissolution of the Irish Land Commission.
In the circumstances that section 5 has a specific provision for the transfer of fishing rights to the new Central Fisheries Authority, perhaps the Deputy would accept that he is anticipating that section and inhibiting himself from a much more generous contribution in respect of fishing by referring to it now. There is no specific reference to that matter in this section.
I admit that as opposed to taking a fishing licence I have perhaps taken a poetic licence and in those circumstances I will reserve further comment in relation to fishing rights for section 5. I would like now to refer to commonages. In the context of the dissolution of the Land Commission I would like to refer to a serious problem in relation to the division of commonages. Very often we find that if a farmer who is living with his brother who has a farm nearby applies for a herd number to qualify for headage payment, he is informed that because his brother has a herd number and there is a possibility of interaction or mixing of the herds, a herd number cannot be issued to him — herd numbers are issued on the basis of animal hygiene.
At present, farmers who thought they owned fishing rights are being put off by foreign companies and wealthy people who seem to believe that they have an exclusive right to what belongs to the Irish people. Farmers are demanding to know the position and tension is increasing. This inevitably leads to conflict and will continue to do so. The first casualty is the river itself as poachers exploit the opportunity that arises. It is a perceived renewed public justification for taking what these people consider to be their entitlements. Recent experience has shown that this conflict does not go unnoticed by subversive elements who are only too willing to become involved. It is absolutely clear that the interaction of herds on a commonage is a far greater danger to animal hygiene than anything else. There has not been a coherent policy in relation to the division of commonages since the Mayo case went to the High Court.
The Land Commission have done an outstanding job in relation to the division of land over the years. It is most unfair that one landowner can hold up ten to 20 other landowners by refusing to agree to the division of a commonage. There are compulsory powers for the Land Commission under one of the Land Acts in relation to the division of commonage, but since the Mayo case things have become very confused and land division seems to take an inordinate amount of time. I strongly urge the Minister to ensure that there is some mechanism whereby commonages can be divided in situations where the minority disagree with the division. It would be in the interests of animal hygiene, the farming community and farming in general.
Deputy Ferris set down amendments with regard to section 2 calling for the establishment of a land agency on the dissolution of the Land Commission. From the earliest soundings——
Deputy Moynihan, the Chair has already indicated that Deputy Ferris' amendments were not in order. That being the case, Deputy Moynihan can briefly express his regret at the fact but there is no point in——
That is the point I was coming to. When it was announced that the Land Commission were to be dissolved there was a widespread understanding that as the work of the Land Commission had not yet been completed some monitoring authority would have to be set up to continue that work. In the absence of any such agency it is open season on the land market.
There are many thousands of uneconomic holdings in the farming community. Because the holdings are inadequate they cannot provide a livelihood. The people are intelligent, willing and capable of working the land. We are now getting into the area of land speculation not only by foreign interests but by the forestry authorities, and not just private forest interests. Recently Coillte Teoranta bought good agricultural land which was adjoining an uneconomic holding. The young farmer, who had a family, was anxious to exchange land with Coillte Teoranta in order to make his holding more economic. The exchange in his opinion would have facilitated Coillte Teoranta as well. Coillte Teoranta said that their interest was in planting good land and they denied that family the opportunity to continue on an adequate holding. This is a regrettable policy. The future of rural Ireland, despite low farm incomes, is surely with a progressive farming population. It is futile and anti-social to consider facilitating the planting of forestry on good agricultural land.
Deputy Moynihan is a respected and understanding Member of the House but while what the Deputy is saying would have been appropriate to Second Stage, it is not appropriate to Committee Stage. We are dealing with the dissolution of the commission and we are moving into forestry. There might be some other section, where the application of the Deputy's ingenuity could make it appropriate for Committee Stage, but it is obvious that however interesting or however appropriate to land generally, the Deputy's contribution is not in accordance with what is permissible on Committee Stage on a section that deals with the dissolution of the commission.
I am dealing with the dissolution of the commission and the circumstances that arise by reason of their dissolution and their non-replacement by a monitoring body to pursue the interests of uneconomic small holders, and a general land policy.
The Deputy is not permitted to do that on Committee Stage. That would have been entirely appropriate on Second Stage. Now that we have reached the point where the legislation proposing their dissolution is a fact, and where other sections deal with — Deputy Ferris, you are not helping Deputy Moynihan by whispering to him, as in examinations, trying to give him assistance, and perhaps encouraging him to be out of order——
I am trying to be very helpful.
Deputy Moynihan, what I am saying to you, is that it is gone. The dissolution is a fact.
It all lies in the hands of Deputy Leyden.
On a point of order, irrespective of what Stage the Bill is at, while section 2 is subject to debate, the commission have not gone. I resent that when we are trying to debate the section and its implications it can be presumed that this section has been passed. It will not be passed until there has been a vote. The implications of the section is what we are all talking about. That is my interpretation.
Deputy Ferris, will you resume your seat?
Giving volume to your voice——
Will you please keep quiet? Giving volume to your voice does not strengthen the delicacy and the inadequacy of your case. We have had a Second Stage debate where that which was proposed in the legislation could have been referred to and it was open to any Member to say what should and what should not be in the legislation. Deputy Ferris has accepted in respect of the Second Stage debate that what is here now is appropriate to follow from it. What we must do now in debate is apply ourselves to the fact that it is proposed in this legislation that the Land Commission be dissolved.
It has not been agreed.
It has been dissolved. The Deputy will get an opportunity to vote against that if he so wishes, but it does not give the Deputy——
——an opportunity to——
In fairness, we are trying to be helpful.
The Deputy is not going to cross-examine the Chair. I listened to the Deputy while he tried to make a case which he could not substantiate. I am asking the Deputy to accept that neither he nor any other Deputy can interfere with what is appropriate to a Committee Stage debate. We cannot ramble all over the place. We must apply ourselves to what is there. There are subsequent sections where matters arising out of the dissolution will occur and then it will be appropriate for any Member to address that. The Deputy has already been advised by the Ceann Comhairle's office that the amendments he presumed to put down——
I put them down, I did not presume.
——which the Deputy presumed would be in order, are out of order.
I accepted that.
The Deputy does not seem to have accepted it so far, as he continues to make a case and having misled himself he is now presuming to mislead his colleague, Deputy Moynihan.
That is not correct.
I want to convey to the Minister the deep concern and frustration at the failure of the Government to introduce a statutory monitoring authority which would continue the land policy which had been carried out by the Land Commission. I strongly urge the Minister to rethink with a view to restoring the confidence of landholders with uneconomic holdings and others who looked to the Land Commission for protection and support. The Land Commission did a tremendous job in disposing of some 14 million acres of land. It would be a major error not to establish some monitoring authority in its place.
I wish to voice my disapproval of the policy enshrined in section 2 which dispenses with the powers of the Land Commission without creating an alternative land agency. As a Deputy from an area bedevilled with intermixed commonages and small holdings which have been the cause of litigation for centuries, I believe there must be a replacement for the Land Commission. The legacy of our historical land struggle has left us with the most landlocked tenure system in Europe, occupied by the second smallest proportion of young farmers and the second largest proportion of elderly farmers in the Community, together with a growing proportion of part-time farmers. Only in Italy is the situation worse within the EC. The need for land reform in Ireland today is as critical as it was in 1870 when the first tentative measures were taken to replace the landlord and tenant system which had obtained since the 17th century. The need for change is as urgent today as then.
I add my voice to the remarks made by Deputy O'Donoghue who pointed out the serious implications with regard to commonages. Bovine health is seriously threatened by the intermingling of cattle and sheep in mountain areas which have not been divided and kept under control. It is necessary for the Minister, even at this late stage, to bring in some kind of arrangement to fill the vacuum left by the Land Commission. Unfortunately the Land Commission was bedevilled by bureaucracy and could not act properly in the division of land.
