asked the Minister for Lands whether his attention has been drawn to a statement in a daily paper dated 5th May in which a commissioner is reported to have said recently in Galway that in his opinion the fertile land of Meath, which was not being run productively, should be made available for the relief of congestion in the West; and, if so, whether he has any statement to make on the matter.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Relief of Congestion: Land Commissioner's Statement.
My attention has been drawn to the statement referred to. The policy of the Government in regard to the relief of congestion wherever it exists has been frequently made known and emphasised and there should be no necessity for me to reiterate that policy. The enunciation, shaping, or criticism in public of policy is, however, not a matter for any land commissioner and I consider that it is regrettable and most improper that the statement referred to should have been made by the commissioner in the circumstances in which it appears to have been made. Public confidence in the impartiality and independence of the commissioners and of the Land Commission Court is affected by the statement. For that reason, when the statement was brought to my notice, I took immediate steps to ensure that there would be no recurrence and that the Land Commission Court will restrict itself to its own business.
Might I ask if it is the intention of the Land Commission to carry out the recommendation of this commissioner with regard to Meath?
Is the House to take it from the Minister's reply that this statement was made by the commissioner as a member of a court trying cases and, if so, will he take steps to ensure that every case tried by that court will be sent back for re-examination?
Will the Minister say if he has asked for and got any statement from the commissioner concerned and, if so, will he read the statement to the House?
In reply to Deputy Beegan, I have got a statement, but I certainly will not read it to the House. With regard to the point raised by Deputy O'Higgins, do I take it that the Deputy is suggesting that cases heard before that court should be reheard?
As I understand from the Minister's reply, the statement was made by the commissioner sitting as a member of a court.
That is correct.
That court was trying cases of acquisition and the statement was made concerning the merits of cases to be tried. In these circumstances, it seems to me that the confidence of the people in the Land Commission court would be considerably shaken, unless steps were taken to ensure that not only is justice done but that it will appear to be done, and that these cases should be re-examined.
Will the Minister not agree that the commissioner concerned deserves to be congratulated for making such an up-to-date statement in regard to this matter?
In reply to Deputy O'Higgins, the statement was made while the commissioner was a member of a court, but whether the need will arise to have the cases reheard or not I cannot say. However, since the Deputy has raised the point I will make inquiries. With regard to Deputy Cowan's and Deputy McQuillan's statements, I want to say that I agree with the commissioner, but I want to emphasise that it was most improper that any sense of partiality should be shown by a member of the Land Commission court or any court while sitting on the bench.
As this is a very important matter and as the statement was made in my county, may I ask if it is not a fact that this statement was made in the course of giving a decision and that the decision was given in favour of the objector? Further, is it not in accordance with the terms of all Land Acts that local congestion is to be considered in conjunction with whether or not the land proposed to be taken is giving adequate employment or producing food for the community? Why should there be anything wrong in a judge giving his reasons for coming to a particular decision?
The question of the decision is not raised. The question of the propriety or impropriety of the statement made is what has been raised. It appears that the commissioner in question used the prerogative or duty of the Minister while sitting as a member of the court.
In my opinion, if decisions in the past had been considered in the same way the Minister would have much less trouble.
An ceist í sin?
May I suggest to the Minister that he examine the qualifications this commissioner had when first appointed?
In view of the seriousness of this matter, I propose to raise it on the Adjournment.
That will have to get very serious consideration.