Committee on Finance. - Vote 48—Forestry.

I move:—

That a sum not exceeding £1,255,800 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957, for Salaries and Expenses in connection with Forestry (No. 13 of 1946), including a Grant-in-Aid for Acquisition of Land.

The net Estimate for Forestry for 1956-57 at £1,822,800 shows an increase of £256,096 over the Estimate for 1955-56. On the Appropriations-in-Aid sub-head (sub-head H) there is an increase of £77,954, so that the increase in the gross Estimate is £334,050.

Sub-head A shows an increase of £64,558 for Salaries, Wages and Allowances. This is partly accounted for by the general revision of Civil Service remuneration but in the main it is to provide for additional administrative and technical staffs to enable the Forestry Division to cope with its constantly increasing volume of work.

Sub-head B, Travelling Expenses, shows an increase of £4,000 to cover the travelling expenses of an enlarged outdoor staff.

Leaving aside for the moment the main operational sub-heads C (1), C (2) and C (3), I will now deal with sub-head D, under which grants for afforestation purposes are made available to private persons and public bodies. Expenditure under this sub-head last year was slightly in excess of the Estimate. The number of first instalments of grants paid during the year was 56 involving 451 acres of new plantations, compared with 442 acres in 1954-55 and 360 acres in 1953-54.

Provision for forestry training centres under sub-head E (1) shows an increase of £3,662 over last year. This is due to increased management costs at Avondale and Kinnitty Castle centres and to the need for extra provision in connection with the management of the new centre at Shelton Abbey. It will be noted that the Estimate makes provisions for a full year for Avondale school, but, in fact, it is expected that the school will be finally closed in the very near future when the new centre at Shelton Abbey is opened. The bulk sum provided under the head of "additional expenditure" for Shelton Abbey, therefore, covers only the costs for the running of Shelton up to the end of the current year in so far as they exceed the expenses shown for Avondale school.

Under sub-head E (2) provision is made for expenditure on the staging of educational exhibits at the R.D.S. Spring Show and at various provincial shows.

Provision under sub-head F—Agency Advisory and Special Services—is being retained at £100.

The increase of £300 under sub-head G—Incidental Expenses—reflects the all-round increase in forestry activities and does not call for any comment.

Turning now to the main operational sub-heads, I will deal first with sub-head C (1) which provides the funds for the acquisition of land for Forestry purposes. This sub-head is of Grant-in-Aid character which means that unspent balances are not surrendered to the Exchequer at the end of the year. Last year's provision under the sub-head was £75,000 but as I pointed out when introducing the Estimate last year the unspent balance in the Grant-in-Aid fund on the 31st March, 1955 stood at the unprecedentedly high figure of £95,700 which with last year's provision made a total sum of almost £171,000 available in the fund for the acquisition of land at the commencement of 1955-56.

The total area acquired during 1955-56 was 18,248 acres, compared with 17,513 acres in the preceding year. At 31st March, 1956, sales had been closed and possession was pending in respect of 24 acres totalling 2,504 acres. Price offers had been accepted and all that remained was to dispose of the legal formalities in the case of 336 areas totalling 27,502 acres. Negotiations on price were in hands or pending in connection with 1,477 blocks of land totalling 115,907 acres and preliminary investigations of a further 1,700 offers totalling 146,000 acres were under way. These figures, covering a total of 3,500 areas comprising 292,000 acres in course of, or under consideration for, acquisition at 31st March, 1956, give a definite prospect of an appreciable rise in the rate of acquisition.

On the financial side, the increased activity in acquisition last year resulted in the expenditure of over £107,000 out of sub-head C (1), leaving approximately £64,000 in the Grant-in-Aid Fund at the end of the year. This year's provision of £110,000 will provide adequate funds to finance more rapid acquisition progress in the current year.

Despite the increase in the planting programme last year, the plantable reserve as at 31st March, 1956, stood at 49,049 acres, compared with 47,260 in March, 1955, and 45,156 acres in March, 1954.

To deal now with sub-head C (2), Forest Development and Maintenance, and sub-head C (3) (1), Timber Conversion in State Forests, which between them bear the field costs in forest development and management, Deputies will find that the aggregate provision of £1,629,630 shows an increase of £219,680 over the Estimate for 1955-56. Of this increase, £183,000 relates to the Labour heads in these sub-heads and £36,680 is the net addition to the non-labour items.

To dispose first of the non-labour items, there is increased provision for cartage and freight costs in the Capital, Constructional, Maintenance and Timber Conversion sub-heads. These increases are linked with the expansion in the programmes for road construction, planting and thinning to which I will refer later and with the normal expansion that is to be expected in the maintenance programme.

There is also an increase under the Capital Expenditure head of sub-head C (2) for expenditure on the construction and purchase of houses for foresters.

As I have indicated, however, the main portion of sub-heads C (2) and C (3) (1) will be devoted to labour requirements and it is on the labour heads in the sub-heads that the real increase occurs. The extra £183,000 required for labour is in part intended to meet the higher wage levels now obtaining but it is primarily due to the increased volume of work which will be undertaken in the current year over virtually the whole range of forestry activities. In the first ten weeks of this year an average number of 5,149 men were employed on forestry work, compared with an average of 4,373 men in the corresponding period last year. The aggregate provision of £1,370,000 should enable labour staffs to be increased at peak this year to over 5,500 but an increase in wage-levels beyond that contemplated when the Estimate was framed may give rise to need for a Supplementary Estimate later in the year.

The only individual labour provision which shows a decrease is that for nurseries which is down by £11,000 as compared with 1955-56. This saving is to a large extent due to introduction of new methods of weed control.

Provision is being made under the Capital and Constructional Expenditure heads for an increase in the planting programme to 17,500 acres.

Mention of planting activity and the increase in our area of plantations brings me to the subject of forest fires. The weather in the spring and early summer of this year was the worst possible from the point of view of fire danger and the foresters and their staffs had a most anxious and a trying time. In the first half of this year, no less than 338 fires occurred at or near State forests, and of these 44 fires actually caused damage estimated at a total of over £5,000. The damage, regrettable though it is, is nothing compared with what might have been sustained, were it not for the vigilance of the foresters and fire-watchers, and I must pay tribute also to the invaluable co-operation and assistance which is afforded to my Department by the Gardaí, the local fire brigades and the Army in detecting and controlling these outbreaks.

Many of these fires are caused by farmers in burning rough grazing and by turf workers in cleaning spread-ground, but the vast majority of them are started by some act of carelessness on the part of a passer-by in casually throwing away a lighted match or cigarette-end, or by picnic-makers who fail to extinguish thoroughly their picnic fires. Prosecutions under the Forestry Act, 1946, are taken whenever the offenders can be detected, but the most effective remedy against deliberate burning of carelessness of the kind I have mentioned is believed to be the education of the public to a constant wachfulness against such danger and a realisation of the destruction which can be caused to their property by a forest fire. The Department is doing all it can to foster this outlook amongst the public by means of Press advertisements, radio announcements and other forms of publicity. But if greater carefulness is not shown by the public, I will have to ask the Government to introduce legislation providing for the more drastic punishment of offenders.

Returning again to the Estimate, under the Capital Expenditure head there is a substantial increase in the provision for the construction of new forest roads. As more plantations reach the thinning stage, this work becomes increasingly important. Last year the Forestry Division dealt with 118 miles of new road, compared with 90 miles in 1954-55 and 66 miles in 1953-54. I am providing for a further increase in the volume of such work in the current year. The divisions tractor fleet was recently increased to enable it to deal more expeditiously with road work and provision for labour is being increased to £161,000, compared with £125,000 in 1955-56.

The provision for labour under the Maintenance head is £482,000 as against £427,000 for 1955-56. The increase is partly due to higher wage rates but it is mainly attributable to the expansion in the volume of work as the area under forest increases and it does not call for any special comment.

The labour provision under sub-head C (3) (1), Timber Conversion in State Forests, covers the cost of thinning plantations and the felling of mature timber. The proposed provision for the current year is £232,000, compared with £170,000 for 1955-56. In 1955-56, almost 11,000 acres were thinned. The target for the current year is 13,000 acres. This, together with the increase in wage rates, explains the increase in the provision for labour under this head.

In sub-head C (3) (2), Sawmilling, which relates to the Department's sawmills at Dundrum and Cong, there is also an increase in the provision for labour, due mainly to increased wage-rates which have operated since last December. An increase under the head of Equipment provides for the installation of fire-fighting appliances at both sawmills.

Sub-head H—Appropriations-in-Aid —at £243,204, allows for an increase of £77,954 over last year's figure. Taking the individual items, there is an increase of £5,000 in the allowance for receipts from the sale of miscellaneous materials, which allows for certain revenue from the sale of some plants surplus to requirements in certain species in the State nurseries last spring and an increase of £2,500 in the sawmills figure, reflecting the attainment of full operation at Cong sawmill. The bulk of the increase is, however, by way of allowance for extra receipts from the sale of timber in the forests.

The figure for sales of timber, at £200,000 is an increase of 55 per cent. over the figure in last year's Estimate. Actual receipts last year totalled approximately £180,000 against an Estimate allowance of £130,000 and it would not be unreasonably optimistic to expect a similar excess of actual receipts over Estimate allowance in the current year. In the first quarter of the year, receipts amounted to £65,000 and the gross figure for the year may well prove to be of the order of £250,000. The Estimate as it stands does not allow for receipts of such a high order partly because the extent to which it would be possible to increase revenue was not fully apparent when the Estimate was being prepared and partly, of course, because in such an Estimate prudence requires a conservative allowance on the revenue side.

Thinning operations are being steadily expanded and continuance of that expansion is necessary to the proper development of the plantations. Much attention is being devoted to market extension to take up the increased output from thinning and this, together with the Department's efforts to secure more attractive prices for thinning produce is reflected in the increased revenue. Since last year, the entry of the Clondalkin Paper Mills into the manufacture of pulp has opened an additional market and it has been possible to bring about some revival of the pit-prop trade which fell off considerably for a number of years previously. The position is still, however, that the output of thinning produce is in excess of demand. Until output and demand can be brought to a happy relationship the market must still be shaky. I am giving much attention to this whole question at the moment. In the meantime, it is at least very gratifying that probable receipts for this year at £250,000, will give an increase of 40 per cent. over last year's total and 75 per cent. over the previous year.

To pass now from the detailed provisions of the Estimate before the House, let me say that there is scarcely any aspect of Irish national endeavour on which there is such universal agreement on all sides of the House as there is on the basic issue of the desirability of a continuing afforestation drive. There has been a great deal of confusion, however, in regard to the optimum rate of development—confusion resulting largely from the difficulties experienced by Deputies in grasping all the complexities of a large-scale afforestation project and the factors which must govern its ultimate objectives and the tempo at which it can develop. It is my hope that in this debate I shall be able to give every member of the House a clearer picture of the essentials which must govern our national forest policy. If the debate can further be made the vehicle for a well-considered endorsement by the whole House of the forestry policy of the Government, a permanent gain will have been achieved. The gain will lie in the help that such an expression of conviction will give to the Government, the Minister for Lands and his Department in pushing ahead with the forest development programme on a long-term basis.