The law which allows EC nationals to purchase land in any EC country should require that such people have a green certificate or some kind of degree in agriculture to prove they will be able to farm the land. If our young farmers must produce a green certificate before they can get farm installation grant from the EC, the same should apply to EC nationals buying huge tracts of land here. We must safeguard the right of our people to farm the land that was dearly won by our forefathers. We are throwing away that chance. Responsibility for the division of land should not rest with the Minister and the Department. The criteria should be laid down by a land agency formed by representatives of the agricultural organisations and the duly elected Members of this House. This would ensure that fair play and justice would prevail. We must do away with the public perception that the Minister for Agriculture and Food and his Department decide who will get land. It would be of immense benefit to our youth if we ensured some kind of continuity in the agricultural industry. Do we want to make this country a wildlife reserve where there will be nothing left but briars and game hunting such as there is in Kenya?
Briars, bullocks and bachelors.
The Minister, who represents the constituency of Laois-Offaly, must understand the necessity to ensure mobility in land transactions and division. Surely he will act before it is too late. I have great faith in him and I know he understands the position. I hope he will accede to the request by his colleague, Deputy Leyden, who I hope will cross the Floor and vote against the Government's policy of washing their hands of land division. We will have to create a land agency which will ensure that fair play and justice prevail for small farmers.
The Deputy must not be keeping in touch with his colleagues, Deputies Deasy and Connaughton. On section 5 they have a specific amendment which treats of commonage and the matters to which the Deputy is referring. It would be perfectly in order to add to the comments they will be making on this subject.
There is nothing as invigorating as Deputy Sheehan in full flight and you have stopped him.
Such invigoration has to be in accordance with the order and what is appropriate on the section. The Chair has the same capacity for enjoyment as anybody but we have not come here specifically for the purpose that Deputy Deasy has articulated. If we have, let us change the order. There is no better person than the present occupant of the Chair to enjoy himself as appropriate.
You have an unfair advantage over the rest of us. You are the only Deputy in this House who worked in the Department of Agriculture.
I might add that the Chair enjoys possession of land that came from the Land Commission.
The total agricultural land of Ireland amounts to only 17 million acres, of which 10.5 million acres are in grazing and pasture, 1.14 million acres in cereal and other crops — although not for much longer — and 2.6 million acres are in rough grazing and commonage. Will anything be done to solve that problem?
Can the Deputy put an end to his litany of sorrow?
These matters appertain to GATT.
Please proceed with the business before the House.
I accept it must be boring for the Chair to listen to people who know the depth of the problem and where it exists because he does not have a land mobility problem in his constituency. Under section 2 we are taking away completely the right of Irish farmers to acquire land in the future. The Minister is washing his hands of the problem. He wants to throw in the towel so far as this challenge is concerned. I appeal to the Minister, even at this late stage, to reconsider his views before Report Stage and comply with the requests we have made today. They are minor requests but they could be of major importance to our farming industry in years to come.
This was a Fine Gael Bill. why did the Deputy not make his views known to the Minister at the time?
The former Deputy Jim Gibbons started this process in 1978.
People in glass-houses should not throw stones.
While there are not many farmers in my constituency, nevertheless I have great interest in this Bill. It is ridiculous that the Fine Gael Party should complain about the lack of a land authority. When they introduced this Bill in the eighties — it provided for the dissolution of the Land Commission——
——without any replacement by any land authority. It is pointless for them to say that a land authority, or some other body, should be put in the place of the Land Commission.
That is not true. We did suggest a substitute body.
The time to do that was when they decided to dissolve the Land Commission but they were against that. All we have now are crocodile tears and hypocrisy.
It is absolute hypocrisy.
That is totally incorrect. The Deputy does not know what he is talking about and that is not unusual.
I should like to refer briefly to some of the points made by previous speakers. I agree with Deputy Deasy on his concern for wildlife habitats. It is very important that we preserve and maintain our wildlife habitats and, perhaps, this could be done through the Common Agricultural Policy.
We were well on the way to doing that.
I am disappointed that amendment No. 2, in the name of Deputy Ferris, has been ruled out of order. Had it not been I would have supported it because it encapsulates better than the Fine Gael amendment what needs to be done. This amendment was ruled out on very narrow grounds but I will not dwell on the reasons. Deputy Ferris referred to a number of organisations which he felt should comprise the land authority. I am surprised he did not mention the United Farmers' Association which represents a large number of small farmers who are clearly unrepresented in the major farming organisations. I agree very much with the points raised by Deputy Leyden and I hope he will join us on this side of the House when we go through the lobbies soon. As a citizen of this country I am very concerned at the way we have sold so much of our land to foreigners whether EC nationals or not. In Kerry, a foreigner has fenced off part of the Kerry Way, one of our long distance walking paths. We talk much here about agri-tourism and that is a typical example of how not to facilitate that form of tourism. We do not facilitate agri-tourism by the decisions we are making to divide commonages. I have been examining this matter for some time and I am not satisfied that the division of commonages is good agricultural practice in spite what Deputy Leyden said. I would remind Deputies that that means that areas of mountains which previously were free to walkers, whether nationals or non-nationals, have been fenced off and roads have been constructed, thus destroying the wilderness areas which is part of our agri-tourism business. We should reflect deeply on the division of commonages; there is for and against that practice.
The Deputy may reflect very deeply on that subject when we come to section 5.
I should like to refer to another point raised by Deputy Leyden concerning the Denmark Protocol to the Maastricht Treaty which would give them some rights of restriction over non-nationals. I disagree with the Deputy when he said we want a resounding "Yes" in this referendum. We want a resounding "No" so that we can have a similar Protocol to the Maastricht Treaty to give us rights to control the sale of land to EC nationals. For that, and many other reasons, I will be opposing this section.
My contribution will be very brief following the great speech by my colleague, Deputy Sheehan, in defence of the small farmer. Many foreigners are buying up large tracts of land and controllers of pension funds are buying up large tracts of land for forestry purposes. Young people who wish to remain on farms cannot do so because the sale of agricultural land is not controlled. Foreigners and multi-national groups are buying large tracts of land for planting purposes. They are in a position to pay more money than an ordinary family person who is anxious to extend his farm and remain in agriculture. My native county, Leitrim, has the lowest population and the highest number of people leaving the county and the land. If we are to survive we must have a vibrant rural community. It is necessary that a body be established to control the sale of land and that farmers are given a better deal and more entitlements than at present. As the Minister is aware, there is no way anybody on a farm in Leitrim, Sligo or Roscommon can compete with the foreigners and large multinationals for land. For that reason I have strong objections to section 2.
I invite the Minister of State to strive, as far as possible, in the interest of good order and progress in his reply to separate the chaff from the wheat.
That is unfair.
I would ask him to confine himself — in so far as what he might say in passing could generate replies from others that may be out of order — as far as possible to what is appropriate to section 2.
While the amendments have been ruled out of order I am pleased that the Chair allowed a discussion in relation to each of them because the amendments get to the core of the problem we are discussing. I have listened with great attention and care to the various points raised in a very responsible and sincere way by all the Deputies from the far side of the House. I have ended up with a considerable amount of paper and quite a few notes, and I will comply with your request, Sir, to be as brief as I can and to confine myself to the relevant sections.
It is important in the first instance to acknowledge that we are dealing with the dissolution of the Land Commision and that the Bill relates mainly to the powers of acquisition which the commissioners had formerly. Once we have dealt with the removal of these powers, then generally the remainder of the activities carried out by the commission will continue to operate within the Department of Agriculture and Food. I do not think any Minister as an individual would want to involve himself in the administration of any of these functions. Therefore, the intention would be to delegate these transferred functions to a unit within the Department or at least to some senior official, for example, an assistant secretary. Therefore, there is no question at all of the Minister who has responsibility for the time being wanting to involve himself in the functions which are being transferred to him under the legislation.
I think most Members here will admit that the Land Commission eventually reached a stage where there was no further land available for compulsory acquisition. We have a policy, which is subscribed to by parties on all sides of the House, to retain the maximum number of farm families on the land. If the Land Commission could, for example, continue with a policy of compulsory acquisition the inevitable consequence in the long term would be to undermine the existing small family farm structure and reduce the number of people on the land. Therefore, the Deputies opposite were correct when they brought in a Bill to dissolve the Land Commission and terminate the powers of acquisition.
