How does the Minister propose to deal with the transfer of the land he has on hands? I understand from the figures he gave that there are about 1,300 hectares of good land and about 5,000 hectares of inferior land or bog. Will this be sold off or is it proposed to allocate it to small farmers in the vicinity of the estates who would be entitled to land in the normal course? I would like the Minister to clarify that.
Irish Land Commission (Dissolution) Bill, 1989: Committee and Final Stages.
I assume they would still hold the property and land. The Land Commission and the people in the Department of Lands did an excellent job but a few blunders were made. There was a beautiful castle, Shanbally Castle, one of the finest castles in southern Ireland, and in mid-1965 after blowing it up, the Land Commission spent months taking away all the cut stone. If that castle was there today it would be one of our finest monuments. It could have been used as a hotel, a training school, etc. If the Land Commission still have such property on their hands, I appeal to them to be very careful what they do with it.
I am glad to tell both Senators that the remaining land held by the Land Commission will be distributed in accordance with the procedures adopted by the commission over the years. There will not be a departure from their assessment of the eligibility and entitlement of the smaller family farm to this land.
I am very pleased to hear the Minister's response because I was afraid people with money would be given an option to buy this land to the detriment of the smaller farmers in the area. I am very glad to hear the Minister's reply.
This section deals with transfer of records. The Records Branch of the Irish Land Commission gave a tremendous service and had gathered an enormous amount of valuable information in relation to landowners and borrowers. I hope that information and the records they collected over the years will be readily available to landowners. Now that the transfer is taking place people should be made aware of where they could get this information. It is being taken over by the Department of Agriculture and Food and a little publicity should be given to that fact. That is very important. This section of the Land Commission gave very valuable service but was given little publicity. They had amassed a lot of information and it would be a pity if it were not made available to farmers.
I would like to ask the Minister if information compiled in the mid-eighties regarding adjusted acreage, its evaluation, etc. for the purpose of introducing a land tax, is available and can be distributed to anyone who wishes to have it.
In relation to the documentation held by the Land Commission and now in the process of being transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Food, every care is being taken to preserve all the very important and, in many cases, historic documents and to ensure that they are transferred and filed in a way which will make them as accessible as possible to the public and to the legal profession. I hope all these important documents will be properly stored in the new home we have found for them and that the public will have full access.
I have received legal advice that the existing provision is not appropriate and on that basis I am proposing the amendment which has been circulated. The original text provided for compensation similar to that which would be available in the case of a civil servant who is retiring or who is removed from public service as a consequence of the abolition of the office. The legal advice made available to me is that the tenure of a Lay Commissioner is not the same as that of a civil servant and, therefore, it would be unsafe to allow the provision in the present Bill to stand.
The amendment which I am proposing will allow greater scope to the Minister and the Minister for Finance in deciding on reasonable compensation. It is very much along the lines of the provision contained in the Land Act, 1950, under which compensation was provided for Lay Commissioners who ceased to hold office as a consequence of that Act. The actual level of compensation to be fixed in this case is a matter for decision and requires the consent of the Minister for Finance.
What expenses are we talking about here? If the Land Commission is dissolved and the functions of the Land Commission are taken over by the Department of Agriculture and Food, what type of expenses are we talking about, or do I take it that the scheme the Land Commission had of the division of commonages might be continued under the new department? That scheme did a lot of good, particularly in the west. I would like to see the new department within the Department of Agriculture and Food continue the programme of division of commonages that had been so effective and so valuable in the west.
I assume all the unfinished business of the Land Commission, whether to do with commonages, good land, peatland or whatever, will be taken on board by this new land authority.
Section 13 is a standard provision in most Bills and it could, for example, deal with the question of compensation to the Lay Commissioners, which Senators have already approved under the amendment I brought into the House.
To answer Senator Hourigan's question, lest there be any misunderstanding or confusion about the remaining undivided land, I want to make it quite clear that as a result of the dissolution of the Land Commission, the powers are now transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Food and to the Minister. The Department is proceeding to dispose of the remaining land transferred to the Department in accordance with the criteria under which the Land Commission operated over the years. It has nothing to do with any possible new authority which might come into place as a result of the study being undertaken within the Department — a special review group chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Food. The continuation of the unfinished work of the Irish Land Commission will now be undertaken by the Department of Agriculture and Food and by people specially designated within the Department.
The Minister, as such, will not be involved in the distribution of the remaining land bank. The responsibility for this work will be delegated to a senior official or officials in the Department along the same lines the commissioners operated when they were dealing with these matters.
Could the Minister give us an idea of the broad functions of this new land authority or land body? What will be their terms of reference?
I want to make it quite clear that, as of now, there is no specific intention to set up a land body. All I am saying is that as a result of views expressed in the Dáil and during this debate, I requested the special parliamentary review body, under the chairmanship of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Food, to take on board all those suggestions, which I support. I have put in a strong recommendation to the review body that there should be an overall co-ordinating body to review everything that is taking place in relation to land. We await the recommendations of the review body. They will report to Government and eventually a decision will be made in relation to the new authority, if any.