Irish Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill, 1989: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the winding-up of the Land Commission and the transfer of its residual functions to the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

It is not necessary for me to go into the history of the Land Commission. We all acknowledge that it is an ancient institution that has been closely associated with the land situation in this country for over 100 years. The Land Commission was originally set up in 1881 as a rent fixing body under the Land Law (Ireland) Act of that year. It subsequently developed by law into a tenant-purchase agency and as such was the body responsible for the dismantling of the landlord system and the conversion of tenants into proprietors. Ultimately, it embarked on a countrywide programme of land structural reform and became a great purchaser and distributor of land. Its prime objective at this stage was to relieve congestion. This objective was to be attained through the enlargement and rearrangement of small holdings and through migration.

No one can deny that the Land Commission was effective in pursuing its aims. The figures speak for themselves. Since 1923 over 108,000 tenants were assisted in purchasing almost three million acres and over two million acres were distributed among uneconomic small-holders, migrants and others. In addition, the Land Commission carried out extensive improvement works. It built houses and outoffices, it carried out drainage, reclamation and fencing and it provided roads and water supplies.

By the end of the 1970s, however, the traditional activity of the Land Commission — that of acquiring and redistributing land — was running into difficulties. In the first place there were by this time very few large estates available for acquisition. The Land Commission could, of course, have continued to acquire smaller unused farms but such acquisitions had very little impact on structural improvement. Indeed, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the effort and costs involved in acquiring these smaller properties could not be justified in terms of results. In the second place land prices had risen at an unprecedented rate during the seventies and were by this time far in excess of what the Land Commission could recover on allotment. The level of subsidy involved in resale was putting an increasing and unacceptable burden on the Exchequer.

An interdepartmental committee set up to examine the land question concluded that the policy of acquisition and redistribution executed by the Land Commission had outlived its usefulness and should be abandoned. Acquisition ceased in 1983 and the Bill before the House is designed to give statutory effect to this position.

Briefly the Bill provides for the dissolution of the Land Commission, i.e., the abolition of the offices of the judicial commissioner and the lay commissioners; the revocation of the power of the State to compulsorily take over land, except by exchange, for land settlement purposes, the transfer to the President of the High Court of the jurisdictions vested in the office of the judicial commissioner and in the appeal tribunal, the transfer to the Minister for Agriculture and Food of certain functions of the commission and the three lay commissioners, the transfer to the Minister of all land and other property vested in the Commission, with the exception of fishing rights and fisheries which will be transferred to the Central Fisheries Board and the payment of compensation to the lay commissioners.

I should like to make clear at this stage that the dissolution of the Land Commission does not mean the end of all services in relation to land settlement. Apart from the acquisition and division of land all the other services will continue. These include the disposal of the small area of land remaining on hands the revesting in the names of the new owners of land already allotted/and of land yet to be allotted the exercise of statutory control over the subdivision of farms and over the purchase of land by non-qualified persons, mainly companies and non-EC nationals, the promotion of group purchase and leasing of land as well as provision of assistance for schemes for rearrangement and commonage division, and miscellaneous statutory and other obligations, such as the collection of annuities, custody of title documents, the management of lands awaiting disposal and responsibilities of the offices of Examiner of Title and the Public Trustee. These services will be discharged by a special unit of the Department under the aegis of the Minister.

I would like to say a few words about two of these services in particular, the division of commonages and leasing. A considerable area of land is held in common particularly in the west of Ireland. We all know that such land is generally neglected with the result that productivity is low. There also is a greater risk of animal disease where herds are inter-mixing freely. It is desirable from the point of view of better land use and the control of disease that these commonages be divided between the various shareholders involved and the new plots incorporated into the shareholders' existing holdings.

Some years ago the Department mounted a campaign to encourage farmers in this direction. The response has been highly gratifying. Over the past ten years the total number of commonages divided was 389 among 2,074 shareholders and involving an area of 14,697 hectares. As there is still a considerable area to be divided, the Department will continue to give advice and assistance in relation to commonage division.

Owner-occupiership has been the dominant form of land tenure in this country for over 80 years. While ownership has advantages it also has a downside in the sense that it prevents movement in land. In an effort to liberalise the system the Government set about popularising the concept of medium and long term leasing some years ago. To this end legislation was introduced removing any disabilities which a lessor might suffer through leasing. Following the enactment of this legislation, there was an upsurge in the amount of land being leased. Of late, however, the movement has slowed down. Recent measures by the Government should help to revive interest in it.

Under the young farmers installation aid scheme a young farmer is entitled to a premium of £5,600 on taking over a farm for the first time. Up to now this farm would have had to be owned. Under new relaxations which have been introduced the farm may now be leased.

The pre-retirement scheme for farmers which was approved by the EC earlier this year, provides a generous pension for farmers over 55 years of age who sell or lease their farms to suitable applicants. It is considered that these two measures should give a major boost to leasing and farmer mobility.

It is, I believe, widely acknowledged that the Land Commission played a very positive role in maximising the number of families on the land in economic security. Unfortunately, the size of holding necessary to provide economic security where traditional farming enterprises are involved has increased significantly over the years and we must accept that to cling to a policy of land acquisition and redistribution would seriously undermine our own stated social policy in this area and would ultimately serve to reduce the number of family farms.

When the Bill was going through the Dáil Deputies on both sides of the House were concerned that there was no proposal for a new land policy to replace the traditional one. The main concern was to ensure that land coming on the market was channelled into the hands of young progressive farmers. This is an objective to which we all subscribe. Unfortunately, it is simpler in theory than implementation. For some time now the whole question of such a land policy has been under examination in the Department. In the course of this examination several options were put forward but it was felt that the exercising of any of them could create more problems than it would solve.

The basic fact is that any attempt to control the movement of land implies an interference with the right to free sale. As this right is written into the Constitution and is one that is highly valued by the farming community, any curtailment of it would not generally be acceptable.

In the end it was decided that the way to maintain family farms is to ensure that maximum benefit is derived from our membership of the European Community. The situation is, of course, being kept under review and if it emerges at some time in the future that too much land is being accumulated in two few hands remedial action will have to be considered.

On a broad front I think the whole question of land must be seen in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy. Despite its recent reform, or indeed perhaps because of this reform with its attendant production quotas and compensatory payments, I believe that now, more than ever, the way to preserve the family farm is not through the acquisition of additional land but by availing, to the maximum extent possible of EC backed schemes. In recent years a whole. range of structural measures have been put in place. These are aimed at improving the income situation of farmers. I cannot emphasise strongly enough that I think it would be in the best interests of farmers, and particularly the smaller ones, to avail of these measures to the full rather than be striving to acquire additional land.

Rural development is a new concept that has entered the agricultural vocabulary. I think this is a progressive concept that holds out great promise for the future. Farmers should no longer be seen as a group isolated from the other classes in society. Rather they are part of the broader community that makes up the rural scene. There are now a number of schemes aimed at improving the standard of living of this community. One of the most exciting of these schemes is the one that encourages investment in agritourism facilities. This scheme was launched last year and the response was so high that the funds allocated for it were committed inside a few months. As a result, a large number of applications had to be put on hold. I am hoping to get additional funding for this scheme shortly. This will enable many of the applications on hand to be processed so that work can begin under this scheme again.

Another scheme that attracted a good response was the alternative enterprise scheme. This provided generous grants for such enterprises as horses, deer, goats, rabbits and others. These are but some of the measures in operation aimed at improving conditions in rural Ireland. There are others. The effect of all these measures is to provide an opportunity to farmers and others living in the country to improve their standard of living. I am satisfied that this is the route that offers the greatest opportunities for our future.

The question of a land authority was raised in the course of the debate in the Dáil. I confess that I personally favour a body which would monitor the overall developments as regards land use in the country, with particular attention to agricultural and rural development aspects, and which could formulate ideas on the subject to convey to Ministers and to the Department. Indeed, I have asked that this idea be examined by the expert review group which is currently working on the new development programme for the agriculture sector in the context of theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress. I expect this group, which includes representatives of my Department and of the farming organisations participating in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, to report within the next few months and I have no doubt that they will have given careful consideration to the point which I have asked them to examine.

I expect that in the light of all developments Senators will agree that the Land Commission is somewhat of an anachronism in today's world. That does not mean that it did not play its part in laying the foundation of a sound agricultural structure. Given all the constraints under which it had to operate its contribution to land settlement could only be described as monumental. I am sure that I am speaking on behalf of every Member of this House in acknowledging the great work and in paying tribute to the men and women who, down the years, gave themselves to this work with such zeal and dedication. The country owes them a deep debt of gratitude. As this "ancient institution" is being consigned to history I think an appropriate epitaph would besic transit gloria mundi.

I thank the Minister for coming to speak to us in the House. It is the first time he has spoken here in my presence and I welcome him and thank him for his contribution.

I agree wholeheartedly with the Minister when he said we owe a debt of gratitude to the people in the Land Commission who worked very hard and with great enthusiasm over a long number of years. While mistakes were made, by and large, their contribution was very positive and helped not only the farming community but the economy. It is too bad that, in their zeal in the earliest years, they set the target for an economic holding at 45 acres.

