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Divisions within the Irish government over land-distribution policy, 1940-70.


A KEY challenge that the new government of the Irish Free State faced at the time of independence in 1922 was the pressing need to overcome land hunger, unemployment, and poverty in rural areas. At the heart of the problem were the numerous "uneconomic" or "congested" holdings. These were farms so small or with such infertile land as to be unable to support a family at a minimum standard of living. The problem of congestion, as it was termed, was found throughout Ireland, but it was especially prevalent in the so-called "congested districts" in the western counties. Added to this were the claims of landless persons, mainly laborers and farmers' sons who could not inherit the family farm.

Such needs became more clearly identified after the land-purchase acts, especially the acts of 1903 and 1909, which enabled the tenant farmers, many of whom occupied meager holdings, to become owners of their land. When they became owners, there was a widespread realization that their farms were too small or infertile. The demand for land focused hostile attention upon the graziers, who reared cattle and sheep commercially on extensive pastoral holdings. They occupied their holdings as owners or tenants but often did not reside upon them. Nor did they provide much employment for the local population. The hostility to the graziers led to two major outbreaks of land agitation against them, viz., the so-called "ranch war" of 1906-12 and the land seizures during the struggle for independence and the ensuing civil war from 1919 to 1923. (1) Even after independence intense antipathy to the graziers continued for many years.

In response the first Irish government under the Cumann na nGaedheal party (later to become, with other parties, Fine Gael) introduced the 1923 land act, which provided for an ambitious program of land distribution, to be implemented by the Irish Land Commission. (This was a radical expansion of a limited program of distribution initiated by the British government, especially under the 1909 land-purchase act.) In the years to follow, successive governments, both Fianna Fail and the rival interparty coalitions led by Fine Gael, continued and intensified the policy of land distribution under the powers vested in the Land Commission by a series of land acts extending the distributive provisions of the 1923 act.

Under the program of land distribution three types of land were appropriated by the Land Commission, by compulsory means if necessary, for the purpose of distribution. The main type were untenanted farms still in the direct possession of the old landowning class, comprising in total over one million acres. Such land was used mainly for commercial cattle and sheep grazing, often being rented under short-term letting by a grazier. Increasingly, however, the Land Commission acquired large holdings of tenants or tenant-purchasers (those who had been tenants but had acquired ownership under the land-purchase acts). The chances of a tenant or a tenant-purchaser losing his or her land increased significantly if the land was not resided on, was used for commercial cattle and sheep grazing (rather than tillage or dairying), and provided little in the way of employment. (2) In other words, the tenants or tenant-purchasers most likely to be dispossessed were those who were graziers.

The land, having been acquired, was then divided under a settlement scheme, principally among "congests," some of whom had been transferred from other areas, but in some cases also among landless persons and evicted tenants. All who were allocated land were referred to as allottees. The process of land distribution extended over the better part of a century, and by the time that the Land Commission drew up its last report in 1987, over 1.5 million acres had been acquired under the land acts from 1923, and a further 840,000 acres under previous land acts. Overall, 20.6 percent of land under crops and pasture, accounting for 14.1 percent of all rural land (including bog, mountain, and waste), was distributed. (3) When the Land Commission was finally abolished under an act of 1992, the land-settlement program, together with tenant purchase, was described by Sean Dooney, a former senior civil servant in the Department of Agriculture, as "a revolution without bloodshed that changed the whole structure of rural society and brought to it a great measure of peace." (4)

Particular arrangements applied in the financing of land distribution. After 1923 most owners and tenants whose land was acquired were compensated in land bonds yielding a fixed rate of return. They were redeemable at their nominal or original value, either by periodic random selection (drawings) from the Land Bond Fund, or after thirty years at the discretion of the Minister for Finance. The rate of return for any issue of land bonds depended upon the year or period of issue, with those from the 1960s bearing an increasingly higher interest than earlier issues. The land was sold to the allottee usually at a price much lower than the acquisition price. The allottee purchased through an advance given by the state and repaid in annuities (a similar arrangement to that which applied to tenants who had become owners of their farms under the land-purchase acts). For the majority of allottees, the annuity repayments extended over a period of sixty-six years, with an annual interest rate of 4.75 percent. Under the 1933 land act these repayments were halved. Later, the period of repayment for new allottees was shortened, but with the annuities subject to much higher interest rates. The repayments were credited to the Land Bond Fund to provide part of the funds for redeeming the land bonds. In addition, the state undertook improvements to allotted holdings, some of which were paid for by an advance to the allottees, while others were discharged by a free grant from the state. (5)

The land-distribution program was a source of division within the main political parties or party groupings, most notably Fianna Fail on the one hand and the rival interparty coalition led by Fine Gael on the other hand. Though the Fianna Fail leadership maintained an outward appearance of agreement on land policy (so too did the leadership of the interparty coalition), as evidenced by debates in the Dail and the speeches of leaders outside, this masked serious underlying divisions within each. Such divisions became all the more acute when either of them was in government, resulting in major disagreements between key ministers. The disagreements stemmed from two issues: how beneficial, if at all, was land distribution in terms of its social and economic effects, and what were the financial costs to the state and could such costs be afforded?

This article first examines the divisions after 1940 within successive Fianna Fail governments over land distribution in relation to the two issues mentioned above. It likewise considers the divisions in the interparty governments on the same issues. The article also discusses the reasons why the land-distribution program was able to survive with some modifications, in spite of the divisions among ministers, and what such divisions signified in terms of the overall direction of public policy in shaping Irish society after independence.


The debate over the economic and social effects of land distribution

When it was first elected to power in 1932, Fianna Fail set as a key priority the implementation of an even more extensive program of land distribution than that of the previous Cumann na nGaedheal government. As it did so, there were few dissenting voices within its leadership. That unanimity prevailed by and large for about ten years, and the zeal with which Ministers for Lands in those years, such as Joseph Connolly and Gerald Boland, promoted land acquisition and settlement was rarely questioned. (6) In the early 1940s, however, splits appeared in the Fianna Fail government over how beneficial land distribution was. The division of opinion persisted over a period of thirty years or more until the last phase of land settlement, and created two broad factions among Fianna Fail ministers. One faction remained faithful to the established land policy, being fully convinced of the benefits of and the overriding necessity for land distribution. The other faction became skeptical of its benefits, and their support for it was accordingly qualified. The two factions from time to time engaged in acrimonious argument as they sought to influence the direction of land policy.

