I would like, in the first place, to add my complaint to that of Deputy Belton in respect to the leakage of knowledge, in one direction only, with regard to the intentions of the Land Commission. I do not know whether it is through the political heads of the Department or from within the Department itself that the leakage occurred, but it is beyond yea or nay that the Fianna Fáil clubs in every county have advance knowledge with regard to the acquisition of estates. Their knowledge is so advanced that it does not even appear to be within the knowledge of the chiefs of the Land Commission. Time and again every one of us has got letters from parishes in our constituencies to the effect that a meeting of the Fianna Fáil club was held with regard to the proposed sub-division of such and such an estate, and we are asked if that estate is about to be sub-divided. In the course of our duties as Deputies, we write in the ordinary official way to the Secretary of the Department and ask if there is any truth in the rumour. Every one of us, time and again, gets back the reply that it is not so, and that there is no knowledge in the Department to that effect.
I believe in the honour of the people dealing with those questions at the top, but in 12 or 18 months' time we find that the rumour was correct. Now, it may be attributable to a type of uncanny, intelligent anticipation peculiar to those with a Fianna Fáil mentality: it may be attributable to a number of very significant coincidences, but it is a fact that for the last two or three years the pivotal agents of Fianna Fáil in rural Ireland have very advanced knowledge with regard to the intentions of this Department. Now that is regrettable, and it is not either increasing the respect there should be for a great Government Department or the prestige of that Department. It is a game that may appear to be profitable, looked at from a very short point of view. In the long run it is both nationally and politically harmful. I will ask the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister at least to accept this from me—that that has repeatedly come within my knowledge. Time and again I have gone down the country and I have said: "That is not so; put that out of your head," and within 12 months I have found that the rumour was correct. I do not know where the fault lies, but a fault there is, and a type of fault that should be rectified.
During the course of this debate this evening, and arising out of Deputy Mulcahy's remarks, I think that every Deputy in this House with a sense of responsibility must have felt rather perturbed. It was stated here from this bench that Deputy Mulcahy put down a question to the Minister for Lands, asking him to give the cost of land acquired and allocated, and that the reply he got from the Parliamentary Secretary was that it would be difficult to give that information, or something to that effect. The Deputy's question was as follows:—
"If he will state in respect of each county and province in Saorstát Eireann the total amount of the charges paid or to be paid by the State in connection with the creation and assigning of new holdings of untenanted land under the Land Acts 1923 to 1933, during the year 1934, specifying the main headings under which such charges were incurred, the total amount of the charge under each such heading, and the gross total of those charges."
The reply by the Parliamentary Secretary was as follows:—
"I have made detailed inquiries into the system of recording the sanctions for improvement works carried out by the Land Commission on the division of untenanted land, and I find that it would be impracticable to supply the information which the Deputy desires without the expenditure of such time and labour as would be out of all proportion to the value of the information."
In other words, when there was a question of accounting for the expenditure of £1,500,000 of the people's money, and when a statement was made to the effect "so many acres of land or so many holdings have been bought out of that money," the Deputy asked: "How much did you pay for each of these holdings? What was the all-in cost of each of those holdings?" and the answer he got was that it was impossible to supply that information.
Sooner or later we have got to develop here a sense of the responsibility that is on our shoulders when we are spending other people's money. There is no one in this Assembly, from the Parliamentary Secretary to the top bench there or to the top bench here, who would buy a farm of land out of his own money, and would find it impossible to tell anybody next day how much he had paid for it. It should not happen that when you are buying land out of other people's money you do not know how much you are paying for it. It strikes me as definitely unbelieveable that at this day of this year we should have such a state of affairs in the country. We can all make allowances for the great number of charges that go to make up a thoroughly accurate costing. There are the overhead charges of officers, there are the administrative charges of officers, there are the travelling expenses of officers of various types, there is the cost of the land itself, the cost of whatever type of house was constructed on it, as well as the cost of improvements, fencing, and all that, but certainly it is not either meeting this House in a fair or reasonable spirit or extending the courtesy that should be due from a Government member to a Dáil Deputy to reply in the form in which Deputy Mulcahy was replied to. Moreover, it is not playing the game by the people, poor and rich, who are asked out of their wealth or out of their poverty to supply £1,500,000 a year to a Department which, as far as we are concerned, does not know how much it is paying for any article is buys.