Before considering to-day's position or to-morrow's possibilities, I should like to go back briefly over past history. The story of Ireland's deforestation is well known. The havoc of invasions, wars and wartime needs over the centuries was supplemented by the dire effects of the landlord and tenant system prior to the enactment of the Land Purchase Acts. Unfortunately, those Acts, while rectifying the agrarian social evils of the land tenure system, dealt a final blow to Ireland's forests by handing over ownership of most of the remaining woods to small farm proprietors who lacked both the resources and the incentive to preserve the timber. The result, as we all learned in our schooldays, was to bring Ireland by the beginning of the present century into the unenviable situation of being the least wooded country in Europe. The first faltering steps to rectify that situation were taken 52 years ago with the formation of a State forest service. Progress since, by way of State afforestation, may be summarised in main periods as follows: 1904-1922, an average annual planting of 180 acres; 1922-1934, an average annual planting of slightly less than 3,000 acres; 1934-1950, an average annual planting of slightly under 7,000 acres (with an interim eight year drop to an average of about 4,700 acres during the war period); 1950-56, an average annual planting of 13,500 acres.

The first period of 18 years was one in which little result in terms of actual planting was achieved — appallingly little when it is remembered that in that period the first World War made further inroads into our woods. The plantings undertaken during this period were on a purely pilot scale and the total area planted amounted to little more than 3,000 acres. The real value of these early plantations lay in the experience that was gained — and is still being gained—as to the behaviour of particular species and mixtures of species under varying conditions. Viewed as a practical research undertaking, this small-scale planting prior to 1922 was of significant worth because it was initiated at a time when deliberate afforestation for timber production as distinct from tree planting for geo-physical reasons — prevention of erosion, torrent control and so on—was in its infancy and no country in the world had any exact knowledge of the economic aspects of deliberate tree cultivation. This early planting, however, made no significant contribution towards the forest resources of the country.

During the second period—the first 12 years of native Government—Irish forestry emerged from the pilot planting stage with a rapid increase in the first three years from an annual planting rate of 500 acres to 2,000 acres and a steady gain in momentum thereafter until a figure of over 4,000 acres was reached in 1933-34. Much of the planting was still perforce of an experimental nature and the forestry service was gradually being developed on lines attuned to large-scale planting activities. Looking back now, it is easy to be critical of the fact that more was not accomplished in this period, but studying the records of the period in my Department it is quite clear that the whole project was still too young to have undertaken more than it did.

The third period—the eight effective years from 1934 to 1950, discounting the war years—commenced with the transfer of forestry to the Department of Lands. Its beginning was marked by the settlement of an annual planting target of 10,000 acres. The actual annual achievement was stepped up to 7,600 acres by the commencement of the war and this level was again attained by 1948-49. Again, one is tempted to be critical of the inadequacy of the target and of the failure to reach even that target but let us look at the facts dispassionately. In the pre-war years it was impossible to foresee the timber-hungry conditions which would beset the post-war world or the remarkable development of pulp markets for thinning produce. Prior to the war, it was quite understandable for a Government to pursue such a limited afforestation policy as the annual target of 10,000 acres then envisaged. It is true that the envisaged target was not reached but so far as my knowledge goes, every country in the world which sets itself an afforestation target takes a long time to bring performance into line with the target. That is true even of countries with large existing forest areas and the concomitant availability of existing organisation, trained personnel and other resources. Acceleration of a forestry planting rate involves cumulative expansion of work on several different fronts, apart altogether from the problem of getting the requisite land. First of all, nursery resources have to be built up —a big task in itself. Then the actual stepping-up of planting involves a bigger and bigger task with each year's increase in performance. Most significant of all, each year's planting adds another block of forest to the total area to be maintained. Viewed thus, an increase in the annual planting rate from 4,000 acres in 1933-34 to 7,600 acres in 1938-39 was a solid, if not spectacular, achievement and one I would hesitate to criticise. I do feel that it is a pity, however, that consideration was not given to the impact of the war's effects on the post-war timber position immediately after, and indeed during, the war period. At that stage, it should have been evident that the pre-war target of 10,000 acres was no longer realistic and advance planning might profitably have been initiated on a much enlarged post-war forestry target. Nothing was done on this score, however, until the first inter-Party Government took office in 1948.

The new Government addressed itself to a review of forestry policy as a matter of great urgency and only nine months after taking office a firm announcement of a new and much more vigorous State afforestation policy was made. That announcement, in a White Paper on post-war planning dated 20th December, 1948, declared the intention to step up the annual planting rate to 25,000 acres which would ultimately provide 1,000,000 acres of productive State forest. It was obvious that, just as the pre-war target of 10,000 acres had to be approached gradually, so too it would inevitably take time to gear the machine to the new 25,000 acres target. There was indeed little ground for optimism as to the rapid attainment of the new annual target. The plantable reserve in hands stood at only 30,000 acres despite the restrictions imposed on planting during the war years by lack of seed and fencing materials and the average annual rate of acquisition of plantable land over the previous five years had been only 4,000 acres; the acquisition prospect for 1948-49 itself was only about 3,500 acres. Planting in 1947-48 had covered only 6,000 acres and the programme for 1948-49 was but the restoration of the pre-war peak of 7,500 acres. Plant supplies in the nurseries were not sufficient for any significant increase in planting and the nursery areas themselves were not adequate to meet a sharp production increase, even if seed could be obtained. Nor was the staff and organisation of the Forestry Service capable of overnight expansion and adjustment to meet the needs of the new programme. It was out of the question to secure immediately a notable increase in the planting rate itself but plans were formulated and put into operation to enable the rate to be expanded as rapidly as possible.

The first problem was to get the land. A progressive increase in the inspectorate staff engaged on land acquisition was undertaken. A flying survey of potential forest land in the country was made as a matter of top priority to delineate the areas in which concentrated efforts to acquire land would have most prospect of success. The ceiling price payable for forestry land was doubled. Increased Land Commission co-operation was secured in arranging the transfer of marginal land to the Forestry Division. Even with all these steps there was little prospect of attaining and continuing an annual planting of as high an order as 25,000 acres unless land of a quality and nature formerly treated as incapable of economic afforestation could be made to produce tree crops at a reasonable cost by the use of heavy machinery developed during and after the war. Steps were taken to secure an experimental start in this field of work.

These various unified efforts brought the rate of acquisition of plantable land up from 3,500 acres in 1948-49 to 6,700 acres in 1949-50, 10,900 acres in 1950-51 and 15,700 acres in 1951-52—an increase to fivefold in four years.

Meanwhile steps were taken to locate and acquire land suitable for use as additional nursery areas. The main work on this front was brought to fruition in 1950-51 when the total nursery area was increased to 577 acres as compared with 367 acres in the previous year.

There were staff expansion problems to be tackled. The most urgent was the provision of an enlarged force of foresters for immediate direction of field work. The basic training of a forester takes three years and he needs some years' further practical experience before he can be placed in full charge of a forest. An enlarged intake of trainees could not, therefore, be of practical help for about five years and, to make matters worse, the training school at Avondale was not capable of housing an enlarged intake. Emergency training schedules were devised to operate until a new training establishment could be set up and the annual intake of trainees was increased by 100 per cent. in 1950. The difficulties of operating emergency training arrangements have militated against a regular annual intake of trainees at the increased rate and it will be some years yet before the availability of fully trained foresters settles down to a regular annual rhythm at the enlarged rate.

I have mentioned but a few of the separate but integrated programmes which had to be launched to develop the resources which would enable the much enlarged afforestation objective sponsored by the first inter-Party Government to be achieved. These few alone, however, suffice to show that in afforestation, just as in any other big production enterprise, years of patient building and organisation are needed to convert blueprints into active reality.

With that axiom established, let us take a look at what progress has been made since 1948, in terms of actual planting, towards fulfilling the new policy decision. The planting programme was increased in 1948-49 to about 7,500 acres as against 6,000 acres in the previous year and it was maintained at the higher figure in 1949-50 but the first real fruits of the inter-Party Government's policy were evident only in 1950-51 when 9,400 acres were planted—an increase of 2,000 acres on the previous year and by far the highest accomplishment for any single year up to that. The following year was marked by even more striking results. Fifteen thousand acres were planted—an increase of 50 per cent. on the previous year, twice the best record for a single year while the old target prevailed and over two and a half times the average annual accomplishment under the old target. That was tremendous progress and, had it been possible to keep it up, attainment of the objective of an annual planting of 25,000 acres would not have been far off.

The following year the planting programme was, however, reduced to 12,500 acres. There it stayed until 1954-55 when it was again increased, but only to 13,500 acres. In 1955-56 it rose again and once more 15,000 acres were planted. As I have already said, the present year will be marked by an advance to 17,500 acres and further rapid progress is contemplated.

It would be easy for me to make political capital out of the regression in planting in 1952-53 and the lack of further upward progress until the inter-Party Government again came into office. I would be dishonest to do so and I have no such intention. I feel that, in this matter of forestry, all Parties in the House can unite in furtherance of a common objective and I want to give full credit to the present Opposition for the part they played during their last period in office. First, credit is due to them for allowing the planting of 15,000 acres to proceed in 1951-52. That programme was one and a half times the maximum target envisaged by their forestry policy when previously in office. Their acceptance of the more vigorous policy which had been inaugurated by the inter-Party Government was, I say again, to their credit. Nor should criticism of the cut in the programme to 12,500 acres in 1952-53 and the lack of any further upward progress in planting until they left office in 1954 fail to take account of the extent to which reduction in the planting rate was the result of difficulties, the nature or extent of which had not previously emerged.

The most immediate difficulty was not directly related to the new planting target. I refer to the increasing management needs of the existing State forest plantations. When a new plantation is laid down, it gives rise to quite a considerable volume of maintenance work for a few years—control of competing vegetation, replacement of failures, repairs to fences and drains, and so on. For about ten to 15 years after that, it requires little more than caretaking. Then intensive silvicultural work has to be undertaken in pruning, cutting out poor and misshapen trees and regular thinning thereafter; much road construction work must also be undertaken when this stage is reached to enable thinnings to be extracted and sold. Now, Deputies will remember that, in summarising the past history of State forestry in main periods, I described the period 1922-1934 as one of gradual growth with an average annual planting of less than 3,000 acres, the next period—commencing 1934—being one of comparatively rapid increase in planting with an average annual planting of 7,000 acres. This upward trend of pre-war planting faced the forestry service with a fast-growing problem of first thinning and road construction in the early 1950's, coupled with a more gradual increase in requirements by way of repeat thinnings of the pre-1934 plantations. If this work was to be given priority—and it was essential that it should be—its impact on the forestry service left less resilience to meet large-scale fresh planting pending strengthening and expansion of the man-power and other resources of the service. In some forests indeed, the conflict of demands for treatment of old stands and erection of new ones was evident even in labour supply problems; in Glenmalure, for example, rapid progress with planting against a large reserve of plantable land would have drawn off labour from urgent thinning and road construction work.

