That a select committee consisting of nine Senators be set up to inquire into the position of rural workers as regards employment, wages, housing, rent, education, the provision of properly-controlled halls and playing fields, and the allotment of land;
That the committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; and
That the quorum of the committee be five.
As one who for forty years has been associated with organised efforts to improve the condition of the rural worker and the genuine working farmer, I rise to move this motion standing in my name. In almost every land the drift from the country to the town is the most marked of all our social problems. It is an unhealthy social sign. About 80 years ago, as one of my old colleagues was accustomed to stress, one-fifth only of our population lived in urban areas. It would appear as if in another quarter of a century we will have a third of the population in Dublin alone. The decline and the drift to the towns did not begin to-day or yesterday. In a little over thirty years half a million of our people were cleared off the land and went to the emigrant ship or to the slums of the towns. The clearances of Meath caused the slums of Dublin. In the areas of rural Limerick and Tipperary to-day you have but one-fourth of those who were there 90 years ago. That is an accomplished fact. The same conditions prevail in Meath, Kildare and Westmeath. Wherever the fertile areas are, the people were driven off the land, and the richer districts are supporting the fewest people. Prosperity or national progress is not to be measured by the extensive unpeopled ranches or by the number of fat animals for export, but by the number of active, virile, intelligent people the country maintains in reasonable comfort and happiness. Our strength is not to be measured in animals but in men. Civilisation replaced the beast by men, but the clearances reversed the process and replaced men by beasts. The present Government and particularly our worthy Chief, are not to be blamed.
Under difficulties they have been doing much for housing, for land distribution, and in helping the masses of our people, but, now that the economic war has been ended, much more needs to be done. Our Government are now free to tackle more seriously the various home problems that need attention, and particularly the lot of the people on the land. I do not deny that our urban population have serious problems of their own—the slums are still there, although big strides have been made in removing them. Rents are far too high and ground rents in and around Dublin are appalling, and must soon be tackled. Interest rates charged by the banks for housing loans are excessive. The cost of commodities cannot be defended. The producer and the consumer are both ground between the millstones of unscrupulous middlemen. The conditions for the growth of a healthy population, both as to food and housing, do not exist in working-class districts in Dublin. Progress is being made, but the undoing of these great evils must of necessity be slow. I am out to deal with the rural workers, to keep their children, the bone and sinew of our race, in healthy surroundings, where their brawn and brains will be the asset of the nation. In most cases they are the immediate descendants of those driven off the lands by merciless measures which no British statesman and no reactionary landlord would defend to-day.
So much has been said on this question that it is hardly necessary for me to go into it again. It has been discussed in this House by each and every member, but it is a well-known fact that the question of the land is one of the most important questions that the country must deal with. We certainly think that unless you adopt some plan to break up the ranches and put the people on the land that you will not have a solution of this question. It is a well-known fact that in Meath alone there are thousands of acres of land run over to-day, as in the past, by beasts, and that the people were cleared off the land and that the bullocks are still taking their places. Even in Tipperary, in places around Cashel, it is a well-known fact that there are thousands of acres of land and no people, because the people were driven off them.
I think that this subject has been discussed at such length in this House already and that it is unnecessary for me to deal with this subject any further. There is another question on which I would like to speak, the question of cottier tenants. A Cottage Purchase Bill has already been introduced, and for what it does we give every credit to the Government, and we certainly say that the principle underlying that Bill is good but that it does not go far enough. The question of a 50 per cent. reduction is not in the Bill, and there is no sub-section in it which points to a 25 per cent. reduction. We certainly think that the Bill has not gone far enough to meet the wishes of the cottier tenants in that respect. A 25 per cent. reduction to-day means that 3½d. is taken off the present rents of the cottages, whereas the tenants are asked to assume a liability that is thrown on the board of health of £56,000. That sum is actually going for the cost of repairs as the cottages grow older. Now, there is no doubt in the world but this is a statutory liability on the board of health to keep the cottages in repair. It costs £56,000, but with the 25 per cent. reduction it means that only £32,000 is to be taken off the present rents, and the cottier tenants are asked to assume a burden of £24,000, which is to-day given to the board of health.
There should be at least a 50 per cent. reduction. It is a well-known fact, Sir, that cottage rents to-day are a lot dearer than they were in 1881. Moreover, on the loan charges of the cottages you can see that there is £236,000, roughly speaking, a quarter of a million pounds, that is gone into retained annuities. We certainly think that the cottier tenant has a right to be given a chance to get some of this quarter of a million of money. They are the honest class of the community and they have borne the burden of the economic war just as much as the farming population. For the last 50 years they have been in the forefront of every battle for the rights of the people; in the land agitation they stood beside the tenant farmer in the effort to break the deadly incubus of landlordism in the Land League days. They never flinched or faltered at any time in standing behind and fully supporting the national demands of the country and the people.
While the principle of this Bill is good, and while we give every credit to the Government for passing a Bill which will make cottier tenants the owners of their homes, we certainly think that the Government have not gone far enough, that 25 per cent. reduction is not enough, and that 50 per cent. reduction is actually required. When they are accepting the liabilities of the boards of health to-day to the extent of £56,000, surely the Government would be well advised in meeting the cottiers on this matter of the 50 per cent. reduction.
As to the question of unemployment, there is no doubt that it is one of the problems agitating the country at present. There are, as Senators know, 80,000 unemployed people to-day in the country. These people are costing the Government at least £80 per head, that is a cost to the country to-day of £6,500,000. I think many ways could be got of employing those people and removing this evil. One of the ways would be the reclamation of land in Counties Clare and Galway and along the Kerry coast. A double asset would be gained if this money were so applied. By reclaiming these lands you would make the lands productive and you would be helping to solve the unemployment question. We know that there is more unemployment in Northern Ireland and in England than in this country, but the position is so serious that we think the Government would be well advised to try to solve this problem and thus save the country £6,500,000 which the unemployed are to-day costing.
I put down this motion as a direct representative of the 50,000 cottier tenants. We think they are entitled to consideration. They stood behind the national movement and they are the chief asset of the nation. I hope the House will pass the motion and, if they do they will be helping to solve this problem for the poorest class in the community and it will redound in their favour throughout the land.