In relation to winding up the business of the Land Commission, I am informed that Land Registry records have been locked in strong boxes for the past two months and will be there for another month. That is not only holding up the completion of Land Commission business, it is also an enormous burden on people who want to complete sales as they are paying an extremely high interest rate for bridging loans. Surely in this day of modern technology and microfiches, etc., it should not happen that the records of estates would be locked, sealed and unavailable for three months if not more.

My main worry about dissolving the Land Commission is that we have nothing to put in its place. The farming organisation asked for a land authority; the Minister had in mind a land advisory body. Whatever we call it, we need a body to decide on the usage of land and recommend the kind of land that should be planted with forestry, used for amenity purposes classified as environmentally sensitive and so on. At present we do not have such an authority nor do we have the data on optimum soil usage. I know part of the country was surveyed by the former Agricultural Institute but it was not done on a farm to farm basis for the bulk of the country. We could have got that kind of information from the excellent people who were transferred from the Land Commission by the Coalition Government in the mid-eighties to carry out a survey for land tax purposes. There were, I understand more than 100 people involved and they did a very fine job. It was a pity the job was not completed because it would have provided us with a lot of useful information which could have been used, for instance, in classifying areas as disadvantaged.

There are people doing an excellent job of farming on very bad land and because they have a high stocking rate and a high income, they are not classified as disadvantaged. I also know farmers who have better land but because there is poor farming in the area and they have a poor stocking rate and a poor income they are classified as disadvantaged. What I am saying is that people who work hard have been penalised. That is wrong and we could have sorted that out if the survey which was carried out for land tax purposes had been allowed to conclude its business.

One other point which worries me in relation to land sales is who can buy. It would appear that it will be left totally to market forces and who has a cheque book. Will it be an Irish citizen, a Community citizen or a non-Community citizen? We have very little scope for doing anything about Community citizens purchasing land in Ireland but we probably have scope for doing something about non-Community people purchasing land in Ireland. Many countries in Europe have strict regulations in relation to who can purchase land in terms of proving their capability to farm it. The French have a clause that one must live within a certain number of kilometres of the land purchased. Restrictions like that could be very helpful in ensuring that land does not fall into wrong hands and, at the same time, we would not be breaking any Community laws. I do not suggest that we should ignore the laws of the Community which has been good for our economy and generous to us in many ways.

It is clear that we have a real problem with regard to land mobility. It is also clear, given the price of land today and the cost of money, that it will be virtually impossible for most young people to go into farming. They will have to inherit money, win the Lotto or inherit a farm before they can go into farming today. It is just not possible to raise money, service a loan and make a living out of farming. In these circumstances, I agree with the Minister that long term leasing is the answer.

The steps taken by the Government to eliminate some of the obstacles to long term leasing are very welcome. The step taken to allow a person who is leasing land to get a grant of £5,600 is also welcome but it is not a very generous grant for anybody trying to start up a capital intensive business like farming.

We need to do more to encourage farmers to retire. Here we have a real problem. In rural Ireland today — much as it was 20 or 50 years ago — a person without property is a person without any status in society. Since these farmers are not going to sell, we must promote long term leasing and encourage farmers to sell.

In Holland, for example, in order to get a farmer to give up his property for restructuring and sale the Dutch Government will give a grant of £60,000 plus a generous retirement grant. We must do more to encourage the older generation to give up the land to younger people, who have more energy so that we can restructure and make smaller farms more viable and allow younger people to come into farming.

I was pleased that during the year the Government reached an accommodation with those who had problems with land annuities. As members are aware, the price of land began to rocket in the late seventies, particularly from 1978 onwards, with the result that people who got land after that time found themselves in considerable difficulty paying the land annuities. In this regard, I support what Deputy Enright said in the Dáil:

To alleviate the problems of farmers who face great annuity repayments I propose that the Minister consider a scheme such as the 1988 tenant purchase scheme operated by local authorities under the Department of the Environment. Under that scheme the local authorities calculated the price of a house and gave a 40 per cent discount to all tenants with a 10 per cent discount for pre-1960 houses and £2,000 in new house grants.

Many farmers would favour that kind of approach. While some arrangement was made with farmers in May this year there are still farmers with many problems. I know of one individual who has a health problem and is £5,000 in arrears. If the system that prevails in relation to housing was introduced, could this man be accommodated and have his £5,000 arrears restructured in order to solve his problem? I ask the Minister to see what can be done in hardship cases where people are unable to make their annuity payments.

I agree with many of the points made by the Minister. We had little option but to phase out the Land Commission. I emphasise again that it is a source of worry not only to me but to a number of people, that we do not have a land policy, that we will have very little say over who purchases land from now on, that the cheque book will dominate the marketplace and that despite the Government's best efforts there is little mobility or long term leasing of land. A greater effort will have to be made by the Government or we will end up with an elderly farming population who will not have the courage or enterprise associated with young people.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House and I look forward to his reply.

I join with Senator Raftery in welcoming the Minister to the House. It is the first time I have been here when he was present. I wish him every success in the very difficult job he has undertaken. I am sure that, coming from a rural background and constituency, there is no person better qualified to take on the role of junior Minister for Agriculture and Food than Deputy Hyland.

As one who has been closely associated with the Land Commission and its workings during my political life, I cannot say truthfully that I welcome this legislation which, in effect, abolishes the Land Commission. Since its inception over 100 years ago the Irish Land Commission restored to the Irish farmer the land and legal rights taken from him by a succession of penal enactments. The reform brought about by the congested district boards, and later by the Land Commission which succeeded it, changed completely the face of rural Ireland when one considers that 316,000 holdings covering 11 million acres were purchased by or for tenants for £100 million. In addition, 750 acres of untenanted land was divided among 35,000 allottees either by way of enlargement of uneconomic holdings or by the creation of new holdings.

Since 1923 almost 110,000 tenants had their holdings vested in them by the Land Commission for advances totalling almost £18 million. This was work of great national importance. It improved the lot of countless families who, without the work of the Land Commission, would not have been able to purchase those few extra acres from their own resources which means an improvement in the standard of living for those families.

Nowhere has the work of the Land Commission been more evident than in the west where acute congestion prevailed. Trojan work has been done to relieve congestion and to rearrange fragmented holdings where agreement could be reached between the affected farmers. It was not always easy to get agreement from farmers because they usually felt that the land they were asked to exchange was far superior to what they were getting. That was the old problem in rural Ireland, especially in Galway. I remember coming across this several times.

A transaction like this could take years to implement and involved much negotiation by the Land Commission inspectors who were usually very tolerant and had a great understanding of rural families and the human problems that confronted them on a daily basis. In particular, they showed great humanity in dealing with migrants and their policy of moving groups of neighbouring smallholders to new farms in the same locality was very much appreciated by the families involved. That policy, which had a human touch, gave families courage to undertake what was to them the biggest decision of a lifetime. They were going to new pastures among strange people and it was important that they had the companionship and support of their old neighbours. There were many such migrants particularly from Galway, Roscommon and Clare who moved to the midlands and made their mark in their adopted counties. The land they gave up was divided among the smallholders and helped to improve the size of their holdings and eliminate fragmentation.

Over the years we have heard many debates on what constitutes an economic holding. From time to time the Land Commission reviewed, the concept of what a viable holding should be. This has been increased from about 20 acres to its current level of 45 acres of good land. In arriving at this acreage, the Land Commission considered that the family farm should be capable of affording a standard of living comparable to that available to those engaged in non-agricultural employment and also, of course, of maintaining the farm family in comfort under conditions of intensified competition in the future.

Those ideas were noble but our entry into the EC and the events which followed have changed all that. There are still between 70,000 and 80,000 family holdings below the current standard of 40 to 45 adjusted acres. Now that the Land Commission is being dissolved I see very little hope of those families increasing their acreage unless they can compete in the open market with larger farmers and the business and professional people who have been moving into farming in recent times. Many of those people I would deem unqualified for farming. They come into farming for the wrong reasons. If the Land Commission were still functioning, they would keep such people out of farming. Now that we do not have a regulatory body in place, we will undo much of the good work the Land Commission so painstakingly carried out. I would hate to see the land of Ireland become the preserve of ranchers and millionaires to the total exclusion of our farming families.

As legislators, we have a duty to protect family farms and ensure that the ideals of the Land Commission are upheld, that is, that those families should have a standard of living comparable to that available to those engaged in non-agricultural employment. For that reason, I believe that there should be a statutory body — I know this has been mentioned by almost every speaker on this side of the House and in the Dáil — to regulate the sale of land and ensure that some people do not accumulate too much land.

A report by an interdepartmental committee in 1978 recommended, among other things, that future land policy should be based predominantly on measures which would promote the efficient use of land for agricultural development and that a new land agency should be established in place of the Land Commission to implement future land policy. Vendors should have to notify the agency of proposed sales and advertise the sales in the prescribed manner. The agency would be empowered to operate a system of control in land market transactions and maintain a register of priority entitlements of land applicants to whom the agency would endeavour to channel land coming on the market, and no purchaser would be allowed to acquire agricultural land which would bring his total holding in excess of a certain level. There would be no limit on the amount of land acquired through a direct inheritance or intra-farming transfers. Those were the main proposals made by the committee and I am sure they had given a lot of thought to the problems at the time but, unfortunately, that report was not acted upon.