The inevitability of the extent to which the concession of priority to the silvicultural treatment of older plantations influenced the rate of fresh afforestation may be more easily grasped if I quote actual figures of this increase in management work. In 1950-51, 4,000 acres were thinned compared with an annual average of 3,200 acres over the previous three years. The figures thenceforward were:— 1951-52, 5,400 acres; 1952-53, 7,700 acres; 1953-54, 8,700 acres; 1954-55, 9,300 acres; 1955-56, 11,000 acres.

In the current year, 13,000 acres will be thinned. The cubic measurement of poles removed rose from 1,000,000 cubic feet in 1950-51 to 3,250,000 cubic feet in 1955-56. These figures exclude pruning and light initial thinning by way of removal of stunted ill-formed saplings; that work shows a concurrent increase—the area handled in 1955-56 being 15,000 acres. The expansion of road construction to facilitate extraction of thinnings is most easily studied on labour and cartage expenditure figures; aggregate expenditure on these heads in 1955-56 was approximately £150,000 compared with £18,000 in 1950-51. It would have been physically impossible to make spectacular progress with fresh planting during a period of such rapid development of thinning and allied work and that alone was an ample justification for the regression in planting in 1952-53 and the slowness of the renewed upward trend since 1954-55. The meteoric jump in thinning needs is now flattening off, much progress has been made with related problems, such as development of marketing organisation, and the Forestry Service can face a more rapid future expansion of planting without detriment to the needs of the older plantations.

Apart from the impact of this whole question of thinning needs, it became apparent by 1952-53 that the rapid climb in the planting rate from the 6,000 acres figure of 1947-48 was giving rise to a volumetric increase in immediate after-care work—notably the control of competing vegetation and the replacement of failures—which could only be met if the rate of planting were temporarily slowed. The competition of natural vegetation is a problem for the first two to three years (longer in some ground conditions) and the progressive rise in planting had increased the total areas of young plantations in need of cleaning to almost threefold. The increased demand for plants for replacement of failures inevitably reduced the extent to which a nursery production programme could be stretched to meet immediate new planting on a scale not covered by sowing in earlier years. This plant supply factor was further complicated by unsatisfactory results in some areas in which seedling contorta pine were used in 1951-52 on mechanically-prepared ground; reluctance to continue general use of seedlings on such ground involved a recasting of immediate nursery potential.

To show up even more clearly the extent to which work other than actual planting has grown since 1951-1952, I have had the expenditure on forest labour (including nursery labour) analysed for the two years 1951-52 and 1955-56. In each of these years, 15,000 acres were planted. In 1951-52, labour devoted to existing plantations was 90 per cent. of that devoted to fresh planting and nursery work. In 1955-56 the corresponding ratio was 160 per cent. In other words, in again reaching a planting figure of 15,000 acres last year, the Forestry Service has done so despite a tremendous growth of work in the interim in the existing plantations. Last year's accomplishment in the field of forestry as a whole was a far more notable achievement than what I have already described as the striking achievement of 1951-52. It augurs well for the future. In presenting this picture of the maintenance and care of existing plantations I am anxious to bring home to the House and to the public the fact that forestry consists of a great deal more than planting young trees on virgin ground. It would be a criminal waste of public property and the taxpayers' money not to be scrupulously careful of our forests in the growing stage so as to ensure that thinnings are utilised to bring in the last penny and that the ultimate mature forest will be a stand of the best and straightest trees with the maximum cubic footage per acre of first-class timber.

There were still other factors, however, which influenced the rate of new afforestation during the past four years and which require careful study in relation to the future. I refer to the problem of acquiring sufficient land and the related question of how far we can go in the successful exploitation of waste lands for forestry purposes. In the past few years, the intake of plantable land has been maintained at a fairly steady figure averaging 16,500 acres, including an average of about 3,000 acres of sub-marginal land the economic use for which for forestry purposes is still open to some doubt. Even the maintenance of this level of acquisition has involved increasing difficulty. The F.A.O. forestry authorities in a survey of European forestry policies and progress some years ago recognised the problem of acquiring suitable land for afforestation as a special difficulty of this country and of Great Britain; there is no need to tell the House that it is a greater problem by far here than in Britain.

The building up of blocks of land suitable for forestry purposes by negotiation is a herculean task because of the present ownership pattern. Mr. Roy Cameron of F.A.O., in the report on his forestry mission here, commented on this quoting in support of his comment the average plantable area per acquisition up to 1950 which was 180 acres. Analysis of figures for more recent years shows that the average in the three-year period 1950-53 was only 104 acres and in the three-year period 1953-56 it had fallen to 71 acres.

Unless, therefore, resort were had to ruthless compulsory acquisition, purchase of sufficient land to maintain a large scale planting programme must continue to be fraught with great and increasing difficulty. More and more effort is being devoted to this aspect of the Forestry Division's work and there is ground for hoping that in the current year an increased aggregate area will be taken over. The new Forestry Act will, of course, contribute to easement of the problem; statutory regulations thereunder are at present being framed and in the meantime initial work on likely cases is in hands. At best it will be late in the year before the first cases under the new Act come to fruition and the Act will not materially assist the acquisition rate until next year.

If, however, the rate of planting is to be further stepped up as I propose, the rate of acquisition must rise even more sharply so that the plantable reserve, now 49,000 acres, may be maintained in proper minimum ratio to the planting rate. I cannot guarantee that such an increased intake of land will prove practicable. My Department will do its best and at this stage I, and the Government, believe we should plan for the future on the assumption that sufficient land can and will be acquired.

In the long term, the correctness or otherwise of this assumption will depend on the extent to which our present experimental work on poor peat soils proves successful. If that work should prove successful, a much greater annual intake of land should readily be practicable. Failure of the experimental work would, conversely, have a depressing effect on acquisition, since a fairly steady proportion of such land is at present being acquired for continuance of the experimental planting. In that event, a regular planting programme of 25,000 acres could only be maintained if practically all of the land included as potential forest land in the Plantable Land Survey of 1949 could be confirmed as plantable on closer inspection and could be acquired at an adequate rate over the years.

To base a firm, long-term programme entirely on such assumptions would be unwise. Although efforts were made to exclude land of doubtful plantability from the survey, some of the land included has, in fact, been found on fuller inspection to be unplantable; how big a reduction factor should be applied on this score to the total of 1,200,000 acres returned by the survey is open to conjecture. Nor is here any reasonable prospect that all of the plantable land could be acquired or that its acquisition could be brought about at an even tempo without recourse to compulsion. Every acre of that land has an owner and, so long as the owners have the right to sell or retain their property at will, many of them will refuse to sell and their successors in title will go on refusing to sell. In such circumstances it is anybody's guess how much of the land covered by the plantable land survey will ultimately come into the ownership of the forestry service. Prudence would not suggest an assumption that most of it can, and will, be brought under forest crops within 50 years.

Even if some ephemeral circumstance of agricultural economy should make progress with the acquisition of such land easier for a number of years, it would be bad policy to plant it up at an annual rate of 25,000 acres in the absence of reasonable hope of long-term maintenance of that rate. At the worst, such prodigality could lead to a period when planting might have to cease entirely; at best it would involve the virtual certainty of a sharp fall in the planting rate at a later stage. Either result would be a violation of one of the axioms of good forestry. A sound forest plan is one which seeks to approach closely the millennium of a balanced forest made up of plantations of every age within the rotation in standard proportions. That way, a fixed annual yield of timber of various sizes can be secured and full markets can be developed on the basis of certain long-term supply.

Forest management itself is facilitated in the process and employment is maintained at a steady level. That axiom is not seriously violated by short spasmodic variations in planting, provided they are moderate and not too frequent. The organisation and economics of forest management suffer from such variations but ultimate cropping can be brought in line with a calculated norm by adjustments of the rotation period. A steady planting of 25,000 acres for 25 years and a drop thereafter to, say, 12,500 acres would, however, be a serious violation of the principle.

Nor would prodigality of this type be socially desirable. For the sake of rapid planting but not good forestry, there would be an over-accelerated transference of land from uneconomic agricultural usage to forest cropping. The immediate effect might well be a serious blow to local social well-being since the forest development which would ultimately increase the level of employment could not, in its early stages, be expected to absorb the full diversion of manpower from agricultural pursuits. It may be of interest in this connection to quote the following comment which I came across recently in an official statement relating to progress of afforestation in Italy:—

"These bare areas usually consist of waste open grazing land and, to a lesser extent, land that comes occasionally under shifting cultivation. Whatever the extent of such land, it is, of course, impossible to afforest it entirely without upsetting the social and economic situation. A change over of crops of this kind takes time and requires concurrent improvement in the other agricultural production sectors, so that the local population may be assured of a better, or, at least, equal livelihood from the smaller cropland."

Our situation differs in some respects but the broad principle is equally applicable here. This principle is one which the Irish Forest Service tries hard to honour and its constant aim is to seek, within the dictates of overall policy, to build up forest activity in each area at a steady rate which will avoid temporary employment vacua and enable the forest staffs to be given quasi-permanent work. The rarity of complaints that afforestation is upsetting rather than aiding local employment is the measure of the success of this policy.

The key to our permanent future planting rate is, therefore, as I have stressed on other occasions in speaking in the House, the success or otherwise of experimental planting on poor soils. That work was initiated on a very small scale in 1950-51 but large-scale experimental work had to be delayed until contracts for the purchase of heavy equipment were fulfilled in 1951-52. The work has gone ahead steadily since then and has been extended into even poorer site-types than were attempted in the first year, and as I informed the House last autumn on the Forestry Bill debate, so far the results of experimentation are satisfactory but the danger-period during which a serious check on growth could occur has not yet passed even in the 1950-51 and 1951-52 planting areas. Our forestry service is, in fact, very much in advance of the forest authorities in most countries in this work, and we face the risks inherent in pioneering. I, myself, have seen instances of quite striking growth on some of these areas but there is still danger that, in the constant extension of the root-systems of the young trees, they may reach a point at which excessive water or lack of nutriment will bring growth to an end, as happened years ago in attempts to grow forest crops on areas affected by hard mineral pans without the use of heavy machinery to break up the pans.

The danger of total failure is receding and unless there is total failure, without any hope of still further technological advances to enable renewed attempts to be made, the work will go on. Even if it should prove impossible to develop crops to sawlog size on some of these areas, continuance of afforestation on the site types concerned could well be justified economically if there were fair prospect of production of reasonable quantities of pulpwood on a short-term rotation. In such a situation, the social advantages to be derived from extensive afforestation in the western districts where the problems of employment and emigration are most pressing, would, of course, be a powerful additional argument in favour of continuance of the project. I, personally, believe that with the methods now at our disposal, the experimentation on which we are engaged will be a success but I share the view of the experts that extension of this work should be gradual so as to permit a constant ploughing back of the experience which is being steadily accumulated and I, and the Government, must, in prudence, delay a binding decision as to ultimate future policy in relation to the afforestation of such land until more positive results are available.

