To be clear about the facts of the situation, this is another £½ million taken from the farmers by the present Government. That is clearly and unequivocally what it is.
The Minister says the agricultural grant is paid by the Exchequer to county councils to enable them to give abatement of rates to occupiers of agricultural land. This is not only so now but has been so for a long, long time. One would think by the Minister mentioning it in his address to the Seanad here today that he and his Government begrudge it when one takes into account that the people most affected by this Bill are the people who in the last 12 months have been severely taxed by the Government, the people who are the good farmers, giving good employment and who, in order to qualify to get this money, had to pay their social welfare contributions. Therefore, they were giving a good contribution to the State. They got nothing back from it.
The Minister for Labour some months ago gave an enticement to industrialists. If they had employed a man for nine or more months of the year and if they re-employed him in that industry the firm would receive a concession from the Government of approximately £12 a week. That, of course, did not apply to the agricultural sector. That did not apply where a farmer took on an extra man and it does not seem as though it will apply. It seems to be the opinion of agricultural people that this Dublin-orientated Government are positively dead against any progress or any investment by the agricultural sector in their own industry. Agriculture in this country, perhaps, even one part of it—the meat industry, for instance—is greater than the Navan mines, greater than the gas find off Cork in its own wealth and here we are allowing this Government —of not being able to stop them— to take away a concession that existed before now. A farmer who is not productive would not be entitled to this abatement in rates, if he were not employing a man and paying his social welfare contributions. Having been a member of the Agricultural Wages Board from the union representing that particular man can the Minister explain to us and, indeed, to all the agricultural community the reason the productive agricultural sector in this country were not entitled to the same facilities as industrial people when the Minister for Labour six months ago gave that concession for employment to bring people back into work?
What the Government are saying is that a farm worker is not alone a second-class citizen but is a third-class citizen. The Minister for Local Government is a man who knows what I speak about when I speak about farm workers. He spent a long time with them and working for them and he must know exactly what I mean. Because they are farm workers, their employer is not entitled to any facility under any national scheme created by this Coalition Government. It is a farce and it becomes a greater farce daily. In all spheres of agriculture, when it comes to the application of taxation, the productive farmer and the man who is concerned in the Bill from whom this £½ million is being taken, is the man who is daily being scourged and crucified by this Government. We see it in the taxes now being applied to co-operatives: we see it in the effort by the Minister to formulate the new system to deal with agricultural wages. There was nothing wrong with the old system. It had a fair and progressive organisation which struck a minimum wage rate for a worker, and every week there were applications in respect of people who were accepted into agriculture for permission to give them less than the recommended minimum.
I do not see what this Government are going to do to solve the problem of those people. Anybody who was on the old Agricultural Wages Board knows what I mean when I say that every month their biggest job was to try and fix a proper payment for people working in agriculture who were not fully capable and who were not able to go into industry. Farmers with a valuation of over £20 were employing those people and at least trying to give them a living when no other part of society would take them on. The Government are taking away any help given to such farmers by not allowing this £½ million to subsidise them in that small respect.
I say clearly and unequivocally that the Government are failing: for the sake of £½ million they are upsetting something that has been there for the last 20 or 25 years. It is a disgrace and it is a humiliation. It does not do them any good and does not do the worker, whom they purport to represent, any good. It is a shame that in the case of a productive farmer, a man who works and asks very little from the State, the Minister should state that there is abatement in rates from £20 or less, when we know that a man must have over £20 valuation before he gets the £17 concession. He must have over £20 PLV before he qualifies to draw the £17.
What does the Minister think he is doing by telling us that he is giving an abatement in rates to those under £20 and putting the nail into any man who has £20 valuation and upwards who is employing one man, two men or three men and who is paying a subscription to the State in the social welfare stamp and giving that worker at least a minimum wage? I cannot see where this Government are trying to help. It is a humiliation imposed on farmers by people who should know the situation, particularly the Minister for Local Government, who is with us today, and who knows exactly what I am saying. I fail to understand how he can come into this House and try to justify this deplorable performance to save £½ million on a section of the community which pumps millions of pounds into the pockets of the Government without any relief. Every morning we read in the papers about the application of taxes on farmers and we find perhaps a Dublin housewife who knows very little about farming agreeing with the Government.
I feel ashamed of the Minister for Local Government, a man who has tried to represent the farming workers all his life. It was always our policy, on this side of the House, to seek an increase on the £17. Figures between £26 and £36 were mentioned to this Minister and to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries in this House. We have a complete reneging on the farmers again for the sake of a few women in Dublin who think the farmers are getting everything.