During my tenure in the Department of Agriculture in December 1980 a White Paper was published setting out land policy proposals. The main recommendations of that White Paper were to deal with the possibility of smaller and more progressive farmers being able to acquire additional land and improve their holdings and also to promote the more efficient use of land so that agriculture could make the greatest possible contribution to the national economy.

Other proposals were that the disposal of all agricultural land exceeding a certain level would require the consent of the Land Commission or the land authority; purchasers of agricultural land would attract a surcharge ranging from 15 per cent to 50 per cent of the purchase price in the case of farmers depending on the size of the final holding and 60 per cent in other cases; there would be no surcharge where farmers' final holdings did not exceed a certain level; a smallholder whose existing holding did not exceed a certain level could qualify for a premium in respect of such additional land purchased to bring his final holding up to a viable level; a new farmers' retirement scheme was to be prepared and earlier succession was to be promoted; leasing was to be encouraged and facilitated; commonage division was to be stepped up, etc. The report also proposed that local lists of suitable farmers should be drawn up and that they would have priority access to land coming on the market. Those are the main proposals in that White Paper. One could say that they were radical but nothing was done about the White Paper.

We are now abolishing the Land Commission. It is a pity those proposals were not tried out. Both the interdepartmental committee report and the White Paper had the interests of small farmers at heart and were prepared to put forward proposals to assist them in acquiring additional land and bringing their farms up to a viable level. They also proposed penalties for those whose purchases brought the size of the final holding above a certain level. I believe the imposition of those kinds of restrictions would be justified today and that small farmers should be assisted to enlarge their holdings when land comes on the market. Otherwise, as far as I can see, the small farmer will never have a chance to improve his lot.

Over the years the Land Commission, particularly in the west, did a tremendous job in relation to the division of commonages. We all know the problems those commonages could cause between farmers because of the spread of disease, the fact that they could not be fertilised or drained and very often they did not produce as much as they should. The Land Commission tackled that problem and did a tremendous job dividing and fencing those commonages. Where there was agreement they got the farmers to do it themselves. I was glad to hear the Minister say today that that type of policy will be continued. I hope it will, because a great job was done particularly in Galway and Mayo, the areas with which I am most familiar.

Another issue I believe should be tackled is stamp duty on the transfer of farms from father to son, uncle to nephew or whatever. The stamp duty at present is very high and prevents people transferring their farms. It is a pity that should be so. We would like to see more mobility of land. We would like people who have reached retiring age to be encouraged to transfer their farms to their families but while the stamp duty remains at its present level, there will be little improvement in that situation.

In 1986 there were only 14,400 farmers aged between 25 and 34 out of a total of almost 121,000 full-time farmers. There were 23,000 farmers aged between 35 and 44 while 50 per cent of all farms were held by people aged 50 or over. The figures have probably worsened since 1986, the latest year for which I have figures. From those figures it is clear that quite a number of old people are holding on to their land. If we were to do something about the stamp duty, we could see a great improvement in those figures over a short time.

The number of people entering agricultural training and education has been declining in recent years. Since agriculture is our main industry this should be looked at urgently. Some years ago I compared the amount of money spent on FÁS training courses for industrial workers with that spent on training our young farmers. There was a large gap. Very little money was being spent on agricultural training and research. I would like to see some improvement there. If agriculture is our main industry, it deserves an injection of cash to ensure that our young farmers, who are taking up farming, have the best education and training available.

I would like to pay tribute to the Land Commission inspectors throughout the country, the divisional inspectors and the people on the ground. They were great people and did a tremendous amount of work for the farmers. I feel sad that we are now witnessing the end of a period of great change. When we look at the type of farms that existed 100 years ago when the Land Commission was set up, and the progressive farming we have in Ireland today, we see a great change. The Land Commission has been involved in these changes in every village in Ireland. They did the best they could but it was a difficult job.

Land is special to the Irish people and when an official went to a farmer and asked him to exchange a field or two, the response was very often unfavourable. Those officials who were trained to deal with such problems went about their business and by coaxing and cajoling they eventually succeeded in eliminating much of the fragmentation that existed particularly in the west.

A great deal of useful information has been built up by the Land Commission over the years. I hope the records of bogs, land rights, rights of way, etc., which are so important to the rural people, will not be lost now that the Land Commission is being abolished. I hope the Minister will ensure that those records will be available, that somebody will be responsible for them and that they will be passed to the people when they need them.

I am sad to see the Land Commission go but times are changing and we must move on. I hope a statutory regulatory body will be set up which will be responsible for the acquisition and sale of land.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I also welcome the Minister to the House.

I would like to comment on a number of matters mentioned in his very interesting speech. May I say also, in passing, how interested I was in Senator Hussey's passionate review of the important role played by the Land Commission in the development of this country.

Early in his speech, the Minister put some facts and figures on the record. He referred to the purchase by 108,000 tenants of three million acres and the distribution of two million acres — five million acres altogether. It is a very substantial bank of land. Perhaps it is not possible to do it today but I would be interested in seeing this expressed as a fraction of available agricultural land because it must be quite a high percentage.

What we are witnessing here, through the Land Commission, is a very remarkable social change; it is one in which we go against the trend in some of our neighbouring countries. I visit Great Britain from time to time. Like many Irish people I had at least until recently, some emigrant Irish relations. I have an uncle who, in a curious sub-tradition of Irish behaviour, became a British military chaplain and retired to live in the country in England. I have witnessed with horror the increasing concentration of land resources in the hands of a smaller and smaller number of people and the turning of what were very pleasant country areas with little laneways and hedgerows and ecosystems into enormous potato ranches in which fewer and fewer people were employed, the delicate balance of the countryside was reduced, and even the aesthetic appearance was affected adversely.

I come from a background that did not always regard the Land Commission and its operations with unmixed admiration; I can think of family and friends who regarded it with a certain horror, like some rapacious wolf lying in wait until the proprietor became so feeble that they could be gobbled up but I have how come to the enlightened position where I regard it as a useful historical instrument in giving to people of no property, the men of no property, whom the great figures of the 19th century strove to represent, some degree of investment in their own country. This is a good and noble thing and something Senator Hussey paid tribute to.

I would like to ask a few very direct practical questions. Reference is made to the lay commissioners and compensation to be paid to them. I would like to ask two questions about that. First, how many of them are there? Second, how much are they getting? I hope this is not too ungentlemanly a duet of questions, but I would be interested in having this information. It is not that I begrudge money for people who will be put into retirement by this Bill, but I would like to know what is involved.

Reference was made to the holdings of the Land Commission and the way in which the remaining holdings will be treated. One point that was not referred to by anybody as far as I can recollect, is the fact that, traditionally, the Land Commission has possessed itself not only of land but also of buildings. I have a particular interest in this because I think the buildings were acquired very often incidentally and almost accidentally and, unfortunately and regrettably, they were not always treated with the degree of sensitivity with which we would now wish to treat them. This has to be seen in historical perspective. For example, I think Coole Park in County Galway was taken over by the Land Commission, but I could be wrong. The land was divided and the house demolished. It is such a pity that happened. I am not sure whether it was the Court of Chancery or the Land Commission that was involved in the very regrettable treatment of the Gore-Booth estate in Lisadell, County Sligo. I regret that in those, perhaps unrepresentative, instances a spirit of generosity and chivalry was not shown to something that nowadays we are coming to see more and more, as important.

Reference was made to agri-tourism but there is also cultural tourism. Many people can be drawn to this country to see the great houses even though they may have been shorn of the supporting estates. In the light of the reality that this has happened, it is more than ever necessary that the State should give some degree of support to places like Lisadell, Westport House, etc. A Bill has been laid before the Seanad dealing with Westport House where the present owner is anxious to break a trust fund in order to redevelop, for the purposes of tourism, the remaining section of the estate.

I do not want to concentrate too much on this aspect. I think it is important, it is not entirely marginal, but it is not the principal function of the Land Commission. I would say that mistakes were made because the acquisition of these properties was incidental.

I would like to ask one remaining question about the Land Commission buildings themselves. I believe the buildings in Merrion Street have been sold. Some of the houses have already been redeveloped, others remain to be redeveloped. I wonder about the planning. Two or three of the houses have been turned into apartments, offices or a hotel but the principal offices of the Land Commission contain some of the finest 18th century ceilings in Dublin, marvellous fireplaces, and so on. I would like an undertaking from the Minister that these features which constitute an important part of our heritage, will be retained. Friends, relations and business colleagues, who went into the Land Commission to search through dusty documents, even where the highlights of the plasterwork were not picked out, often said to me, "David, there are the most wonderful ceilings and fireplaces there". They went in looking for documents and came out talking about ceilings and fireplaces. I would hope that we would be sensitive to this in the redevelopment.

The real importance of the Land Commission lies in assisting people to acquire their own property. I do have good Gaelic Irish blood in me. My grandfather was a farmer, not a very large farmer. He might have liked to think of himself as a gentleman farmer. He was dispossessed of some of his inheritance not, I have to say, by the Land Commission but by a very similar operation — the operation of his own family. When his father died he was quite young and the rest of the family got together and split up as much of the land as they could and left him with two, not very wonderful farms.

I do know the feeling for land. I had it myself. In 1957 my aunt sold the last bit of land with which my family had been associated over many hundreds of years. I remember, as a 13 year old boy, pleading with her to hang on to whatever tiny scrap was left, just out of a kind of filial atavistic piety. I still visit the midlands almost in a sense of homage because I know that this is the turf and bog out of which my people sprang.