If we are to attain our joint objective here — the retention of the maximum number of family farms — bearing in mind the outcome of the recent Common Agricultural Policy reform and all the restrictions which are taking placevis-á-vis European agricultural production, the only way we can substitute for the Land Commission is to put in place the alternative farming enterprises we are talking about and introduce worthwhile rural development programmes as we are now about to do. Instead of being able to give additional land to farmers, as in the past, for the purpose of keeping them viable and economic, the only hope we now have of supplementing these small, uneconomic holdings and keeping them viable is the introduction of the alternative farming enterprises backed up by a worthwhile rural development programme. It is worth making the point that what was regarded as an economic holding say ten years ago, when the Land Commission brought farms up to 50 or 60 acres, is unfortunately no longer viable due to the circumstances all of us are familiar with. A constant volume of money is coming on stream from Europe and my desire is that we spend that money wisely and productively and that we channel it as best we can towards those uneconomic holdings, thus supporting the structure of the rural communities.
I accept that these amendments were tabled in good faith. As I said they represent the sincerely held views of the Deputies who tabled them. I have been considering the amendments. Of course, they relate mainly to the institution of a new authority, in other words some national body who will have a say and an input into regulating and monitoring land use. That is a fair point. When talking about land use up to now, we thought mainly in terms of traditional farming enterprises, but my thinking is much wider than that. We must have a plan for the development of our entire national land resources and all the areas to which Deputies here referred very objectively and constructively in their contributions this morning. There is a need to co-ordinate all these land activitiesvis-á-vis traditional agricultural enterprises, the alternative farming enterprises I have been talking about and all the other rural development programmes. From that point of view I accept the spirit of what all the people opposite have been saying to me here this morning.
We can expect the Minister to vote with us according to Deputy Leyden.
Deputy Deasy should accept the sincerity with which I am approaching the matter he raised here in the House.
I have no doubt about the Minister. I know where his heart is but I know what he is not allowed to do.
That would not be a fair comment either. Nobody is in any way inhibiting us in what I want to do in addressing the problems of agriculture. I say on that behalf of my senior Minister, Deputy Joe Walsh, and myself. As far as we are concerned our hearts are in the right place in relation to the future development of the land resources.
Do I take it the Minister will——
If Deputy Sheehan will bear with me as I bore with him, and indeed enjoyed his contribution as I always do, I will convey to him my thoughts and perhaps even the possibilities available to me in the matters which have been raised here this morning. Deputies will be aware that under theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress proposals, which involve all the social partners, an expert working group have been set up within the Department of Agriculture and Food chaired by the Secretary of the Department, Michael Dowling. That working group are currently considering every aspect of land policy development, and how our land resources can be best utilised to retain the maximum number of farm families on the land, and progress the development of commercial agriculture. I am concerned about this matter, and I spoke last night with my colleague the Minister, Deputy Walsh, about the amendments the Deputies opposite very genuinely tabled. I say to them here today that their proposals are well intentioned and it is their prerogative to decide whether to have a vote on them.
Having listened to this debate, I am prepared to put the views expressed here before the expert group within the Department. There is a need for some kind of co-ordinating authority. I listened attentively to Deputy Ferris who indicated that he was not looking for some kind of statutory authority that would cost the Exchequer money. I am very much in favour of voluntary organisations and perhaps there is some scope for a voluntary monitoring group in the initial stages of formulating an overall land policy. It is a fair and reasonable point to put to the House. Members of this House can also put their individual proposals to the expert review group within the Department. I have noted the comments made here today and on Second Stage, and I am prepared to put these views to the review group. I suggest that individual Deputies do likewise.
I know that some would say that that is just passing the buck. However, the review group has been requested to report as a matter of urgency and I would hope that there will be a report this side of Christmas. It is a matter for Deputies here as to whether to put this to a vote but I would say that there is no difference between my view and what they have been publicly expressing in relation to the need for some kind of structure to pull together all the strands of the land resource problem. I say that particularly in the context of Common Agricultural Policy reform and of the additional regional funds which are becoming available for rural development.
Deputy Deasy referred to the lack of control in relation to the sale of land. I understand the point he is making. However, the reality is that there are controls under section 45 of the 1965 Act. The point was made that that has not been implemented to the extent one would wish in terms of controlling land sales but the provision is there and perhaps it is a question of revitalising that Act to some extent. It must be remembered that there are restrictions in relation to the control of land sales because of our membership of the European Community. While the 1965 Act remains on the Statute Book there is also the question of the constitutional rights of people to sell their property in an uninhibited, free open market. We must be realistic and acknowledge that these problems exist and, if possible, address them within the framework of our membership of the European Community and national legislation.
Deputy Deasy and others also raised the question of the qualifications of people, national and non-nationals, buying land here in Ireland. Under existing regulations we do require that people who purchase land here must have specific agricultural qualifications.
It is not happening down my way.
The Deputy may shake his head, but these regulations are there. If they are not operating as we would wish them to do, perhaps we should look at them.
On a point of order, what are the requirements?
What are the restrictions?
People who purchase land in this country must give some evidence of their ability to farm the land commercially. Deputies will be aware that in relation to our own national schemes, for example, the installation aid scheme, one must have a green certificate. It is important from a national point of view that land be passed on only to people who are professionally qualified to farm the land of Ireland.
Some Deputies may argue that these requirements are not being met. That may well be the case. Perhaps we are not as diligent as we might be in relation to it but these provisions are there so it is within our power to address the problem.
A matter raised by all Deputies was the question of the division of commonages.
That comes under section 5.
Let me say that I will be dealing with that aspect under section 5 and I thank Deputy Deasy for bringing that to my attention because there is no point in duplication.
Even though the amendments to section 2 have been ruled out of order, I accept that they were put down in good faith and I would ask that the Members allow me to put their views to the expert review group sitting in the Department and hopefully something effective can be done. Regardless of whether the Deputies decide to put it to a vote, I will do so because I accept the spirit in which these proposals were made.
I compliment the Minister on his comments and I recommend that Deputies on all sides of the House accept his bona fides in this regard. The Minister has indicated that he accepts the spirit in which the amendments were put down and will refer the views to the group who are studying the situation at the moment. In the circumstances Deputies Deasy, Ferris and others would be well advised to allow the Minister to do this. He has been very open, very understanding and appreciative of the contributions made here today and will endeavour to ensure that the spirit of those amendments is implemented.
This Bill has been dealt with by various Governments over the last number of years but Deputy Deasy may be able to tell us who originally brought the Bill into the House. He may be able to tell us whether it was the intention to establish an alternative agency and, if so, what was the point in abolishing the Land Commission on the one hand and, on the other, establishing a new agency with similar functions, costs and powers? There is something inconsistent in such a proposal.
In the circumstances, I compliment Minister Hyland on the open and positive manner in which he considered and discussed the proposals put forward today. His comments certainly tie in with the statements I have made in the House today. The Minister and I are at one with our views in this regard.
I also praise the Minister for his candid series of opinions. He has actually made our case for us by reinforcing what we have been saying. The idea of a new review body is all very fine but my political career has taught me that one cannot depend upon these things happening. Every year I hear about review bodies that are going to report within six months but if they ever report at all it might be 12 years later. Because of that I cannot have any confidence in this new review body.
We are now in 1992. While Deputies on this side of the House agree that the Land Commission should be dissolved as proposed under this section it must be borne in mind that the legislation now before us was spawned in the middle or late seventies. It is 15 years out of date and it does not take into consideration the changing circumstances. That is the reason the new review body should be set up before this Bill goes through the House. It is because we have not taken changing circumstances into consideration that the legislation is so objectionable. The thinking contained in the Bill is 15 or 20 years old. The legislation is out of date before it is debated and that is what makes the House so irrelevant so often. I know the Minister has the best intentions in the world but I am sure that he rcognises the truth in what I am saying.