Ministers in the first faction considered land division vital in accomplishing three important objectives: keeping as many people on the land as possible living in economic security and free from privation (stipulated in the 1937 Constitution); maintaining a traditional rural culture based upon the small family farm; and sustaining economic self-sufficiency through tillage production suited to small-scale farming. These aspirations were the guiding principles that shaped Fianna Fail's land-distribution policy from the party's inception and were reflected in de Valera's own vision of a traditional, family-based agrarian society. Other ministers, who belonged to the second faction, became skeptical of land distribution, mainly out of concern for what they perceived as its harmful effect upon the agricultural economy. For them the overriding priority was to raise the output and efficiency of Irish agriculture, which required large-scale commercial farming based upon modern farm practices and technology. Land distribution, by breaking up extensive commercial grazing farms and replacing them by traditional family farms of limited productive value, was inimical to those aims. Adding to their skepticism was the perception of land distribution as not significantly improving the standard of living of those who were allotted land, since it served only to perpetuate traditional small-scale farming. The policy choices which these conflicting aspirations offered were clearly summed up by Sean MacEntee, then Minister for Local Government and Public Health, in a speech to the Irish branch of the Town Planning Institute in November 1943, and in his subsequent letter to the Irish Times in the following month. (7)

The first senior figure in the cabinet to voice concern about land policy was Sean Moylan. Shortly after becoming Minister for Lands in 1943, he wrote to de Valera, suggesting that it was "time to review in some measure the policy and activities of the Land Commission," and referring to the need to take into account the wider national interest and the necessity of increasing agricultural production. Part of his concern was the smallness of the farms created by land division, and the "arbitrary" selection of allottees, which allowed those without farming competence to acquire land. He further reckoned that the allocation of land with so much financial support from the state was creating a dependency culture and "takes away initiative" in the farming community. For these reasons Moylan asked whether the continuation of the policy was "entirely adviseable." (8) Speaking a year later in the Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning, which had become the central forum for reviewing government policies during the early 1940s, he urged that land division "should not be rushed unduly," preferring as a compromise a system of agriculture based on a mixture of small and large farms. (9) In the same year a memorandum from William Nally, assistant secretary in the Department of Lands, to his counterpart in the Department of the Taoiseach, Padraig O Cinneide, bore the imprint of Moylan's influence. Its general thrust was skeptical, pointing out, among other things, that "the creation of records [in land division] has resulted in ill-devised schemes, the evils of which are now apparent." (10) This was clearly a critical reference to, in Moylan's opinion, misguided record targets of land distribution achieved in the mid-1930s. Moylan repeated his concerns over land division in a report to the cabinet in 1947, claiming that it was only creating "subsistence holdings, which add little or no expendable surplus and allow no appreciable cash margin." He also raised strong objections to allocating land to landless persons since in his view "the results have been unsatisfactory and disappointing, often shamefully so." Here he was referring not only to their lack of farming competence but also to the subletting of their holdings for grazing and frequent default in the payment of annuities. (11)

Similar sentiments were expressed by Sean Lemass, then Minister for Industry and Commerce. In a key memorandum in early 1945 to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning Lemass stated the urgency of improving agricultural performance. In his view "by one method or another, it is necessary to ensure that the Nation's resources of agricultural land were fully utilised." For Lemass the main obstacle was the number of small farmers who failed to farm "diligently and efficiently" and were underemployed. He considered this problem as stemming from the small farmer's tendency to "look for a certain income and when he reaches that, he slacks off in his work and goes for more leisure." As the answer to this problem, Lemass suggested an output standard for each holding, and allowing the state the power "to effect the compulsory transfer of ownership of any holding, the production of which fell below the `standard' in each of a number of consecutive years." Lemass also recognized the limit to the number of families who could be settled on the land, making it all the more necessary that "ownership [of holdings] is confined to persons willing and capable of working them adequately." He urged that more long-term capital be invested in agriculture, and in a divergence from established policy he further suggested that farmers be left to choose between tillage, grazing, and dairying. (12)

However, an influential paper submitted to the cabinet jointly by Lemass and Sean Moylan later in 1945 seemed to indicate a tempering of their hostility to land division. Consistent with their previous statement, the paper repeatedly referred to "the need to regard farming in terms of its contribution to the pool of national wealth which the holding should yield," and it warned of the danger of allowing too many farms under thirty acres and of giving land to untrained traditional smallholders. But it was careful to balance this against the view that "in a country lacking industries, the small holding is an economic necessity," and that the accumulation of farms in the hands of single individuals, especially graziers and townspeople, was "socially undesirable." Such ambivalence, however, may have been a deliberate ploy to win the confidence of the traditional supporters of land distribution and to defuse hostility within the Fianna Fail leadership to the ultimate objective of reforming the land-distribution program and modernizing agriculture through more productive commercial farms. Lemass may also have been caught in a genuine quandary over land policy. He had been attracted to the welfarist ideas of William Beveridge in Britain. While fearing the inimical consequences of land distribution upon agricultural performance, he may have valued it to some extent as a necessary form of welfare that helped to relieve poverty and unemployment in rural areas. (13)

In March 1945 the Minister for Finance, Sean O'Kelly, also joined the debate by expressing even more serious misgivings about land division in a memorandum to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning. Stressing the necessity to raise agricultural production, O'Kelly claimed that "it will not be easy to secure this aim on small holdings, and it will be less easy still to achieve it generally if the number of small holdings is further increased." With the spread of mechanization, "it is probable that a minimum of 200 statute acres is necessary for the development of full efficiency." He further deprecated the program of acquiring and dividing the land of large farmers because their resultant insecurity would lessen their efforts to make their land more productive and invest money in permanent improvements. Echoing the sentiments of the Brennan Commission on Banking, Currency, and Credit eight years earlier, he even considered the large fattening ranches as a vital market for store cattle. "The preservation of these lands in fairly extensive tracts is necessary if the highest class store cattle export trade, which has been such a successful feature of our agriculture during recent years, is to be continued after the Emergency." Curiously, O'Kelly considered that land distribution and the creation of small farms "would deprive farmers of the leadership they need" to advance their interests and would be responsible for the "lowering of the general standard of culture in rural areas." (14)

In expressing these views, O'Kelly was totally at odds with official policy, and this was underlined by his appeal "not to go back to past policy." He would only be persuaded by "reasons of the most compelling kind to justify any decision of the government to resume land acquisition and division on the pre-Emergency scale." O'Kelly was also at variance with more moderate skeptics such as Moylan and Lemass. While they were prepared to work within the framework of a significantly modified and constrained small-farm land-division policy, he sought a more radical rejection of that policy. O'Kelly's position was all the more remarkable as he was at the time the Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and would shortly become President.

Those supporting the traditional policy on land distribution were not to be outdone by the skeptical voices of the modernizing faction. James Ryan, who had been Minister for Agriculture since Fianna Fail first came to power, was quick to rebut Lemass. While agreeing with the need to raise agricultural production, he expressed his objections to taking over the land of bad farmers and considered it "unthinkable to disturb the family in such cases." In fact, he rejected Lemass' perception of the small farmer as lacking drive and ambition. In line with Fianna Fail's traditional position, he declared his antipathy to grazing and strongly argued in favor of converting grassland into tillage farms in conjunction with land distribution. (15)

In the face of the growing critique of the official land-distribution policy, de Valera himself showed little evidence of being persuaded by the arguments of the modernizing faction, and indeed applied pressure for the land-division program to be stepped up. Discussing land policy with the land commissioners in December 1942, he enjoined them "to take up as matters of urgency" at the end of the war "the maximum achievement possible in land division," stressing the priority to be given to the relief of congestion. (16) A few days earlier, during a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning, he had urged "the Minister for Lands to arrange for the speedy preparation of a comprehensive program in regard to land division." (17) A year later, shortly after MacEntee's speech of November 1943, and possibly responding to his failure to unequivocally endorse land distribution in that address, de Valera went before the Dail to reaffirm the existing policy, which elevated "social above the narrow economic aim" and "has been the basis of the activities of the Land Commission for a large number of years. It is the policy of the government to maintain that basis." (18) Speaking once again to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning at the end of 1944 (the meeting in which Sean Moylan had questioned the program of land division), he reaffirmed as an imperative the traditional policy of settling as many people on the land as possible and of creating self-sufficiency in national food production. He also expressed his opinion that there was "more real work and thrift on small farms," and therefore such farming was compatible with the needs of efficient production. Such assertions were entirely consistent with his public pronouncements that articulated the virtues of the small family farm and of the traditional rural community. (19)

Adding further support to the official policy were the land commissioners themselves, who during this period consisted of Eamon Mansfield, Daniel Browne, Kevin O'Shiel, Sam Waddell, and Michael Deegan. Although their main task was to decide which holdings were to be acquired and how they were to be divided, they also saw fit as senior public servants to give policy advice to the Minister for Lands, the Taoiseach, and the cabinet as a whole. (20) Given the respect in which the commissioners were held, their belief in land division served only to strengthen the position of de Valera and others in the cabinet in preventing any deviation from the traditional policy. It can be reasonably assumed that in his meeting with the commissioners in 1942 referred to above, they would have readily concurred with his views on resuming full-scale land division.