Until that issue can be decided, the wider question as to what our permanent overall planting rate should be must also remain open to some question. The more immediate question of what we should undertake over the next few years is fortunately less difficult. The policy of appreciable annual acceleration of our planting rate towards a target of 25,000 acres can be continued without violation of the principle of good forest planning which I enunciated earlier and, in so far as continuing extension of the overall planting rate involves a like expansion in the experimental work on poor planting grounds, such a policy is a rational recognition of our increasing knowledge in that sphere and confidence in the future.

The comparative data I have given in relation to 1951-52 and 1955-56 when planting programmes of like extent— 15,000 acres—were carried out but with a huge increase in the volume of other work in the later year, is evidence that the forestry service is in a position to push ahead with the expansion of planting at an even more rapid rate than has obtained over the past two years whilst continuing to devote the necessary increasing attention to the existing plantations. A service which has in five years undertaken the planting of 70,000 acres—exactly half of the accomplishment of the previous 45 years—simultaneously with an equally astronomical development of other work, can, with confidence, face appreciable further growth in its undertakings. I am, therefore, in a position to tell the House that not merely is it the intention to increase the planting rate this year by 2,500 acres to 17,500 acres, but that each succeeding year will be marked by a similar big increase until the 1948 target of 25,000 acres is reached. The planting rates for the individual years will be:— 1956-57, 17,500 acres; 1957-58, 20,000 acres; 1958-59, 22,500 acres, and in 1959-60 the objective of 25,000 acres will be realised. By then, much more information will have been gained in regard to the experimental planting of poor site-types and policy thenceforward can profitably be reviewed at that stage in relation to the degree of success of the experimental work and with full regard to the social and economic factors then present.

The attainment of a planting programme of as much as 25,000 acres within 11 years of the fixation of that target, for an organisation which was then geared to the planting of only 6,000-7,000 acres a year, and despite a huge increase in other work in the interval, will be a tremendous achievement. That much will be obvious to any member of this House with knowledge of the problems of large-scale organisation. But only the few Deputies in the House who have particular knowledge of the complexity of large-scale forest management can fully appreciate quite how great will be the achievement. Even as it stands to-day, the Forestry Service is handling a very big job of work. Apart altogether from the management of 58 nurseries, with an aggregate of about 600 acres and an output last year of over 26,000,000 plants, and ignoring all the problems of acquiring several hundred different properties capable of being welded into forest blocks each year and leaving aside, too, the operation of the Department's sawmills, the preparation, fencing, draining and planting of an aggregate of even 15,000 acres in a single year and the annual addition of such an area to the gross total of intensive forest for subsequent management is no small task.

Even if each year's planting were in one big block—a block ten times the size of the Phoenix Park—it would be a big undertaking. In fact, however, each year's planting must be the product of careful planning and integration of several hundred separate planting projects scattered over the country and fitted into the overall pattern of other forest work so as to provide the optimum contribution towards local stabilisation of employment. On the management side, the Department is now responsible for no less than 1,500 distinct and separate forest properties organised for administrative convenience in groups styled "forests" which alone number 170.

On the employment side, forestry is making an ever increasing contribution towards national well-being. Whereas in 1949-50 the average number in the direct employment of the Forestry Division, excluding headquarters and supervisory staffs and excluding also persons engaged in haulage, was not much over 2,000, the average last year was 4,850. This year it will be 5,250 and the planting of 25,000 acres in 1959-60 will give employment to 8,000 men. A more rapid rise thereafter is possible. If figures of indirect employment, that is, employment given by purchasers and users of timber, were available, an even more striking rise would be shown in consequence of the sharp increase in thinning activity.

It is notable too that this overall increase in employment comprehends, in particular, a steady increase in the congested counties in the West where the employment problem is most acute and that forestry employment in these areas will, over the coming years, rise more rapidly than in the remainder of the country.

On this score, the Government has no hesitation in seeking the approval of the Dáil for a gross Vote for the current year of £2,000,000 for a service on which gross spending in 1947-48 was only £434,000. Of this year's £2,000,000, £1,700,000, or 85 per cent. will be directly expended on salaries and wages, including payments to carters, as compared with 80 per cent. in 1947-48. The wage-content percentage may show a further rise in future years. It is in this remarkably high labour content of forestry and in the particular potentialities of forestry in the congested counties that the great immediate value of afforestation on social grounds rests, but the State's capital outlay on afforestation is not merely justifiable on social grounds. Ultimately it will bring a worth-while investment yield as well as contributing in a notable degree towards a better balance of payments position.

Deputies will remember from the detailed information which I gave the House on the Forestry Bill debate last autumn that, even if our annual planting programme for the future remained pegged at last year's actual accomplishment of 15,000 acres, we might anticipate an ultimate annual yield of sawlog timber amounting to five times our present consumption with, of course, equivalent availabilities of other smaller material. There is no need to stress that fact further. Nor should it be necessary to remind the House of the favourable future position of this country vis-a-vis our nearest neighbour, Great Britain—a comparison upon which I also elaborated in that debate. I feel, however, that it may be helpful to quote for the information of the House a few relevant facts in relation to our position vis-a-vis the Continent of Europe.

Let us start with the fact that little more than 2 per cent. of this country is devoted to woods and plantations, leaving us far worse off in this respect at the moment than any other European country, but let us take account also of other pertinent facts. In Europe as a whole the concept of economic afforestation, that is planting for timber production, is a modern one, and the big headache of most European forest authorities is not to create new forests but to seek to bring their countries' existing forests and nominal forests into fuller bearing. In very many European countries there are large areas technically classed as woodland which are understocked and capable of producing little or no useful timber. As just one example, let me mention Yugoslavia, 28½ per cent. of which is under forest; it is authoritatively stated that, through neglect of proper treatment 38 per cent. of the forest area "does not contribute to the production of timber". For Europe as a whole, 58 per cent. of total forest area is represented by forests not managed under proper working plans. Only 33 per cent. of European forests are State-owned and there is considerable difficulty in securing more efficient management of the privately owned forests, except in the isolated instances of forests operated by large industrial companies. Forty per cent. of European forests are devoted to hardwoods, giving a lower annual yield than the conifers. The overall annual yield from European forests, expressed in relation to population is only 25½ cubic feet per person. Excluding this country and exluding also the three Scandinavian countries which are large timber exporters, Sweden, Norway and Finland, the annual yields from European forests expressed in relation to population is only 17½ cubic feet per person. If this country were to do no more than plant 15,000 acres a year henceforward, the future annual yield estimated on a moderate base can be taken as 30½ cubic feet per person. In other words we have already advanced to a point at which we have a guarantee of a future timber yield more favourable than that enjoyed to-day by Europe as a whole and almost twice as favourable as that enjoyed by Europe less the Scandinavian timber-exporting bloc. The comparison would become even more favourable if account were taken of the high European consumption of timber for fuel purposes. In Europe excluding the Scandinavian bloc, fuel consumption accounts for 46 per cent. of the total cut.

To drive the point home, let us compare our position with that of Denmark—I suggest Denmark because it is another small country with a comparatively small population and with a prime reliance on agriculture for its economy. Denmark at the moment has an average yield per acre almost three times the European average and 9.1 per cent. of the country is under forest. It is authoritatively stated that "the demands for afforestation in Denmark have been fully satisfied". One would not expect to find material for a favourable comparison here. But with over one-third of Denmark's forests hardwoods giving a lower yield and with 62 per cent. of the total forest area privately-owned, 27 per cent. being held by 18,000 proprietors of small-holdings the net Danish yield is only 24 cubic feet per person as compared with the anticipated future Irish yield of 30½ cubic feet per person from a planting programme of even 15,000 acres. Take into account the facts that 38 per cent. of the total cut in Denmark is at present devoted to firewood and that a much higher proportion of Denmark's population is industrially employed with a higher potential consumption of industrial timber and the comparison becomes even more favourable.

The picture I have just presented is in such striking contrast with our present impoverished state as to call for further explanation. The explanation is simple. Our very impoverishment has left us in the position that most of our modern plantations are of fast-growing conifers and all of our plantations are being laid down and developed as a State undertaking on lines calculated to give maximum yield with the added advantage that climatic conditions afford a prospect of an unusually high yield even for fully-stocked forest. Our misfortune of to-day is, therefore, paradoxically also the basis of a healthy position in the future. That position is already assured and we can take pride in the solid progress that has been made and the even greater progress planned for the future.

Now let us recapitulate briefly. I have tried in all that I have said to avoid any political scoring. I cannot alter cold fact and it is cold fact that it was the first inter-Party Government which inaugurated our present vigorous forestry policy but I have been at pains to show that the Fianna Fáil Government which held office from 1951 to 1954 is due full credit for following the inter-Party Government's lead and that that Government should not be blamed for the slowing down of fresh planting during their period of office. As we stand to-day the only real issues are: How much can we do? And how fast can we do it? Since the Forestry Service was given the signal to go ahead seven years ago very substantial progress has been made—spectacular progress in the light of the interim expansion of work in the existing plantations— and there is a guarantee of even further progress at a steady and appreciable rate in the years ahead. We have passed the stage where our establishment of forest was lagging behind possible future timber needs but our planting rate will continue to rise to the original 1948 target of 25,000 acres which will be reached in 1959-60.

Thereafter the position will be reviewed in the light, inter alia, of the degree of success attending experimental work in the western counties. If that work has not proved successful some modification in the planting rate may be inevitable; if it has prospered, a further increase is not out of the question. That is a practical common-sense view of to-day's situation. It concentrates on the attainment now and over the coming ten to 20 years of the maximum we can hope to achieve and leaves it open to the Government of the day to determine what should be done, say, in 40 years' time to fulfil national needs in 90 years' time. In a rapidly changing world we cannot, to-day, usefully consider the detailed requirements of our country in the middle of the next century.

That development programme is the one which, in the considered opinion of the Government, represents the most exact compliance with the national interest consistent with realistic possibilities. In being prepared to undertake a definite commitment on the lines set out, the Government is confident that the forestry service, to which the real credit for the progress of recent years is due, will meet fully the increasing demand made upon it. In this connection, I think I should point out that the forestry service always fulfils its declared planting programmes. How many big undertakings can claim that distinction?

I move:—

That the Estimate be referred back for reconsideration.

May I take it we are not taking the motion?

The motions are not being taken.

A great part of the Minister's statement——

On a point of order, do I understand that the Deputy is moving an amendment?

I am moving the motion to refer back.

The private motions will not be taken.

None of them?