Fine Gael Deputies recognise that the Land Commission should be wound up but we want a meaningful body put in their place. Deputy O'Donoghue, when he was in the Department of Finance, had very bright ideas about land usage for wildlife purposes. Deputy Garland was right when he referred to the same subject as did Deputy Foxe. A collection of agencies within existing Departments need to get together and actually manage the 17 million acres of land referred to by Deputy Sheehan. The people involved in that body should be drawn from various agencies. There should be representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Food — in other words, the remains of the Land Commission. There should be people from the Office of Public Works, who deal with wildlife. It would be ridiculous to have wildlife under the control of the Department of Finance. If it is wanted to stifle a concept or kill it off it is put under the control of the Department of Finance. We all know about that, from experience and nobody knows that better than the officials sitting on the other side of the House. Everything to do with wildlife, habitats and so on, should be taken away from the control of the Department of Finance. Also included in the new authority should be Coillte because, as so many speakers have said, a greatly increased quantity of land is coming under afforestation. There should be proper policies as to where forests are situated and what kind of trees are grown. The new authority should also comprise representatives of that section of the Department of the Marine dealing with inland fisheries. Our inland fisheries should be an integral part of any land use policy.
Here we are debating the passage of legislation that is out of date. We should do what the Minister himself advocated five minutes ago: we should set up the review body. This Bill should be put on hold. Only when the new authority are established should the Land Commission be abolished.
I welcome the Minister's very forthcoming response. I am only sorry that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle was not in the Chair to hear the Minister's reply. He would then have understood the dilemma that faced all of us in this stark section 2, the implications of which are in direct contradiction to what the Leas-Cheann Comhairle felt we were trying to do. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle thought we were trying to discuss amendments that were out of order when in fact what we were trying to suggest, without creating any demands on the State, was the concept subsequently spelt out by the Minister. Surely what we were doing was legitimate during Committee Stage when the Committee are dealing specifically with a section on which amendments have been ruled out of order. The concept behind the amendments was not ruled out of order and the Minister has accepted that in his reply. It was in that spirit that we in the Labour Party, and our Fine Gael colleagues, tried to promote the ideas behind our amendments. I assure Deputy Garland that I certainly would not rule out any voluntary input from any association throughout the country. My amendment referred to "other farming organisations", under which I would include the UFA and any other agency.
I am prepared to accept in good faith what the Minister has just said. As I understand the position, the review group are already set up and operating under theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress. I accept that it is probable that submissions are already being made to the body for farming organisations. The review body need the imprimatur of this House and of the Minister in particular. As far as possible, we want that to happen in a legislative way; it is not that we hope it will happen. If we are to accept section 2, which abolishes the Land Commission, we want the review body to be given effect under legislation. If that does not happen there will be no order in future in the regulation of land use, which is really all that we are talking about. On another section I shall refer to the fact that although the Government have acquired land by compulsion and have not disposed of it under the constitutional requirements of the Land Commission, they now intend to sell it. Speakers from all sides of the House have reflected on problems in relation to fragmented holdings, commonages and so on. We must all agree that there should be some hand guiding the use of land. I suggest that the guiding hand should come from experts, who could include officers from the Department of Agriculture, officers from the Office of Public Works, fishery boards' representatives and people from any other organisation the Minister would like to involve. The farming organisations, Munitir na Tire and other non-statutory bodies should have a specific involvement. Those people have an interest in this matter, and their interest is yours and mine. They want to make sure that in the future there will be some order in the disputed issues of rights, commonages, fishing rights and sporting rights.
I never intended to create any charge on the Exchequer. I think the Minister accepted what I said. I was not presuming to put down any amendment; I put down amendments in good faith. I did not try to influence my colleague Deputy Moynihan, who is an expert on this kind of legislation, having been a Minister of State in a portfolio directly involved with land. I would not try to usurp either the functions of the House or those of the Chair in promoting Deputy Moynihan to be put out of order in any way. I was reminding him that the Committee were dealing specifically with section 2, which is the core of the legislation in that it proposes to abolish the Land Commission. I want to put that on the record because interruptions at times from the Chair, in spite of the intention of maintaining order in the House, can sometimes misrepresent the rights and functions of Members in trying to be helpful. Regardless of what anybody says — that also applies to the Whips — I am trying to be helpful in improving and amending legislation and in getting a commitment from the Minister that, on Report Stage, he will address the problem, if possible, in the legislation.
I hope we can work together to implement a framework in relation to the Minister's comments. A Fianna Fáil Government published an excellent White Paper in 1977 and again in 1980 which addressed the role and functions of the Land Commission as Fianna Fáil saw them. This was not condemned by anyone in Opposition. Paragraphs 31 and 32 of the White Paper specifically confirmed the views of Members of the Opposition. The position of the Government at that time has now been overturned by section 2. We are trying to be constructive in this regard. We all know what agriculture means to every town, village and parish in the country; if we do not have a viable family farm unit, which will survive, there will not be any towns or villages and there will not be an opportunity to benefit from the creation of wealth in rural areas. The country is not dominated by cities — even though they contain the majority of people — it depends on ordinary people in rural areas. If you dissolve the Land Commission, which regulated farms in the past, and do not accept that there is a need for a regulatory body in future, you could be missing the whole point of what all Members ever stood for, particularly rural based Deputies. I make no apology to the Chair or anybody else for having tried to do my best in that regard.
I was not surprised at the contribution from the Minister of State, Deputy Hyland, because, from experience, I know he believes that something will have to happen if the Land Commission are dissolved. I would have been surprised if he had expressed a different view. I spent five years in Agriculture House and I went, more or less, down the same road which the Minister proposed. I interviewed daily many of the groups to which we referred in this debate and on occasions I spoke to them collectively. We worked out all the details, even down to who would be chairman, and the terms of reference. After the 1987 election we packed our bags when the people decided they wanted a change and it concerns me that there has not been a word from the various Governments since about a replacement body for the Land Commission which we hoped would have been in place when the Land Commission were dissolved. I do not believe that there is a will on the Government side to do that. This is an historic day as the Land Commission will shortly be abolished.
The Minister and the Minister of State will face immense problems and I am sure they will do their best. Farmers know that they have a sympathetic ear in Kildare Street in regard to this but I genuinely believe that we are as far away as ever from setting up a replacement body for the Land Commission. That is why it is incumbent on us to have in legislation — as Deputy Deasy rightly pointed out — more than an aspiration, however well intentioned, before we abolish the Land Commission. Five years have elapsed and nothing has been done. There is no point in blaming the Minister of State — I would not do so. In another context the late John Healy said that nobody shouted stop; I am now shouting "stop"; we will be doing a great disservice to agriculture today if we do not have a replacement for the Land Commission. I know that if the Minister of State gets his way something will happen and I will not waste the time of the House by listing all the ins and outs which I went through in five years to try to bring this on stream. Even if a Fine Gael Government were in office I do not know what sort of land authority we would have. However, I would be trying to influence all and sundry in relation to it. When Deputy Deasy was Minister for Agriculture he was behind this concept. Of course, there would still be problems but I am not satisfied that enough work was done in relation to replacing the Land Commission. I want to make it clear that I am not blaming the Minister of State.
I accept that.
The Minister referred to the restrictions which can be legitimately placed within the EC on non-nationals coming to this country. They will probably only have to produce their passports to allow them to come in here to farm——
From next year they will not even need a passport.
Yes. We should not try to fool ourselves in this regard. I know that in some European countries you must prove that you have agricultural education and five years' experience in farming before you can purchase land. That should be implemented here because it is a matter of great concern that someone from outside the country can, without impediment, purchase land. I know that we have certain obligations within the EC system and I am not arguing against them. Of course, non-nationals are welcome in this country but under conditions laid down for them. After all, there are conditions attached to our people going abroad.
Unless the Minister of State gets his show on the road very quickly and receives a commitment from the Minister for Finance and other parties involved, we could be back here 20 times over the next few years without having had any movement.