Mansfield was perhaps the most outspoken in his espousal of land distribution. He frequently impressed upon the Fianna Fail leadership the urgent need to increase the rate of acquisition and allotment, often bitterly complaining about the slow pace at which they were undertaken and about the lack of proper organization and coordination in doing so. In this regard he was prepared to communicate directly with the cabinet, even bypassing at this time his own Minister for Lands, Sean Moylan, with whom he almost certainly did not see eye to eye. (21)

Ten years later, the question of the social and economic consequences of land distribution once more came to the fore within the Fianna Fail leadership. In a speech in 1955, while Fianna Fail was in opposition, Sean Lemass spoke of the possibility of reduced employment in agriculture even with expanding output, thus challenging a central aim of his party's traditional agrarian policy. (22) In the following year the debate was further renewed by Sean Moylan, who had become more than ever persuaded that the existing land policy was mistaken. Speaking from the opposition front bench in the Dail on the "vote for lands" for that year, he strongly deprecated land division for its failure to bring about improvements in agricultural production and in the national economy in general, despite the "many millions" in public money being spent on acquisition and settlement. He rounded off his speech with the terse comment that "social welfare in Mayo or elsewhere, like patriotism, is not enough." (23)

Moylan's critique was perhaps the catalyst that instigated a searching review of land policy after Fianna Fail returned to power in 1957. A key figure in this review was the new Minister for Lands, Erskine Childers. During the "vote for lands" in the Dail in 1957, he gave notice of a forthcoming reassessment of land policy, and in the next two years he submitted a series of reports to the cabinet intended to form the basis of an "agonising reappraisal" of the policy. While in his view land division, at least as an ideal, "creates equality of opportunity [and] lessens the evils bred by too great an emphasis on urban civilisation," these counted for little when weighed against the serious drawbacks of the policy. It had created too many small holdings and had in effect simply added to rather than solved the problem of congestion. Besides, to acquire a holding, "the standard of farm competence required was very modest" (so modest in fact as to necessitate in his opinion that each allottee be placed under an instructor). In consequence, among the rural population "the improvement in the standard of living was not of a prominent order," and what improvement did occur had little to do with land settlement. Nor was there anything "that could justify land division as a contribution to greater exports and more total employment." (24)

For Childers the future was to lay with large farms because of their greater access to markets, capital, and machinery, assisted by a modern farming infrastructure. He advocated the amalgamation of holdings, regarding it as "irrevocable." Among the advantages, amalgamation of holdings would facilitate commercial cattle grazing, which "must be regarded as the mainstay of Irish agriculture." Such views were almost unthinkable for any of the first generation of Fianna Fail leaders. (25) Childers resisted pressure in 1959 from Lia Fail, a rural protest movement, and Fianna Fail constituency activists to break up certain large farms, since "the employment lost by acquisition [of large farms] would far outweigh the social advantages of acquisition." (26) Rather than giving in to such pressure, the overriding imperative, Childers told his cabinet colleagues, was to "alter the inborn tradition that farming is a subsistence occupation, not a high grade commercial, scientific occupation of a vocational character." This, he was convinced, required "a great change in the habits of the farming community." (27)

Childers' concerns fell on a number of receptive ears in the Fianna Fail cabinet. The consensus was reflected in a report of a cabinet committee, comprising six ministers with major portfolios, set up in 1958 to review Land Commission policy. By and large, there was a broad agreement on the need to modernize agriculture, reform land policy, and scale down land division, although some members of the committee wanted to go further than Childers in such matters as protecting larger holdings from acquisition and removing the restrictions on the letting of land (considered necessary in allowing progressive farmers to expand their businesses). One member of the committee, Jim Ryan, now the Minister for Finance, expressed a desire for "the termination of Land Commission activities over a wide area," a position contrasting with his commitment to land distribution when he was Minister for Agriculture a decade earlier. He was reassured by Childers that termination would occur at "an early date." (28)

Although differences still persisted among ministers, the main fault line at this time was between the government and the Land Commission. The land commissioners indicated in their response to the cabinet committee's report serious misgivings with measures that would restrict the distribution of land to "congests" and relax prohibitions on the letting of land. Other senior staff in the Land Commission were also averse to reforming or scaling down the land-distribution program. (29) According to one former civil servant in the Department of Lands, they were able to frustrate attempts by Childers to convert his reformist ideas into concrete measures. (30)

When Sean Lemass became Taoiseach in June 1959, he replaced Childers with Michael Moran, thus in effect denying him the opportunity of taking his plans forward and formulating practical measures to reform land policy. Michael Moran, in contrast to his predecessor, was a keen advocate of land settlement. As a member of the cabinet committee to review Land Commission policy, Moran had kept quiet and not openly opposed the reforms being suggested, but once he assumed the lands portfolio, he quickly spelled out his priorities. He told Lemass in 1960 that "much more acceleration is needed" in land settlement, and repeated the point to the cabinet as a whole in 1964, urging that "there should be no slackening of the present level of land acquisition." (31) In one of his public speeches he even told his audience that they could "expect records in land acquisition and settlement." (32) This was totally at variance with his predecessor's policies.

Coming from the West of Ireland, Moran belonged to the old school of agrarian radicals and sought to keep alive de Valera's vision of a traditional peasant society. This was evident when he spoke at party meetings and other gatherings, and also in Dail debates. Addressing a joint executive meeting of the Fianna Fail branches of the Dublin constituencies in 1961, he echoed the key objective of de Valera's land policy, enshrined in the 1937 Constitution, that there should be "a maximum number of families as can be established on the land in economic security." In the same vein, in 1967 toward the end of his tenure as Minister for Lands, when addressing the Agricultural Science Association, Moran affirmed that "a strong rural population is essential to the well-being of our society. The family farm is and will continue to be the best suited to Irish conditions." He further justified family-based farming as "providing a dignified way of life for the rural community," and also as being more productive than large-scale farming since "small holdings mean more work to get a livelihood." (33) With Moran firmly in control of land policy and committed to pursuing land distribution as far as possible, the desire within the government to question the essential merits of the policy, initiated by Childers, lost some of its momentum during the 1960s.

The cost of land distribution

The second major issue at the heart of the debate over land distribution within the Fianna Fail leadership was its financial cost to the state. Concern about the costs of land distribution began to emerge from the late 1930s, even before questions were raised about its economic and social consequences. As with those questions, state expenditure on land acquisition and settlement proved to be a divisive issue in the years to come and served to reinforce the misgivings of the faction skeptical about land distribution.

Three issues dominated the debate over costs within the cabinet. The first was the amount of state expenditure on improvements for allotted holdings. Among the improvements were buildings, fencing, implements, roads, water supply, and drains. Between 1935 and 1975 the increase in improvement costs per acre outstripped the rise in the budget for the Department of Lands by more than one-quarter. Of even greater concern was the amount of improvement expenditure which was financed by free grants rather than through loans, and which therefore could not be recovered. This was consistently estimated in various reports to the cabinet over the years as exceeding 80 percent.

