I do not know if I should be tempted to enter the wide field covered by the last speaker. We could discuss the matter of the composition of county committees of agriculture and the way in which it is proposed to bring these voluntary bodies together for the purpose of electing certain members to the Agricultural Institute, but all I shall say on that matter is that, while a fair share of the wisdom may rest in the Senator as to the way in which the matter should be approached, quite a few others have some knowledge, too, of this matter and have a fair idea also of the difficulties.
Since the matter has been raised in the course of this discussion, let me say that I did go to the trouble — I do not use the word "trouble" in the sense that it was any trouble to me — to meet the representatives of the major bodies, in the hope that they would be able to give me, as a result of their combined wisdom, some suggestions that would be helpful in order to secure the most desirable method of approach in the selection of these people. As a result of that effort, we parted on this note: "Minister, we see your difficulty. We have not been able to be very helpful to you. We realise we have not made any suggestion that is of a worthwhile nature as far as the problem you have presented us with is concerned and all we can say is — just do your best." Now, an organisation can be big and powerful, or it can be small and weak. It does not follow that the weak organisation will not have in its ranks in some capacity, either as an officer or an ordinary member, an individual who may not have as useful a contribution to make as the best that can be found in the more powerful organisation from the numerical point of view.
All I want to say then in my own defence is that, to whatever extent the decision is open to criticism, it represents a desire to bring into consultation and to give responsibility to the widest number of organisations, irrespective of their numerical strength and having regard to the utter impossibility of giving them in whatever groups they find themselves an influence in proportion to their membership.
I am sorry that in the discussion both in the Dáil and here there should have been this confusion regarding this forestry question because there was nothing so far from my mind as to attempt in any way to encourage county committees of agriculture to embark on any sort of campaign of afforestation. Goodness knows, county committees have many matters with which to deal. Their finances are limited and they have enough on their hands without having to deal with that kind of expanding forestry programme.
Indeed, apart altogether from this sub-section to which Senators have referred some of this Bill is designed to give county committees power to dispose of plantations of one kind or another. County committees of agriculture in some counties, though not in many, have plantations and have the responsibility of looking after them. As everybody knows, they are not suited for that work, and my idea was to see to it that they would have power to dispose of such properties. To find oneself, then, accused of amending the law so as to provide for extended activities in this field is surely interesting.
The way in which this has arisen is, of course, that the 1931 Act provided that where a forestry scheme was adopted by a county committee of agriculture the council should strike a rate of a halfpenny in the £ for the purpose of that scheme; but no county committee adopted a scheme and therefore no rate was ever struck, and although certain county committees had the responsibility of looking after plantations, they still carried on under normal provisions and took it into account in preparing their annual estimates for presentation to the premier body. The manner of expressing these things had been changed in some of the Local Government Acts, and it was decided to bring the phraseology of the Agricultural Act into line with the other Local Government Acts. Therefore, this amendment was designed, not to make any change in the 1931 Act in this regard but to bring it into line in respect of the manner of expressing how a halfpenny or a penny in the £ or its equivalent was to be provided from the county rate.
I am glad to be able to say that, apart altogether from any question of what is in the 1931 Act or the amendment here, I was myself in my early days a member of a county council and a county committee of agriculture, and I have had some experience of seeing county councils interesting themselves in those days in afforestation. Any personal experience I have had has taught me that county councils are not well equipped to engage in that business, nor are county committees of agriculture and, to use the old expression, the cobbler should stick to his last. With that sort of mental condition, I would not be likely to invite them to ramble into that field on any wider basis.
The county committees have been given power to borrow without any reference to the premier body, and I do not see that there is anything wrong with that. They can borrow only with the consent of the Minister, and it seems to me that this is a power they should have. Some objection or criticism has been made — I think by Senator Baxter — as to the distinction between the powers enjoyed under the Vocational Acts by the county vocational committees and the powers of the county committees of agriculture. I was not really aware that that was the case, although years ago I served on both bodies; but in this matter of the county committees of agriculture, I think it is only right that if the rate is to be increased, the manner in which the estimate for the year is prepared is the same in both cases.
County councils are composed largely of people who are representatives of rural areas, and they have to have regard to the capacity of the ratepayers and the cost of all the services. I do not see that there is anything wrong in asking a county committee of agriculture to be able to show cause as to why an increased rate is required for agricultural purposes. They are dealing with a jury, a council, composed of people who have everything in common with the interests that the agricultural committees are trying to promote, and therefore they should not have any difficulty, if the case is strong, in inducing the council to give them money where it seems that money is required and will yield good results.
I think it was Senator O'Callaghan who mentioned the contribution that might be made by the State, in the event of the rates in certain counties being increased as a result of this enabling measure. There are only about three counties where the maximum rate has been reached and about two others in which the margin between the present rate and the maximum is very small. As far as the rest of the counties, some 20 or more, are concerned, they are very far from having reached the maximum rate as yet. The basis of contribution as between the State and the local committee is roughly pound for pound, and of course, the State contribution will be made on that basis, should any county decide to increase the rate above the maximum now provided by law and by the amendment of the law as it exists now.