It is a matter of deep grief to me that the Farmers' Party who made such an auspicious lowering of the curtain last night, when they proclaimed that they had again come to life and were destined, apparently, to take an important part in the future destinies of the State, are not represented here now. That is all the harder to understand, because the Farmers' Party, above all parties, is the one which hangs economy highest among its banners. In the elections that have taken place from time to time down the country no party had the slightest interest in economy except the Farmers' Party. It is very significant that a change apparently has come now, and that when the rather important matter of voting seven and a half millions of the people's money comes up for discussion, there is not, so far as I can see, a single member of that party in his seat. This matter of economy is one that affects the agricultural community. The matter of the working of the Departments which have a direct bearing on reproductive work in connection with agriculture is also of great interest to the farmers of the Free State. They will, I am sure, be sorry to see there is a large cut in the subsidy for the beet-growing industry this year. It has been reduced from £274,000 to £108,000. That, I submit, is a reduction in a source of employment and in the actual output of money—that portion of the money which we vote in this House and which finds its way in one way or another into the hands of the farmer and labourer in the country. If that economy is to be effected, and if other economies have to be effected, economies which we have not had fully explained to us yet, but which I see in certain Departments, such as Fisheries and Land Commission, are very big economies, the House must naturally put a question to those responsible for making these economies. The House must ask whether they are satisfied that the economies really represent an elimination of waste and a real step forward on the road to genuine economy, or whether they mean a reduction in employment and in whatever amount of money is devoted to providing employment.
I do not propose to deal with Fisheries, because it would be futile. The amount of money that has been granted to the Department of Fisheries has made that Department the Cinderella of the Free State. The Minister in charge of that Department has had the Land Commission handed over to him. On his shoulders also has been placed the burden of building up something in the Gaeltacht which will help to keep the Irish-speaking population at home. On his shoulders, I believe, at present is also laid the task of producing some proposals which will lead to the building up of the fishing industry and to placing it in the position it should occupy—one of the foremost assets of the Free State. The extent to which the Government is in earnest in this matter, and the real value of its promises, may be judged from the fact that whereas it gave £41,000 last year for the upkeep of the Fishery Department, this year it is going to give £42,000—an increase of £1,000. Yet when Deputies on this side of the House have the audacity to get up and say that Senators' salaries, the salary of the Governor-General, and the salary of every officer who is getting more than £1,000 a year should be reduced, if we cannot get money anywhere else to keep these people from eating shell-fish or smoking cabbage-leaves or tealeaves, we are told by Deputies on the other side that we are not in earnest, that something else is being done. What is the something else? I submit that if the Government cannot find any more money than an extra £1,000 this year to tackle the problem of the Gaeltacht and the fishery industry, it were better that the Government should get out, or that it should take some bolder steps to get this money for the fishery industry.
Deputy de Valera has pointed out that a very important matter hanging on the agricultural economy of the Free State is also in question in the Estimates before us. That is the question of the delay in the vesting of land in the tenants. The Land Commission Estimate has been reduced from £719,000 to £515,000. We do not know at present whether that reduction of £200,000 means that half the officials of the Land Commission, let us suppose, have had their services dispensed with. I doubt it. I am very much inclined to agree with Deputy O'Connell that that £200,000 represents a reduction in the employment which would be given in the improvement of estates, the making of roads, the building of houses and other works in connection with estates that lie in the hands of the Land Commission. That £200,000 therefore represents a reduction in employment. No substitute is provided. The schemes of the new Department are not forthcoming. The Fishery Department is not going to do anything wonderful with its extra £1,000. What is going to take the place of this £200,000, a large amount of which would be spent in the poorer areas of Ireland, and a large amount of which would go to give employment to labourers in various rural centres who cannot find any other employment? What are they going to do? There is not alone that aspect of the question, but there is also the fact that the reduction in the Land Commission Estimate means, I believe, a general slowing down in the operations and the work of dealing with tenanted land under the provisions of the 1923 Act. In an answer to a question put by Deputy Allen on 28th February, in which he sought information regarding the number of tenants purchased under that Act, who had been vested, he was told that since the year 1923, the year the Act was passed, 6,114 had been vested. At the time the Land Act was introduced by the present Minister for Agriculture, we were told that there were 70,000 tenants involved. According to that there are some 64,000 tenants still waiting to be vested. If we vest at the rate of roughly, 1,000 per year, it follows that it will take 64 years to deal with the remaining 64,000. That is the way the Land Commission is carrying on.
