To use a common expression, this measure supplies "a long felt want." I know a case in which an agreement for a lease of a foreshore for 21 years was made in 1917. It appears that between the Woods and Forest Department on one side, the Department of Industry and Commerce on the other side, and the Department of Finance at the apex of the triangle, it was impossible to make a lease of the foreshore. About 16 or 17 of the 21 years have now expired. It is a good thing, even at this late hour, that we have a measure which makes clear once and for all what authority it is that has a right to grant a lease of the foreshore, either for the purpose of getting sand or stones, or getting seaweed for kelp, or black weed, which is used by farmers for manure. Senator Miss Browne is quite right in saying that this Bill is a very important measure so far as it relates to seaweed right. Very few people who live inland or in cities, understand how important the seaweed right is to farmers, who have tillage land or even grazing land near the seashore, where seaweed grows.
As Senator Miss Browne knows, seaweed does not grow on every shore. I would like to know from the Minister how he proposes to deal with farmers, each of whom cuts weed on the seashore in connection with his farm, and further how he proposes to deal with groups of labouring men who have no shore rights but who very frequently earn a fair livelihood at certain seasons of the year by cutting and selling seaweed. There are great numbers of these people in the west of Ireland. Will they be granted leases or will they be granted licences by the Minister? Only a fortnight ago I had a communication from labouring men in Ballyvaughan. They complained that a gentleman who owned land adjoining the seashore sought to prevent them taking the seaweed. After searching through the records I found that he had absolutely no rights whatever. I am glad to say that when the members of the Gárda Síochána went and informed him that he had no private rights in the foreshore, or in the seaweed, and that he should allow the labouring men to cut the seaweed wherever they liked, they were enabled to earn a good livelihood for a month or two.
The south side of the Gaul Island portion of that bay belongs to the State, but adjoining it are other tracts of foreshore which are in private ownership, and in respect of which the working men of the district have no right whatever to cut seaweed. This private right to ownership in the foreshore is very extensive throughout Ireland. It arises in this way, that the Landed Estates conveyances that were made at the sale of encumbered estates very frequently included the foreshore in the map, and, of course, the purchasers under the Landed Estates Courts conveyances had statutory title to the foreshore as against the State. That is a very frequent occurrence. I am glad to see that the Minister has taken power to purchase foreshore rights in the interests of working people; in the interests of farmers who need manure for their tillage, and also in respect of shell and oyster fisheries which we hope to see developed in the near future. The Minister stated that in case there is a question of a dispute as to whether the State owns the foreshore or whether it is the property of a private individual, the onus of proof shall lie on the individual who claims as against the State. I cannot see that in the Bill. In any case, it is right and I think it is not an innovation, because in all cases where a person claims foreshore rights as against the State, he had to show something more than mere usage. Therefore, no real harm has been done to private individuals. I cannot imagine any private individual successfully asserting a right to the foreshore unless he had a Landed Estates Court conveyance, or something with a map, giving him the foreshore. There are other provisions in the Bill which are extremely useful, including the taking away of sand and other material from the foreshore. In County Kerry sand is frequently taken from the shore and brought several miles inland for manure. Of course that will not be interfered with, but there are other cases in various parts of Kerry, Cork and elsewhere, where people have been allowed to undermine cliffs by taking away sand and doing great injury to the public.
There is a prohibition against using the foreshore as a dumping ground, which is a very proper thing. Finally, there is what I think should be in every Bill dealing with public property, a provision that notification must be given of any lease proposed to be made. That is a very proper provision to include in the Bill. I would suggest to the Minister that when considering the question of leases, or rules or regulations which will guide the Department in making leases of foreshore rights, or easements or profits such as seaweed, shellfish and matters of that kind, that he ought to have regard to the fact that there are great numbers of labouring men who benefit greatly by the licence they have had up to the present of taking seaweed. It is a great advantage that they are not stopped. It would be a still greater advantage if they could be told, or if the public could be told, that certain big people living along the coast have really no rights to the seaweed.