The Senator would not go back to the country.

Believe me I would. But I would also listen to people like Senator Hussey who advise people like myself, well meaning sentimentalists who come, as Kavanagh describes them, hanging their gobs over a gate and thinking what a wonderful life the farmers have. I have to listen to people like Senator Hussey who say that now you have businessmen and professionals playing at being farmers. I do not really think that is serious. If I could retire to a small cottage in a part of the country that I love — up in the Slieve Bloom Mountains — nothing would make me happier.

I have one that would suit you in Galway.

Perhaps I could not afford it.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

We will have to stay with the Bill.

The passion for land is something that is ingrained in the Irish people. You have only got to look at John B. Keane's playThe Field and the tremendously strong primitive passions that are aroused in most of us, even those of us who are now very much urbanised. I have mentioned Patrick Kavanagh, I could also speak of Padraic Colum, I could go on with endless lists of these people. This hunger for the land is reflected in our literature, combined with what, since the 1920s at least, has been a flight from the land. I remember leafing through Dublin Opinion and seeing the series of cartoons about the flight from the land. This is a great tragedy, socially speaking, for our country. There has been a destruction of the social infrastructure in the country as a result of the depopulation of many rural areas.

I notice the Minister relies heavily on the supposition that considerable assistance will come from the European Community, particularly the Structural Fund. I welcome any money that can be brought in, but I am little concerned that there is so heavy a reliance on this mechanism. A farming community that develops organically, through its own resources, is healthier than one that depends on continual intervention from Structural Funds. I would want to be a little careful about that.

Although the initial intention was serious and honourable, family circumstances can sometimes intervene. Where a large estate is broken up and land transferred, quite appropriately, to smaller peasant farmers, there was, sometimes down the line, a generational fracturing of that inheritance as the farms were inherited. There may be some kind of social dynamic involved in this. People want to be able to leave a farm and they do not always find it possible to leave it intact to one inheritor.

I know that there are a lot of buzz words, and I am not entirely literate in buzz words; Agri-tourism is one of them. I do not know whether this means visiting fish farms or sponsoring a donkey for a weekend. I consulted my colleague Senator Upton. He reminded me of farmhouse holidays; I presume this is one element of it. It is easy to be flippant about sponsoring a donkey but as somebody who has visited and taken part in farmhouse holidays, I have to say they are marvellous. They are about the best value you can get. I have a lot of visitors coming from abroad and they complain, sometimes, about the enormous cost of hotel accommodation in Ireland but they are lyrical about the experiences of spending time on a farm with the normally excellent standards of food both as basic raw material and also the cuisine which, perhaps due to the influence of people like Myrtle Alien, has become excellent. If money is made available for the development of farmhouse holidays it will be money very well spent. Perhaps there is something more to agri-tourism, but I am not quite sure what it is.

The Minister referred to alternative enterprise schemes as providing generous grants to such enterprises as horses, deer, goats, rabbits and others. I am sure that is true. People eat rabbits and venison is becoming popular but horticulture has been missed out. Perhaps we should bear this in mind. In terms of our demography and climate we have the capacity to intensify horticulture — the growing of bulbs and so on. I am disappointed that an initiative which came from the Israeli Government who were prepared to be extremely helpful in developing this area, experimentally in conjunction with the Irish Government, was spurned. I think we could learn a lot from the intensive horticultural methods of the Israelis and start to compete with people like the Dutch. Our climate is not so different and our soil structures are much better than the Dutch. There is no real reason we should not start small intensive production units of flowers, bulbs and vegetables.

I will not go into a waffle about vegetables but every day I hear people asking why we are eating South American potatoes, Cypriot tomatoes and so on. With the help of grants, training programmes, FÁS schemes and by the proper grading of vegetables farmers could produce more standardised commodities. This is the way some of the money not spent on the pensions of the lay commissioners could be used. Since we have lay commissioners, do we have any clerical commissioners? No?

Episcopal ones.

I want to refer to the debt of gratitude we owe to the staff of the Land Commission for their zeal and dedication. I am sure this is true in the majority of cases but it was not always the case. There was a curious literary nest in the Land Commission. George Fitzmaurice lodged in the Land Commission for about 50 years. He was out sick for two years without his absence being noticed. During that time he wrote plays such asThe Dandy Dolls, The Magic Glasses and The Pie Dish which delighted audiences both in London and Ireland.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

We are drifting away from the Bill.

I do not know, because I am talking about——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

I am sure even the Senator would agree with me.

I am questioning the universality of the degree of zeal and dedication about which the Minister was so fulsome in his contribution. I would not wish to be begrudging. I think Hugh Leonard worked there.

He did, indeed.

I am one of the cognoscenti. I am allowed to call him Jack Byrne.

The Minister was slightly exaggerating when he said: "As this ancient institution is being consigned to history he thinks an appropriate epitaph would besic transit gloria mundi.” I am not sure he could have found a more inappropriate ending than “thus passes the glory of the world.” Was the Irish Land Commission entitled to that hyperbolic phrase “the glory of the world”? Did the United Nations stand in silence, in mourning for the passing of the Land Commission? I doubt it. I cannot remember exactly where the phrase comes from, maybe it was Horace. It was certainly one of the Latin poets, and I think they were talking about the passing of an emperor, whereas the Land Commission was devoted to the dismantling of the imperial system. The dismantling of the imperial system had to be welcomed in the interests of democracy.

The Minister gave us a thumbnail sketch, taking us back to 1881, of the congested district boards, the Wyndham Land Acts, the land annuities, the economic war and all this background. It was very significant historically, despite the hurt it inflicted on people who owned property and had it taken from them. It is never easy to be part of this kind of social transition. It was important.

If we look to Latin America we can find direct parallels within the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, for example, where, at the core of that democratic revolution, there was the consistent transfer of land away from the great capitalist structures and the small proportion of land owners into the interests of the people who worked with the sweat of their brow and produced from the land. I have to honour the intentions and, in many instances, the operation of the Land Commission.

In regard to the dispersal of the Land Commission — if I may come back to the vulgar subject of money — I read in the newspapers and heard on the wireless sums such as £1.5 million mentioned; it was certainly over the £1 million mark, and suggestions that people had not worked productively for about five years. They were being paid for not working. This may be a malign rumour but I am offering the Minister the opportunity to scotch that if it is inaccurate. I understand that the redeployment of people who have a special expertise may be complicated. For example, people who have been trained legally in the area of land boundaries, land tenure and investigating all the ancient Land Acts might not find it easy to get appropriate employment in another Department. If we had a tabloid press here — which, thank God, we do not — I could imagine the headlines "£1.5 million for no work in the Land Commission while consultants are let go at X, Y or Z hospital around the country". It is important for the Minister to deal with this.

It seems to me the Land Commission was very much in the tradition of Gavan Duffy's three Fs — fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale — and for that we have to honour them. We have moved into a different world, perhaps unfortunately. We are talking about land possession and land use. We are now in a situation where we have this extraordinary confection inflicted on us from Europe, the set-aside scheme. It think this is much worse than paying land commissioners to do nothing. They at least have ceilings they can admire and can improve their souls in the Land Commission offices' but the idea of setting aside good productive land and paying people not to work it seems, to my unsophisticated mind, to be a scandal, when we have so many people starving. That is another argument and I am sure we will have an opportunity to discuss it. It is very sophisticated. The transfer of food products from Europe to the impoverished sections of the globe requires all kinds of sophisticated machinery, treatments, storage and transport, but I cannot help this naive feeling that things like the set aside scheme are directly against the ethos of those people who conceived the Land Commission.

My final point is in support of what Senator Hussey said about the FÁS schemes. That might be looked at. The FÁS operation is a mixed blessing. Some of the work it does is extremely good. I have been involved as an outside catalyst in one scheme that employed up to 15 people at one stage, but there are some absurd areas. Some people are being taught how to telephone for interviews holding a banana in one hand and dialling on an orange. I understand this is true. What Senator Hussey said about using the FÁS scheme properly in the area of retraining and making more advanced techniques available to young farmers is very good.

Senator Dardis jokingly asked if I would go off on a farm. I would not particularly, but I note that the head of the IFA, Alan Gillis, came from a suburban background, in Drimnagh, Dublin — I do not know whether you would call it a suburb because these days it is almost the inner city. It would be regarded as a working class Dublin area. Yet, he was able to make himself an extremely efficient farmer. This, perhaps, says something about the lack of prejudice that can sometimes exist in the agricultural community that they did not deny him the most senior position in the farmers union on the basis that he was a Dubliner. In line with that example, I do not apologise or feel diffident about having contributed to a debate where some people might not have expected me to have anything to say. We all have an interest in agriculture and in the holding of land which has always been a great passion of the Irish people.

I enjoyed Senator Norris's trip into nostalgia and his lyricism. Perhaps it might be abated if one were thinking about feeding ewes on the side of the hill in the middle of winter or milking cows on a frosty morning. The practice is not quite as lyrical as the Senator suggests. He quoted Horace. As a result of my limited classical background I have carried very few phrases from school, but one was:dulce est decipere in loco, which I think would describe Senator Norris's contribution. Perhaps I should translate it. In its most extreme form it says that “it is sweet to play the fool on occasion”. I would not describe Senator Norris in such a way, but perhaps he was being a little bit lyrical.

