I have the feeling that Senator Quirke's speech is largely propaganda and that he has not made a real, genuine effort to examine either the human aspect or the economics of land division in this country at all. It might be thought that as between Senator Quirke and myself there ought to be very little difference of opinion as to what we would deem wise and patriotic with regard to the whole policy of land division, but I confess quite frankly that I feel in listening to Senator Quirke that he cannot see the wood for the trees or that he only knows the bit of his country that he was brought up in. He lived as I know on a large farm in a particular county; he has left that county and has gone to another county where the farms are of similar size, and I feel that he knows very little about those other parts of the country whose economy is probably going to be completely changed and altered as a consequence of this Bill of the Minister's.
I would like the House to address itself to this whole question in as nonpartisan a spirit as possible because those of us who are daring enough, even in these days, to try to look through the mists into the future Ireland ought to try to lay our plans in such a way that the land of this country will be utilised by the people of this country to produce the greatest quantity of goods and to maintain the largest possible population. I think if that were the aim of Government policy in the matter of land division the Minister, with all his earnestness, honesty and sincerity, would, I think, be addressing himself to this problem in a very different fashion. The policy which the Minister is carrying out, in so far as it relates to the distribution of land, the making of new holdings and the planting of people on land that appeared to him to be depopulated, may from his point of view be very magnificent work; but you cannot take a bit of land and cut it off from the rest without thinking of the relationship between that parcel of land and other parcels in other parts, and of the general economy of the country as it existed at a particular time. I would like to see the Minister address himself to this: that, while the policy he has responsibility for is, from his angle, being carried out in an eminently satisfactory fashion, the policy of the Department of Agriculture may become so warped and twisted, and so impossible, that the lives and fortunes of thousands and thousands of our people are going to be completely changed and altered.
At the moment I do not propose to deal with the sections in this Bill. I intend to discuss the economics of agriculture in relation to the Minister's policy. Let me say at the outset, that I feel that sufficient consideration is not being given to the agricultural policy in relation to the Minister's policy of land distribution. Senator Quirke has left the House after making a very long speech. One of his statements was that thousands of new homes have been created, and that, in his view, there are still thousands and thousands of homes possessed by people on the land that are unfit for habitation. He thinks that in these cases new homes ought to be built, and that this policy of land division must go onad infinitum. There is this point that the Minister ought to bear in mind, that while, during his term of office as Minister for Lands and during the entire period of office of the present Ministry, thousands and thousands of new holdings and homes have been created we have fewer people on the land than we ever had in the history of the country. The House will realise that you can create new homes without adding to the population of the country. The Minister should bear that point in mind: that you can carry out this policy of land distribution to the farthest point, and yet find, after you have divided all the land that there is to be divided, broken up the large farms and made as many new homes as it is possible to make, that, in spite of all that, you have a lower population than the country ever had before. That is the grave danger that I see facing the country as a consequence of this policy of land distribution.
I come from a county where there are no large holdings. According to the statistical abstract, in 1933 there were only 58 holdings in my county of over 200 acres, so that the type of farming I am most familiar with is that which is carried on on the 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 and 50 acre holdings, but mainly on the 25 acres holding. What I fear most with regard to the Minister's policy is that you are going to so change the internal economy of the country that you are going to make it practically impossible for the people in my own and in the poorer counties to keep a grip on their small holdings. I do not know how many Senators are prepared to accept that point of view, but if what I say is true then, obviously, it should be a cause for grave alarm to the Minister and should urge him to have this problem re-examined. What point is there in breaking up large tracts of land in the belief that we are going to have greater production, that we are going to increase the population by hundreds and thousands if there is no evidence to prove that that state of affairs is being brought about, but that instead the opposite is the probability.
An examination of the population figures reveals that the most intense depopulation is taking place in the poorest parts of the country. The drop in population in my county has been very considerable. In the adjoining county of Leitrim the position is worse, and Roscommon is almost as bad. Mayo is not quite as bad as Leitrim or Sligo, but the position is that the race from the land is going on at an intensified rate from all the poorer parts of the country. Why is that so? Because the standard of life there, taken in relation to other parts of the country, has dropped to such a low point. The people, remember, must have a certain standard of living even in the country. Undoubtedly, the people of the country have a great love for the land. Their standard of living is low. It was never very high, but one can say that it was never lower than it is at the present time. But the position is, that people are not prepared to accept the present low standard of living: they are not prepared to stay on the land and accept the sacrifices which that entails, and continue to reproduce. As a consequence, the race is definitely dying in the poorest parts of the country. What do you find in the poorer counties? One can go along the road for miles and count one in four or one in five homes and families in that part of the country now, as compared to the numbers that used to be there, and learn that is the last of them. What happens then? The fact, of course, is that the land which these people owned and worked—many of them reclaimed it from bogs and mountains in the past—is going back into bog and mountain. No matter what scheme of reclamation one may try to subsidise or carry on, what is the point in it if the race living there is not virile, reproducing the race and producing from the land?
