The title of the Vote for the "Land Commission" is altered this year to the Vote for "Lands," owing to the inclusion for the first time of salaries and allowances of the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary and their personal staff. This follows on the redistribution of Fisheries and Gaeltacht Services, and is merely a matter of administrative convenience.
The amount of the Vote, as a whole, shows an increase of £132,444 on the previous year's total (as adjusted to include the Supplementary Estimate of February last). This is attributable mainly to increased and progressive activity in regard to the division of untenanted land, as will be seen by the provision under sub-head I (Improvement of Estates, etc.) which is increased by £80,000.
Salaries, Wages and Allowances under sub-head A are increased by £21,026 on account of an increase of staff both indoor and outdoor, necessitated mainly by the expanding policy of land division. The total staff is augmented in number from 862 in the previous year to 984 in the present year. The largest increase is naturally in the Acquisition and Resales Division, where 36 extra officials are required to deal with the indoor work in connection with land settlement. The Inspectorate and Survey Staffs are increased by 19 to deal mainly with the outdoor work. The Purchase Branch, which is principally concerned with the vesting of tenanted land, is increased by 34 officers.
Under sub-head B, the amount for travelling expenses is up by £3,000 on last year, consonant with the increase in the numbers of the inspectorate staff and their extended activities. The slight increases under sub-heads D and E (Office of the Public Trustee and the Solicitor's Branch) represent mainly ordinary increments in salary of the staff. An increase of £1,500 is put down for sub-head F (Incidental Expenses of the Solicitor's Branch) which includes among its various items costs awarded in cases of appeal against prices fixed by the Land Commission in proceedings for the acquisition of land under the Land Acts, 1923-'33.
The increase of £2,222 under sub-head H (Payments under Section 11 (7) of the Land Act, 1923) represents the normal additional liability of the State for interest and sinking fund on new land bonds issued under the Land Act, 1923, for contribution to the price of tenanted land and for the Costs Fund.
The big increase under sub-head I (£80,000) (Improvement of Estates, etc.) has been already referred to, but it may be well to emphasise that this expenditure serves the dual purpose of land improvement and the provision of useful employment in agricultural districts. This is an inevitable corollary of the big increase in the division of untenanted land.
The provision under sub-head J (Advance to meet deficiency of Income from Untenanted lands purchased under the Land Acts 1923-'33) remains the same as last year, and does not call for comment. The amount provided under sub-head K (payments under Sections 42 and 46 of the Land Act, 1927) is increased by £1,224, mainly to make provision for any State liability arising in connection with new committee cases for which advances will be made under Section 42.
As regards the Section 46 cases, three more co-operative farming societies have been wound up during the past year and only two of these societies still await dissolution. Sub-heads L (Deficiencies on realisation of Land Bonds) and M (Loss on Unoccupied Holdings) represent only nominal provision, and the same applies to sub-head Q (Payments under Section 34 of the 1931 Act).
Sub-heads N ("Additional Sums" Advances) and O (Provision for cases where Purchase Proceedings are Dismissed or Purchase Price reduced) remain practically unchanged and do not call for comment. Estimates under all these heads are largely problematical. In regard to sub-head O, for example, it is quite impracticable to forecast to what extent the recovery of over-issued bonds may prove to be impossible.
Provision under sub-head P is increased by £500 in order to provide for contingencies, but precise forecasting of such an item is impracticable. The amount provided under sub-head R is increased by £5,000 in order to meet deficiencies in the Land Bond Fund arising from the revision under Part III of the Land Act, 1933, of further annuities, as they are set up.
The amount under sub-head S is reduced by £5,000 as some of the proceedings pending under the Land Acts of 1903 and 1909 have been disposed of during the past year, and the amount of £15,000 is estimated as sufficient to finance in the current year transactions pending under these Acts. Sub-heads T (Payments under Section 14 (4) of the 1933 Act) and U (Advance for payments under Section 17 (J) of the 1933 Act) remain the same as last year and do not require comment.
Under sub-head V, this year a sum of £11,200 will be required to meet the deficiency in the Church Temporalities Fund, due to the funding of arrears of annual payments and the reduction of annual payments under the 1933 Land Act, which deficiency is to be made good out of voted moneys, under Section 18 of that Act. Last year only a nominal sum of £100 was put down under this head, as no reliable estimate of the deficiency could be framed. This deficiency is now estimated at £5,600 for the year 1934-35 and a similar amount for the year 1935-36 so that the sum of £11,200 provided covers the deficiency for the two years. Of this sum £1,000 is in respect of arrears in excess of three years remitted and the balance represents loss of revenue in consequence of reductions in rentals.
Under sub-head W (Fees payable under Section 28 of the Land Act, 1933) an increase of £2,000 is shown. The amount required under this head cannot be accurately forecast, but the round sum of £30,000 will probably be sufficient. The amount required under sub-head X (Writing off of Annuities on submerged lands) is also difficult to estimate, but a round figure of £1,000 is put down. Last year's estimate under this head was only a nominal figure.
The amount of £300 provided under sub-head Y for assistance to migrants from the Gaeltacht is the same as last year. As explained in the course of introducing the Supplementary Estimate for the Land Commission in February last, this sub-head is provided to meet exceptional expenditure to be incurred in connection with the migration of congests from the Gaeltacht to the new colonies to be established in County Meath.