It would be much better, I think, to give the Land Commission and the Fishery Department whatever financial facilities they require in order to enable them to bring this whole question of land purchase to a conclusion, and also to try to put the fishery industry on some commercial basis such as has been attempted in connection with the dairying industry. It is quite evident that that is not being done in the one case, and that in the other case the officials of the Land Commission have nothing further from their minds than this question of how purchase should be completed. It has been going on for generations. Officials come and officials go; Departments come, are broken up, amalgamated, or disappear, but the Land Commission seems to go on for ever. Occasionally a regular artillery charge of figures is hurled at us from the other side of the House, a regular mass of figures to show the amount of land that is in the different processes. Whether the experts of the Land Commission themselves understand these processes or the complications which they seem to devise as years go by I do not know. But there are a large number of people in the country who wonder when this question of land purchase is going to be finished, or if it is ever going to be finished. The Minister for Agriculture, speaking down in the country, said that at the end of five years he could promise that every Irish tenant farmer would be the duly vested owner of his holding. That five years has passed and we do not seem to be any nearer that. We have about ten per cent. of the holdings vested that had to be dealt with at that time, and the other ninety per cent. still remain on our hands. In addition to the slowness of these operations, and the fact that there is general insecurity in the country while the land question is not being satisfactorily attended to, there is being imposed upon the farmer a definite burden in this case, and if the reduction which is being made this year in the Land Commission, and in the work which the Land Commission gives, were offset or counterbalanced in some direction by giving the tenants the reduction to which they are entitled and which they were promised in 1923, then something might be said for that economy. But there is no ground whatever for hoping, there is no evidence whatever to show us that these tenants are going to be any better treated now than they were two years ago, three years ago, five years ago.
The Minister for Agriculture, when he introduced this great Land Bill in 1923, went very fully into the matter. We were not here when that Act was brought in; some of us were in jail and some of us were outside; but we know that great promises were made to the electorate that this Bill was going to settle the question definitely, finally, and for all time, and the Minister had not the slightest doubt about it at the time, because we must assume that he was in earnest as to the effect of the measure. He said that there was one great difference between each and all preceding measures for land purchase, or for land settlement, and that was that the thing called interest in lieu of rent was to be abolished, that there was to be an automatic vesting after certain facts had been disclosed to the Land Commission — very simple facts, such as the name of the tenant, the amount of land he held, and whether he was a judicial tenant or not. After these very simple facts had been collected by the Land Commission, there was to be automatic vesting, an Appointed Day was to be fixed automatically as a matter of course, and immediately after that the tenant was to be placed on the same basis as if he were paying his standard purchase annuity. So that instead of, as the Minister for Agriculture said at the time, the Irish tenant purchaser not having to pay interest in lieu of rent for five or seven or perhaps ten years, when he ought to be paying an annuity towards the redemption of the purchase money and towards the redemption of the obligation that had been placed upon him, he is as bad at the end of five or seven or ten years as he was at the beginning, and he has eventually to begin paying his annuity from the very start. That bad phase of the old Land Acts was to be completely wiped out in this wonderful new measure, which illustrated the statesmanship and the imagination of the present Minister for Agriculture. Then, after a certain time, the Minister for Agriculture began to change his mind.
The Farmers' Party, a few years after 1923, began to think that these promises were not being fulfilled. They began to see that the automatic vesting was not being made, the appointed day was not being named, and the tenants who were to secure the immediate reduction were not getting it, were at the loss of some 10 per cent. every year, an amount that at the present time comes to £80,000, I believe. Accordingly in 1925 this whole question was raised in the Dáil. It was raised, as was only proper at the time, and as would be most improper at the present juncture, by Deputy Heffernan. Deputy Heffernan said:
A return placed at our disposal by the Ministry of Agriculture a short time ago showed that there were over 94,000 tenants coming under the 1923 Act, and of that total at the date of the issue of the return in the case of 334 only had the appointed day been fixed. That is a very small proportion—334 holdings compared with 94,000.
Deputy Heffernan at that time said that there were 94,000 holdings, whereas we calculate, basing it upon what the Minister for Agriculture said in 1923, that there were 70,000. At that time the rate of progress was very small; it was only 334 out of 94,000, and there is no proof whatever that it has increased since. Then, in order to emphasise the importance of the question at the time, it was not alone raised by Deputy Heffernan, but the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands and Fisheries, Deputy Roddy, actually handed in a motion to raise the whole question. He was then a member of the Government Party, and there was a big slump in Government stock at the end of 1925 because the promises that had been made in 1923 were not being fulfilled, and the reduction that should have been granted to the tenants was not being made to them. There were other matters also with which Deputy Roddy was not satisfied at the time, but he dealt in particular with the delay and with the general unsatisfactoriness of the Land Commission in dealing with this question. He said:—
In the debate on the Land Commission Estimates this year the Minister for Lands and Agriculture stated that in his opinion the Land Commission was moving rather too quickly in this matter, and he advocated a slower pace. At the time I thought that that was an extraordinary statement, and it certainly caused a great deal of uneasiness and dissatisfaction in many quarters. There might have been some justification for such a policy in the days of the Congested Districts Board.
Further, he said:
The Minister may quote an elaborate array of figures in order to show the amount of preliminary work the Land Commission is doing. He did quote figures extensively in the debate on this year's Agricultural Estimate, figures designed to show the amount of land that had actually been inspected by the Commission, the amount of land that had actually been valued, and the amount of land that had actually been divided, for which land purchase agreements had been signed. These figures undoubtedly looked very formidable on paper, but after all they carried no conviction to the minds of the ordinary small landholders throughout the country.