The second issue was the loss on resale, that is, the difference between the standard price of a holding allocated to an allottee (before taking into account the 50 percent discount on annuity payments based on that price, referred to below) and the higher price paid by the Land Commission in land bonds to the expropriated owner. The third issue, on top of the losses on resale, was the halving of annuities under the 1933 land act, as indicated earlier, which meant that the state had to pay 50 percent of the price of the holding when it was sold to the allottee. As with nonrecoverable improvement costs, the loss on resale and the annuity discount were paid out of the annual budget vote for the Department of Lands, with the sums involved credited to the Land Bond Fund.

The state's liability resulting from losses on resale significantly increased after 1950, the reasons for which are discussed below. (34) Between 1936 and 1944 the average loss on resale per year was 37 percent, increasing to 50 percent between 1944 and 1952. From 1952 to 1972 the figure jumped to an average of 87 percent per year and reached 92 percent per year in the period from 1972 to 1980. (35) Both nonrecoverable expenditure and loss on resale were particularly pronounced when holdings were allotted to migrants in the fertile areas of the eastern counties. Such considerations gave rise to a further question, which was a perennial bone of contention, viz., the amount of land bonds that should be annually released by the Department of Finance, which determined the extent of acquisition and therefore the expenditure incurred by the state.

As early as 1939 the Department of Finance had expressed unease about the costs that would be incurred if plans for an ambitious program of migration were implemented, bemoaning "a tendency to make too large amounts available as free grants." Although such plans had been enthusiastically promoted by Gerald Boland, the Minister for Lands, and his officials and approved by the cabinet, the Department of Finance sought reductions in proposed spending on new dwelling houses, stock, equipment, and transfer costs for migrants. (36) In 1943 Sean Moylan, in his letter to the Taoiseach noted above, stated that "the Land Commission had been altogether too generous with public funds," and that "the free grant given to landless men and uneconomic holders is altogether unjustifiable." (37) O'Kelly, in his already mentioned cabinet memorandum of 1945, expressed similar concern about the expenditure on land distribution. The disparity between the costs borne by the state and the liability of the allottee, already significant, was anticipated by the Department of Finance to widen further, with an estimate (as it turned out an overestimate) that in the future only about one-sixth of the cost would ever be recovered from the allottees. O'Kelly's report concluded by referring to "the unprecedented strain on the state finances" as a result of the "unwisdom of a policy of unlimited land division," and called for a radical revision of the policy. Eventually, in 1947 the cabinet decided as a matter of policy to seek greater cost recovery in land settlement. (38)

The friction over the costs of land distribution within the Fianna Fail leadership intensified when the party returned to power in 1951. The catalyst was the 1950 land act, which required the Land Commission to pay market value for untenanted and tenant-purchased land, instead of a "fair" value as before. In addition, the Land Commission could now bid on a cash basis for the land being sold on the open market. Adding to the costs was a further provision in the 1950 act that the tenant-purchaser whose land was taken was no longer obliged to redeem or pay back the outstanding balance of his purchase advance, which hitherto had been simply deducted from the acquisition price paid by the Land Commission in land bonds. In addition, the 1953 land act removed the upper limit of 4 percent interest on land bonds, which then allowed the land-bond interest rate to increase in tandem with any general rise in interest rates. (39) This was to become a further expenditure borne by the state on that portion of the purchase cost (the loss on resale plus the annuity discount) which it already paid. These additional liabilities in conjunction with an acceleration in the program of land division and rising land values during the period of postwar recovery were the reasons for the significant increase in the financial burden to the exchequer arising from land distribution.

Such considerations drew the Department of Lands and the Land Commission into direct conflict with the Department of Finance. The Fianna Fail Minister for Lands from 1951 to 1954, Thomas Derrig, was firmly of the view that the policy of land distribution "can be carried into effect only if sufficient funds are made available fully for the provision of lands and for the preparation of the land for allotment." To this end he pressed for increases, discussed below, in the limit on the annual land-bond issue, which he considered a "retarding factor" in land distribution. Added to this was his advocacy of migration in spite of the costs involved. He observed that in the congested districts, "as local land becomes less, relief of congestion tends to depend on more and more migration." It was thus necessary for the Land Commission to concentrate on migration "to the utmost extent practicable." To achieve this and to expedite land distribution in general, Derrig claimed that the budget allocation to the Department of Lands would have to be raised by nearly 50 percent. (40)

Buttressing Derrig's position were the land commissioners, whose commitment to the task of land settlement was undeterred by its costs to the exchequer, which were outweighed in their view by its long-term benefit in alleviating poverty in the rural community. The commissioners cautioned in particular against any possible increase in the resale value of acquired land. This could discourage migration and "will result in an outcry from new proprietors" because of "an intolerable burden" that would result from any significant rise in annuity payments. (41)

Sean MacEntee, the Minister for Finance in the new Fianna Fail government in 1951, took quite a different view. Within weeks of assuming office he made known to Derrig, as he was to do on subsequent occasions, his serious misgivings at the extent of state expenditure on land division. One source of concern, as it was a decade before, was the low level of cost recovery for improvements, prompting MacEntee to complain (obviously pointing the finger at the Department of Lands) that "nothing is being proposed to remedy this." A cause of even greater disquiet was the loss on resale. Noting that ordinary purchasers and speculators had made large profits in selling land for several years, he stated:
   It is odd that the Land Commission, with all the powers and advantages it
   enjoys as compared with the private individual, should lose money on its
   resale operations and should contemplate greater resale losses
   notwithstanding the prospect of a further rise in the land market. (42)

Consequently, overcoming losses on resale should be "pursued as a matter of urgency" by the Land Commission. (43) The concerns expressed by MacEntee and his officials prompted three land commissioners to complain in writing to both Thomas Derrig and the cabinet about the critical views of land division in the Department of Finance. (44)

Two instances testify to the conflict between the two departments. In 1951 MacEntee sanctioned an increase in the annual limit on land-bond issues from 250,000 [pounds sterling] to 500,000 [pounds sterling], provided that losses on resale could be limited to 4 percent and a much greater attempt made to recover costs on improvements. In the following year Derrig requested a further increase to 750,000 [pounds sterling], which MacEntee refused to sanction. The limit of 500,000 [pounds sterling] remained for the best part of the decade. (45) The second point of conflict occurred when Derrig requested for his department at the end of 1952 an additional budget allocation in the form of a supplementary estimate of 63,000 [pounds sterling] (on top of the initial estimate of 480,000 [pounds sterling]) to meet greater than expected outlays resulting from improvements and resale losses. The supplementary estimate, if not granted, would result in "the curtailment of normal Land Commission improvement activities by one-third, disemployment of 600 men, and a substantial reduction in migration, rearrangement and land division generally." MacEntee, however, remained largely unpersuaded, claiming beforehand that "it is highly doubtful if the results achieved by migration and resettlement activities are commensurate with the cost." (46) MacEntee's negative responses are hardly surprising given his desire to keep tight control over public spending as part of his deflationary budget policy which marked his tenure as Minister for Finance from 1951 to 1954. (47)

The question of expenditure on land acquisition and settlement once more came to the fore when Michael Moran became Minister for Lands in 1959. As already mentioned, Moran was determined to accelerate land division, which crucially depended upon a sufficient supply of land bonds to purchase land, and upon public money available to finance improvements. In some years the annual supply of land bonds had been exhausted well before the end of the year, which meant deferring acquisition in the last few months to the following year. To avoid this, Moran made repeated demands on James Ryan at the Department of Finance to increase the annual issue of land bonds.