In the course of the debate on the Supplementary Estimate taken early this year I dealt at some length with the Gaelic-speaking settlement near Athboy, which has aroused a good deal of public interest. I may say now that 16 families from the Gaeltacht have been successfully installed in their new homes and are rapidly adapting themselves to the new conditions. This particular settlement is to be completed in the course of this year by the migration of 11 further families, making 27 families in all, as soon as houses and accommodation are prepared for them. We are leaving nothing undone to make this experiment a success and hope that it may set a headline for further schemes of a similar nature and serve the dual purpose of relieving congestion in the Gaeltacht and preserving and extending the use of the Irish language in other areas. Other schemes of a similar nature are at present under consideration.
As regards the Appropriations-in-Aid of the Vote, the total amount for the current year is expected to be less by nearly £9,000 than last year's figure. This reduction is mainly attributable to the reduced amount to be received in repayment of advances from sub-head N of the Vote in respect of "Additional Sums" under Section 28 (3) of the Land Act, 1923, and Section 51 of the Land Act, 1931. The bulk of these advances was made in November, 1931, and as the final instalments of these Additional Sums fell due last year this item will be considerably diminished in future.
As regards the general work of the Land Commission, the past year has witnessed a great advance in the work of land settlement. As stated in the course of the debate on the Supplementary Estimate taken in February last, the Land Commission staff, both outdoor and indoor, have put in a year of exceptionally hard work and have broken all records in the matter of land division.
There has not been time yet to have a final audit on the returns for land division up to the 31st March last, but these returns may be taken as representing accurately the work of the Department for the financial year ending on that date. Taking the nine years, 1926 to 1934, the average amount of untenanted land divided (under the Land Acts, 1923-'33) was 44,534 acres per annum and about 8,000 acres on the C.D.B. and Estates Commissioners' Estates.
Last year—i.e., from April 1st, 1934, to March 31st, 1935—the amount of untenanted land divided was over 102,000 acres. In addition, there were divided on Congested Districts Board and Estates Commissioners' Estates 21,500 acres, making a total division of almost 124,000 acres for the year.
Over and above this there was during the year a re-arrangement of 545 Congested Districts Board holdings amounting to over 20,000 acres. During the year 100.468 acres were acquired under the 1923-'33 Land Acts, which contrasts favourably with 48,000 acres, which was the average per year for the previous nine years.
The expenditure on "Improvements"—i.e., on all building repairs, fencing and development work consequent on division—was £318,723, against an average of £200,000 per annum over the same period.
When it is noted that this enormous increase has been secured at an increased staff cost of approximately 11½ per cent., Deputies will, I think, agree that the work of the Department for the year has been more than creditable. No effort will be spared to maintain and increase land settlement during the present year.
Activities in the other branches of the Land Commission have been well maintained during the past year. The organisation of the purchase branch, which deals with estates of tenanted land, has been strengthened with a view to providing adequate staff for the work of finally re-vesting in the tenants the large number of estates vested in the Land Commission under the Land Act, 1931. In this matter, it is a wise policy to "hasten slowly" and to give the tenants the full benefits of improvement, proper definition of appurtenances, and re-arrangement of their holdings where necessary, prior to vesting. The placing of the tenants on a purchase annuity basis under the provisions of the Land Act, 1931, has obviated the necessity for hasty vesting, as delay does not involve the tenants in any financial loss.
As regards allotting new holdings of untenanted land, vesting does not and will not take place for some considerable time after allottees have been installed. There is a definite and, I think, a sound reason for this delay. It gives the Land Commission an opportunity to see that the new holders will make every effort to make good and not simply turn their lands into cash either by sale or by letting. So long as lands are unvested possession can be retaken and they can be reallotted to other applicants who will use them in a proper manner. In practice, it is expected that at least six to seven years will elapse before vesting takes place. In the meantime the tenant suffers no hardship, as delay in vesting does not prevent all annuity payments being credited to the tenant purchaser in just the same way as if the lands were vested.
Considerable progress has also been made during the past year with the resale of the remaining unvested holdings on the estates acquired by the late Congested Districts Board, and the intricate work of improving and re-arranging these holdings preparatory to vesting has been well advanced.
Good progress is also being made with the distribution of the land bonds representing the purchase prices of estates vested in the Land Commission under the Land Acts, 1923-33. As regards tenanted land a total of £6,500,000 in land bonds—nearly half of the amount representing the price of the estates vested in the Land Commission under the provisions of Section 9 of the Land Act, 1931—has already been distributed. During the past year, taking tenanted and untenanted land together, a total of about £2,500,000 in land bonds was distributed.
One of the most difficult tasks of the Land Commission during the past year has been the punctual collection of land purchase annuities. The returns up to the 31st March last show that since the coming into operation of the Land Act, 1933, as from the November-December gale of 1933, a total amount of £2,771,890 has been collected on account of revised land purchase annuities, leaving arrears of £880,690 at that date over the three gales. That is to say, over three-fourths of the total amount collectible had been already collected on March 31st and the arrear is being steadily reduced. I may mention that since March 31st approximately £150,000 has been collected.
That, in brief, is a summary of the year's work up to March 31st, 1935, and I hope and think you will agree with me that it has been a splendid year's work on the part of the entire staff of the Land Commission. From the Commissioners down to the junior members of the staff there has been constant and consistent loyal service and tireless energy. To the staffs, outdoor and indoor, I attribute the results that I have outlined and I, at least, wish to record here publicly my keen appreciation of and thanks for the efforts they have made.
Mr. Brennan rose.