I agree with what he said about a passion for the land. There is a very deep ingrained passion for the land in the country but I do not think this is confined to the rural society. It is a very common phenomenon because most people are only a generation or two removed from the land and the land is very central to what we are, as a people, and long may it remain so. It gives us a certain perspective and certain values which are important to us as a society.

The Minister has outlined the history of the Land Commission. One of the great achievements was the Land Acts of the last century which transferred the land from a tenantry to owner-occupiers at very modest cost. Some of us were still paying annuities up to quite recently on land that was transferred to our ownership back in the last century. That was a remarkable achievement given the social conditions of the time and the fact that the Government at that time might not have been very sympathetic to small holders and would have been under enormous political pressure from very large vested interests in the landlord classes. It was a remarkable achievement that the land was transferred into the hands of the tenantry who then became owner-occupiers. The Minister has mentioned some of the deficiencies of owner-occupiers and I share his view. I would also agree that it is very insensitive to interfere with this matter of free sale, but I will come back to that later.

Of course, there are numerous stories about the activities of the Land Commission, many of them apocryphal no doubt. My late father used to tell us stories of his experience with the Land Commission and they were not particularly good experiences. He always felt that it had more to do with politics than with land ownership, but I do not know enough about the conditions at the time to say whether that was the case or not.

Unquestionably, the Land Commission did the country an enormous service. It freed people who otherwise would have no opportunity of maintaining a livelihood on the land. It gave them an opportunity to acquire a holding. It gave them an opportunity to have a start and, in fact, I think it invigorated the whole of agriculture at a certain period in the history of the State, because those people brought an energy and an ability to the land they were given which was unusual and remarkable. It certainly benefited the country enormously.

New blood is extremely important to the future of the industry. I am sure I am speaking to the converted when I say to the Minister that it is extremely important that we allow young farmers gain access to the land of Ireland. My view is that at the moment we are putting barriers in the way of these young people which is preventing them from becoming the farmers of tomorrow and from bringing the energy and dynamism to bear which will drive the industry into the next century.

Reference has been made to this question of an economic holding. Of course, it was deficient, but by the lights of the time I think it was probably right. At the time a 45 acre holding, or even a 30 acre holding, was viable; and at the time that was the right decision to make — to give people that size of holding. I do not think it would have been politically tolerated for people to be given 100 and 150 acres; it just would not have been possible by the lights of the time. We have the advantage of 20-20 vision and hindsight when we look at some of these things which we now regard as anachronistic but which at the time were quite reasonable.

In one of my previous incarnations I was adviser to the County Committee of Agriculture in Kildare. A number of the people I used to advise were Land Commission farmers. As a group they were very open and they were good farmers, but one of the unfortunate aspects of what has happened in the intervening years is that many of them have fallen out of farming and properties which were divided into four, five and six holdings have now reverted into two or three holdings. That is an economic reality. It is a sign of the times. I do not think there is anything sinister in it; it is just that so many people have dropped out of the business — not just on Land Commission holdings but throughout farming — over the last 20 years. Even in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy reform and compensation being made permanent, it is questionable whether that trend, which has been there for so long, can be arrested or halted. It is my sincere hope that it can be because the implications for our society as a whole and not just for rural society are very serious indeed. But I am less than convinced that we can stem the tide; we may arrest it, but whether we can actually stem it is another matter.

Land Bonds were a very sensitive issue. For a period I was in receipt of a princely cheque for 13 pence which I received religiously every year. The stamp on the letter cost more. I would hate to think what the administrative costs were. It certainly did not make economic sense. I had a neighbour who, when farming taxation was introduced, felt that it was appropriate for him to present himself at the offices of the Revenue Commissioners and present them with his land bonds because, if they could tax him, he did not see why he could not bring what was the State's money to pay his tax. I suppose there was a certain logic in that.

The question of annuities was raised in the Dáil. I commend the Minister and his Department on the steps they have taken to alleviate some of the hardship which was undoubtedly created for farmers through purchasing land under the land annuity system at very high rates, then being the victims of very high interest rates, and some of them got into very serious difficulties. The measures which have been taken are commendable and I congratulate the Minister.

Senator Norris went on about the Israelis and vegetables. He said he was very attached to this plot of turf somewhere in the midlands, but I had visions of oranges and lemons growing on this plot if the Israeli technology was brought to bear. But he did make a reasonable point in respect of the enterprises which can contribute to farming income. The Minister mentioned the initiatives on rural development. Again, he is to be applauded for the work he has done in that area, but we must not lose sight of the fact that it is impossible for these initiatives to replace the income which derives from production agriculture. We must remember that production agriculture will continue to drive the industry; it will continue to put the milk into the plants; it will continue to put the beef into the factories. It is very important that we do not lose sight of that side of the equation when we consider the merits of the other side of the equation. That is not to say that deer farming and alternative enterprises cannot contribute additional income on the farm, but it is additional income; it is not replacement income. That is an important point to make.

The Minister mentioned that ownership had been the dominant form of land tenure for 80 years and that, while it had its advantages, it also had disadvantages in the sense that it ossifies the movement of land. I agree with that statement. We must maintain the right to free sale. But one of the problems I see at the moment is that, if one takes the introduction of quotas, that institutionalises a system and makes it extremely difficult for entrants into the industry to acquire not just the land but also the enterprise associated with the land. It is almost creating a closed shop, and from that point of view, quota is deficient. I accept the reality that something had to be done to control the surpluses which were developing in the Community and that quota is a very efficient way of achieving that objective but there are downsides to quota. Perhaps in an Irish context it may not be very much to our national advantage that we cannot exploit the advantages we have for grass based production; and of course we would be worried about the fact that cheaper cereals are being used within the Community to subsidise livestock farming and that that puts our grass based production at a disadvantage. However, that is a different issue.

In respect of free sale, if it is correct to facilitate free sale it is also correct to facilitate the transfer of land from one generation to the next. Where people wish their heirs to farm the land which they have farmed, everything possible must be done to facilitate that wish. One of the big blocks in that respect is capital acquisitions tax. Macra na Feirme, as the Minister will be aware, are active in this area. Reference was made earlier to stamp duty and the problem that that creates. It has got to the point where a modest agricultural holding, intensively stocked, with no borrowings, is subject to capital taxes.

In my view it was never the intention of the legislation that family farmers should have to worry about and have to pay the taxes. Certain movement has been made in the budgets of the past two years in terms of indexation and raising the threshold, but we have a long way to go. It must be in the national interest to facilitate to the maximum extent possible the transfer of land from one generation to the next.

Macra na Feirme produced some figures, which I assume to be correct. They say that on average 6.6 per cent of farmers in the EC are over the age of 65; in Ireland the figure is 15.7 per cent. Obviously there are population aspects to that as well as land tenure aspects. It cannot be healthy for an industry to have an age profile like that. It must be the objective to allow farmers to retire at a certain age and to allow their successors to take over. That is the way forward for the industry, so that people have the energy and the drive to success and to ensure that the processing and marketing side are up to scratch.

Reference was made to the question of land suitability and I share some of the views expressed by Senator Raftery. A very good job was done by the old Agricultural Institute in mapping the soils in some counties. This was very useful information. There is disquiet — I am sure the Minister is well aware of this from his own constituency — about the spread of the trees, what land is suitable for trees and what areas are suitable for trees. If we look back 20 years, land that we would then have thought totally unsuitable for trees is now suitable because of the income that it cannot generate.

I would commend to the Minister to look at the environmentally sensitive areas. There is one in his own constituency. He should look at areas of scientific interest to try to establish priorities for the use of land. It is a sensitive and difficult task, but it would be well worth doing. I believe that a land authority is the way forward and I hope it can be achieved.

There would be an argument which says that the State should not intervene in matters of this nature, but of course it does intervene. If there are enormous national assets of international importance, it is appropriate for the State to intervene. In the last session we debated the Foreshore Act, when we talked about taking sand off the foreshore and imposing restrictions to stop this happening. It is correct that the foreshore should be protected. It is a very unique ecosystem which should be protected by legislation. In environmentally sensitive areas and areas of scientific importance it is appropriate for the State to intervene.

As we head towards a situation where farmers become the custodians of the environment — and it is important that they should be custodians of the environment — we are rapidly reaching the point where they have to be compensated for maintaining this environment in the lyrical and nostalgic state to which Senator Norris referred earlier. I realise that in the case of environmentally sensitive areas certain steps have been taken which allow support for measures which are environmentally friendly. That is to be applauded, but I believe that we are getting nearer to a point where farmers have to be paid to be the custodians of a certain type of rural landscape.

From a tourism point of view there are concerns in parts of the west about sheep on the hills. There are also concerns about depopulation and what that is doing to the field fabric — the hedgerows, small fields and stone walls. There are concerns that if the land falls into the hands of one or two people, all these hedges and stone walls will be bulldozed and a totally different landscape will emerge. It is important to remember that the landscape we have, which we cherish, is the product of commercial farming.

I appeal to the Minister to do everything possible to facilitate the transfer of land from one generation to the next. Obviously, representatives of all parties believe that young people should be facilitated to farm. It is not consistent on the one hand to insist that they must have qualifications to inherit land, that there are certain concessions available to them if they have studied for the green certificate or whatever, and on the other hand to say that, having done all that, we will not make it easy for them to succeed to their own farms. That does not make sense.