Ryan was equally determined to maintain fiscal discipline, and like MacEntee a decade earlier, he was ever conscious of the drain upon the budget arising from losses on resale and nonrecoverable costs on improvements. (48) His usual response to Moran's demands was to grant only part of the increase requested, which led from time to time to acrimonious exchanges between the two ministers and their officials. For example, a request was submitted for the annual limit of the land-bond issue for 1960 to be increased from 534,000 [pounds sterling] to 1 million [pounds sterling]. Ryan refused to grant the full amount, "being already disturbed at the magnitude of the expenditure." A compromise of 750,000 [pounds sterling] was agreed, which Moran "reluctantly" accepted. Despite further requests to increase the annual limit in the following two years, the figure remained the same. In 1963 Ryan eventually allowed the limit to rise to 1 million [pounds sterling], which was raised further in the following year to 1,500,000 [pounds sterling], although Moran asked for it to be increased to 1,750,000 [pounds sterling]. In 1966, when Jack Lynch had become Minister for Finance, the annual limit was extended to 1,600,000 [pounds sterling]. (49) While Ryan could not prevent altogether the rise in the annual issue of land bonds, he was able to secure one concession, when under the 1965 land act the 50 percent discount on annuity payments was ended for most classes of new allottees in noncongested districts. (50)


The interparty governments of 1948-51 and 1954-57 led by Fine Gael were no more successful in maintaining unanimity over land policy. At the center of the debate was again the Department of Finance, and the issues were the same as in the Fianna Fail governments, viz., how beneficial or harmful was land distribution and were the costs affordable? When the first interparty coalition came to power in 1948, the new Minister for Finance, Patrick McGilligan, like his opposite number Sean O'Kelly three years earlier, expressed serious concerns over land distribution. In a report to the new cabinet he urged radical changes to the policy of land division. Those included stopping land acquisition in noncongested areas, retaining big farms, reducing financial support for allottees to undertake improvements, and (where such support was still forthcoming) securing a greater degree of cost recovery by replacing grants by loans for many of the improvements. (51)

These proposals were, however, firmly rejected by the new Minister for Lands, Joseph Blowick. Unlike his predecessor Sean Moylan, Blowick remained a firm advocate of land division. As the leader of the small farmer's party, Clann na Talmhan, in the coalition, Blowick saw his role as defending the interests of small and medium farmers, and thus he quickly took McGilligan to task for opposing land division. In his view the Department of Finance was raising unnecessary fears about the cost and consequences of land distribution, and he made plain his determination to press on with land division. (52)

Matters were made worse by the 1950 land act. Its financial implications were quickly discerned by Patrick McGilligan, and this led in the final few months of the interparty government to a further acrimonious exchange with Joseph Blowick over the costs of land division. It was virtually a repetition of their disagreement three years earlier. To Blowick's consternation, McGilligan advocated elimination of all losses on resale (except the annuity discount), and until that occurred, he regarded any expansion of Land Commission activities as "most inopportune." This Blowick considered totally out of the question. (53)

The second interparty administration was riven by similar disagreements over land expenditure. New Minister for Finance Gerard Sweetman submitted a hard-hitting report to the cabinet in January 1957 shortly before the end of the coalition's period in office. This report was even more sharply critical of the extent to which the state was obliged to meet land-acquisition and settlement costs from the public purse, claiming it to be 80 percent to 90 percent of the total outlay involved. As the allotted holdings were improved before being occupied, Sweetman regarded it "as highly anomalous that there should be any loss on resale on lands"; all the more so since "the conditions which warranted the halving of purchase annuities no longer exist." These anomalies had become such "as to appear almost incredible." Sweetman thus concluded that there was "no valid reason in these days why an allottee ... should be subsidised by the tax payer," which was simply a "dead weight burden on the Exchequer." No previous Minister for Finance had gone so far as to recommend to the cabinet the total elimination of nonrecoverable costs on improvements and the termination of the 50 percent discount on annuity payments. Also of concern to him was how the issue of land bonds increasingly contributed "to inflation difficulties in regard to the amount and cost of state borrowings." (54)

Joseph Blowick, who was again the Minister for Lands in the second interparty government, rejected out of hand Sweetman's arguments. He pointed out that when the price of land rose, as it had done in the early 1950s, it was necessary to "guard against a high resale price" imposed by the Land Commission so as to overcome losses on resale. Of particular concern were Finance's proposals to end the halving of annuities, which would have, in Blowick's opinion, a "catastrophic effect on migration and rearrangement." The interparty government lasted for only another two months, but it is doubtful whether Sweetman would have got his way in view of Blowick's strong resistance and the likely adverse response from the small-farm community. (55)

What made the antagonism over land policy in the two interparty governments even more acute was the nature of the coalition itself, consisting as it did of parties appealing to different sections of the electorate and with different policy priorities. On the one hand, Fine Gael, to which McGilligan and Sweetman belonged, had traditionally represented and upheld the interests of big farmers, which it saw as threatened by land distribution. For this reason down the years it had entertained misgivings about land distribution. In fact, the 1950 land act in part emanated from Fine Gael's concern to protect large farmers and afford them better compensation if their land was taken. On the other hand, the minor parties of the coalition, but especially Blowick's own party, Clann na Talmhan, saw its job as promoting the interests of the small farmer, and to this end it was much more enthusiastic in pressing forward with land division. (56)


The debate over land distribution led to certain modifications of the policy over the years. The size of the "economic" holding was increased from twenty-five to thirty-three acres in 1949 and then to forty to forty-five acres in 1962 (although in reality the new or extended holdings under the settlement schemes continued to be well below the official standard). In addition, allottees were chosen under stricter criteria (how much more rigorous is difficult to say), greater protection from acquisition was afforded to midsize holdings, and under the 1965 land act, as already mentioned, most new allottees outside the congested districts were no longer eligible for the 50 percent discount on annuity payments. (57)

However, the arguments of the skeptics, no matter how compelling, did not prevail in the final analysis to the extent that land distribution was abandoned or substantially reduced. The program of land distribution continued until it reached its natural conclusion in the late 1970s. After a substantial drop in the early 1940s in the acreage acquired, averaging less than twelve thousand acres per annum (mainly as a result of the exigencies of wartime), the extent of acquisition recovered in the late 1940s and remained at just under twenty thousand acres per annum from 1950 to 1970. Even in the 1970s, when the land-distribution program was reaching its natural conclusion, a further thirteen thousand acres per annum were acquired. The maintenance of this rate of acquisition is all the more remarkable given the rapidly dwindling pool of land that could be acquired. (58)

Why was land distribution not substantially scaled down or abandoned sooner than it was, given the arguments advanced against it? Several reasons may be cited. One was the commitment given to the people of the Twenty-Six Counties, in the wake of independence in 1922, to eradicate land hunger, unemployment, and poverty in the countryside once and for all, through the distribution of land. It was subscribed to by the main political parties (Cumann na nGaedheal, later Fine Gael, the Irish Labour party, and, most of all, Fianna Fail when it was established a few years after independence). Even though the undertaking was more difficult than initially envisaged, through the years all the main parties felt duty-bound to honor it as a basic obligation to the rural population and a cornerstone principle on which Irish independence was based.

