I was explaining on the last day of this debate that the setting up of this commission is, in the opinion of the majority of farmers, a means of shelving the issue, of enabling the Government to evade their responsibility for doing justice to the agricultural community. A number of Deputies have dealt with this motion, and it has been claimed that my action in declining to withdraw my motion was delaying the setting up of this commission. If those Deputies who spoke in this strain were sincere, they would, in order to facilitate the setting up of this commission, have avoided taking any further part in the debate. But I, for one, do not accept the view that my action in refusing to withdraw my motion had any such effect. I hold that if the Government had come to a decision to set up a commission that there was absolutely nothing to prevent them from going ahead with the setting up of the commission.
If, on the other hand, we were to accept the view that, because a motion dealing with agriculture was before the House, a commission could not be set up, it would follow that, when this commission has been set up this House will be debarred from discussing any question in relation to agriculture. I presume that is the intention of those who are so strenuously advocating the setting up of the commission. They want to have all questions connected with agriculture shelved completely. So far as I am concerned, I hold that there are questions connected with agriculture which cannot be shelved. In fact, the whole position with regard to agriculture cannot be shelved.
Only to-day I received a letter from a farmer whose entire stock of cows had been seized in respect of annuities. He was left with only one old cow. That farmer was supplying milk to the City of Dublin. How is that farmer to carry on his business while the commission is in session? How is he to continue for the next four or five years? In this particular case the man is a struggling farmer who owed money to the Agricultural Credit Corporation and under pressure paid that money. He owed rates, and under pressure from the rate collector, met the demand for rates. Then, on top of that, the Land Commission came down and demanded their pound of flesh. They demanded the full arrears due, and insisted upon collecting them by seizing his entire stock and putting him completely out of business. That farmer has absolutely no means of saving himself. Many pitiful stories have been told to-day about the condition of ex-Ministers and people of that kind, but there seems to be no sympathy whatever for an unfortunate farmer, with a wife and family depending on him, whose cows, upon which he is depending to earn his livelihood, are taken from him and probably will be sold for a small price, so that he will still be alleged to be in debt to the Land Commission.
The Minister for Lands, when dealing with this question of annuities, stated that a deputation, of which I was a member, waited on him and that he refused to fund the arrears over a number of years. I think the Minister's recollection of what happened is a little at fault. What really happened was that Deputy Moore and myself had an interview with the Minister, and we put up a case for the spreading of land annuities over a number of years. Deputy Moore made a very strong case in support of this claim. He pointed out that a farmer who is at present in arrears might be in a position to pay his current annuity; that if his arrears were spread over a number of years, he might be in a position to pay something to the Land Commission. But, when he is confronted with a demand for the entire arrears and faced with the fact of his entire stock being seized to meet that demand for arrears, he is put completely out of business and cannot pay the current annuities.
What does the Land Commission or the State gain by seizing a farmer's entire stock and putting him completely out of business? They cannot get money out of a derelict farm; they cannot get money out of starving children. In this particular case which was brought to my notice to-day, one of the children is actually dying. What use or benefit is it to the Government or to the State to press unfortunate farmers so severely? Surely, they must realise, leaving out of consideration altogether the economic war or anything else, that since 1930 the farmers have passed through an abnormal period. You have had an abnormal period of agricultural depression all over the world. Even without considering what farmers were forced to sacrifice in connection with the dispute with Great Britain, it ought to be recognised that the abnormal conditions through which farmers have passed entitle them to some measure of relief. Surely the minimum measure of relief would be the funding of arrears of annuities, and yet even that has been refused.
The Minister for Lands said that he gave us a definite refusal. I can say that the Minister did not give us a definite refusal. He told us that he would sympathetically consider our demand, that he would have it investigated by his officials and would put it before his fellow Ministers. I think that was not a definite refusal. It was only afterwards that I was informed that the demand for a general funding of the arrears of annuities had been turned down. The Minister, in his statement, offered, I think, to meet the claims of individuals in arrears if they were brought before him and to make some concessions in regard to arrears. That is not a business-like method of dealing with the question. It is not business-like to put the majority of the farming community— the majority are in arrears, to a certain extent—in the humiliating position of having to go hat in hand to the Minister or his officials and ask for some concession. In view of the sacrifices the farmers have made during the past five or six years, the least the Government should do would be to have a general system of spreading the arrears over a number of years. That demand is contained in my motion and I think it is a very reasonable demand and one against which no fair-minded person could go.
It might be said that numbers of farmers who could pay refused to pay. If there was any farmer who could pay, the intensive pressure brought to bear during the past year or two would have extracted any money he could possibly raise. In the case I mentioned to-day, there was absolutely no means by which the farmer could raise money. There was nobody to whom he could go for a loan. He had already exhausted his credit completely in trying to meet the demands of the Agricultural Credit Corporation and the rate collector. The Minister for Agriculture has told us that the benefits derived from the halving of the annuities more than counterbalanced the refusal of the Government to meet the demand in regard to de-rating. A moment's consideration will show that that is not true. Take the total amount of rates paid in 1932 or 1933 and the sum of less than £2,000,000 required for de-rating. Surely nobody who knows anything about agricultural conditions would say that during the past five years the rates have not been doubled in most counties. They have been more than doubled in County Wicklow.