There are statutory controls in relation to subdivision. That is correct; those controls should remain, but capital taxes are forcing people into subdividing land. If a person wants to avoid capital taxes they divide the land between a number of children. That is going back to what was done before the Famine. That does not make sense. It is not in the national interest.

I welcome the provision in the Bill where fishing rights will be vested in the Central Fisheries Board. That is very good. I am the chairman of the local angling club in Newbridge, which fishes a stretch of the River Liffey. For many years we have had very cheap access to certain waters which the Land Commission controlled. I hope that under the succeeding arrangements, that will continue; I am sure it will. I had the pleasure of fishing the River Erris this year. The Central Fisheries Board have done a remarkable job on that river in terms of access and of the way it is managed. They are to be appluaded on that. The fisheries are in good hands.

There was some publicity about the Land Commission staff, where they had gone to and whether there were people sitting in offices and getting paid to do nothing but look at the Georgian ceilings about which Senator Norris spoke earlier. What is the present position in relation to staff? I know some of them have gone to the Health and Safety Executive. Where have they been relocated? Have they all been relocated? The staff had every right to have their employment protected; that is not the issue. The issue is whether they were gainfully employed on behalf of the State.

The Land Commission has fulfilled its usefulness. It was very useful at a particular time but its time has passed. What sort of vision have we of the future of rural Ireland? Are we going to have corporate farmers? Are we going to have large industrial factory farming operations to the exclusion of the family farm? I hope that will not be the case. I am sure the Minister would be as determined as I am to ensure that that would not happen. It will take active intervention to ensure that that terrible vision of rural Ireland is not the vision which emerges. The rural development initiative is a very important element in ensuring that the fabric of rural society, which is so important to what we are as a people, is maintained but, as I said, rural development is an adjunct and not a replacement for production agriculture.

There is one other contentious issue and that is the question of foreigners buying Irish land; and under EC membership we have to facilitate nationals of the other member states, provided they are suitably qualified. I must say I am ambivalent about this matter of foreign access to Irish land because I know that in the constituency I come from, Kildare, the investment by the Arabs in the stud farms has led to enormous levels of employment and that land is sustaining more families than it would have in the hands of farm owners. While on the one hand I can see that, because land is so central to our whole ethos, we wish to exercise certain controls on who might come in and buy it, nevertheless I believe there are people at present deriving a reasonable income from land in County Kildare in bloodstock farming who otherwise would not have the income they have. That is something we need to take account of.

We also have the question of how we manage the land and the role of Teagasc. We have to ensure that Teagasc are given the resources to allow the people on the land to exploit that land to their own and to national advantage. I believe we have not given Teagasc the support they deserve to fulfil their remit in terms of bringing the technology which is required to allow people to continue to farm the land.

Senator Norris went on about the Minister's statement aboutsic transit gloria mundi. We are getting back to the classics again. I am very reluctant to enter into this area because I do not have the expertise in the classics which some of my colleagues have, but I think the more correct term the Minister might have used was sic transit gloria terrae, which would be the land rather than the world. I thank the Minister for his contribution and I look forward to supporting the Bill.

At the outset I welcome the Minister. It is good to see him here again. I have to confess a certain inadequacy, as the Minister seems to have started a trend of quoting from the classics. Senator Dardis and Senator Norris have taken it up and, despite the fact that I did study both Latin and Greek in one of my earlier existences, I am sorry to say that I am not able to make any contribution to the list of Latin quotations. Perhaps a day or two in the library might get me out of that difficulty.

Like many other speakers, I would like to acknowledge the contribution which the people who worked in the Land Commission made to the development of Irish agriculture over the years. I join with Senator Dardis in his expression of concern in regard to those people who are still working in the Land Commission, that they should be appropriately relocated and that that should be done to their satisfaction and in a manner which gives them worth-while, fulfilling employment, which contributes to the economy and is appropriate to their qualifications.

I also express a certain personal interest in this to the extent that many of the people who worked in the Land Commission were colleagues and good friends of mine and at an earlier stage, when I contested a certain type of election, they were very good supporters of mine. In that sense I do not mind acknowledging that many of them are friends and in many ways I owe them one.

There is another knock-on effect of the closure of the Land Commission offices in small western towns, particularly places like Castlerea, etc. That, in turn, had a fairly significant effect on local employment. I suppose that is inevitable, but nonetheless there is a certain significance attached to it. I am not trying to argue that people should be kept in jobs which are of no value, I am not doing that. But I am acknowledging the fact that because these jobs have moved elsewhere, that in turn creates its own problems in trying to maintain the economy in these small rural towns.

We have been told over the years that land was our greatest national resource and that we should do everything possible to maximise the efficiency with which the land was used so as to benefit the national interest to help develop the economy. Despite the fact that we have had that aspiration over the years, we have totally failed to develop any land use policy. There is a great void in relation to the development of any land use policy at present. There have been many attempts made to establish such a policy and in my view they have all failed — and they have failed for a variety of reasons. They have failed because of the influences of history dating back to the last century, dating back to the land wars, dating back to the many people who fought vigorously to liberate the land and make it available to smallholders. Indeed, when that happened some of those people turned on those they had supported, those who had generated the ideas in relation to the use of land, etc., and they rapidly moved to the notion that what you have you hold, and that is still very much a reality.

We have a fairly sharp contrast with the Dutch. The Dutch have a land size which is about a third the land area of this country. The typical farm size there is about 30 acres, but in this country it is about 50 acres. The Dutch employ about 100,000 more people in the food processing industry than we are able to do and they employ many more in farming. That is, to a large extent, related to the fact that the Dutch have a very clear and coherent set of policies on these matters and they have the capacity to implement those policies.

There are continuing structural problems in Irish agriculture. Senator Hussey made a very interesting and worth while contribution when he spoke about those problems. There are few people in this House who would have the direct, hands on acquaintance with those problems that Senator Hussey has. There have been a series of suggestions made to deal with those problems. There was talk about people entering farming being required to have certain qualifications. There was also talk about people who did not have a background in farming or knowledge of farming being surcharged when they moved into farming. There has been a series of other proposals, none of which ever became a practical runner in terms of having a chance to be implemented.

The present reality is that to enter farming you need no qualifications other than that you have bags of money and are prepared to pay money to an uneconomic level to attain land, because the fact is that in terms of economic return money invested in land is money rather badly invested. The return on money invested in farming compares unfavourably with returns on investment in many other walks of life. But the reality is that as far as many farmers are concerned that is the only option available to them, that is the only business they know. When they have accumulated money, then in many ways that is all they are able to do with it, because they only know the business of farming. They are not in a position to get involved in wholesaling or other types of business which would be available.

There seems to have been a radical change in the policies of the present Government over a ten or 15 year period. Senator Hussey spoke about the time he was in the Department of Agriculture and he spoke about the 1977/1988 period. During that period we did have the interdepartmental review which dealt with land use and so on. As part of that review people spoke in terms of the acquisition of land if it was not being properly used. They spoke in terms of legislation at an early date to give effect to these new measures. If my research is right, that statement was made around 1980. It is still only 1992, 12 years on. How the world has changed. The policies being spoken of at that stage in an interdepartmental report received the stamp of approval of the Government of the day, a Fianna Fáil Government led by Jack Lynch. It may be worth taking some brief quotations from that report.

To abandon the compulsory machinery of the Land Commission would be to accept if not to encourage bad husbandry.

Gracious me. Has this concern about bad husbandry disappeared or are many of the factors which gave rise to concern still with us? My view is that they are. The report spoke also of the west, and I quote:

In the western area there are additionally structural and demographic reasons for the continuance of a programme of land acquisition and division in the forseeable future.

That was said in the late seventies and we have now moved away from those concepts and abandoned any notion that we might restructure land policy or effect change other than by the influence of money which will undoubtedly lead to further consolidation. I do not dispute that further consolidation is inevitable but letting the market rip and letting money speak will accelerate the rate of consolidation. As somebody said earlier, it will accelerate the rate at which we move back towards the notion of ranches. I accept that many influences are at work in this area and that EC influences are important.

The introduction of quotas carrying many limitations has also been a significant cause of the downgrading of the Land Commission. People now seek to buy quotas rather than land; in many ways one would be better off owning a quota at present. A quota has a definite economic value and in many ways is not as cumbersome or as difficult to buy or to resell as a farm of land. It is a simpler process and leaves one with land which gives one some stake in the country, an overwhelming anxiety of many people.

I do not wish to denigrate the drive to own land or to underestimate the factors which give rise to it. For many people who held on to land in the past it was their only hope of security and even when it was but a few impoverished acres it had value and was a means of self-sustenance. Without a smallholding many felt totally abandoned. In many cases smallholdings did not sustain the people dependent on it. A significant number of people in rural Ireland still believe in the value of smallholdings.

Senator Dardis quoted figures from Macra na Feirme indicating that 15 per cent of farmers in Ireland are over 65 years compared with 5 per cent or 6 per cent in Europe generally. Farmers are reluctant to retire for historic reasons in many cases. Many would be better off if they sold the land, invested their money and availed of welfare assistance. This would make land available for use by younger more progressive farmers. Unfortunately, many do not see it like this and I can understand their reasons and reluctance.

