Dáil Éireann - Volume 160 - 21 November, 1956
Private Members' Business. - Afforestation Programme—Motion.
Mr. MacBride Mr. MacBride
Mr. MacBride: I move:—
That Dáil Éireann considers that the aim of the afforestation programme of the State should be to plant a minimum of 1,000,000 acres at a rate of not less than 25,000 acres per year and requests the Government to take all necessary steps to ensure the implementation of this minimum annual rate of plantation as soon as possible.
There are two motions in the names of Deputy Tully and myself dealing with forestry. The one we are about to discuss to-night deals with what should be the annual plantation target. The other, which we will be discussing later, deals with the question of whether the planting programme would be better carried out by other means than those at present used.
I would like the House to approach this motion completely objectively. I have not introduced these motions for the purpose of raising any political issues or for the purpose of attributing blame for the neglect of afforestation. I think there is probably no clearer example since this State was established of our failure to make use of  the sources available to us than forestry. It is a glaring example of our short-sightedness over a long period of time but I suppose at this tage it will serve little purpose to seek to blame one particular Government or another Government for it.
Our approach to the question of forestry is very simple. The main problems that this nation has to face are insufficiency of production, massive unemployment and massive emigration. As a country, apart from the raw material which we can produce from the ground by way of food, apart from some minerals, we have little or no raw materials upon which to base industrial development. Timber is one of the most important raw materials in the modern world. Timber is not only used for making furniture and so on but it is now the basis of an infinite variety of other substances and the basis of numerous secondary industries. We as a nation lack raw materials. Yet, we have available to us all the necessary means of producing this most important raw material, timber.
As far back as 1908 a British Royal Commission assessed that the amount of land in this country which was unproductive and which was available for afforestation was over 1,000,000 acres. There have been many subsequent assessments. These assessments come to the same conclusion, that we have between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 acres of land suitable for afforestation. In the case of most of our industries or a great many of our industries we suffer from a number of handicaps. In the case of afforestation we suffer from no handicap. We are able to produce a full-size tree in a shorter space of time than the other European timber-producing countries. We are able to grow a full-size tree in a shorter space of time than Scandinavia. Timber requires a damp, mild climate and we have that. So that, we have available to us the natural conditions necessary to enable us to produce timber. We have the land on which the timber can be grown, land which is for the most part lying completely derelict and unproductive. We have the labour required to enable us to plant that land and, certainly, we have the  capital necessary in order to utilise that labour and utilise that land and convert it into a raw material.
I know that many people are inclined to think that forestry is such a long term project that it is not worth bothering about. Apart from that being a short-sighted and selfish attitude towards the development of the country, it is an attitude which nowadays is based on misconception of modern development. From the 12th to the 15th year after planting a forest you can begin to draw an income from it through the thinnings, thinnings which can now be pulped and can form the basis of secondary industries.
Despite the obvious advantages, for some reason which, I must say, I have never been able to clear up in my own mind—many excuses have been advanced from time to time—we have made very, very slow progress in afforestation since the State was set up. True, we have made much greater progress in recent years.
I do not want to introduce this as a point of political controversy but I notice that the Leader of the Opposition, speaking at the Ard Fheis of Fianna Fáil, yesterday, criticised my Party, inter alia, for seeking to suggest that we were the only people who thought of forestry. I do not think we have ever suggested that we were the only people who thought of forestry. Many people in the course of the last 50 years in Ireland have worked as hard as they could to try to get forestry pushed ahead but what I think the Leader of the Opposition overlooked was that, though he may agree with forestry, that though successive Governments may agree as to the desirability of pushing forestry ahead, none of them have really made, until recently, any serious effort to do it and thus we have the position in which, over the last 35 years, we have planted at the rate of some 5,500 to 6,000 acres a year on an average.
Mr. Dillon Mr. Dillon
Mr. Dillon: Amplify that.