Personally, I think it would have prolonged the discussion a good deal. I have no feelings about that one way or the other, but the Government seem to be anxious to get their business through and, as an Opposition with experience of the difficulties of Government, which do not tend to decrease as time goes on, we would like to facilitate our friends as much as possible. If they are working hard—and I hope they are—they are certainly entitled to the usual relaxation that comes by way of a good holiday.

The Minister's very thorough and full review of forestry from many different angles, from the point of view of the work of the Department, of forestry in the national economy, of what we are aiming at, what we can accomplish, what, having regard to all the circumstances, we ought to attempt, what targets we ought to place before the forestry service—all these matters afford ample scope for a very lengthy discussion. I cannot avoid answering some of the points the Minister has made. In spite of the anxiety which he has professed that he does not wish to make any political capital out of his work in the forestry service, I am afraid that I detected a considerable political slant in a good many of his statements.

No doubt Ministers are entitled to make the best case they can for themselves, but if they could do so without denigrating the work of those whose co-operation they are seeking in the acceptance of a general national policy, that would be all the better. We could spend a great deal of time denigrating what has been done in the past. I think our attitude ought to be rather to take the situation as it presents itself to us at present and see exactly how we stand, what are the prospects for the future, in what way can we adjust matters or improve them, having regard to our experience.

The world is in the position at present that we have very great changes coming on very rapidly. Therefore, it is no wonder that the best laid schemes of Ministers "gang aft agley". Prophecies and guarantees are not always fulfilled, or capable of fulfilment, because new circumstances arise. For example, there is no reference made, except a very passing one, to the fact that during a great part of the period during which the Administration to which I belonged held office we had a world war.

I excluded the eight years and made due allowance for the difficulties.

Deputies can take the period since we first had forestry in this country and say that things have improved enormously since the last war ceased. Of course. Why should they not? The White Paper the Minister referred to was presented in connection with the American aid programme, so far as I remember. That American aid programme had not been there and O.E.E.C. had not been set up. The Minister's Government were in the position that they happened to come into office just at the time the arrangements had been made in connection with Marshall Aid. They gained the fruits, if they were fruits. The future will tell what the fruits of Marshall aid may be and what the ultimate advantage to this country was of that expenditure, whether it was expended in the best way possible and whether we got the best results from it.

At any rate there is very little reference in the Minister's statement to the fact that the Administration in which he was first responsible for forestry had that advantage. It was, of course, in the buoyant feeling that all these millions of dollars were to be made available that they said they were going to have a wonderful forestry programme that would put anything thought of by their predecessors in the shade. The White Paper on E.R.P., issued by the Minister for External Affairs on 20th December, 1948, contained the first public pronouncement about a 25,000 acres per annum programme. It was in that setting that it was announced. As far as I know, and I made inquiries about that matter when I held office as Minister for Lands, no firm directive was given to the Department in regard to the implementation of that programme for a considerable time afterwards.

On 27th April, 1949, at column 49, Volume 115, of the Official Report, the Minister introducing his Estimate for the Forestry Division, stated that it did not include provision for 25,000 acres per annum. He continued:—

"While the reserve of unplanted land on hands exceeds 25,000 acres the necessary transplants are not available either in the State or commercial nurseries and as transplants are normally three years old when planted out a certain interval must elapse before the necessary stocks can be raised. In the meantime, the rate of purchase of land must be stepped up to at least 30,000 acres a year and it would be preferable to increase the rate for the next three years to 50,000 acres or thereabouts in order to build up the necessary reserve."

We can admit that there was a feeling in 1951 that an effort ought to be made to come closer to a programme of 25,000 acres. It was not possible to do it and it was suggested—I think against the advice of the forestry experts—that a target of 20,000 acres ought to be aimed at. That could not be achieved, because, as I have stated here before, even taxing the resources of the organisation of the Forestry Branch to the utmost, it was not possible to do more than 15,000 acres or thereabouts per annum.

In referring frequently to the fact that the aim of the Fianna Fáil Government before the war was to attain a target of 10,000 acres, the Minister now, several years after this aim of 25,000 acres had first been spoken of, has announced that we have still a planting programme of 15,000 acres which is to be increased to 17,500 acres by stages during the next few years. However, the House must remember that about one-third, if not more, of those 15,000 acres is due to mechanical planting—work done by heavy plough which was introduced in the period of the first Coalition Administration. But the point is that the work that was done in the ordinary way by manual labour is substantially the same now as it was then. Any increase in respect of bog areas has been by way of mechanical work.

If the Deputy is right, how can he account for the fact that there are more than 5,000 people employed now as against 2,000 then?

There are more than 5,000 employed now, and, when I entered the Department, there were 5,000 employed. One of the reasons for that is that before the war we had a big employment content during the planting season, but during the rest of the year we had not the same numbers. Then you had not this continuous work of which the Minister has spoken. He has referred to the huge increase in employment and expenditure with reference to the stepping up of the programme of thinning during the past few years. Of course, we are all very anxious to get the utmost employment in the forestry services and, as Deputy MacBride has reminded me of it, I might perhaps mention some of the figures given here by the Minister in his introductory statement to-day.

He said that an average of 5,149 men were employed on forestry in the first ten weeks of this year, compared with an average of 4,373 men in the corresponding period last year. That is a very substantial increase. He also said that the aggregate provision of £1,370,000 should enable labour staffs to be increased at peak this year to over 5,500, but that an increase in wage levels beyond that contemplated when the Estimate was framed might give rise to the need for a Supplementary Estimate later in the year. The planting programme next year is to be 17,500 acres. Then we have the thinning programme which is 11,000 acres during the current year and is to be 13,000 acres during the coming year. We have also road-making and the building of houses in which connection the Minister has not given us any indication that any very large programme is in contemplation. We should like to have more information on these points.

Apart from the fact of providing our foresters with proper houses, we should like to know what is the position with regard to the establishment of communities of forestry workers. If the forestry workers and the forestry service are to be utilised as an agency for revitalising the rural areas that are being depopulated, we should like to see communities established, as Bord na Móna has been trying to do. The trouble with these communities is that they are wage earners and unless they are provided with regular employment and fairly attractive conditions they are not likely to remain. However, it is desirable that, first, they should have proper housing accommodation; secondly, that these houses should be established for a community as far as possible; and, thirdly, that they should, if possible, be worked in with the economy of our smallholders or congests, so that the people working in the forests would either work their own little holdings or would be provided with plots by the Forestry Branch to enable them to do a certain amount in the way of agriculture if only to provide for their own needs and those of their families. We have received no indication as to whether the Government has considered that in connection with the Report of the Commission on Emigration and Population which is a matter of great public interest at the present time.

In connection with the question of labour, the Report of the British Forestry Commissioners for 1954 indicates that they acquired 77,000 acres, and planted 70,000 acres; the thinnings amounted to 36,000 acres and over 5,000 acres were clear felled; 277 miles of road were made and 272 houses were built. The labour corps was 13,612 of which 5.3 thousand belonged to England and 5,000 to Scotland. Our activities in forestry are very widely scattered over 160 or more comparatively small plantations, many of which I know do not afford hope of expansion. The position in my time at any rate—the Minister will be able to let us know whether it has improved—was that you had not the land in the better-off areas. They might not be considered first-class agricultural areas but as compared with the bog and mountainous areas in the West of Ireland, where we are acquiring thousands of acres of land, these areas would be considered as being fairly good.

In connection with this whole question of the annual target, as the Minister has rightly pointed out there is no use in having spasmodic fluctuations on any considerable scale, of jumping up by several thousand acres for a year or two and then having to reduce your target after that. Everybody knows that you have to have a reserve of three times the annual planting programme. The Minister has announced that it is the intention to plant 17,500 acres next year, but he has fewer than 50,000 acres. If our forests were concentrated in larger blocks, it would be easy enough, perhaps, to go near the three years' reserve and to treat that as a figure you could work on, but I think Mr. Cameron himself has said that it is not a reserve of three years but of about seven years you would require. In other words, before any programme of expansion is carried on, the forestry people must know what they are going to work on, what they have on hands and what they are likely to have in five years' time. They have reached the position in England now that they have planted more than they have acquired and they regard that as a very serious position.

The Minister says on page 8 of his brief:—

"The most immediate difficulty was not directly related to the new planting target. I refer to the increasing management needs of the existing State Forest plantations."

Was the big difficulty not, on the one hand, that, while we were not attending properly to the maintenance of the existing plantations and were allowing our thinning operations to get greatly into arrears, with very deleterious effects on the forests and very grave consequences indeed, on the other hand we were not getting the intake of land that we had hoped for?

The Minister mentioned the fact that Mr. Cameron referred to the comparatively small acreage of the individual acquisition. The average in the three year period 1950 to 1953 was only 104 acres, and in the three year period 1953 to 1956 it had fallen to 71 acres. Not alone was there the same amount of trouble and the same administrative costs dealing with each of those individual transactions as if they were ten times larger in area, but, of course, when it came to dealing with them and taking them into the forestry set-up there was all the tremendous additional cost of fencing those comparatively small areas as compared with the tremendous economy that would be secured if land in blocks of 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 acres could be got, which would also facilitate you if it were that type of land on which you could use machinery to the very best advantage. If you could use those machines on a run of half a mile or a mile, you could obviously do much better work more economically, and get a better return, than if you were working your machines on comparatively small runs.

The Minister tells us now, that he has 49,000 acres in hands to undertake this programme of 17,500 acres next year, increasing by 2,500 acres per year until he reaches the target he hopes for of 25,000 acres. "If, however, the rate of planting is to be further stepped up," he says, "as I propose, the rate of acquisition must rise even more sharply, so that the plantable reserve, now 49,000 acres, may be maintained in proper minimum ratio to the planting rate. I cannot guarantee that such an increased intake of land will prove practicable." I do not know what that means. Does it mean that the Minister has doubts as to whether it will prove practicable, or does he simply mean: "If you want to bind me to give an absolute guarantee that I can get this land, of course I cannot give it."

That is understandable, and one can sympathise with the Minister in that whatever steps it may have been necessary to take since the Forestry Act was passed, sufficient time, perhaps, has not elapsed to enable us to judge fully what land is likely to come in. But, on the following page, the Minister tells us that the Department "will do its best and at this stage I, and the Government, believe we should plan for the future, on the assumption that sufficient land can and will be acquired."

He goes on then to refer to the fact that, with regard to this peat land, there seems to be still some doubt as to the results likely to be obtained. It is not the first time that the Minister has expressed doubts. In a reference to the new experimental station down in the Bangor-Erris area, the Minister told us at column 1685, Volume 157:—

"As a matter of information for the House, I should like to say that the forestry technicians in my Department are doubtful about the possibility of even growing trees on the 20 or 30 acres of that bog that have already been treated. It took a certain amount of urging on my part to get them to deal with it."

Does that mean that the technical officers of the Department are being allowed to exercise their own judgment in the matter, or does it mean that the Minister is pushing them into planting where their own judgment and experience leads them to believe they are not going to have very satisfactory results?