So that at that time Deputy Roddy was not at all satisfied with the way in which the Land Commission was being worked, and he emphasised his disapproval of their dilatoriness by saying that the problem was not being tackled in a really serious and determined way; that the formalities that have to be gone through before the land finally passes into the possession of the new owners are too elaborate, and that it might be possible to co-ordinate these processes in some way in order to speed up the work of land division. Deputy Roddy himself has now been in charge of the Land Commission for a number of years; he is well acquainted with these processes, and in a debate a few nights ago on this question of the delay in vesting land in the tenant proprietors, he said that a great deal of the delay was due to the question of legal procedure, although when the Land Act was being introduced it was emphasised, over and over again, that after a simple statement of the particulars of the holding were lodged with the Land Commission, upon the Appointed Day there was to be an automatic vesting of the land and an automatic reduction to the tenant. Now we are told that there are legal formalities. What are the legal formalities? In the first place there is the question of title. If the Land Commission have not sufficient examiners, why do they not apply for more? How is it that the Land Commission, which was so slow when the Minister for Agriculture was in charge of it—he who at the end of his reign in that Department actually defended it; actually said that it was better that it should go slow —under Deputy Roddy, who had such a progressive point of view, and who was so anxious to get things moving a few years ago, shows no improvement?
If it is a question of legal formality, and if, as Deputy Roddy said a few nights ago, he has not been able to simplify these processes, why has he not applied to the Dáil for money to secure more examiners in title and more barristers to deal with this question? I cannot agree that the question of title is holding up this matter of the vesting of lands. The House knows very well, in spite of all this talk about having to go to China and Peru in order to clear up this question of title, that in the case of the Agricultural Credit Corporation, to mention only one case—and I do not say that it is a good case, but it comes to my mind—we were able to suggest and to implement in legislation a method by which this question of title would be taken for granted, and you would proceed by arranging that the whole matter would be entered into later on. Whether the question of title has to be settled or whether it has not, whether the Land Act has turned out to be much more complicated than it first appeared, whether this whole question of automatically vesting on the appointed day has disappeared, and whether a whole host of new complications have sprung up I do not know; but what I do know is, that whatever the legal difficulties may be, or whatever the Departmental red-tape regulations may be, there is no justification whatever for mulcting the tenants to the extent of £80,000 a year. They deserve that £80,000. Farming is not so prosperous at present that they can afford to give it as a free gift to the Government. I submit that the Government has had plenty of opportunities for dealing with the whole question of title, and that that is only a sham excuse, only an attempt to throw dust in the eyes of the public, that that is the reason that these people are not getting the reductions.
There was also a suggestion that a great deal of the work of the Land Commission during the past five or six years consisted in dealing with and vesting lands that had been acquired under previous Acts, but we never heard at all the stage to which these transactions had been brought before 1923. I have been informed and I believe that the Congested Districts Board had a very large number of estates prepared and practically in the last stage of transfer, and that the Land Commission should come along now, claim credit for what the Congested Districts Board had completed or had almost completed, and use that as an excuse for not proceeding with the work that it was definitely stated in 1923 they were going to complete in five years, is simply not worthy of them. There are not alone judicial tenants under the 1923 Act who are losing 2/- in the £ as long as their lands are being held up in this way and are not vested, but there are other classes of tenants. I am informed that in various parts of the country there are judicial tenants whose holdings were purchased from 1912 onwards who are getting a reduction of only 3/-, whereas they are entitled to 5/6 or 6/- in the £. An example is the estate of Trinity College in Cahirciveen. There is also the question of non-judicial tenants. These tenants are in a slightly different position to the judicial tenants, but we on this side of the House can see no reason why all tenants should not have their lands vested and why an appointed day should not be fixed this year, or within the next few months.
In Northern Ireland, where a Bill was introduced in 1925, the Government guaranteed that they would complete the work in four years. It is true that they have not completed it, but at any rate they named the appointed day, and now that they propose further to postpone that appointed day, they have aroused around their heads a storm of opposition on the part of every farmer who is interested in the question. But, at the time this Act was being passed in 1923 every Deputy who took an interest in the matter, who took the Minister's words at their face value, believed honestly that the appointed day was merely a matter of automatic arrangement, was a mere question of date, that the whole matter would be settled in a short time, so that not a single member of the House. as far as I know, asked: "Should we not put a time limit on this appointed day? Should we not say to ourselves if we feel that we can complete the work in five years, that we should definitely have it in the Act that the appointed day should not be later than this day five years?" If that had happened we would have an opportunity of going into this whole question, and the Land Commission would have had to proceed with its work on the understanding that at the end of five years it would either have to complete the work or give a full account of its stewardship, and a full explanation of its failure to do so. After five years there is no explanation, there is no method by which the matter can be raised, and there is general dissatisfaction throughout the country, not confined to our Party, or to the supporters of our Party, but general dissatisfaction amongst the supporters of all Parties with the Land Commission. I put it to the House that Deputies ought to take this opportunity of urging upon the Government that they are not going to tolerate that state of affairs, that they are not going to vote large sums of money year after year for the upkeep of the Land Commission without knowing what it is doing; above all, that Deputies should say that they are not satisfied to vote such large sums of money while they know that the professions of the Land Commission, and the intentions of the legislature in this matter, are not being carried out, and that the tenants are being mulcted.