As a consequence of this policy of land distribution, we find that life is only possible on the poorer lands consistent with the particular type of farming being carried on on the better lands. A certain standard of life can only be maintained, in my opinion, in counties like Clare, Mayo, Kerry and in Leitrim, parts of Roscommon, and the great majority of our counties, consistent with a particular policy being carried on on the grass lands. As soon as you alter the economic system in Meath, Tipperary, Westmeath and elsewhere, you immediately alter the standard of life for the people in my county and in Leitrim and everywhere that we have people living mainly on the production of the store cattle trade. You immediately alter their standard of life for them, and we must recognise that fact. What is going to happen? We have created thousands and thousands of new homes, but go to any cottage in Meath, Tipperary or elsewhere, to those farms where they were accustomed to take in a yearling or a two-year-old from the fairs in Ennis, Ballinasloe and my county, and bring them on to those grass lands and what kind of farming do you find there? You will find that, if they are going to live, they must go into the same type of farming as in my county.
I know, as a matter of fact, in one of the estates that has recently been broken in County Meath, some of the Kerry farmers there say that they have no future there unless they have a creamery. They have cows, but cannot turn out the milk at a profitable price and they have been left practically high and dry to-day. We have to remember in the first place that, if I have a cow on my farm that I find produces 200 gallons of milk, and if I take her to the County Meath where she will produce 600 gallons of milk, the calf will easily be worth £1 more than it would be worth to the Cavan farmer. Instead of, as in the old days, having a feeder on the grass lands going into the fairs and competing with the English and Scotch buyers for the store cattle produced on the more intensively worked cattle holdings in certain counties, because these men no longer go into the fairs themselves with the same type of produce and compete with those English and Scotch buyers in the market formerly, that avenue is closed now. Instead of finding there the competitors of the Englishmen and Scotchmen, they find that that market is getting every day smaller and smaller and less capable of absorbing what has to be sold.
The net result of all that must be a lower standard of life on the poorer lands in those counties, making it less attractive than before. The desire to fly from the land is evidenced every day by the numbers that are leaving; and even those who are staying are failing to reproduce. I asked the House the other day if some Senator would get up and tell us when he heard of a farmer getting married. Let Senators just jog their memories and try to answer that question. I was trying to answer it the other day, and I could only say: "I do not remember." Probably somebody could. Undoubtedly, the whole position of our population and the future of our race on the land is very grave. I believe that, as regards the future of our agricultural economy, this aspect of the case which I am putting before the Minister ought to be very seriously considered by him.
We have here altogether 17,000,000 acres of land—including woods and all the rest; we have 12,000,000 acres of arable land, every acre of which ought to be utilised to the full. It is no good putting up new holdings in Meath and Westmeath and retreating from Mayo, Connemara and Donegal, where there were homes in the past which were just as happy as those now in Meath or Westmeath. After all, while a certain standard of life is essential for the maintenance of health and so on, these things are relative, and standards of life in Donegal and on the west coast—I have been there a good many times—must be in relation to what one would see in County Meath. In my judgment, the people are happier in Donegal than in Meath. That ought to be taken into account in this whole scheme of land division. I cannot see how our small farmers are going to hold on to their land in the poorer counties if we are going to break up all the larger holdings where the feeding of cattle was carried on and where they were finally finished, holdings which made it possible for us in the past to get away from our own holdings the animals which we could not fatten or finish for the market ourselves.
This point of view has probably been put before the Minister previously, and I do not know how much consideration he is going to give to it or what his opinion may be about it. I am as anxious as the Minister may be that we should increase the number of homes: I am terribly concerned that the population is falling as it is, and particularly in the rural areas. But I do not want to see a retreat from one acre of land that was reclaimed, and that is owned by the people in this country, which was obtained and passed on from their forefathers. And yet, that is taking place everywhere to-day. Unless it is arrested, the Minister's policy will not be a success. The fear I have is that, instead of arresting it by this policy we may be going definitely to hasten the decay of the poorer lands and buildings until we come ultimately to their desertion.
Like many other members, I took a good deal of my politics in my early years from the principles that were enunciated from No. 6 Harcourt Street and we all believed then that when we could get possession of the country the first thing to be done would be the distribution of the land which was so essential to the well-being of our people. I think I had then the point of view which some still hold that we had limitless millions of acres to distribute. That is not so. I have been looking through figures and finding the extraordinary position to be that, in the province of Leinster there are actually only 3,487 holdings of over 200 acres. These are the 1933 figures, and the Minister has been hard enough at work in Leinster since then, so I am sure that the number is smaller now. It was made up as follows:—Carlow, 136; Dublin, 178; Kildare, 437; Kilkenny, 319; Laoighise, 283; Longford, 87; Louth, 146; Meath, 623; Offaly, 333; Westmeath, 330; Wexford, 300; and Wicklow, 315. From those figures, we see that the greatest number of large holdings was in Meath. I do not know what the position is to-day, but I do know that when people talk of getting rid of the bullock and putting the people on the land, actually, in my judgment, that implies getting rid of the bullock in Meath but getting the bullock—or both cow and people—off the land in the poorer counties. I think that is the greatest tragedy of all and I do not want to have that retreat from one acre of land that is held at present.