It means the latter. I did some pushing, and I am proud of it. On the other hand, I highly commend the officials for their readiness in pointing out to me when I might be making a mistake.

Last year, the Minister tells us, the application of new technique to the large areas in the West was experimental in the first instance and until developments established whether the new methods would produce good timber at an economic cost, the whole future of this new development had to remain in doubt. But on other occasions the Minister has told us, at column 878, Volume 151, that "astonishingly good results" have been obtained in Cloosh. I am all in favour, of course, of developing those areas, but I should like to know what is the settled and final judgment of the Minister's officers as to the possibilities of those areas.

There cannot be a settled judgment for some years to come. It can be said that so far these experimental plots appear to be doing nicely, but next year they could get a serious check.

When I was in the Department, I was told that those bog areas should be about 1,000 acres in extent, that the timber growth would be exceedingly slow, and that at least 20 years would elapse before the weeding and pruning stage would arrive. In fact, it was stated, with regard to the mechanical operations, that cleaning operations on those raised mounds would not be required and that once the plants were put own, there would be no further work for a considerable period of years. I do not know why the Minister, then, said that we had astonishingly good results in Cloosh.

One would like to have something more definite when the Minister is replying as to what the feeling of his officers is with regard to Cloosh and Nephin and the West Donegal areas, because he says that, if this experimental work is not deemed to be successful, it means that we shall be driven back on trying to secure land under the Plantable Land Survey of 1949 in the other areas of the country.

He also emphasises that of the 1,200,000 acres returned by the survey, it is very conjectural just what proportion of that acreage is really plantable land, and, if it is, that there is then the question whether it could be acquired or not. "It is anybody's guess," the Minister says, "how much of the land covered by the plantable land survey will ultimately come into the ownership of the Forestry Service. Prudence would not suggest an assumption that most of it can, and will, be brought under forest crops within 50 years."

Hence my appeal that the areas which we are told the Department of Agriculture from their experience definitely exclude from the area of arable land, potential agricultural land-hillsides and so on—should be acquired and utilised for forestry purposes, thereby giving the Minister's Department the necessary reserve and enabling them to go ahead in the confident belief that they will be able to build up this target of 25,000 acres and not have to recede from it within a few years' time to a much smaller figure.

Of course one has to make the point in connection with that that presumably at some time or other if the 25,000 acre target has been attained, it may no longer be possible, perhaps, to maintain it. It could not be maintained indefinitely, but I think the point is whether it can be maintained over a reasonable period of ten, 15 or 20 years. He says that a steady planting of 25,000 acres for 25 years and a drop thereafter to, say, 12,500 acres would, however, be a serious violation of the principle. As we are not likely to be here in 25 years' time perhaps it is really only an academic question, but why bother about what may happen in 25 years' time? The question is whether the Minister in his time, and his successor in his time, and his successor's succesor, will be able to maintain this 25,000 acre programme over a period of 15 or 20 years.

The Minister told us that a very large amount of the land which has not come in is the subject of negotiation and he thinks that, having regard to the figure giving the total acreage which is the subject of negotiation and consideration, he is very likely to get a better result. The result this year seems to indicate an improvement of only about 1,000 acres. The Minister has said that the average intake was about 16,500 acres for the past three years. That does not indicate that we have improved a great deal. It may take time, as I have said, but the Minister should be in a position to tell us whether, as a result of the forestry Act, his prognostication that acquisition under the new Act would mean that the intake would be stepped up so as to please the most enthusiastic Deputy is likely to be fulfilled. He said that he was not holding out any false hopes, although early last year he told us that the pool tended to dry up. It seems to me that the Minister's hopes now seem to concentrate in very great measure indeed upon the result of the operations of the Forestry Act. We will have to depend to a very great extent on getting the necessary reserve of land from the work of the Minister and his officials in bringing these commonages into the pool for afforestation purposes.

Dealing with North Mayo, may I remind the House that there were 113,000 acres stated to be suitable for planting in Mayo? We do not know, of course, what proportion of that will be available. I am sure the Minister, with his well-known interest in his native county, has gone into this matter in some more detail but I noticed that of the 5,000 or 6,000 acres in hand in the Glenamoy-Ballycastle area possibly none at all may be plantable in the long run. One wonders, therefore, whether the anticipations of the Minister that he will be all right so far as the intake and the reserve of land are concerned will be fulfilled. We may have land acquired but whether it will be land that will produce timber, timber that can be sold at a reasonably good price, is another question.

About one half of the area in this plantable survey, say about 600,000 acres, was said to be suitable only for mechanical operation; perhaps another 200,000 or 300,000 may be found suitable. One would like to know whether in the areas that Mr. Cameron actually saw, in company with the Department of Agriculture representative—Wolfhill, the Galtees, the Comeragh-Knockmealdown, South Kilkenny and the Leinster Chain—prospects have improved in any degree. He considered these areas to be very well suited for the production of timber, and he meant timber. When we understand that forests in his experience had been grown on fairly high altitudes of up to 1,400 feet, there is no reason why, if the Department is actively concerned about areas like the Leinster Chain, we should not have substantial plantations built up there.

I was glad to hear from the Minister that the income from the sales of timber is increasing and that he hopes to get in £250,000 this year. That is a very substantial sum. I noticed a reference in a publication recently to the fact that a factory had been opened in Scotland for the conversion of various thinnings into chipboard for use in furniture making and building. It was opened at Annan in September last. When in full production the factory will use 400 tons of timber per week to make about 250,000 square feet of board. Experiments are also being carried out in parts of Scotland with a view to growing bamboo for the production of rayon pulp. This may be undertaken on a large scale with financial assistance from the rayon industry if the experiments are successful.

The Minister referred to pit prop sales and I am glad to hear that they have improved. Perhaps he would be good enough to tell us what proportion of the sales are taken by regular contract or regular dealings with the factories here. Would he look into this matter and perhaps ask some of the officers of his Department to cross over to Scotland, where conditions seem to be somewhat similar to what we have here, and see what is being done there, not alone with regard to the utilisation of the timber but also with regard to the extraction, which is a very costly and tortuous business? I can only assume that over there, having regard to the fact that they were able to deal with huge areas in which timber had been knocked down in storms a few years ago, and were able to clear out these areas and dispose of the timber, they have modern mechanical equipment for that purpose. If we pay some more attention to that aspect, it will perhaps enable the Minister to increase his receipts still further.

I should also like to ask whether the sawmills are paying their way and whether there are any figures available which would indicate what the profit is. As far as I can see sales are roughly equivalent to expenditure. Whether or not we agree that forestry should be handed over to a semi-State or commercial board, I think we can all agree that, as far as possible, operations like sawmilling are profitable. Obviously, commercial accounts can be rendered in regard to them— probably they are rendered to the Minister—and we should like to know whether in fact a profit is being made or whether the sawmills are being run as a social service. I am all in favour of social services where necessary but there should be a line drawn in regard to a great many of the activities of our Departments and our State boards clearly indicating where social service ends and commercial service begins.

At what point do we begin to take into consideration the question of getting a return for the taxpayer for the expenditure involved? At what point do we begin to consider in reality the problem of investing as much capital as we have—and it is very limited in our present circumstances—in the most effective way so that it will give the best return and ultimately make more wealth available for other capital purposes? The expenditure is very substantial and it is satisfactory that it is going in such large degree in wages and in payment of labour. If it were equally distributed all over the country and if the western areas could get even a larger share of what is being spent, nobody would be better pleased than myself.

In reply to a parliamentary question recently, the Minister indicated that in the year ending 31st March, 1951, the expenditure was £452,000. The following year it was £667,000. The next year it was £745,000. The next year it was £891,000. The next year it was £972,000 and last year it was £1,195,000. Thus, there has been an increase of more than two and a half times in the expenditure on labour in the past six years. I think that very satisfactory, particularly for areas and constituencies like County Wicklow, which, owing to their circumstances, have the advantage that larger sums are spent there than perhaps in several counties in other parts of the country.

I want to ask the Minister about the position with regard to head labourers. Are they receiving the same wage generally in all areas; have their rates the same relation in all areas to the wage of the ordinary labourer; and what is the position of the head labourer vis-á-vis a forest foreman? One of the advantages of a service where you have such a large corps of labour is that, where you have good men, every inducement should be afforded to them to remain in the service. One of the ways in which we can do that is by promotion for those who have shown they are energetic and capable of doing the work and capable of undertaking added responsibilities. I am entirely in favour of giving these men every opportunity to go ahead. It is for that reason that I should like the Minister to let us know the position as regards head labourers' wages and the position as regards forest foremen and whether the opportunities for promotion to these posts are freely open to the ordinary workers in the plantations.

I am sorry it has not been possible to discuss, in conjunction with this Estimate, the two motions which were put down, together with the amendments by the Opposition and by the Minister. I think it would be helpful if we could have a comprehensive discussion. However, no doubt we shall have that opportunity later on.

As the House is no doubt aware, we have been pressing very hard for the implementation of the annual planning programme of 25,000 acres—a programme which was in fact adopted, as the Minister pointed out, by the inter-Party Government in 1948. I therefore welcome the announcement by the Minister to-day that that target is now accepted and that it is proposed to achieve it by the year 1959-60. I compliment the Minister on having jacked up the plantation rate this year to 17,500 acres. I feel the Minister deserves full credit for having done that.

I am not concerned with devoting a lot of time to looking back on what has been done—or rather, on what has not been done—in regard to forestry by successive Governments. I think I can say, however, that what was not done by Irish Governments from 1922-48 in regard to afforestation will stand forever as an indictment of our own Governments. A short-sighted policy was pursued which cannot be excused. Deputy Derrig mentioned the war as one of the reasons for the lack of progress in afforestation. The war did not last 20 years. I am not prepared to accept the various reasons which were put forward as to why forestry should have come practically to a standstill during the war period. It is, therefore, a matter for congratulation that we seem to have reached at last the position where we can see the target of 25,000 acres a year being reached in the near future. I would naturally prefer that that target should have been reached by now. However, I suppose it is not unreasonable to propose now that by additional annual increments of 2,500 acres a year, the 25,000 acres per year target will be reached by 1959-60.

I have been particularly impatient in regard to the lack of progress on the part of the Forestry Division because the advantages of forestry to our economy are so obvious. It is the one aspect of our development about which there is now no longer any controversy. It is the one type of productive investment in which we can forge ahead without doubt or hesitation. We lack raw materials upon which to base industrial developments and timber is probably the most important raw material in the modern economy. It is the raw material which forms the basis of many different industries. We have the land, the climate and the manpower necessary to produce that raw material, but, for some extraordinary reason it has been practically impossible, despite the agreement of all the Parties, to have enough progress made.