Perturbed as I was at that, I was more perturbed by the point of view expressed by Deputy Davin, which if it meant anything at all implied that there was something improper in a Deputy of this House seeking such information or being interested at all as to the cost to the public of any particular service; that it was particularly extraordinary for a city Deputy to be interested in such a matter; and that all that mattered was the division of the land. That is a rather extraordinary point of view for a Deputy who told us two or three minutes later that he had been 14 years in this House. I hope the rest of us will not be as bad after 14 years. I hope the rest of us will retain some sense of responsibility if ever we are here for 14 years, but if that is the fate of the old-timer, then the quicker most of us are knocked out the better. A city Deputy is supposed to be as cautious as a country Deputy with regard to the expenditure of £1,500,000 of the money of a poor country such as this. It does not matter whether there is land to be divided in his area or not; the people in his constituency have got to put up money to buy the land. It would be a better day for all of us if there were more concern, more close study, and more consideration given by the representatives of constituencies all over the country to the manner in which public funds are spent and administered. I am as anxious as Deputy Davin to see land divided where land division is desirable. I am as anxious as he is to see landless men placed on the land, and to see uneconomic holdings made economic, but I would never be so anxious for that particular state of affairs as entirely to overlook the cost of the transaction.
It is not sufficient for anyone to say "all that matters is the dividing of the land, and we are not interested as to the overhead charges; we are not interested as to the cost of the transaction." That is a reckless and irresponsible spirit, which should not be encouraged here. The way to discourage it, and the way to make us all more responsible and more aware of our responsibilities is for Ministers in charge of Departments to go to some pains, and their officials to devote some time to giving the information which is asked for by a Deputy, particularly when that information is in regard to the cost of an article paid for out of the finances of the country.
The other question dealt with by Deputy Mulcahy, and answered, I understand, in much the same style, was an inquiry as to the number of people placed in holdings, and the information was not forthcoming. What is the whole driving force in land division? What was the cry behind the desire for land division back through the ages? What was the background of the cry of planting the people on land? What was the idea? Was the whole mind of those people, past and present, that it did not matter whether there were one, ten or 1,000 people placed within holdings? Was it their outlook that the number of human beings placed on the land did not matter; that all that mattered was so many scratches and dots and lines on a Land Commission map: that the human element never entered into it? If that is the outlook of the Parliamentary Secretary, I take this opportunity of telling him that he is wrong. The idea in the mind of anybody who ever stood for land division, the breaking up of estates, and the placing of tenants in the broken up areas, was to place the greatest number of people into economic land units, and it is certainly disappointing to me, and, I should imagine, to Deputies on both sides of the House, to know that we have reached a point at which there is no consideration given to whether a man is married or unmarried, or whether he has no dependents or has ten or 11 dependents; that that is an aspect of the situation that does not enter into consideration when land is to be allocated or when an estate is to be sub-divided.
That is the only interpretation that can be put on the reply received. If it is incorrect, if it is unfair, if it is unjust, the refusal to give the information asked for must be held responsible for the misinterpretation or the injustice. If it is a fact that the state of an applicant—married or single, whether he has dependents or not, and, if he has dependents, the number—is taken into consideration before an allocation is made, where is the difficulty in giving such figures and such information to the House? If there were 500 holdings allocated in such a year, and one of the factors taken into consideration in giving these holdings was the number of dependents, surely it is no huge task that would divert the Land Commission from its proper duties to ascertain what was, or what was not, the deciding factor in each of those allocations?