The policy of land distribution may have acquired a further legitimacy by being consistent with Catholic social teaching, as enunciated in the papal encyclicals Rerum Novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo Anno (1931), which placed a primary responsibility on the state to eradicate poverty without undermining private property, and in Mater et Magistra (1961) with its references to the distribution of landed property and the virtue of family farming. In an important speech delivered in 1967 Michael Moran justified the continuation of the land-distribution policy as "the practical application of Christian social principles as exemplified in the papal encyclicals." (59) Even Lemass, who sought to distance himself from the Catholic church, regarded Mater et Magistra as providing guiding principles for social policy. (60) In addition, sections of the Catholic hierarchy praised the land-distribution program for its contribution to upholding the family within the rural community. Given the traditional deference to the Catholic church in Ireland, the appeal of land distribution would have been reinforced by its consistency with Catholic teaching and by support from the church hierarchy, even in the face of the economic and fiscal arguments to the contrary. (61)

Another reason why land distribution remained high on the policy agenda of successive governments for so many years was the importance given to land as the answer to rural poverty. There was perhaps an insufficient realization or only a gradual recognition within sections of the political and administrative leadership that additional land did not necessarily guarantee a better standard of living for "uneconomic" landholders. To a greater extent, that depended on how land was used, especially the willingness, acumen, and skills to run the farm as a business using modern farm practices and technology, together with access to capital and markets. Of course, ministers who had been skeptical of land distribution readily came to this realization. However, other ministers, together with the land commissioners and senior officials in the Department of Lands as well as most TDs, still clung to the idea that the main answer to the problem was land, without always recognizing that the other factors mentioned above were perhaps more important. A more comprehensive approach to redressing rural poverty, as advocated by Childers, Moylan, and others, may have resulted in an agrarian policy less centered on land distribution.

The continuation of the land-division program was further guaranteed by its popularity within the rural community, as small farmers remained ever eager to obtain an additional piece of land or a bigger holding. According to one TD, even during the period when both land values and interest rates soared in the late 1970s and early 1980s, "always the last question to be posed was: will I be able to pay for it [the land] or will it be good for me?" (62) The clamor for land occasionally led to agitation in rural areas, sometimes involving rural associations that could exert organized pressure to increase the distribution of land. Notable examples were the Lia Fail movement between 1957 and 1960, as already mentioned, and the Farmers' Rights campaign in 1966. (63)

Ordinary TDs were often caught up in the demands for land. One of them, John Browne (County Wexford), informed the Dail in 1991 that "there were queues at politicians' doors whenever Land Commission land became available," with the result that many in the normal round of constituency work "got more hassle and abuse over the allocation of lands by the Land Commission than they did in regard to any other issue." (64)

From such feedback the leadership of the main parties became all too aware that crucial votes could be won or lost by the extent and rate of land distribution in a locality. Scaling down or abandoning the program risked a sizable loss of electoral support. This was indicated by John Browne when he stated in the same speech in the Dail referred to above: "There is no doubt politicians lost the support of many farmers who did not get land." (65) Such an outcome, if repeated across several constituencies, could have seriously harmed the chances of either of the main parties being returned to power on its own or as a leading coalition partner, given that the working majority of a government was often slim at the best of times (partly the result of the electoral system based on proportional representation). (66)

In addition, the leadership of the main political parties had to take into account the continuing strong support for land distribution among backbench TDs. This was evident in the numerous speeches made in the Dail during debates on any major piece of land legislation (the most notable example in recent times being the prolonged debates during the lengthy passage of the 1965 land act). Government ministers were also reminded of backbench opinions on land policy during the annual budget vote on the estimates for the Department of Lands and also during the regular question time involving the Minister for Lands or his Minister of State. Most of the speeches and questions from TDs on both sides of the house urged ministers to do more to expedite land distribution, relieve congestion, and reduce red tape in the work of the Land Commission. It is surprising how few, if any, of the doubts about the course of land policy, which were expressed within the cabinet of both the Fianna Fail and interparty governments, filtered down to their backbench TDs. The leadership of Fianna Fail may also have been influenced by equally strong support for land distribution among the party's rank and file. An example was the resolution passed in 1967 by the annual convention of Fianna Fail's constituency executive of County Longford, which stated that "the activity of the Irish Land Commission is inadequate in North Longford and the Congested Districts generally in dealing with the acquisition, purchase, and resale of land." In response Michael Moran informed the new Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, that he was "receiving resolutions on similar lines from practically every county west of the Shannon in the past six months." (67)

In light of firm backbench support for land distribution (reinforced in Fianna Fail by rank-and-file party activists), it is unlikely that any individual minister, even if privately skeptical, would have wanted to openly defy the official consensus on land policy, given the risk to his standing and reputation in his party and in the cabinet. Nor would the governments themselves, of whatever political complexion, want to be seen as deviating from that consensus, in view of their vulnerable position arising from their often small majorities in the Dail. This scenario was compounded in the case of the interparty governments by the need to keep the coalition intact. Here, then, was a further reason why political expediency may have prevented any radical rethinking of land policy.


The debates over land distribution reflected the wider choices that confronted successive Irish governments concerning the type of society that should evolve in the Twenty-Six Counties after independence. Government leaders who were the most ardent advocates of land distribution represented a desire to create or preserve a premodern and egalitarian rural society, so warmly espoused by de Valera. This was a society similar to that existing in southern Europe at the time, and in which small family farmers upholding traditional values were the predominant element. Though not affluent, they enjoyed a minimum standard of living free from privation and want. Alongside the desired retention of the small-farm economy was a strong belief within Fianna Fail in economic nationalism based on self-sufficiency and protectionism.

Those who were opposed to land distribution were more concerned to achieve economic development through greater national output and efficiency, improved export earnings, and less protection through reduced tariff barriers and fewer obstacles to inward investment. Their fear was that land distribution could impair this by fostering a system of production based on the small farm--which was inefficient and outdated. In so doing, it could prevent the emergence of large-scale commercial agriculture, which could more fully contribute to greater national output and exports. In their view, if economic development necessitated fewer small farms and an erosion of the traditional rural community, then so be it. It was a choice between egalitarian rural traditionalism and economic modernization and liberalization.

While the proponents of economic modernization gained the ascendancy over policy affecting the manufacturing and service sectors, which from the 1960s began to develop through inward investment, trade, and state support, they were less successful in exerting a major influence over the agricultural sector. Agricultural and land policy was still hindered by the perceived necessity to protect the small-farm economy (for historical, political, and cultural reasons, as stated above), and this was reflected in part by the commitment to completing land division. For this reason economic development in the agricultural sector lagged behind that in the other sectors until the 1980s, when land division was virtually completed. (68) Even during the Dail debate on the bill terminating the land-bond fund in 1991, several TDs were prominent in advocating the protection of the small-farm economy and community. (69)

The debate about land distribution also reflected the differences over the priority to be given to fiscal discipline through control of public spending and balanced budgets. For decades ministers at the Department of Finance found it difficult, as O Grada has pointed out, to fully embrace the Keynesian model of public finance entailing high public spending and deficit budgeting. Given their emphasis on restraint in government spending and deficit avoidance, their policies as it turned out were more in line with the later monetarist orthodoxy in fiscal policy. (70)

This explains their recurring resistance to meeting the ever-rising costs of land purchase and farm improvement. Enthusiasts for land distribution, by contrast, saw departures from fiscal restraint as necessary and worthwhile in order to raise living standards and preserve the traditional basis of the rural community.