Mr. MacBride Mr. MacBride
Mr. MacBride: I shall amplify it. I will give the present Minister full credit for having stepped up that rate very considerably but, dealing with the  over-all position, we get the picture that, over 35 years of our own Government, we have planted only between 5,500 and 6,000 acres per year on an average. It has gone up some years, gone down other years. We have a smaller area under timber than any other European country. The percentage of our land under timber is 1.4 compared with, for instance, 9 per cent. in Denmark, 17 per cent. in France, Belgium and Spain, 21 per cent. in Switzerland, 26 per cent. in Germany, 41 per cent. in Austria, 60 per cent. in Sweden, 73 per cent. in Finland. We have only 1.4 per cent. We have a lower area under timber than any other European country though we are capable of producing timber more economically and more rapidly than any of those other countries and though we more than those other countries lack raw materials.
Mr. Dillon Mr. Dillon
Mr. Dillon: We have 3,000,000 sheep.
Mr. MacBride Mr. MacBride
Mr. MacBride: I am sure these other countries have the equivalent of 3,000,000 sheep, but if the Minister wants to engage in a debate on that I will take him on any day. At all events, it will quieten the Minister if I say that the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Lands were members of the Government which in the year 1949 sat down and decided solemnly that the annual plantation rate should be 25,000 acres per year. That decision was embodied in the long-term programme submitted to the American authorities and presented to this House. It might be well if I refreshed the memory of the House in regard to what was said at that time in relation to that programme. I am quoting from page 22 of the European Recovery Programme (1949-1953). It is a public document (P. No. 9198). Paragraph 49 reads:—
“So far, reafforestation has been carried out only on a very small scale; in recent years the rate of planting in the State forests has been approximately 6,000 acres per year. It is proposed to step this up to 25,000 acres per year. The aim will be to plant 1,000,000 acres by  annual increments of 25,000 acres. At maturity, and assuming an average yield of 3,500 cubic feet of timber per acre on a 50-year rotation, the annual return on a 25,000-acre felling will be of the order of 87.5 million cubic feet, or approximately 350,000 standards of sawn timber.”
That was the decision of a Government submitted to this House in the year 1949. I would like to have seen a higher annual rate of plantation decided upon then but I was quite prepared to accept an annual rate of 25,000 acres a year as being a vast advance on what had been done before. Unfortunately, we have not yet reached that annual rate of 25,000 acres a year. In 1949-50, we planted planted 3,393 acres; in 1950-51, with the impetus given to the afforestation programme by the present Minister, plantation went up to 9,372 acres; in 1951-52, it reached the 15,000 mark; then it slumped back in 1952-53 to 12,400 acres and it was the same in the following year. In 1954-55, it went up to 13,900 acres, and in 1955-56 the area planted was 15,000. This year I understand the planting programme will be 17,500, which will be the highest plantation rate achieved since the State was set up. I am very glad to pay tribute to the Minister for having achieved that planting rate, but that is still short of the planting rate which I think everybody will agree is the necessary planting rate of 25,000 acres a year.
I mentioned some of the main economic problems facing the country, the need for increased production, the need to provide employment to enable the vast numbers who are at present unemployed or who have to emigrate, to live in their own country. Forestry is now the biggest single undertaking in the State. There are more than 5,000 men employed in forestry as the result of an expansion which took place in forestry from 1948 onwards. Employment in forestry grew from 2,000 to 5,000 acres. That is no inconsiderable increase, but I do not know whether members of the House appreciate fully the seriousness of the lack of development in the country.
 I am glad to see the Minister for Agriculture here. He is looking rather sceptical, but I wonder does the Minister for Agriculture appreciate that from 1951 to 1955 37,000 people who had been employed in agriculture became disemployed? There was a fall of 37,000 in agricultural employment in that short period. That is not due probably to any fault in the organisation of our agriculture. The tendency for disemployment to occur in agriculture has been a world-wide one.