It has been my sincere view for many years that the Land Commission should have changed the way in which they did their business. Indeed, I was one of the first people to say this in public. In the mid-eighties, during the course of meetings, people said to me that I was wrong and was letting the small farmer down but I fail to see how the Land Commission — we are about to put them out of business now — could be used to make progress in the future. That is not to say, however, that something else could not be put in their place. As this has not happened all we can do is to register our protest on the Floor of Dáil Éireann.
I admire the sincerity of the Minister of State but I should say that pious words butter no bread. For the past 11 years, since I first became a Member of this House——
The Deputy has had no bread.
——I have been advocating, on each and every occasion possible the creation of a land agency along the lines of the Land Commission. As I said in my previous remarks, there was nothing wrong with the Land Commission but they were muzzled and got bogged down in Departmental bureaucracy and red tape. Members of the Land Commission had long years of experience and are still employed by the Department of Agriculture and Food. We should avail of their talent and experience to get a land agency off the ground. As Deputy Connaughton and Deputy Deasy said, we have not made one inch of progress during the past decade in replacing the Land Commission with a viable land agency. While I admire the sincerity of the Minister of State and that of my constituency colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food — he is only one voice at the Cabinet table——
He is a good one.
——we need an assurance that the body that the Minister of State intends to set up will get off the ground.
I did not say that.
The Minister of State said he was going to establish a review body.
I will have to deal with that point.
They are already in place.
We will not solve the problem by giving extra powers to the body who are already in existence. As long as the Department of Agriculture and Food, the Minister and the Government, continue to drag their feet on this important matter we will not resolve this agrarian problem.
In thanking the Deputies for their contributions let me say that I have no doubt that when Deputy Connaughton was in the Department he tried to resolve this ongoing saga, the land problem. Let me put the record straight as I do not want to be accused of misleading the House. While I accept the Deputies opposite are entitled to call on this section for a vote — it is obvious that that is what they are going to do — what I said was that an expert review group have been set up within the Department of Agriculture and Food under the chairmanship of the secretary of the Department to consider every aspect of this question, including farmers' incomes and farm development. It would be very unwise, therefore, to jump in and establish some new body without first awaiting the outcome of their deliberations. It is my hope that the review group will report this side of Christmas but perhaps I will be proved wrong. In this regard I bow to the experience of those who have been through this before.
I cannot anticipate what the outcome of the review group deliberations will be in relation to the structure or authority that we are discussing today. I have given the House an assurance today that I will convey to the review group the views that have been expressed. I invite Members of the House, in turn — perhaps their parties have already done this — to make their views known to the group. As I cannot anticipate the review group's recommendations I cannot say today whether a new structure will not be in place. I have to say this as I do not want to mislead the House. We will have to await the outcome of their deliberations.
While I accept the Minister of State's bona fides in this regard, can he give me an assurance that the report of the review group will be made available to Deputies and will we be given an opportunity to debate their findings as this might lead to the establishment of the structure we are discussing? I am not sure whether this is an interdepartmental review group which will report to the Minister of State only but I ask him if at all possible to make their report available to Members of the Oireachtas, to place it in the Library of the House, and to support the call we will make to the Government for time to debate the report.
I am not in a position to give an assurance that the report of the review group will be published and debated on the floor of the House, or to state whether it is an interdepartmental group. I should have mentioned, however, that the group comprises representatives of the social partners, including the farming organisations, and has a much broader remit in relation to economic and social activity; they are not dealing only with the agricultural industry. That is just one of the sectors that they are dealing with. It would be wrong, therefore, to give the House the impression that the review group are dealing specifically with the agricultural industry. As I said, they have a broader remit, which includes the food industry. I am not in a position to give Deputy Ferris a categoric assurance that the report, when it becomes available, will be debated in the House.
- Ahern, Dermot.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Andrews, David.
- Barrett, Michael.
- Brady, Gerard.
- Brady, Vincent.
- Brennan, Mattie.
- Briscoe, Ben.
- Browne, John (Wexford).
- Calleary, Seán.
- Clohessy, Peadar.
- Cowen, Brian.
- Cullimore, Séamus.
- Davern, Noel.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dennehy, John.
- Ellis, John.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Fahey, Jackie.
- Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Flood, Chris.
- Flynn, Pádraig.
- Harney, Mary.
- Hillery, Brian.
- Hilliard, Colm.
- Hyland, Liam.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Kelly, Laurence.
- Kenneally, Brendan.
- Kirk, Séamus.
- Kitt, Michael P.
- Lenihan, Brian.
- Leonard, Jimmy.
- Leyden, Terry.
- Lyons, Denis.
- Martin, Micheál.
- McCreevy, Charlie.
- Molloy, Robert.
- Morley, P.J.
- Nolan, M.J.
- Noonan, Michael J.
- (Limerick West).
- O'Connell, John.
- O'Dea, Willie.
- O'Donoghue, John.
- O'Keeffe, Ned.
- O'Leary, John.
- O'Toole, Martin Joe.
- Power, Seán.
- Quill, Máirín.
- Roche, Dick.
- Stafford, John.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Tunney, Jim.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Wallace, Mary.
- Walsh, Joe.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wyse, Pearse.
- Ahearn, Therese.
- Boylan, Andrew.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Bruton, John.
- Bruton, Richard.
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Deasy, Austin.
- Deenihan, Jimmy.
- Doyle, Joe.
- Farrelly, John V.
- Ferris, Michael.
- Finucane, Michael.
- Flaherty, Mary.
- Flanagan, Charles.
- Foxe, Tom.
- Garland, Roger.
- Gilmore, Eamon.
- Gregory, Tony.
- Higgins, Jim.
- Hogan, Philip.
- Kavanagh, Liam.
- Kenny, Enda.
- Lowry, Michael.
- Connaughton, Paul.
- Connor, John.
- Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
- Cotter, Bill.
- Creed, Michael.
- McCormack, Pádraic.
- McGahon, Brendan.
- McGinley, Dinny.
- Mitchell, Gay.
- Mitchell, Jim.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Nealon, Ted.
- Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
- O'Brien, Fergus.
- O'Keeffe, Jim.
- O'Shea, Brian.
- O'Sullivan, Toddy.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Reynolds, Gerry.
- Ryan, Seán.
- Sheehan, Patrick J.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
This section deals with the transfer of functions from the Land Commission to the Department of Agriculture and Food. I wish to raise a point with which I am sure the Minister of State is familiar. Perhaps he will consider my remarks between now and the end of the debate.
For the past few months a person who has applied, through the Land Commission, to sell land has had to apply to the Department's office in Cavan for the consent from the Land Commission to issue. There is a procedural difficulty in this system which gives rise to extra administration. I ask the Minister to look at this problem. A person has to apply for consent to the office in Cavan and conditional upon every application is the redemption of the annuity. Unfortunately, information on the annuity is not available in the office in Cavan. Therefore, it is necessary for the consent to be issued from the Department of Agriculture and Food in Cavan with a proviso that the annuity be discharged. In order for the member of the public to discharge the annuity a fresh application has to be made to the Department's office in Castlebar.
I accept fully the Minister of State's commitment to the decentralisation of the Department of Agriculture and Food. Like me, he is concerned to ensure that our constituency will be looked on favourably in the context of the decentralisation programme. This practical difficulty in the present system is giving rise to extra administration. I do not expect such matters to be sorted out on the floor of the House, but I urge the Minister to make every effort in the course of the decentralisation programme to ensure that the administrative consequences are such as not to give rise to hardship for the public. At present people have to apply to the office in Cavan for consent but they cannot redeem the annuity because they do not know the amount, nor can they determine it from the office in Castlebar. Nevertheless they issue the consent with the provision that the annuity be discharged. As a result people selling or sub-dividing land have to make a double application — they have to make the first application to the office in Cavan and make the second application to the office in Castlebar. This takes extra time and entails more administration. I ask the Minister to look at this issue.