(1) D. S. Jones, Graziers, Land Reform, and Political Conflict in Ireland (Washington, D.C., 1995), 184-208; M. A. O. (Tuathaigh, "The Land Question, Politics, and Irish Society," in Ireland: Land, Politics, and People, ed. J. Drudy (Cambridge, 1982), 182; Arthur Mitchell, Revolutionary Government in Ireland: Dail Eireann, 1919-22 (Dublin, 1995), 130-37.

(2) D. S. Jones, "Land Reform Legislation and Security of Tenure in Ireland after Independence," Eire-Ireland 33:1 (Spring/Summer 1998), 116-43. Technically speaking, tenanted holdings needed for distribution were resumed rather than acquired. Under the 1923 act the state automatically replaced the landlords and became the owner of all the remaining land occupied by tenants. When the state wished to take large tenanted holdings for the purpose of distribution, being already the owner, it therefore resumed rather than acquired possession.

(3) Annual Report of Irish Land Commissioners, 1980 (PI 306), 12; 1987 (PI 564), 10-11.

(4) Sean Dooney, "A Bloodless Revolution That Changed Rural Society," Irish Times, 23 October 1992, 12.

(5) Patrick Sammon, In the Land Commission: A Memoir, 1933-1978 (Dublin, 1997), 119-20, 189-91; G. F. Kolbert and J. O'Brien, Land Reform in Ireland, Occasional Paper 3 (Cambridge, 1975), 47-53.

(6) J. A. Gaughan, ed., Memoirs of Senator Joseph Connolly: A Founder of Modern Ireland (Dublin, 1996), 358-65, 381-83, 416.

(7) Transcript of Speech of Sean MacEntee to Irish Branch of Town Planning Institute, 26 November 1943 (National Archives of Ireland: S 12890 A) (National Archives of Ireland hereafter cited as NAI); Irish Times, 8 December 1943. See also Paul Bew and Henry Patterson, Sean Lemass and the Making of Modern Ireland (Dublin, 1982), 22-29.

(8) Memorandum from Sean Moylan to Eamon de Valera, 1 September 1943 (NAI: S 12890 A).

(9) Minutes of 41st Meeting of Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning, 22 November 1944 (NAI: S 12890 B).

(10) Memorandum from William Nally, Department of Lands, to Padraig O Cinneide, Department of the Taoiseach: Planning for Postwar Situation, 16 June 1944 (NAI: S 12890 A).

(11) Memorandum from Minister for Lands to Government: Land-Division Policy, 6 June 1947 (NAI: S 6490 B/1).

(12) Memorandum from Minister for Commerce and Industry to Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning: Full-Employment Policy, 17 January 1945 (NAI: S 13101 A); Bew and Patterson, Sean Lemass, 26-27; John Horgan, Sean Lemass: The Enigmatic Patriot (Dublin, 1997), 114.

(13) Memorandum from Minister for Industry and Commerce and Minister for Lands to Government: Economic and Social Aspects of Land Policy, December 1945 (NAI: S 6490 B/1). See also Bew and Patterson, Sean Lemass, 29-30; Horgan, Sean Lemass, 110.

(14) Memorandum from Minister for Finance to Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning: Land-Division Policy, 29 March 1945 (NAI: S 6490 B/1).

(15) Memorandum from Minister for Agriculture to Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning: Comments on Memorandum on Full Employment Prepared by Minister for Industry and Commerce, 14 March 1945 (NAI: S 13101 A); Horgan, Sean Lemass, 115.

(16) Memorandum from Secretary of Irish Land Commission to Minister for Lands, 7 December 1942 (NAI: S 12890 A).

(17) Minutes of Meeting of Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning, 2 December 1942 (NAI: S 13026 B).

(18) Dail Debates, xcii, 940 (16 December 1943).

(19) Minutes of 41st Meeting of Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning, 22 November 1944.

(20) Gaughan, ed., Memoirs of Connolly, 359-60, 364, 416. For the views of one prominent and long-standing member of the Irish Land Commission, Kevin O'Shiel, see his "The Work of the Land Commission," Public Administration in Ireland 2 (1953), 57-74.

(21) See the following memoranda of Eamon Mansfield--a) to Minister for Lands (Copies to Secretary of Executive Council; Private Secretary of Taoiseach): Land Division--Its Past and Its Present, 9 September 1942 (NAI: S 14399); Contemplated Program of Irish Land Commission, 23 December 1942 (NAI: S 12890 A); Observations on Memorandum of Department of Lands, 11 June 1943 (NAI: S 14399); b) to Secretary of Executive Council: Main Parts of Memorandum on Land Division, with Additional Brief Notes and Summary of Suggestions, 22 September 1942 (NAI: S 14399); How Flaws in Legal Machinery Have Held up Irish Land Commission Work, 21 June 1943 (NAI: S 7603); Summary of Chief Suggestions on Land-Division Policy, 24 June 1943 (NAI: S 14399); c) to Private Secretary of Taoiseach: Summary of Main Activities of Irish Land Commission and Staff for Preceding 19 Years, 31 March 1942 (NAI: S 14399). For views on Mansfield, see Patrick Sammon, In Land Commission, 11-12; Gaughan, ed., Memoirs of Connolly, 60, 416.

(22) Horgan, Sean Lemass, 165.

(23) See Transcript of Moylan's Speech (NAI: S 16265).

(24) Memoranda from Minister for Lands to Government: Review of Land Commission Activities, 5 July 1957, 14 March 1958; Memorandum from Minister for Lands to Taoiseach: Notes on Land Commission Policy, 23 June 1958 (NAI: S 16265); Memorandum from Minister for Lands to Taoiseach, 13 May 1958 (NAI: S 6490 C/1); Dail Debates, clxi, 151, 166, 250 (24 April 1957).

(25) Memorandum from Minister for Lands to Taoiseach, 13 May 1958 (NAI: S 6490 C/1).

(26) Memorandum from Minister for Lands to Government: Land Agitation, 5 June 1959; Letter from Minister for Lands to Taoiseach, n May 1959 (NAI: S 6490 C/1; Report of Speech by Erskine Childers to Fianna Fail Annual Convention of County Westmeath, Mullingar, Irish Press, 14 July 1958.

(27) Memorandum from Minister for Lands to Government: Review of Land Commission Activities, 5 July 1957. See also Dail Debates, clxi, 160, 163 (24 April 1957).

(28) Report of Cabinet Committee to Government: Review of Land Commission Policy, 14 March 1958 (NAI: S 16265).

(29) Report of Private Meeting of Land Commissioners, 20 June 1958 (NAI: S 16265).

(30) Sammon, In Land Commission, 56-57.

(31) Letter from Michael Moran to Taoiseach, 24 October 1960 (NAI: S 6490 C/2); Memorandum from Minister for Lands to Government: Limits on Cost of Acquisition and Resumption of Land, 21 October 1964 (NAI: S 6490 D/95).

(32) Transcript of Speech of Michael Moran to Joint Meeting of Dublin Annual Conventions of Fianna Fail, Dublin, 16 February 1961 (NAI: GIS 1/315).

(33) Ibid. For Michael Moran's views on and support for land distribution, see transcripts of his speeches to County Westmeath annual convention of Fianna Fail, Mullingar, 17 January 1960; Agricultural Science Association Conferences, Dublin, 26 September 1959; Dublin, 22 September 1961; Dublin, 21 September 1962; Galway, 21 September 1967 (NAI: GIS 1/315; GIS 1/317).

(34) Dooney, "Bloodless Revolution," 12.