Senator Quirke said a few things that one would like to take him to task on, but, having said his say—and said it in an altogether too personal manner—he possibly wants a rest, and one can leave it for another day. I think that there has been too much clamour and too much propaganda about this question of land division. A certain atmosphere has been created, an absolutely unreal atmosphere, and I think that nothing could make things more difficult for the Minister in charge of this Bill than for a Senator like Senator Quirke to get up and talk as if every man in the country can get a farm. One hears this sort of demand outside. Such demands cannot be carried into effect. I wonder would the Minister consider this? He has a great deal of land in his possession yet which has not been distributed. Apparently there are approximately 600,000 acres which may be yet available for distribution.
I think the Minister has now reached the stage when he could very well dispense with the extraordinary powers which were necessary for his predecessor, and necessary for him up to a point to carry his scheme into operation. Senator Sir John Keane and Senator Counihan referred to this question of fixity of tenure as a disturbing consideration for our people, and though that may not be accepted, I definitely believe it is, and I think it is not right that there should be in the hands of the Land Commission powers under which they can go in on a farm anywhere and take any land, even for the purpose of increasing the food supply of the country. Who is to determine, for instance, that it is necessary to acquire a farm to increase the food supply of the country? Is it the Lay Commissioners? If the Department of Agriculture were put that question, it would be a rather different matter. Food, to the mind of some people, may include wheat, sugar beet and certain things like that, and these same people may not consider a yearling, a two-year-old or a three-year-old animal as food at all. I am half afraid that some of the Lay Commissioners would be very perturbed if you spoke of a two-year-old bullock as food, at least when speaking of the distribution of land—they might have a different point of view when sitting down to dinner.
I am not satisfied that that power ought to be in the hands of the Land Commission and that this question should be determined by the Lay Commissioners whose competence, as farmers, I know nothing about. I wonder what it is, and when you are dealing with this question of the pos- session of land, the right to own it and the conditions under which you hold it, the people who are to determine these matters should have full competence so to determine. I am in ignorance of the capacity of these Lay Commissioners and, indeed, of who they are, but I am not satisfied that the power should lie with them to determine that question, because there is this queer point of view, that if you have your dairy cow out on good grass, it is almost the greatest crime you could commit—that you should do something, like turning the grass down and the brown earth up, and that that was much better farming. The strange thing about it is that, under our agricultural policy, farmers do not consider it better farming because they are apparently getting away from it by degrees, day after day. I do not say that that is a very satisfactory state of affairs, but there it is.
I come back to my original point that the purpose of land legislation in this country should be such as to create conditions in which the greatest yield, the greatest production, could be obtained from the land and the greatest number of people maintained on it. I think that a continuance of the Minister's policy will have the opposite effect. There is no doubt whatever that there is evidence that quite a number of his schemes are not producing the desired results. I have one or two schemes in mind, and I know one particular scheme under which the land is not being anything as well used to-day in the hands of the people who got it as it was before it was sub-divided. With regard to the kind of homes which Senator Quirke was talking about, you are to-day in many parts of the country actually creating agricultural slums, with your little bits of fields and your ditches all over the place which are taking up good land which should be growing food, or producing grass for the production of food.
I heard something very interesting in relation to the scheme of spreading the language of the Gael in County Meath. People have been brought from the Gaeltacht to County Meath. I do not think there is anything wrong in bringing people from the west to the east; and, in fact, if you could bring some of the people from the east to the west, and leave them there, it might be very good for the country. The truth is, however, that from the point of view of the language, you have done something which is not going to succeed. People from the west, with the language of the Gaeltacht, have come there and if you go into their assemblies, into their dances, to-day, you will find that they are talking not the language of the Gael at all. Those people have been brought in. Is it because they are good farmers or that they have got the language and are expected to spread it? I do not know about their farming, but what I say about the position with regard to the language is what I know to be a fact. Then, you have all this cost of these schemes—£700 or £800 for planting new people on new land. What about all the people on all the old land who want hundreds of thousands of pounds and on whom this money would be much better spent? I put it to the Minister that, taking the long view, this is not a wise policy, either from the national point of view from racially, or from any point of view from which you are prepared to consider it. It is too late, when you have completed this scheme, to get back, but if the Minister believes he is going to get a greater population and greater production from our fields than we got before he came into office, there is no doubt the world that he is going to fail.