I am inclined to agree with Senator O'Reilly in his suggestion that this amendment, as it is drafted, is really an indication that, regardless of what the value of the property may be, if the original owner is to get it he must get it at the price the board paid for it originally. Being in the auctioneering business, I believe the only way out of the numerous difficulties would be that the property should be put up for public auction. In connection with this I am not inclined to agree with Senator Ruane. I think he was quite sincere when he drafted the amendment but, with all due respect, I do not think he gave it sufficient thought.
In his speech he painted a picture whereby a portion of the farmer's property may be taken out from the middle of the property — that is what I understood him to convey — and that at a later period, the board, having acquired the property, might find that it did not need it and decide that it should be sold back to the man from whose holding it was taken originally. In other words, if it was taken out of the middle of a man's holding or if it divided the man's holding and made it rather difficult to work it would be given back to him at the same price. Again I say that having been taken over by this board or any other board, the property, on being returned to the owner, might not be worth its original price. It may be worth far more in certain circumstances but there is no reason at all why it should be supposed that the property on being returned, would be worth its original price.
I came across a case where a particular Government Department acquired a portion of a man's farm. I was asked to value the property and I am not disclosing any secrets when I say I valued that property, as far as I can remember, at a price which amounted to one-fourth of the price originally paid for it; not that it was acquired at an exorbitant price but rather that the land was so interfered with and treated so badly by the said Government Department — the surface of the land was removed and supposed to have been put back — that, in my opinion, it was worth only one-fourth of what it was worth originally.
In connection with land to be returned to the original owner Senator O'Reilly said and I think rightly so, that no limit should be put as to the maximum price. If the amendment is left as it stands the price at which it was originally purchased would be taken, if you like, as the yardstick to measure the price at which it should be returned to the original owner. I do not agree with that at all. I oppose the amendment, for various reasons, and I regret that the statements made by the Opposition here, the people who would like to call themselves the Opposition, were made at all. The suggestion that the Minister had made up his mind not to accept the amendment even if it was for the betterment of the Bill, to my mind, is an outlandish statement for any responsible Senators to make and I have no hesitation whatever in saying that the people of the country, regardless of politics, would not seriously accept such a statement. It would not be the first time the Minister accepted an amendment in this House for the betterment of a measure and if an amendment were put up here to-day, no matter by whom, I believe the Minister would accept it regardless of the inconvenience if he thought it was for the betterment of the measure. I think the same would apply in regard to any other measure and it is most unreasonable to make any such suggestion.
In regard to the suggestion that there is a terrible injustice in this matter of giving the board the right to acquire land compulsorily and to the picture that is painted for us of the unfortunate smallholders of the West of Ireland being interfered with unduly and unnecessarily as a result of the board's action, all I can say is, if any code of legislation were to be enforced by irresponsible people which would make life impossible for the people, there would be some reason for alarm, but we must assume that the people comprising this board will be reasonable people and that they are not going to go out to make life impossible for the people in the West or in any other part of Ireland. We must assume that they are people who will do their job in the interest of the people of this country and if a little bit of unpleasantness has to be brought to bear in the matter, that unpleasantness is only being insisted on for the good of the community. Senator Hartnett, I think, pointed out that the good of the community had to be considered as against, if necessary, the good of an individual in the State.
Senator Frank Hugh O'Donnell launched a rather serious attack on the Minister. Knowing the Minister as I do and knowing that he has survived such attacks in the past, I hope he will be able to survive this attack by Senator O'Donnell. When Senator O'Donnell stands up to refer to this particular section in the Bill as "land grabbing", all I can say is he must have been too busy reading a lot of nonsense to read some of the history of land grabbing in this country. If anyone interprets this Bill as it should be interpreted all they could say was that it was the policy of land grabbing in reverse. Surely it is necessary in this Bill, as it has been in scores of other Bills, to make provision so that a crank, if you like to call him a crank, a man who may have a piece of land or a piece of property in a district where an industry was going to be set up, and who for just pure contrariness will not allow the board to have this, will be compelled to give it. You must be in a position to deal with people of that kind who, for reasons, and mind you, I say deliberately, possibly political reasons, will impede development and impede progress. That section, to my mind, is not likely to be misused by this board or any other board set up for such a purpose and I think it was quite unreasonable to suggest that it would be.
With regard to the price, it appears to me to be a very poor argument and a very undesirable line to take to say that the land should be returned to the original owner at the price paid for it when it was acquired. To my mind, it shows very poor judgment to say that the board should be compensated for such money as they spent on improvements. What the board would consider an improvement in a certain type of property would be considered quite the opposite and, possibly, quite rightly so, by the person who originally owned the property. For instance, portion of a property on the banks of a river may be lowered to such an extent that it would serve the purpose of a board, I will not say this board, for a certain length of time. As a result of the property being lowered, it may be subject to flooding, and despite the fact that the board would have spent a considerable amount of money under the heading of improvements, these improvements might turn out to be the very opposite from the point of view of the original owner.
I certainly oppose the amendment but, in doing so, I do not in any way criticise Senator Ruane for having introduced it. He and other Senators who have listened to this discussion should be quite satisfied to withdraw the amendment.