(35) The losses on resale given above are calculated as the price per acre of allotted land paid by allottees as a percentage of the price per acre paid by the Land Commission in acquiring the land in the given periods. The data used in the computations are taken from Annual Report of Irish Land Commissioners, 1935/36 (P. 2518), 23, 27; 1943/44 (P. 6722), 17, 21; 1951/52 (Pr. 1759), 16, 20; 1971/72 (Prl. 3455), 25, 30; 1980 (Pl. 306), 18, 21.

(36) Memorandum from Minister for Finance to Government: Report of Inter-Department Committee on Seasonal Migration to Great Britain, 19 August 1939; Memoranda from Minister for Lands to Government: Land-Division Policy, 29 September 1938, 13 December 1938; Report to Government of Inter-Department Committee on Seasonal Migration to Great Britain, 1939; Cabinet Minutes, 29 August 1939 (NAI: S 6490 A).

(37) Memorandum from Sean Moylan to Eamon de Valera, 1 September 1943.

(38) Memorandum from Minister for Finance to Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning: Land-Division Policy, 29 March 1945; Minutes of Cabinet Meeting, 30 July 1947 (NAI: S 6490 B/1).

(39) Land Act, 1950, no. 16, ss. 5, 8-10, 27; Land Act, 1953, no. 18, s. 4.

(40) Memoranda from Minister for Lands to Government: Limitation on Costs of Acquisition and Resumption of Land, 14 September 1951; Land Settlement, 14 October 1952; Proposed Supplementary Estimate for Forestry and Lands, 29 December 1952 (NAI: S 6490 B/2). See also Report of Speech by Thomas Derrig, "Task of Land Settlement," to County Meath Annual Convention of Fianna Fail, An Uaim, Irish Times, 28 April 1952.

(41) Memorandum from Michael Deegan (Land Commissioner) to Minister for Lands, 15 Oct. 1951; Memoranda from Kevin O'Shiel, Dan Browne, and E. Herlihy (Land Commissioners) to Minister for Lands, 15 Oct. 1951; to Government, 22 Oct. 1951 (NAI: S 6490 B/2).

(42) Memorandum from Secretary, Department of Finance, to Secretary, Department of Lands, 9 July 1951 (NAI: S 6490 B/2).

(43) Ibid.

(44) Memoranda from Kevin O'Shiel, Dan Brown, and E. Herlihy (Land Commissioners) to Minister for Lands, 15 October 1951; to Government, 22 October 1951.

(45) Memorandum from Secretary, Department of Finance, to Secretary, Department of Lands, 9 July 1951; Memoranda from Minister for Lands to Government: Limitation on Costs of Acquisition and Resumption of Land, 14 September, 22 October 1951 (NAI: S 6490 B/2).

(46) Memoranda from Minister for Lands to Government: Limitation on Costs of Acquisition and Resumption of Land, 22 October 1951; Land Settlement, 14 October 1952; Proposed Supplementary Estimate for Forestry and Lands, 29 December 1952; Memorandum from Minister for Finance to Government: Land-Division Policy, 29 October 1952 (NAI: S 6490 B/2).

(47) Alvin Jackson, Ireland, 1798-1998: Politics and War(Oxford, 1999), 313-14; J. J. Lee, Ireland, 1912-1985: Politics and Society (Cambridge, 1989), 322-26; Dermot Keogh, Twentieth-Century Ireland: Nation and State (New York, 1994), 218.

(48) Richard Grogan, "Jim Ryan: End of Dedicated Political Career," Irish Press, 17 March 1965, 8.

(49) Memorandum from Minister for Finance to Minister for Lands, 7 May 1960 (NAI: S 6490 C/2); Memoranda from Minister for Lands to Government: Limitation on Cost of Acquisition and Resumption of Land, 21 December 1961, 21 October 1964, 19 December 1966, 10 July 1968 (NAI: S 6490 D); Minutes from Secretary to Government to Private Secretary to Minister for Lands (NAI: S 6490 D).

(50) Land Act, 1965, no. 2, s. 7.

(51) Memorandum from Minister for Finance to Government: Land-Division Policy, 28 October 1948 (NAI: S 6490 B/1). See also Memorandum from Minister for Finance to Government: Position of Votes for Lands and Forestry, 4 January 1949 (NAI: S 6490 B/1).

(52) Memorandum from Minister for Lands to Government: Land-Division Policy, 11 November 1948 (NAI: S 6490 B/1).

(53) Minutes from Secretary, Department of Finance, to Secretary, Department of Lands, 19 February 1951; Minutes from Secretary, Department of Lands, to Secretary, Department of Finance (with Copy to Government), 15 March 1951 (NAI: S 6490 B/2).

(54) Memorandum from Minister for Finance to Government: Land-Purchase Finance, 23 January 1957 (NAI: S 6490 B/2).

(55) See ibid. for a record of Blowick's response to Sweetman's proposals.

(56) Keogh, Twentieth-Century Ireland, 185, 196-97, 208-13, 226-28: Jackson, Ireland, 306-07, 314; Tony Varley and Christopher Curtain, "Defending Rural Interests against Nationalists in 20th-Century Ireland: A Tale of Three Movements," in Rural Change in Ireland, ed. John Davis (Belfast, 1999), 66-69.

(57) Memorandum from Minister for Lands to Government: Limits on Cost of Acquisition and Resumption of Land, 21 October 1964.

(58) Figures calculated from Annual Reports of Irish Land Commission, 1928-84.

(59) Transcript of Speech of Michael Moran to Agricultural Science Association Conference, Galway, 21 September 1967.

(60) Horgan, Sean Lemass, 322.

(61) Cormac O Grada, A Rocky Road: The Irish Economy since the 1920s (Manchester, 1997), 155-56; Tom Inglis, Moral Monopoly: The Catholic Church in Modern Irish Society (Dublin, 1987), 72-73. Joe Lee has suggested that the influence of Catholic teaching on wider social policy among the first generations of Irish political leaders was less than supposed. See Lee, Ireland, 541-42, 578-79.

(62) Dail Debates, cdxiv(a), 602 (10 December 1991). The TD was Paul Connaughton.

(63) Brian Murphy, "'The Land for the People, the Road for the Bullock': Lia Fail, the Smallholders' Crisis, and Public Policy in Ireland, 1957-60," in Offaly: History and Society, eds. William Nolan and Timothy P. O'Neill (Dublin, 1998), 855-87; Varley and Curtain, "Defending Rural Interests," 58-83.

(64) Dail Debates, cdxiv(a), 609 (10 December 1990.

(65) Ibid., 609.

(66) Bew and Patterson have argued that Fianna Fail after 1940 became less dependent on the western small farmer for electoral support, which perhaps may have spurred the land-distribution skeptics to express their views. Nevertheless, that support remained a vital part of the party's electoral base up to recent times. See Bew and Patterson, Sean Lemass, 22-27.

(67) Michael Moran to Jack Lynch (Taoiseach), 6 February 1967 (NAI: S 6490 D).

(68) O Grada, Rocky Road, 144-64. For a comprehensive critical analysis of the lack of development in Irish agriculture up to recent times, see Raymond Crotty, Irish Agricultural Production: Its Volume and Structure (Cork, 1966).

(69) Dail Debates, cdxiv(a), 578-816 (10 December 1991).

(70) O Grada, Rocky Road, 67-73.

DAVID SETH JONES is an associate professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, having previously worked for the Department of Agriculture of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the Overseas Development Administration in the UK. He has taught and published widely in the areas of comparative politics, government budgeting, and public policy, and has also published several studies in Irish political and social history. He is the author of Graziers, Land Reform, and Political Conflict in Ireland (1995).
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Author:Jones, David Seth
Publication:Eire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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