Forestry has the highest labour content of any public work undertaken by the Government. By far the largest proportion of expenditure on forestry is expended on wages. The employment it provides is a continuing and productive employment. We are only too painfully aware at the moment of the imbalance in our trade. We import vast quantities of timber and timber products which, were it not for the shortsightedness of successive Governments, could have been produced in this country, if an active forestry policy had been initiated in time and if it had been actively pursued.

The Minister is quite correct in saying that the present forestry policy, the present drive, dates from 1948 and the Minister is entitled to full credit for the improvement which has taken place in the plantation rate. My only regret is that the rate of improvement has not been greater. I have to voice some words of criticism in regard to the operations of the Forestry Division, but, in doing so, I want to make it clear that I do not blame the Minister entirely. A large proportion of the Minister's brief was devoted to what might be described as an apologia for the lack of progress in the past. I am not really concerned with that, save in so far as I feel it is well to point out that some of the reasons advanced for the lack of progress will not be accepted in future.

We have been told, for instance, that the retrogression in forestry which took place after 1951 was due to the fact that thinning and maintenance operations had got into arrears, and that, instead of planting, the Forestry Division had to devote its time to maintenance work, which it should have been doing all along. That explanation is nonsensical. There is no shortage of labour in this country. If more maintenance and thinning work had to be done, it would have been an easy matter to recruit the necessary labour force to do it. We have been told that a shortage of staff and trained foresters impeded progress. Surely one of the elementary things to provide for, when you are planning any development programme, be it an industrial or agricultural programme, is to provide for the training of the people you require.

There is no type of development which can lend itself to such detailed and accurate planning as forestry. Obviously it is work that has to be planned several years ahead. You know fairly accurately how many men you will require in one year's time or in two years', five years' or ten years' time, to implement a certain programme. You know how many foresters you will need, how many plants you will use, how many acres of land you will use, and therefore it is easy to plan for these requirements in advance. I do not, therefore, accept the excuse put forward, in retrospect, on behalf of the Department, which is based on the inadequacy of its planning and of its training facilities, any more than I accept any excuse based on the fact that the work of thinning and maintenance was neglected. It should not have been neglected.

I think I detected a suggestion that possibly it would be unwise to increase too rapidly for fear labour might be absorbed too rapidly. I may be wrong in that. It seems to me that, if that suggestion is there, it is obviously one that cannot stand examination. I have dealt with these matters, not by way of criticism of the Minister but merely to give a clear indication that I, for one, will not be prepared to accept these matters as an excuse for failure to implement the programme which has now been decided upon.

In speaking in the House before on forestry, I indicated that the fertility with which excuses for non-performance of forestry programmes in the past were made was practically unequalled. I enumerated many of the reasons advanced in the past. I think it would be well if we now made up our minds that this programme which the Minister announced will be implemented and that no excuse will be accepted from anybody in regard to it, whether it is barbed wire, rabbits, hatchets, shortage of labour, arrears of thinning, arrears of maintenance. Let us forget all about these excuses and make up our minds that we will not accept them in future.

I think also—I shall not deal with this to-night because it will come up separately on a motion which we have tabled—that by and large the Minister's statement, when analysed and examined, really makes the case for the unsuitability of a Civil Service Department to handle a vast commercial undertaking such as forestry. However, we shall have an opportunity of discussing that in full when the motion which stands in my name comes to be discussed by the House, so I shall not deal with it in detail to-night. I merely want to mention that the Minister's very comprehensive statement in my view really reinforces the view which I have so often expressed inside and outside this House as to the need to take forestry away from the Civil Service machine.

References were made by the Minister and also by Deputy Derrig to the rate of plantation elsewhere and the progress made elsewhere. It is well that we should compare briefly the rate of progress here with the rate of progress, say, in Britain. In 1954, in Britain, the Forestry Commission planted close on 78,000 acres. In addition, some 19,000 acres were planted privately, mainly through State-aided schemes of one kind or another or with the help of grants. That is, in all, a total of close on 97,000 acres were planted in 1954. That is more than six times what we planted.

The total land area of Britain is 52,000,000 acres compared with our 17,000,000 acres or, in other words, the land area of Britain is about three times our land area. Yet, Britain planted an area six times the area we planted. Her area is three times the size of our area but she planted six times what we planted. The amount of wasteland in Britain is smaller than the amount of wasteland here. Yet, the area under forestry in Britain is much higher than the area under forestry here. Nearly 6½ per cent. of the total area of Britain is under forestry whereas we have approximately 1½ per cent. of our area under forestry.

We have the distinction of having the smallest percentage of our land under timber of any country in Europe. If the progress of British forestry is to be taken as a yardstick, we should plant considerably more than we even plan to plant now. Yet, there is no comparison between the economic requirements of Britain and our economic requirements. Britain is mainly an industrialised nation. She suffers from overfull employment and does not require to create more employment, while we suffer from one of the highest rates of unemployment and emigration in Europe and, therefore, forestry is of particular importance to our economy as a means of increasing production on the one hand and of providing employment on the other hand. I mention that because I think Deputy Derrig was suggesting that we were doing as well as Britain in regard to forestry. I think that would be completely wrong. Proportionately, we are doing much less.

The Minister has devoted a great proportion of his speech to pointing out all the difficulties. Of course there are difficulties in forestry. Of course there are difficulties in any type of productive enterprise we wish to set up but do not tell me that these difficulties cannot be overcome. The British Forestry Commission, I am sure, faces much greater difficulties by reason of the vast area with which they have to deal and the huge programme they are trying to implement. They are planting over 5,000,000 acres as compared with our 1,000,000 acres.

There are one or two matters of detail and one or two suggestions I should like to bring to the Minister's notice. First, I think the time has come when the Minister should really urge the Government to increase substantially the grant given to private individuals who undertake afforestation. Not only should that grant be increased but an effort should be made to persuade farmers throughout the country to avail of it and to go in for private planting themselves. That is one of the cheapest ways in which forestry can be increased and increased rapidly. I may be wrong but I have a suspicion at the back of my mind that the Department does not publicise the availability of this grant, that the Department does not like very much paying out this grant to private people. I may be wrong in that but I have a feeling that it is not one of the things that are publicised. I have not seen any advertisement with regard to it or any propaganda from official sources seeking to speed up private planting by the farmers of the country. A good deal more could be done in that direction and it would pay dividends.

The Minister has been silent on this occasion in regard to one of the longstanding grievances which I have had for a number of years in regard to the administration of the Forestry Department. There used to be a director of forestry who was a technical man and who was in charge of forestry operations. Since the last director of forestry retired, the post has been vacant and there has been no director of forestry. It is true that through one of the devices that occur in administration—the Minister is not responsible for it—when the post of the director of forestry disappeared an additional assistant secretary appeared on the Book of Estimates for the Department of Lands. Was there some type of barter or arrangement whereby we would do away with the post of director of forestry and have an additional higher civil servant instead?

It seems to me that it is essential that we should have a director of forestry, a technical man who would be in charge of the technical work of forestry. I will be told immediately that there are forestry inspectors and a chief inspector of forestry. I have no criticism to offer in regard to their work. I am sure that they are extremely competent and able men but it seems ridiculous that, at a time when we are expanding the forestry programme, we should do away with the director of forestry. It may be, I do not know, that we have nobody suitable to fill the post. If we have not, let us get somebody from elsewhere, but let us have a director of forestry.

Another matter to which I would ask the Minister to give special attention is the question of forest thinnings and maintenance operations. I have heard criticism, I do not know whether well-founded or not—I give it without adequate information to back it up— that in some areas thinning and maintenance operations have fallen into arrears. If that is so, it is a completely false economy. If that is so, additional men should be recruited to do the thinning and maintenance operations. I trust the Minister will not allow any question of economy to prevent the maintenance work from being carried out.

I do not know whether Deputy Derrig really appreciated what he was saying in regard to employment in forestry. I think he tried to suggest that there has been no increase in employment in forestry. The position is that when the present Minister for Lands took over that Department in 1948 about 2,000 men were employed in forestry. The position now is that this year there will be 5,500 men employed in forestry.

Deputy Derrig also said that though the target of 25,000 acres a year was decided upon at the end of 1948, no steps had been taken or no direction had been given in regard to it. That is not in accordance with the facts. The target of 25,000 acres was decided upon by the Government, was approved of by the House, and steps were taken by the then Minister, who is also the present Minister, to have that target implemented. I think it is well to correct these statements because there is always a danger that if you allow them to go unchallenged people will come to accept them as facts. However, I do not want to sound acrimonious to-night.

The Minister has given the House a definite assurance that the target of 25,000 acres a year will be reached by the year 1959-60. I think that we can compliment the Minister for having given us that assurance. Those of us who have been advocating forestry for years back can also feel somewhat happy that we are at last, with the help of the Minister, reaching a position where we will at least plant 25,000 acres a year. Let there be no slip.

Let us make certain that that target is achieved. I shall reserve anything I have to say in regard to the best methods of running forestry, whether it should be done by a board, by a forestry commission, by a separate Ministry or by one of the existing boards such as Bord na Móna, for another occasion when I hope we will have time for a much fuller discussion on the subject. In the meantime, I should like the Minister to consider that question seriously so that, when we have a debate on it, we shall be able to have a pretty authoritative view from the Government with their reasons for or against each of the proposals submitted to us and then we shall be in a position to take a final decision.

Deputy Seán MacBride was very disturbed on the occasion of the debate on this Estimate a year ago because the Minister could not give him a guarantee that the target would be eventually 25,000 acres. Having regard to the statement made by the Minister this evening, I think he has set out on what I might call a five-year plan. Deputy MacBride always harps upon a five-year plan or a ten-year plan which is perhaps, a very good idea. Last year we planted 15,000 acres, this year 17,500 or 18,000 acres, next year, perhaps, 21,000 acres and the year following 25,000 acres. I hope Deputy MacBride does not mean that a halt is being called at 25,000 acres.

I hope not.

In this country forests were cut down especially during the first world war. At that time there was no provision made for replanting. Fortunately for us now, a rule has been brought in by our own Government that whenever a tree is cut down trees must be planted in its stead. An alien Government had no interest in the afforestation of this country. The comparison Deputy MacBride made in connection with the planting target in England and in this country at the present time is not a proper comparison because, I think, that even before the first world war about 18 per cent. of Britain was under trees whereas in this country there would be only something in the neighbourhood of 1 per cent. at any time. In fact, as far as I remember when an Irish Government was established, there was in this country only something like .2 of 1 per cent. under afforestation.

I suppose our own Government, when set up first, had many other things to deal with and, therefore, not very much progress was made. Deputy MacBride was perfectly correct in saying that until 1948 very little progress at all was made in afforestation, a project which should be of the greatest importance to this country. Not only would it give employment in rural areas which is very necessary—indeed, afforestation is the one and only type of permanent employment which would be available in rural areas—but it would also beautify the country and have a wonderful effect on its climate and prevent which I might call mountain or land erosion. Eventually, when the trees matured, we would have in this country a sufficient quantity of timber of various kinds so that there would be no necessity to import it.