Deputy Holohan called attention to another matter which I consider to be of vital importance, at least in the midlands, and that is the type of people, or the position of the person, to whom land is given. I do think that, without some type of loan, some type of State aid, it is useless to give 10, 15, or 20 acres of land to an unfortunate labourer or labourer's son, without a "bob" in his pocket. The Parliamentary Secretary must agree with me in this, that whether a man is a good farmer, a bad farmer, or knows nothing about farming, by merely throwing a holding at him, without either money or credit, with no stock, no grain and no implements, you would be expecting a miracle if you expected that unfortunate man to make good. Take the position of that man in contrast with the Gaelic colonists. Take the way one group is treated, and contrast them with any labourer's son who gets a holding in the same parish, without 1/-, without a bit of credit, without as much as a hen, but merely a house, the boundaries and so many acres of land. I hold that you are expecting an impossibility, if you expect that man to make good, and that the very minute you depart from the bare policy of making uneconomic holdings economic, and you launch out on a perfectly reasonable and sound policy of providing land for landless men, you must, in addition, consider some plan for launching those men as small farmers.
I believe the immediate cost would turn out, in the long run, a gain, and if the desire is really sincere to build up the greatest number of small economic holdings, where men will rear families in a degree of meagre comfort, you have got to start along sounder lines than the present lines. Very few Deputies like telling tales as to exactly what has happened, and what is happening, at all events, through the midlands, where big estates have been broken up, and where men have got their ten-acre holdings. They have not got 1/- in their pockets; they have no way of stocking their holdings; they have no money to purchase implements; and they have no credit. What do they do? It is within the knowledge of everyone of us that they let their land on the 11 months system, and you have as big a ranch in the end as you had in the beginning, except that there are banks and fences here and there through the ranch. Some people may say: "Why does he take it, if he is not going to work it?" When a man is poor enough he will take any chance, and there is always the gamble that prices may go up, or that the price of the letting may go up, that it may go up to such a height that if he lets it in two, three or four years, he will have enough in hand to launch himself, but building banks through ranches and putting boundary fences around outside does not end ranching, and it is not ending ranching.
I heard, in the course of this debate, some reference by Deputy Davin, and also Deputy Flynn, to the prices paid for land to-day, and some three or four years ago. I heard Deputy Davin's reference to a particular farm, which he mentioned, in a particular constituency, and the implication was that there was an exorbitant price paid for that ranch, and that there was some particular hidden reason why an exorbitant or fancy price was paid to that individual. I protest against that kind of talk. We should be getting away from it. That is a charge of corruption against one of the big Departments of State. No fancy price of the type alleged by Deputy Davin, for a poor type of land mentioned by Deputy Davin, could be paid by the Land Commission, either now or five years ago, unless there was absolute corruption from top to bottom in that Department.
The personnel is the same now as then. No matter what side of the House we are on, we should be proud of the type of fibre that is to be found in the Civil Service. They may be well paid or badly paid, but we can all find consolation in the knowledge that, financially, the civil servants of this country have been continuously incorruptible; and the type of statement made over there, and its obvious implication, was unjust to that Department —to the political head and to the officers who constitute the Department. We can carry on our debates and our discussions without any of these kinds of suggestions. We can discuss the administrative policy, whether we approve or disapprove of it, without insinuating financial corruption either for personal or for political reasons.
In the course of his remarks, the Deputy then went on to contrast the prices paid for land, generally, some four or five years ago with the prices paid to-day, and Deputy Flynn's point was that the Land Commission was only paying half as much for land to-day as the Land Commission paid for land four or five years ago. That may be so. Deputy Flynn may have some peculiar information, which he got from the Parliamentary Secretary, which the Parliamentary Secretary would not give to us; because after all, how could he have that knowledge in view of the answer that was given to Deputy Mulcahy? We do not know how much is being paid. Deputy Flynn apparently does. Deputy Davin apparently does. Where have those Deputies a secret source of knowledge that is denied to us? Assuming, however, that they are correct—assuming that there is only half as much paid for land to-day as was paid four years ago—do the Deputies think that that is a national gain or that that indicates national progress or increased prosperity? The capital value of any country is the added capital value of all the citizens of that country. We are living in a country where from 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. of the people are depending on land for a living. Farmers do not keep money in stocks and shares. Farmers rarely hoard money in a bank. The wealth of 80 per cent. of the people is in the land, and is there anything to crow about in the fact that you have succeeded in reducing the value of that land by one-half? Is there anything to crow about in the fact that you have reduced by one-half the capital value of the nation? It is a thing to be ashamed of. Circumstances may have brought it about. It may have been recklessness, or it may have been incompetence. Be it one or the other, no matter how it was brought about, it is a state of affairs of which every one of us should be thoroughly ashamed.