Fragmentation of farms is another problem. Many farmers have small parcels of land here, there and everywhere but if it could be put together it would be viable. It is almost impossible to get people to transfer land into one consolidated unit by way of land exchange plus money payments. The Land Commission did great work to encourage that over the years. It was fine where it succeeded but the commission was up against high insurmountable historical barriers.'

It marks a significant change in the policy of the present Government and in Fianna Fáil tradition as represented by Senator Hussey, that we are moving away from the reallocation of land which held out some hope that small farmers could, in a modest way, increase the size of their farms. That is a significant change in the space of ten or 15 years. We are moving instead towards letting money rather than land policy determine events. Land use policy was always difficult to implement. It may be that realities on the ground are being accepted; in rural Ireland it is almost impossible to implement a land use policy with teeth and to survive politically.

The Minister spoke of the desirability of getting young progressive farmers into farming and remarked wisely that this is much simpler in theory than in practice. I know of the difficulties involved and have alluded to them already. I wish him well in his efforts and I will be the first to shake his hands if he makes significant progress.

Many young progressive farmers became victims of circumstances in the boom times of 1977-80 or slightly earlier. Young farmers were encouraged then by the wise birds of Irish farming and agribusiness to borrow, borrow, borrow, in order to develop. Things would be hunky-dory then, they would live happily ever after and their only difficulty would be getting all the money they would make to the bank. The only problem was to convince the bank to give them bags of money. Some of the more enthusiastic banks did that and lived to learn the error of their ways and many farmers finished up in terribly difficult circumstances as a result. There are clear lessons to be learned there.

I want to sound a note of caution in relation to the image conjured up by "progressive farmer". Progressive farmers often progress towards destruction by expanding too fast, by not sizing up markets and opportunities and by anticipating difficult periods as well as boom times. Many farmers were bankrupted and had to sell off land at poor prices following this expansion period. They were encouraged to go too far too fast by people who set the pace.

I remember colleagues in the ACC and in banks telling me at that time that the purpose of being in banking was to lend money; that was where the action was and how all the profit was to be made. Some are a good deal poorer and wiser now. Progress is measured over long periods rather than in spectular lunges towards quick money. I have great reservations about this trend in any walk of life; short term profits can often disappear long term.

I want to refer to areas of scientific interest and to environmentally sensitive areas. There is much potential in both of those areas. There are considerable opportunities for scientific people from outside the country to carry out research and to generate increased scientific expertise for this country and, of course, an important source of revenue. There is a certain amount of difficulty in having areas declared as areas of scientific interest because of the knock-on effect on farming and it is for this reason that at times I am pleased that I do not have to deal with a rural constituency, even if I began life in one.

The same holds for environmentally sensitive areas; some of those are not only environmentally but politically sensitive and can be difficult to deal with. The Land Commission might have played a part in developing those worthwhile concepts and there is scope for their development as part of a land use policy.

Times have changed. The tone of the documents of the late 1970s differs from present realities. I acknowledge and pay tribute to the work of the Land Commission. It was slow, tedious and often thankless but nonetheless worthwhile. I am sure that quite a number of Irish farming families have benefited from the slow, non-spectacular humdrum work of the commission.

I am pleased to speak on this Bill and I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Hyland. He has an enormous contribution to make and will do so. I was at a presentation of certificates and degrees in Newcastle West lately where the Minister of State excelled in his speech, as was recognised by all present. It is appropriate that he should have been excellent on that occasion because the green certificate has to do with the transfer of land and is apposite to our subject here.

I have known Deputy Hyland for a long time. We came into the Seanad in the same year and he has graduated to greater things. I know from his performance in Newcastlewest, that his appointment as Minister of State is justified.

I would like to refer to part of the Minister's speech when he said that no one can deny that the Land Commission was effective in pursuing its aims. He said that the figures speak for themselves; since 1923 over 108,000 tenants were assisted in purchasing about three million acres and over two million acres were distributed among uneconomic small-holders, migrants and others. In addition, the Land Commission carried out extensive improvement works, built houses and outoffices, carried out drainage, reclamation and fencing and provided roads and water supplies. In talking about the demise of the Land Commission some of us have mixed feelings. They did good work, but also some bad work regarding land distribution and improvements over the years. We all know of cases where the commission did not seem to do the proper thing and where land was not given to those who seemed entitled to it, perhaps for the commission's own reasons.

In my area when land was given to people who were not in a position to farm it properly, it went for sale later and probably fell into the hands other than those of the more deserving in the area. When neighbours of mine sold a small farm, the Land Commission did not interfere. The farm was fragmented and amounted to about 19 acres dividing two farms. One part of it divided a farm consisting of 70 and 80 acres and the other part divided another farm. A nearby farmer with little land was also interested. The three farmers interested in acquiring this land did the sensible thing; they did a Land Commission job on it. One farmer bought it and sold half to the second farmer to ensure that his farm would comprise one holding; prior to that it had been in two parts. The second farmer was in the same position and got his farm into one parcel also. The third farmer who was anxious to increase his farm size made an exchange with one of the farmers who would benefit from the sale and everyone was happy. They did a better job than the Land Commission would have done.

In the Land Commission the common experience of farmers was taken into consideration; bureaucracy does not have the answer all the time. The same can be said of our policy in regard to cattle breeding; some cattle may be imported while others may not. Bureaucracy is playing a big part here to the detriment of better cattle breeding. The views of experienced farmers should be taken into account by elected representatives.

The Land Commission was established over 100 years ago to deal with the problem of land rents and when it was finally dissolved, it was probably seen as the worst landlord of all. The rents sought for land sub-divided by the Commission were beyond the means of those to whom the land had been given. As Senator Upton stated, the price of land became inflated when the banks gave money to people to bid against one another. When the Land Commission bought such land, they had to charge a high rent for it. I am pleased to note that recently the Minister of State, Deputy Hyland, has introduced measures to alleviate the hardships of those paying back rents and I congratulate him on this necessary step.

The Land Commission was involved in taking over many large estates in Kerry and in other counties. As a result, as many as ten families were allocated land in one estate. The size of those small farms, including houses and outoffices, was usually about 45 acres. At that time 45 acres seemed an economic holding, but now in the EC a farm of 45 acres is not economic. Some farms of 45 acres can have a quota of 30,000 gallons of milk, which might have been economic at that time, but not now when one needs a quota of at least 40,000 gallons to make dairying economic.

Senator Upton said that quotas were more desirable than land and if one sold a quota, one made a profit. I cannot understand his thinking because one cannot have quotas without land. If one rents land, the quota remains with the land and makes it more valuable.

Ownership of land is cherished in Ireland. The inheritance of farms by sons was aspired to. A bachelor would pass on his land to a close relative or to an in-law interested in developing the farm. When the Land Commission became owners of large sections of land division became a difficult task. It was difficult to get farmers to give up a patch of land in order to gain another patch closer to their own homes so that the unit could be intact.

I would like to refer to the transfer of land from one generation to the next and to consequent problems of tax, stamp duty, etc. Farmers qualify for the educational programme I referred to. The Minister presented certificates of farming to young farmers which would qualify them to farm. I ask the Minister to make the transfer of lands easier for such farmers. Inheritance tax imposed on farmers affects land transferred from father to son. As mentioned by previous Senators, farms are divided in order to pay inheritance tax; a young farmer may have to sell some of his inheritance to another farmer. This practice is making farms less viable and it would be better for the country to ensure farm viability.

Senators and other Members of the Oireachtas have asked for a land authority to be set up to monitor overall national land use paying particular attention to rural development and which could formulate ideas on the subject to convey to Ministers and to the Department. I note from the Minister's speech that he intends the proposal to be examined by an expert group currently working on the new development programme for the agricultural sector in the context of theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress. The Minister said that he expects this group, which includes representatives of his Department and of the farming organisations participating in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, to report within the next few months and I have no doubt that he will give careful consideration to the points he has asked them to examine. This is a very important development on which I congratulate the Minister.

I compliment the Land Commission on their social concern in distributing land. In my own area when a GAA club sought land to develop as a playing pitch the Land Commission facilitated the GAA club so that they could promote national games. Overall, the Land Commission, despite disappointment with the way land was allocated, did a good job.

I welcome the Minister. This is a wide ranging Bill. One could talk at great length about all its implications or take another approach by welcoming the Bill and discussing a possible substitute for the commission. I will endeavour to adopt a middle course. We are not talking about introducing legislation as such this evening but about a Bill designed to give statutory effect to the dissolution of an institution that has existed in this country for land apportionment since 1881.

The Irish Land Commission performed a valuable function for Irish farmers for 111 years, since it was formed in 1881. There has been criticism of Land Commission personnel for not doing certain things in different ways. This country would have been worse off without the Land Commission, however. The years of the commission encompassed periods of Irish national Government and a long period prior to that of British rule. However, since 1881 and the instigation of the Land Commission by Davitt, Parnell, Davis, Duffy, etc., there has been significant progress. The issues of primary concern then were free sale, fixity of tenure and fair rent. During British rule and under Irish rule up to the thirties, something like 4,000 holdings and 14 million acres were processed by the commission. This was a very substantial movement of land and effectively landlordism was terminated with this massive land takeover by Irish farmers up to the thirties. The job was not finished however, and the Land Commission had a long road ahead of it.