I appreciate the points made by Deputy Flanagan in relation to this matter but as he said it is an administrative problem. I will ask my officials — I will also bring this matter to the attention of the Minister — to see if the system can be streamlined to meet the Deputy's concern. This section only relates to the delegation of functions. Under section 4 the Minister can delegate to officials of his Department matters provided for under the Bill. As I indicated earlier, I do not think any Minister for Agriculture and Food from whatever political party would want to be directly involved in the administration of schemes, particularly those which are being retained within the Department. Under the Bill the Minister will have the power to delegate that responsibility to senior officials of his Department.
This section deals with the jurisdiction of the judicial commissioner and the appeal tribunal. In view of the expertise gained by the commissioners, we believe a case can be made for employing at least one of them as a lay commissioner.
This section will enable cases scheduled for hearing by the judicial commissioner or the appeal tribunal to be continued before the High Court. We believe that at least one of the lay commissioners should be a former commissioner of the Land Commission as it is unlikely one could employ at short notice a person with their experience. We put down the amendment to find out what will happen to the judicial system after today. A Minister who may not like certain functions may delegate them to senior officials in the Department. That will probably be an executive function with powers similar to these vested in county mangers. I assume that is what the Minister is talking about. I would like to know whether there will be a role for the existing lay commissioners in the future.
The Bill does not provide specifically for a role for lay commissioners. It is entirely a matter for the Minister to delegate responsibilities in respect of the issues covered under section 4.
They will not be included.
It is entirely a matter for the Minister to decide to whom he delegates responsibilities under the Bill.
Has the Minister not decided on the matter?
The matter has not been considered in the Department.
In the transfer of existing functions to the Minister what will happen to the remaining staff, some of whom are still actively involved in certain countries? These people have a tremendous skill which they acquired over a long number of years. Is there an equivalent role for people who have been acting alone as lay commissioners but as land commission officers, and who knew of every rib of grass and every stone and fence in the country, a tremendous skill that could only be acquired through experience? I would hate to think that these people would be offered redundancy packages and told they are not needed any more.
I would be the first to acknowledge the commitment of the Land Commission officials in every county in Ireland. I pay tribute to them for a job well done in terms of dealing with land mobility. I think everybody in this House would accept that the Irish Land Commission did a very worthwhile job up to the time it was no longer possible for them to continue with a programme of acquisition. Naturally, we would be very concerned about every employee in the Department, particularly those employed in the Land Commission. Every facility will be made available in terms of their re-employment or deployment within the Department. Voluntary retirement has been on offer and will be taken up by some of those who wish to avail of it. A very genuine and positive effort will be made to meet the requirements, taking into consideration the disruption involved in transferring from one aspect of operations to another. Personnel section of the Department will deal in the normal way with people who no longer have a function to perform. They will be accommodated in so far as possible in operational programmes within the Department.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 3, before section 5, to insert the following new section:
"5. Responsibility for the division of commonages is hereby vested in the Minister who shall, in particular, ensure that this responsibility is henceforth discharged by the Farm Development Service of his Department.".
This is a very important section. I am concerned about the vast acreages of commonages and bogland that will be transferred from the old Land Commission system to the Minister or an appointee of the Minister. I have no intention of delaying the House but this is probably the last chance we will have of putting on the record our concern that there are major problems in this area, although not in national terms — if we spoke here for the next six hours a single line would not appear in the national newspapers about this matter. As the Minister knows, people are frustrated because they can get nothing done by way of commonage division, identification of bog plots and so on. I know that some people will say that there are more pressing matters to be dealt with on the Floor of Dáil Éireann, but let us be fair about this matter. There is a great deal of wealth involved in this area which has not been realised and is of no use to the potential owners of the land.
I would like to make a few suggestions which I believe will be helpful, and in doing so I take note of the High Court case that was taken in respect of the County Mayo commonages. There are people in this House, including Deputies Moynihan and Ferris and my colleagues on this side, who have been interested in this matter for some time. Everybody will speak for themselves but with one voice we are telling the Minister that whatever system he advises for the future will have to be ten times more effective than the system that existed for the last five or ten years. I know the Minister will give the stark answer that commonages are being divided, that there are sufficient staff and that the problem is in hand, but that is not the case.
I envisage that the Land Commission officials referred to by Deputy Ferris who have great expertise in this area will be treated as outcasts. They are not agricultural officers in that they do not visit farms in relation to headage payments and so on; neither are they civil servants because there is no place for them in Agriculture House. The worst thing we could do would be to leave them in a kind of limbo and pay them for doing nothing. That would not be their wish. With their vast amount of information and knowledge, they could, given the opportunity, be of great help to people. There are so few of them that they will be unable to deal with all the commonages. Seven or eight groups have made representations to me in the last four or five years with a view to having their commonages divided, but despite my best efforts and the efforts of the ILC officials in Galway we are no further down the road in dealing with that matter today than we were four or five years ago.
After much consideration over the years I believe that most commonages should be divided. I have read the transcript of the court case in Mayo in which the judge raised one or two serious points. If commonages of a certain acreage are to be subject to planning permission approval we are on the high road to nowhere. Deputy Garland and other environmentalists will get their way, but for a different reason. I have spent much of my time trying to solve the problem of the majority shareholding decision process. One or two objectors should never have been allowed to succeed at the expense of the general concern of a group of ten or 12 shareholders. There will always be one or two people who for ulterior motives will hold everything up. I understand that the result of the court case indicated that the judge believed that the greater good of the majority of shareholders should hold sway. The proposal seems to be that where there are objectors they should be left with their portion of commonage for use as a commonage. If one was not deeply involved in commonage division one would think that was a fair proposition but what would happen is that the objectors would object to the portion being allocated to them saying they wanted the commonage in the centre. It would be very difficult for the legal process to decide on that issue. I am very worried about that. I hope the matter will be clarified because if not it will give rise to havoc in the Department afterwards. If that is the way the law will be in terpreted, it will be a retrograde step.
Many Land Commission officers are getting old. The younger officials in the service who went out to deal with the land tax are now in the Revenue Commissioners' offices. In counties where commonages and boglands are creating problems the Department should transfer responsibility for division to the local farm development services. There is no magic formula for dividing commonages; one does not need a university degree. One needs patience and perseverance only. Farm development offices are strategically placed throughout the country and particularly in the west where division of commonages is a fairly big problem. While there is a shortage of staff, at least there are staff there.
The biggest problem for groups of people is that they cannot get the officials to come out and talk to them because there are always objectors of some kind or another. The Land Commission inspectors could be attached to the farm development services and one person in each area office should be trained in land division. That is the same concept as that employed in the group water schemes. If the Minister says there are no staff the groups will have to employ engineers to prepare a plan of the commonages for submission to the Department for approval. It is not even a second best solution. Most shareholders want somebody they can trust from outside.
The Land Commission officers were acceptable as objective, impartial and fair. When I was involved in a group purchase of land scheme, as I mentioned earlier, it would not have worked were it not for the honest broker, the Land Commission officer. This is the only way I can see this working. There might be a better way but I do not know it. Under my proposal we will at least know that there are identifiable staff available in a particular office. This suggestion is compatible with the thinking in the Department of Agriculture and Social Welfare with regard to one stop shops. One should have queries with regard to the headage schemes, land drainage and so on answered at local offices while at the same time be able to deal with the Land Commission personnel on the division of commonages.
There is no doubt that land division is a huge problem in certain parts of the country. In some areas there are no commonages but it is big business in other parts. A bigger problem relates to bog rights. It is very important to have access to maps when dealing with bog rights. Every year in the months of March and April, particularly since one famous engineer patented a new type of turf cutting machine that can cut the low banks, there is almost civil war in some parishes, certainly in Galway. I dread that time of the year because there is always a row about a bog. Unfortunately, as the law stands there is no clear answer to this problem. Something should be done about it.
Perhaps I will be castigated for saying this but I get the impression that people would pay a little more to get documents from the Land Registry office or to get maps of turbaries or commonages. It may not be up to a politician to suggest imposing financial charges on people, but things are bad.
If the farm development service could be used as I suggested the scheme could be localised and people in rural offices could work at local level. If people were listening to this debate they would want us to pressurise the Minister to get this finished once and for all. I hope the court judgment does not mean that there will have to be wholesale planning approvals for the division of commonages and that objectors can upset the good of the majority of the shareholders. That would be a pity.