It may be argued by some that the result of that is that landless men get land at half the price at which they would have got it four years ago. Why should that be so? If you are so very anxious about the position of the landless men, and if you are still anxious for the progress and prosperity of the nation as a whole, why could you not, by a gesture, show your appreciation of both by footing half the bill that the landless men would have to foot, by keeping values up? I desire to protest against the deliberate policy of the Land Commission in forcing down land values. Immediately, it may appear to be financially wise, but in the long run it will prove to be a disastrous policy. A thing that, heretofore, was regarded as a sound asset has disappeared as an asset and has become a liability, and it is mainly due to the policy of the Land Commission. Heretofore—four, or five, or even ten years ago—any farmer with a bit of a holding, and with no mortgage on that holding, felt that at any time, after ten minutes' work, he could raise from any banker X number of pounds from that holding. Where is the farmer who would get from any banker even a "tanner" on any amount of land at the present moment? What is the banker's answer if you go in to raise money on land at the present moment? He will say: "Is the place clear—is there any mortgage on it?""No.""Have you any debts?""No.""Are you the holder of this farm?""Yes." When you reach that point, it looks like plain sailing, but then the banker's next question is: "How long are you going to be the holder of the land?""I do not know." Then the banker says: "Well, I should be glad to help you, but business is business, and we cannot advance money to a man who is not secure in his holding." That is what has played puck with the whole land position in this country. It has even interfered with the position of that newly-placed labourer in the land. If he were put, without a "bob", into a ten-acre or 15-acre or 20-acre holding some years ago, he had, in his right, goods on which he could raise money sufficient to stock it, but the value has fallen out of land. The banks are glutted with it. The value was mainly reduced by the present policy of the present Government, and what should be an article of immense value to the country—to the credit of the country —has ceased to be an asset and, in many cases, has become a liability.
Now, there is one other point that has been touched on in the course of this debate, and we had, from even the same side of the House, very divergent views expressed upon it. It is one of the things in connection with which the Minister certainly has my sympathy. I am referring to this question, or this problem, of migration. I do not know if there is anything peculiar about the Kerrymen, but we had Deputy Davin appealing to the Minister to keep the Kerrymen out of Laoighis, and he was followed by Deputy Flynn, who seemed to be overanxious to get the Kerrymen out of Kerry. I do not know where the rights of the question are, but I would say that any policy, such as the colonisation policy, or even the transplanting of men from too populous areas to less populous areas is a good policy. I believe that any experiment in that direction is entitled to get the support of everyone of us.
It may work out successfully; it may be a failure. None of us is a prophet, and at all events you can never argue with a prophet. It is one of those things that, if it turns out to be a success, then the success will be clear to the whole lot of us and you can proceed further along similar lines. If, on the other hand, it turns out to be a failure, I would urge you not to overcommit yourselves and then discover that it is a failure. Give a reasonable time test to the colonies already established and, above all, give a reasonable period after the grant has been stopped. If the colony turns out to be a success in two or three years after the money is stopped, then I think it is a policy to be proceeded with further; it is a sound policy and it is doing good national work. You will always be met with the opposition of a Deputy who, naturally, wants land in his own constituency for the people born and reared and resident in that constituency. I sympathise with Deputies whose particular constituencies are selected for colonisation; their trouble to-day may be my trouble to-morrow. But if, after a reasonable time test, the experiment proves itself successful, then my idea would be to go ahead, but not to rush too fast until you are satisfied that the experiment is proving itself successful.