A number of holdings were acquired from people that should not have been acquired. One holding that comes to mind very clearly is the Gore-Booth family home in Lisadell which was referred to earlier this evening, the home of Countess Marckievicz. I think that estate or others of its type were not dealt with correctly. However, that is now history. Apart from these large estates there were also, particularly in the 1930s fairly substantial holdings taken from people who had families and had a need for land. That should not have happened.

When the Land Commissioner existed approximately 50 per cent plus of our people were directly engaged in farming. If one were to take those indirectly involved it would be a substantially higher figure. Farming is important today and 17 per cent of the population are directly involved in it while a similar percentage are indirectly engaged in it. It is very important now but it was even more important at that stage.

Senator Upton spoke about progressive farmers. I concur with what has been said. What appears to have been progress effectively has not been progress. Many people in the mid-to late seventies and early eighties borrowed money, established massive farmyard layouts and bought land and to this day they are in trouble. I am aware in a professional capacity of many of these cases where people acted on the advice of "experts".

It is fair to say that the Land Commission's biggest achievement in recent years was in relation to their policy of moving farmers from the west of Ireland, from Donegal down to Connaught, to Kerry, west Cork and indeed west Limerick, Clare and the whole western seaboard to Meath, Kildare and the greater Dublin area, and doing so to their great advantage. Farm sizes were perhaps small, of the order of 33 acres to 40 acres or 45 acres. In addition farmers with fragmented holdings perhaps of 50 to 60 acre lots in two or three different divides in the west, had the land taken from them which helped to case congestion in these areas and those farmers were given perhaps 150 acres in the eastern part of our country. Both these developments were very good.

Many people are deeply indebted to the Land Commission for what they did for them. I do not mean indebted in the sense of financial indebtedness but indebted otherwise. I know that many farmers find it difficult to meet the rent they have to pay. This is a problem that faced the Land Commission when they bought land in the late seventies and the eighties and to base their rent on that particular price. The Minister of State, Deputy Hyland, has recently introduced proposals to deal with this. One proposal as far as I can recall, is if a farmer can pay off the arrears that exist now he will get the land at half price. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong. The second is that there would be a restructuring of the loan period over a longer time. I compliment the Minister on those two far-seeing steps which will help people in a difficult situation. They are paying for land at an artifically high level which is not based on 1992 but on 1975/1980 levels.

Land mobility has always been and will continue to be an extremely important factor because there are many fragmented farms in Ireland. I suppport the dissolution of the Land Commission but it is essential that we have a land authority in its place. The land agency to which reference was made as far as I can recollect, in the Minister's speech, will not have any financial responsibility. I do not agree with that. If we are to make progress in eliminating fragmentation and dividing farms in the way in which they ought to be divided the agency will need finance. It would be impossible for the owners of land in one area to equate it with the land they would receive in another area. A sum of money will always be needed to make up the difference. We can adjust acres and do all sorts of things but a farmer in Ireland will never put exactly the same value on one acre of land that he would put on another acre in a different area.

In the eighties inspectors from the Land Commission were involved in adjusting acres for the purpose of taxation, etc. Many other surveys were done and so on and other adjustments were made and I understand a lot of that data has been set aside. That is a great pity.

I know that those people either moved back to the Land Commission or were employed in some other Government Department and this was done on a voluntary basis. I also know from talking to Land Commission personnel that there are at present about 20 people at inspectorate level elmployed by the Land Commission. There are engineers, agricultural science graduates and estate agents. I understand a number of those will take early retirement but some will be gainfully employed in other Departments. It is important that the staff are treated properly I have faith in the Minister and his Department to do this. Up to the mid-eighties there were about 150 inspectors in the Land Commission now there are 20 people engaged in a tidying up operation.

The Land Commission own 2,500 hectares. This land was not acquired in recent times but there are 2,500 hectares to be disposed of. The land agency will require financial assistance. We have about 400 hectares of peatland which must be distributed in the best way possible. I do not go along with the view that afforestation is the enemy of Irish agriculture. Afforestation has a lot to offer. It used to be a long term project but now people can get a return on their investment after four or five years particularly if they plant Christmas trees. In other cases they can expect a return from forestry after ten, 12 or 15 years. Forestry is not a big bad giant to be feared and got rid of at all costs. A lot of land cannot produce good crops or good grass; it is not good agricultural land. I agree that it is not appropriate to put good farm land under afforestation when there is dire necessity for worldwide food.

We have food mountains in Europe. The Common Agricultural Policy suggests we should have set aside programmes but I do not believe we should not go down that road given the starving millions in Somalia and elsewhere. We should look positively at this to see how we can get Irish and other produce to Third World countries that cannot afford to pay the transport costs let alone the goods themselves. I appreciate that this is a political area as well as being a question of economics but we must not build a wall around the EC or GATT countries nor can we forget the Third World countries.

I am against the set aside programme being introduced under the Common Agricultural Policy. For instance, there is a programme where for a five year period one will get £82 an acre for not growing cereals and leaving the land fallow or, in the case of grassland, one will get £42 an acre to lightly stock land to the extent of one beast per hectare, which is 2½ acres. Neither policy is good for this country. Given those two policies it is contradictory that we have land reclamation policies. It does not make sense to pay a man in Kildare £82 an acre not to grow wheat or barley on 100 acres and then give a grant to somebody in West Limerick or Clare to reclaim what might at best be described as marginal land. There are many anomalies which must be looked at. We have a responsibility to set up an organisation to examine all these issues.

I referred to the land which the Land Commission has in its possession — or, more correctly, which the Government and the Department of Agriculture and Food have in their possession, because the Land Commission will cease to exist when this Bill is passed.

Senator Norris spoke about farming in a very romantic fashion. We love the land but let us be realistic. It is very difficult for a family to make a living from the land. With the exception of milk or sugar beet production it is difficult, if not impossible, for a family to make a living from the land. The size of a farm is no longer the basis for making a judgment in that regard. A person with 200 acres producing beef could be losing money whereas a man with a milk quota of 30,000 or 40,000 gallons could be doing all right. I am not saying that dairy farmers are making fortunes but they and beet farmers are the only group who can hope to survive.

I support the concept of EC headage payments which farmers need if they are to survive. However, I believe they introduce an element of artificiality. The set-aside programmes have resulted in a great deal of uncertainty. Having regard to the social structure of society and the number of bachelors and older people who do not have family members working on the land, the present trend would suggest that in the next ten years we could have a dramatic reduction in the number of farms to perhaps 30,000 or 35,000, which would be primarily dairy farms with some beef production on the side. The remainder of the farmers will be working part-time and using their land for beef production or whatever. These people will need jobs — provided there are jobs available — as they will no longer be able to derive a living from the land. I believe there are many people in farming who are surviving from day-to-day on what they saved in the past, and in many cases, on borrowings. No responsible Government can allow this to continue.

GATT is extremely important. There are 105 countries involved in GATT and approximately 3 per cent of the population of those countries are involved in farming. There is little hope of our getting a good deal from GATT. I know we are part of Europe and have the Common Agricultural Policy but there is ongoing pressure from America for world prices to obtain. They will not agree to other trading if they do not get their way on world prices. If we had world prices in this country we would have no hope of surviving at all. The GATT countries, led mainly by America, the CAIRNS group of countries, South America and other countries in Europe are laying down the rules and dictating what EC policies should be in the future.

Any responsible person must acknowledge that the Irish Government do not have responsibility for many of the decisions taken these days. These decisions are taken in Brussels, and in some cases further afield. For that reason it behoves all of us to support the Government in their efforts to get the best deal from Europe and the best deal on the world stage. We have nothing to be apologetic about in the context of our location which is strategic. We should demand special attention. We are a small island off the mainland of Europe. If we are expected to sell goods to Europe and to the world we must be compensated for that. That is not to say we must not do our bit and endeavour to produce to market requirements.

I recently stated in this House that we have an obligation, as people involved in the land, to ensure that Irish housewives get what they require by way of food and similarly with housewives in Bonn, Paris or elsewhere. We must do market research and determine what is required in the marketplace and then produce such commodities. If we do not operate in that way we will have massive production, as we did previously, which we will not be able to sell. There have been many examples where we have not been successful in disposing of products. For that reason market research is vital and something we must devote a lot more time to in the future.

I refer again to the land authority. This authority could work closely with the Department of Agriculture and Food. It must have a special responsibility to eliminate or reduce fragmentation of farms; in other words, it must introduce an element of rationalisation into our farming pattern, the size of farms, the lay-out of farms and so on. In addition, I believe it has a major function to perform by way of what farmers do or do not do. I appreciate Teagasc provides an advisory service but many farmers need something more innovative at this point. With the departure of the Land Commission we have a perfect opportunity to introduce this agency in order to do something meaningful and positive to ensure that Irish farmers can move ahead in the future.

What has been said is rather gloomy, and that is understandable. I would like to think that we will tackle this matter more ambitiously and make sure we become more efficient in terms of production. There are many people who could be producing more efficiently. There are many people using antiquated systems and so on. I believe there is a vast potential to be exploited not alone at primary production level but at processing and indeed marketing levels. I have already dwelt on the marketing level and I would now like to dwell on the processing level. Unless we diversify our production we will not succeed. Up to now we have tended to produce beef.

Debate adjourned.