What is particularly disturbing, and I would like the Ministers who are in the House now to bear this in mind, is the fact that during that period while 37,000 people were disemployed in agriculture we only succeeded in creating 1,000 additional jobs in non-agricultural occupations. That is the net result of five years of endeavour. I am quite prepared to give credit to this Government and to the previous Government for using their best endeavours to promote development, but the net result of those endeavours was a net disemployment of 36,000 people in a period of five years, quite apart altogether from emigration. With all the money we spent and with all our best efforts, we only succeeded in creating in that five-year period 1,000 new jobs in the non-agricultural sectors of our economy. Surely that must show some basic defect in the policies we are pursuing. I am not talking now of the policy of this Government, the last Government or any Government. I am not concerned with trying to make political capital for one side or the other.
We must face the stark realities of our failure to pursue an economic policy capable of coping with the problems with which we have to deal. We have a falling population. From the census we know the extent of that fall. We have an emigration rate of 40,000 to 45,000 per year. We have an unemployment problem ranging from 40,000 to 70,000 to 75,000 depending on the season of the year. We are not engaged here to-night in a general economic debate. I merely give these facts to underline the vital importance of actively pursuing a policy of afforestation and putting the maximum  amount of endeavour into it. I am quite satisfied the Minister is doing that. I am quite satisfied the Minister would like to plant 50,000 acres per year. I am quite satisfied he is doing his best. Having regard to the slowness of the progress made and to the fact that year after year successive Governments and all political Parties have voiced their agreement and their approval of afforestation, in the light of the lack of progress it is desirable, I think, to try to remove doubts as to what our target is. For that reason I tabled this motion which proposes an annual target of 25,000 acres per year. The Minister has tabled an amendment, accepting that target of 25,000 acres but providing that it should be reached by annual increments of 2,500 per year. In three years' time, on that basis, we would reach the 25,000 acres per year. I am prepared to accept that. It is a reasonable rate of progress and I accept the Minister's amendment in that regard.
The House, however, should put on its records as a definite indication to the Minister, whether it be the present Minister or any other Minister, that the annual target is to be 25,000 acres per year. I would like to make it clear—I think I have made it clear on a number of occasions—that as far as I am concerned and as far as anybody interested in forestry is concerned, we have reached the stage when we are no longer prepared to accept excuses if the programme is not implemented. I am quite certain the Minister will do his level best to achieve that programme. I have become so used over a period—not merely since I came into this House but long before it—to hearing different excuses put forward for the lack of progress that I have now reached the stage where I am not prepared to listen to any excuse or even to listen to reason in relation to forestry.
We all know that forestry involves long-term planning. In order to plant successfully one must plan at least five years ahead. If one decides on 25,000 acres per year one must start probably four or five years before that to acquire the land necessary. A large proportion of the land may be unsuitable and, therefore, one must acquire more  than the actual amount required for planting. In addition, one must have a plantable reserve. If one intends to plant 25,000 acres one will want a plantable reserve of approximately 75,000 acres in hand. I know the Minister is doing his best in that direction and I hope the legislation he introduced last session will facilitate him in carrying out his programme.
It is essential that all planning should be done carefully so that we will not be told two years or three years hence that there are not enough seedlings, not enough reserve of land, not enough thinned forests, or something like that. It is well we should know exactly where we stand. The House wants a reasonable target of 25,000 acres a year and it wants that target achieved.
Even by planting 25,000 acres per year we should still be doing considerably less proportionately in comparison with other countries. In Britain, which is an industrial country suffering more from over-employment than underemployment, the target of the Forestry Commission is 5,000,000 acres. In the year 1954 the British Forestry Commission planted 70,400 acres. In addition, 19,100 acres were planted through the medium of State-aided schemes. In effect, in 1954 they planted 96,500 acres. That is six times more than we did in that year. It must be borne in mind, too, that Britain has a much higher percentage of land under timber than we have. As I pointed out, Britain is a highly industrialised country suffering from overfull employment. Yet, the British Forestry Commission engages in a vast programme of afforestation. The land area is about three times greater than ours, but Britain planted six times more timber than we did in one year. There is, therefore, nothing extraordinary or nothing ambitious in our aiming at planting 25,000 acres. It is the very minimum we should aim to achieve.