One can imagine the benefit that would be especially in time of war when shipping would be scarce or perhaps not available at all. It would mean that we could carry on building or any other activity in which timber would be so much required without having to import it. From the point of view of climate and preventing land erosion it would be invaluable. Deputy MacBride referred to the effect it would have on our balance of payments. I take it that in value the import of timber would perhaps be, next to petrol, the most expensive commodity that we have to bring into this country from abroad. While there are difficulties in reaching the target which we all desire, certainly no effort should be spared to plant the maximum number of acres from year to year until eventually we reach the percentage required in this country where we have so much land—not all arable land but land suitable for planting.

Of course, we must always remember that while there would be a great deal of land which would not be arable though very suitable for planting, there are other activities like sheep farming with which we must not interfere in reaching our target of 25,000, 30,000 or 50,000 acres eventually per annum. I am sure that while it is desirable to have this target in view everybody will agree that the Forestry Section of the Department of Lands finds it difficult to secure land suitable for planting. I believe that the forestry section has powers to acquire land compulsorily but has never exercised those powers. Perhaps that is only right but it seems we must really depend on voluntary offers of land for afforestation. Even when land is offered voluntarily, as Deputy Derrig stated, it may or may not be an uneconomic proposition to acquire anything less than 100 acres because of fencing and other expenses. It would be much more desirable if we could acquire areas of 1,000 or 2,000 acres. That would be possible only by taking a number of adjoining holdings offering portions of plantable land so that it could be made into one economic forest.

At the same time if anybody should offer 50 or 60 acres, if the land is suitable for planting it should not be rejected. The trouble in many cases, and the cause of the delay, is the question of title. In fact, I know in my own county when land is offered freely there is nearly always a long delay because the landholder who offers the land is not the registered owner and acquisition is delayed. It is desirable that some means should be adopted to overcome this. I believe in the last Forestry Act there is a clause by which acquisition can be facilitated where difficulties of title arise. Perhaps that may help to accelerate acquisition. I understand that at the present rate of planting the reserve should be something like seven years. If we are to maintain our goal, it is very necessary that we should have as large a reserve as possible. I can see difficulties such as those I have mentioned and I feel that if at any time we fail to reach the target decided on in respect of any one year, it could be attributed to difficulties in acquiring land.

I want to be fair to the Department. During a recent visit I paid to the Forestry Section of the Department of Lands I was agreeably surprised to see that so much land had been offered in South Kerry but I was not so agreeably surprised when I realised the difficulties, the delays and the possibility that it might take some years yet before that land would be available for planting. I suppose not only are there difficulties and delays regarding the offer of land and its acquisition because of title considerations but there is also the question of finance. We cannot rush forward unless we have financial resources to carry out our commitments in connection with forestry. I hope the Minister will always do his best to get as large an allocation of finance as possible for his Department. I am sure he is doing that.

As regards labour, I understand that we have at present employed on afforestation something like 5,500 men. The number seems small; however, it is a big advance on what it was some years ago, especially prior to 1948. Employment in forestry does not seem to absorb the big numbers that one might expect. I do not know why this is so, but I do know, as I have seen it in my own area, that even the fencing and draining of 150 or 200 acres sometimes require only five or six men. There may be a good reason for that. More men are employed when the time for planting comes round, and while that employment to my mind is not permanent, it is, as nearly as possible, whole-time employment.

It is regrettable that on this question of employment in forestry men who have gained experience by being employed for one or two years on planting are sometimes disemployed— this applies even to men who have proved themselves satisfactory—while some others who are inexperienced are brought in. Also, it may not be fair that farmers and other people who already have gainful employment and a good way of living should get employment in preference to workers who have no other occupation. I have seen farmers of £20 or £30 valuation, who owned 16 cows, getting employment as gangers in connection with forestry. I do not know whether that is the fault of the forester or some local influence but I think that if the forester is capable and fair no outside interference, political or otherwise, should be allowed to operate in connection with employment in forestry. This applies also to any other type of employment. If the gangers or those in charge of afforestation are not fair in the allocation of employment they should be removed from office or shifted elsewhere.

Deputy MacBride referred to private enterprise in connection with planting. There is an organisation, I know, through which certain grants are given to county committees of agriculture for the planting of shelter belts but I think the amount is only £10 per acre and that has been the amount for years past. I cannot see why that grant should not be brought under the Department of Lands and increased because everything possible should be done by forestry inspectors and others to get farmers to plant shelter belts. When you tell them, I know they will say: "I will be dead when these trees mature", but it is remarkable how quickly trees will grow. If one visits other countries, one sees that there are always shelter belts in the vicinity of farm houses and farm buildings. A shelter belt beautifies the home and it is also useful afterwards if the landholder, or the State, requires timber for any purpose.

If we could plant the percentage of land in this country to compare with other countries in Europe, when those trees matured, we would always have employment for caretakers of the forests, for those carrying out thinning and maintenance and, as the years go on, we would have the cutting down of the trees, the haulage of the timber to the mills, the work in the mills and so on. I remember reading a book on afforestation at one time—I forget the name of the author—in which it was stated that if we had planted about 15 or 16 per cent. of our territory in this country—by that he meant that that percentage of our area was plantable land—we would have given work to 250,000 men. I do not know whether that is correct or not.

We have a great deal of leeway to make up, because, as I stated at the beginning, at the time our own Government was set up this country was entirely denuded of its forests. That was unfortunate. A great patriot and writer once said that a country denuded of its trees is a country going to decay. We have a great deal to make up. I do not know if the Forestry Division can achieve the objectives it has set itself in regard to the afforestation required. Several suggestions have been made in regard to the improvements that could be carried out. While I have the greatest confidence in the Forestry Division as constituted at present, I think, in view of the great success of the E.S.B. and Bord na Móna, that if a forestry board was set up—a board of experts on afforestation—that might help to a great extent to further afforestation, but with this proviso: that board should be under the control of the Minister for Lands and be something on the style of C.I.E., the E.S.B. or Board na Móna. That is a question that can be considered later on.

Big advances have been made and, if future Ministers continue on the lines laid down by the present Minister, I believe we can be hopeful that, within the next ten, 15 or 20 years, we shall have achieved our full programme of afforestation.

I was pleased to hear the Minister's statement regarding the acquisition of land for afforestation purposes, but I should like to comment on his reply to a question which was put to him, I think, yesterday. He stated that the average price per acre for land acquired for afforestation purposes worked out at £6 10s. per acre. I may not have that right, but I think that was the reply to the question. I have known cases where land—and very good land—for afforestation purposes was offered to the Department and they were very slow to come up to the proper price—the price that would induce farmers and other people to come to an agreement. I suggest that that question should be examined by the Minister with a view to giving some increase in the present price.

There is scarcely any disagreement. There is never disagreement on the question of price between ourselves and those who are offering us land. There is no discontent.

I know of cases where the farmer concerned expects a price of from £10 to £15 per acre and the Department comes along and offers probably £6 per acre.

That is right.

Would the Minister not agree there is a very big difference —that £6 per acre for good land for afforestation purposes is very low? I am not suggesting that the Department have not examined this problem very carefully and that, from their point of view, they have given the maximum price. Nevertheless, the point I am making, and the reason I am making it, is that this may be one of the reasons why we are not getting readily the area of land we require or why we are not getting it without delay.

We are not losing any land because of the price, and I might add that the price we are giving to most of these people is much greater than they would get on the open market. That is the reason they are selling to us.

I am glad to hear that. I was only making the point to the Minister. As regards the point made by Deputy Palmer in connection with employment, I agree to this extent, that the number of men employed in a forestry scheme, as far as I am aware, is very low. The greatest number of men I have seen employed on a forestry scheme in South Kerry was five or six. When planting operations commenced, that number might be increased, but after a time there would be a reduction again. On the average, the number employed in forestry schemes in that area is very small. To make matters worse, when planting is completed, the Department's officials lay off the men and employ what they call maintenance men. Three or four men are, on an average, selected as maintenance men and are kept on for two years. Men who have been employed on the planting operations, who have much more experience and who need employment, are passed over when it comes to the selection of maintenance men.

I should like to see the whole position examined by the Minister. Men who have given very satisfactory service to the Forestry Branch should not be passed over when it comes to the employment of maintenance men. Most of these men, in spite of their experience, are on unemployment assistance. They are excellent workers, but they have no chance whatever of being re-employed by the Department for another two years. My suggestion is that the Minister's Department should work out a scheme of rotation in regard to the employment of maintenance men. Men with experience of forestry could be selected and could be given employment in rotation over the two years.

I should like to refer to certain areas in South Kerry where land is being offered for afforestation. I am glad to be able to state that the response from the farmers down there to the call for land for afforestation has been very encouraging during the past 12 months, and particularly so in the last six months. I was in communication with the Minister's Department about areas in Caherciveen where large areas of land had been offered and I was informed that, even though the inspector was down there, his report is not yet available to the Department. The position is that the land offered in these areas will not be taken up before next September. I think that when there is agreement and goodwill between the parties, and when farmers are anxious to give their land, the Department should waste no time in occupying it. I know it is not easy for the Department to take over land immediately it is offered, but I know also that the reports from the inspectors are subject to great delays and that several months elapse between the time the land is offered and the time the Department make a move.

Sometimes a year may elapse before the Department are able to tell the farmer concerned that they have decided to make an offer for the land and to establish a forestry centre in the area. In South Kerry we are very anxious to have another of those centres established. The establishment of such a centre is very important from the employment viewpoint, as well as for several other reasons. There would be up to 1,000 acres of land in the area which farmers would be willing to offer. I hope the Minister will look into the position there and make an early decision.

Some time ago, the Minister appealed to Deputies to inform him on the availability of land for afforestation in their respective areas. Deputy Mrs. Crowley, Deputy Palmer and I interviewed a number of people in an endeavour to get them to communicate with the Department. We hoped that everything possible would be done, with all possible speed, to meet these people who are anxious to facilitate the Department with offers of land. We are most anxious to see that delays are eliminated; we should like to see the land surveyed as quickly as possible and the inspectors' reports submitted to the Department without delay.

Deputy Palmer referred to political influence in the employment of men. The Minister is aware that I raised a question some time ago about the employment of men in the Caragh Lake district as I understood a certain appointment was clearly a political one. The man was appointed by the Minister on Deputy Palmer's recommendation.

Oh, no. I never recommended anybody for appointment as a ganger.

On the occasion of the appointment, I charged the Minister with making a political appointment. I did that because this man, with no previous experience in forestry work, was brought in and appointed as head labourer, in preference to several other men who had experience of the work.

The Deputy knows all right who appointed him. The Deputy helped me to remove him.

There was something queer going on down there.

I hope the Minister will in future recruit men who have the necessary experience. I hope also that he will forget maintenance men and political usage since they lead to the disemployment of unfortunates who have past experience in forestry work.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 12th July, 1956.