Section 5 provides that sporting rights other than fishing rights are to be transferred to the Minister. It is intended to transfer fisheries and fishing rights to the Central Fisheries Board. I want to highlight what I consider to be a serious and growing problem in relation to fishing rights. There appears to have grown up a tradition whereby fishery rights are bought by large corporations or wealthy people and a system of exclusivity in relation to their user is then enforced. The issues are so complex that they highlight a problem which is beginning to generate considerable interest and will undoubtedly be of great concern in the future. Among our natural resources are some of the finest fisheries in the world. There seems to be a creeping purchase of these fishing rights and this must give rise to extreme concern for the economy generally and particularly for the tourist industry.
I wish to demonstrate how ill-prepared the State is to deal with the issue and the need to provide for the resolution of this problem in the context of the abolition of the Land Commission and the transfer of fisheries and fishing rights to the Central Fisheries Board. Whilst I have no desire to take the House on a tour of the Ring of Kerry, although it would be a very nice place to go, I wish to specify an instance in my own constituency. A large section of the River Caragh in County Kerry was owned by an Irishman who also owned a hotel named the Glencar Hotel. The hotel was sold about three years ago to a foreign company who employed private protection. The private protection people told local farmers they were no longer entitled to fish the river or portions thereof. These locals have correctly claimed that they have been fishing the river for up to 50 years and that the owners have no right to put them off. While the fishery was in Irish ownership there was no attempt to enforce permits over the unimportant stretches and the tributaries. It is most important to note that the rights claimed by the hotel have, to my knowledge, never been substantiated.
The legal position in this instance and in many others is most complex and nobody appears to know whether in the Glencar Hotel instance they actually own the fishing rights to the entire system, including the tributaries or just the main channel. This seems to be a problem in areas throughout the country. Meanwhile farmers who think they own fishing rights are being put off. They are demanding to know the actual position, and tension is increasing. This inevitably leads to conflict. The first casualty is the river itself because the conflict gives rise to a perceived justification for poachers taking what they might term their entitlements. This conflict has not gone unnoticed by subversive elements in the past, who are only too willing to become involved. There are indications that this scenario is beginning to apply where fisheries are purchased by foreign interests in particular. The fishery boards receive regular queries as to who exactly owns the fishing rights. The Land Commission themselves have fishing rights. Over the past few years many farmers have been approached to take their fisheries back from angling clubs and to let them at significantly higher rates or sell them to other parties.
The most important requirement to defuse tension and to allay fears and worries is the availability of accurate information on ownership. The information available is scanty and very poor. In many cases it is likely that the State will have fisheries vested in the Land Commission and this would allay the fears of Irish citizens. Where they do not, the earlier this information becomes available locally the less damage will be done on a long term basis. Uncertainty as to title, not just in relation to what are claimed as private fishery rights but also in relation to Land Commission fishery rights, is the factor which allows the situation to fester. Problems will always fester when property rights are involved. Since most of the land went through the Land Commission, information on title to fisheries can be investigated there, although it is a tortuous process. Due to the intention to abolish the Land Commission it has been virtually impossible to get any information because sufficient staff were not available. One could seek information from a particular file and wait years for a reply. Accordingly on the transfer of fishery rights to the Central Fisheries Board it will be incumbent on the Minister to clarify once and for all the ownership of this extremely important natural resource. In no other western country is it not possible adequately to identify fishing rights on important rivers. It is an absolute scandal. In fairness to everybody involved it must be recognised that information sought will usually involve tracing ownership for the past 100 years or more. This is time-consuming because large files have to be inspected to see if there are any references to fishing rights.
The issue I have taken the opportunity of raising is likely to become of considerable concern in the future. No satisfactory answers can be obtained because nobody in the Central Fisheries Board or the fisheries boards or in the Department of the Marine seems to have easy access to the required files. Access to these files, in the context of the transfer of the fishery rights of the Land Commission to the Central Fisheries Board, and an arrangement whereby information can be extracted quickly are crucial if tension is to be reduced and vitally important if this natural resource is to be preserved for future generations and for visitors to this country.
I refer to two aspects of this section. The whole process of the division of commonages was very slow and cumbersome, and the Land Commission, with all their powers, did not resolve the problem. I am not convinced that without the Land Commission the process will be any better. Commonage land has become very valuable for afforestation and other purposes but also because of the growing popularity of outdoor activity centres. Some of this land is attractive for building purposes because of its remoteness. All these factors have made it very valuable and have increased its economic status, so to speak. Therefore, there will be more pressure to divide existing commonages in future. We should have some new procedures which may involve new legislation to ensure the speedy division of commonages. This problem is likely to increase in the immediate future because people will realise the growing importance of this land, which in the past was of no great interest to most families; they knew they had commonage rights but never availed of them. Now they will realise their importance, especially for economic advantage.
It is possible that the Land Commission avoided this whole area as much as possible in the past and in some cases probably slowed down the process because of the complexities and legal questions involved. For example, people who had commonage rights perhaps left the country and could not be traced. In my limited experience of dealing with cases of commonages in my county I realise how complex they can be and how frustrating they are for the Land Commission and for legal people. I would like the Minister to give us, to the best of his ability, some views on how this process might be speeded up in future.
The Land Commission constructed embankments in the past mainly in places where Land Commission land was threatened by the sea. I am aware of a number of embankments that were breached recently by the sea in places like Fenit and Carrig Island, and no-one seems to be responsible for the maintenance of these embankments. The Minister will be taking over all the land formerly in the hands of the Land Commission. Will that be the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture and Food? Will they now take over responsibility for the repair and maintenance of these embankments? In a number of places the coastline is threatened because of lack of maintenance over the past ten years or so.
I listened with interest to Deputy O'Donoghue speaking about fisheries. I am aware of the ongoing problems in places like Kenmare, Cahirciveen and other places in south Kerry. Fortunately, in north Kerry we have not the same problems. We have merely the Feale River and its tributaries and for whatever reason there seems to be clear cut understanding between various angling associations regarding responsibility for the river. I sympathise with Deputy O'Donoghue; south Kerry has a major problem as evidenced recently in the case of the Sheen Falls, that very fine development in Kenmare. There is a major problem there with the local people in relation to the rights of the river which flows by the hotel.
I ask the Minister to refer to how he proposes to speed up the division of commonages. Who will be responsible for the maintenance and repair of embankments in areas which will now be his responsibility?
Section 5 deals with the transfer of properties formerly held by the Land Commission, including commonages, in which there is a very considerable interest today. The concept of the subdivision of commonages has grown very extensively over the last ten to 15 years and younger farmers, particularly, recognise that the old system of owning commonages meant nothing. There was no productivity, no reclamation, no drainage and no fertilisers were used. On that basis it was conceived that each individual tenant had his own sector which would be developed and would become productive. That is vital now not only to individuals but to the national economy because huge acreage is involved.
I subscribe to what Deputy Connaughton and Deputy Deenihan said. It would appear that in order to expedite and simplify the whole system of subdivision, new legislation might be the best way to handle it. This is a very big problem in areas of the west, especially Kerry. Much of the land that is in commonage is not mountain; it is perimeter land, capable of very substantial development, but no development has ever taken place, nor will it take place while that land is under the common ownership of ten, 20 or maybe 30 tenants.
Deputy Deenihan said the longer the investigation goes on, the more difficult it will be to trace title, etc. In areas of high emigration many of those who would have tenancy entitlement to commonages have left the country and may have left no heirs behind them. Then there is the problem of search, possibly in America, Australia or elsewhere, to get the family goodwill. This always creates problems.
Another question is that of division and subdivision of turbary rights throughout the country. There was an excellent mapping system and an excellent record system in this regard. Unfortunately, today, when many of those turbaries are in an advanced stage of development disputes arise in regard to boundaries and identification, and there is considerable difficulty in getting the necessary maps. People are confused. I understand there is more difficulty in relation to some estates than others. Because of the importance of continuing the excellent records that were there, instead of having them all in either Cavan or Dublin, where I understand some are retained, they might be decentralised to the counties concerned. If necessary — I believe it will be necessary — the maps should be reprocessed and restored. I have seen many of them and they are at a very advanced stage of decay.
That is the next section, section 6.
Deputy O'Donoghue and Deputy Deenihan dealt with fresh-water fisheries control. This is of vital importance. As Deputy O'Donoghue said, it is doubtful whether the vested interests who control some of the best fresh water fisheries have title. Perhaps that matter could be examined. It could be claimed that these fisheries are in the ownership of the people of Ireland and are a tremendous tourist advantage to this country. I appeal to the Minister to clear up the issue of the subdivision of commonages. The development of these areas can lead to a substantial increase in production and therefore be of benefit to the local society of which they are part.
I would like to refer briefly to the question of the division of commonages which I mentioned earlier. The commonage problem is a complex one and the proposals to divide the commonages do not necessarily correspond with the best agricultural practice. My understanding is that the sheep on the commonages require a considerable variety of grazing grounds depending on the season: they require different types of nutrients and shelter from wind and rain. Many commonages, when divided into small plots of 30 or 40 acres do not contain water or shelter. It is a much more complex problem than people realise.
I referred briefly to the problem of hill walkers not being able to walk over the hills but I will not dwell on it further. Another problem is the grazing of sheep in many areas in County Mayo. I do not like saying this but the reality is that these areas are being over-grazed because of the system of ewe headage payments. We want to keep these sheep farmers on the land and to provide a reasonable income for them, but we must devise another method to ensure that our mountain land is retained. Some areas of County Mayo are an absolute desert. I am informed by local farmers that those areas may never recover from over-grazing. When talking about commonages we should not lose sight of the over-grazing of mountain areas generally.
The Explanatory Memorandum states:
Section 5 provides for the transfer of property and land in the possession of the Commission to the Minister pending its disposal. Sporting rights (other than fishing rights) are also being transferred to the Minister. It is intended to transfer fisheries and fishing rights to the Central Fisheries Board.
I would like to ask the Minister if the Central Fisheries Board have the personnel and the financial allocations necessary to carry out the transfer of fishing rights to them? What steps will the Minister take to ensure they will be provided with sufficient funds to carry out their extra duties? Will they be compelled to take dicisions which may require legal advice? Will the Central Fisheries Board have a back-up service from the Department of the Marine who will be delegating those powers? At present the fishery boards are top heavy with work in their normal capacity. Can the Minister enlighten us as to what he intends to do to provide those boards with adequate staff to carry out their extra duties?
I disagree completely with Deputy Garland when he states that the mountains of this country are completely over-grazed by sheep farmers. The potential of the mountainside is so great that if it were properly manured it could handle at least 20 times the number of sheep already grazing on it. The mountain soil, to which Deputy Garland referred, never got a shake of fertiliser in the past three or four generations or perhaps longer. During the famine, potatoes were grown on the side of the mountains to sustain the population in Ireland at that time. I have no doubt farmers are capable of utilising their tracts of mountain land to the fullest extent and are aware of the need for fertilisation.
The matter of commonages will need special attention from the Minister and his Department. I would hate to see the commonage problem in this country being put on the back burner of the Department of Agriculture and Food in Kildare Street. This question must be given priority above all other things in the country. The dissolution of the Land Commission should not result in a continuation of the commonage problem that has existed for many centuries. The commonages were created by landlords. It is of paramount importance that the Government, the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Minister tackle the problem immediately to alleviate the serious problem that appertains throughout the country.
During the past 20 years only a small part of the problem has been dealt with adequately by the Land Commission. No resources were provided by the Department of Agriculture and Food to the Land Commission to tackle this immense problem. I do not know of any other nation in Europe that has a commonage problem similar to ours, and a special financial allocation should be sought by the Minister for Agriculture and Food to ensure that this problem is cleared off the decks within the next five years if possible. It is an impediment to preventing herds mingling with each other. It works against the eradication of tuberculosis, as herds roam the commonages and the mountains throughout the country, which results in the spread of disease. Something similar happens to sheep. Sheep contaminated with sheep scab graze these mountain commonages infecting neighbouring flocks by mingling with them. If this problem was dealt with there would be a big fall off in sheep scab. It is necessary to monitor and control the movement of sheep.
Sheep dipping committees serve a very useful pourpose, but the maverick farmer who will not dip his sheep is the cause of the spread of this disease.
We will not pull the wool over the Deputy's eyes.
These mavericks are aided by the commonage problem. Surely it would not be too big a task for the Department of Agriculture and Food to tackle this problem. At the end of the 18th century the British mapped every acre of soil here and it is from those maps that our officials work in dealing with planning applications. After 70 years of independence we have not produced an up-to-date ordnance survey sheet in respect of any part of our land. It is a sad reflection on successive Governments that we have not tackled that problem. Shifting the responsibility from the Land Commission to the Department of Agriculture and Food will not solve the problem unless sufficient funds and staff are made available to divide the commonages.
Where there is a will, there is a way and I urge the Minister of State to keep in close contact with the Minister for Agriculture and Food to ensure this problem is solved. Arising out of this Bill, I doubt that progress will be made at this late stage. I have yet to be convinced that the Minister has the vision to proceed along the right lines. This Bill is nothing but a conglomeration of words and, as I said before, pious words butter no bread. This issue must be tackled if we are to make some progress with this serious problem which has been a burden on Irish farmers for so long. From past experience as an auctioneer I know only too well the difficulties that arose at the letting of Land Commission farms under the 11-month system. One would want police protection at some of the leasing sales when aggrieved parties were bidding against one another. The Department of Agriculture would let out lands for three, four, five and six years until grazing cattle and sheep had almost pulled the blades of grass from the roots——
Like a pincers or a landmower.
That is the way they level the playing pitch.
——the quality of the land deteriorated. The Department of Agriculture, Land Commission, gained because of this. No effort was made by any Government to solve this problem, it was always the Cinderella. The Minister for Agriculture and Food is only one cog in the wheel of any Government. Other Ministers in the Cabinet may not understand the position. I hope this debate will bring home to the Minister for Agriculture and Food, and the Cabinet, the need for immediate reform on the division of commonages arising out of the extra responsibility the Department of Agriculture and Food have following the dissolution of the Land Commission. The Minister will not be able to keep all his promises unless experienced personnel shoulder the responsibility of solving a very difficult problem.
We are addressing section 5 and, unfortunately, I have not been able to address a number of other sections.
I acknowledge the concern of Members in relation to the problem of undivided commonages. There is no doubt it is a serious matter and it is regrettable it has not been dealt with during the time span of the Land Commission which we are disbanding today. That authority is now being transferred to my Department and I assure Deputies that we will continue to take responsibility for commonage division and assist local communities come to grips with the problem.
I would like to emphasise the concept of the local community. I do not think it would be possible to enforce decisions about the division of commonage on individual farmers. Commonage land is becoming increasingly more important than in the past. I would, therefore, hope that local communities could address this question of undivided land and that we in the Department could be of maximum assistance in the mapping of the areas to be divided and in assising with the overall division. I assure the House that that is my intention. To the extent that I can I am anxious to further the interests of commonage division. Let me remind Deputy Sheehan, whom I always enjoy listening to, that there are no back burners in the Department of Agriculture and Food.
I would like to refer to the question of embankments. I have to confess that being new to this area I have not heard of the problem of embankments.
I am advised that within the Department a fund was set up to deal with embankments. What is left of that funding will now be transferred to the individual farmers involved and it is hoped that that will assist them to remedy the problem, which is obviously a matter of concern to many farmers.
I take this opportunity to express my very sincere thanks to all the Deputies who remained in the Chamber for the duration of this debate and who made such very objective and fair contributions. As I indicated in my opening comments, I have made no promises other than to say that I am willing and prepared to forward the views expressed here, particularly those views concerning a new land authority, to the overall review committee within the Department.