I should mention, of course, that quite apart from the decision of the Government in regard to the 25,000-acre target in 1949 which is embodied in the long term plan, a forestry survey was made by an official of the F.A.O. who came here, and in the course of that survey he approved of  the planting of 1,000,000 acres, half of which would be for purely commercial timber and the other half on the basis of a full social forestry programme. So there can be no question or room for argument now on the plantation rate or the target we should reach. Our concern should be that these targets are reached and that is the purpose of this motion.
I am quite certain—and I would like to pay tribute to the Minister and the Government—that the Minister has been doing his best and I congratulate him on having been able in a fairly short space of time practically to treble the amount of forestry work which was being done before. That is an achievement, but we cannot rest on our laurels and we have to reach the target which we set ourselves seven years ago.
While I welcome the amendment tabled by the Minister which ensures that we will reach that target in three years' time, I would again like to make definitely clear that I do not think we should be prepared to accept any excuses next year or the year after or in three years' time if the targets laid down in the Minister's amendment are not reached. All the difficulties that can arise are difficulties that can be anticipated.
Of the various items of capital expenditure indulged in by the State, forestry is the most productive. We spend some £12,000,000 or more on our roads. It is very necessary to have good roads but good roads do not provide us with an income; they do not produce anything that would add to the productivity of the country. They do not add to our exports. We spend, I think, something over £1,000,000 on forestry. I would like to see that process reversed. I would prefer to see us spending £12,000,000 on forestry and £1,000,000 on roads. From the point of view of productivity we would get much more and also from the point of view of employment, because of all the various forms of public works, forestry is the one which has the highest labour content. It is much more than in the case of road work and  is higher even than housing. In addition to that, forestry produces a solid asset, from 12 to 15 years afterwards, when it begins to yield a return.
I hope that the House will approach this motion in an objective sense and that what I have said will not be misconstrued by the members of the Opposition as an indictment for their neglect. It is as much an indictment of previous Governments as it is of them; it is a general indictment, if you like, of our lack of foresight as a nation in that respect. Possibly, it is one illustration of the lack of economic thinking and planning which has characterised our development since the State was founded.
I think Deputy Moylan has tabled an amendment and I do not know whether he intends to proceed with it. It suggests that instead of the motion which I propose, or the amendment which the Minister proposes, that a select committee consisting, I think, of 15 members of this House should be set up to examine the desirability of this annual target of 25,000 acres. Frankly I think that would be merely placing an additional difficulty in the way causing additional delay. I would regard it if adopted by the House rather as a side-tracking of the amendment intended to void the efforts of those who had all these assessments and decisions made from time to time setting this target of 25,000 acres a yield a year.
For goodness' sake, let us get together on that; let us try to ensure that the target is reached and that we get results. As I said before, we already have an additional 5,000 people employed on forestry. That is an increase of 3,000 in a short space of time since the present Minister took over. That is a welcome development, but let me remind the House and the Minister for Agriculture who is looking sceptical and cynical about it that were it nor for that increase we would not even have found the miserly 1,000 additional jobs outside agricultural employment, and that the increase is extremely small in the light of the fact that in a period of five years we succeeded in disemploying a net total of 36,000 people. If an annual target in  forestry of 25,000 acres a year is pursued actively we will have more than 5,000 people employed and I hope close on 20,000 people employed in forestry. Apart from the direct employment thus created, there will be produced raw material which I hope will provide employment for twice as many and will enable us to increase our produce and our exports, because I think we should aim at planting not merely sufficient to meet our own requirements—and we import between £16,000,000 and £20,000,000 worth a year at the moment——
Mr. Dillon Mr. Dillon
Mr. Dillon: Of timber?
Mr. MacBride Mr. MacBride
Mr. MacBride: Of timber and timber products. Surely there is little or no excuse for importing any timber when we should be able to produce our own timber requirements here. If we had foresight 35 years ago we would now be in a position to produce at least a substantial proportion of our timber requirements within the next few years.
I want to repeat that I hope the House will approach this motion in a completely non-contentious way, and that we will all show our willingness to forget the deficiencies, and the mistakes we have made in the past, in order to pursue our forestry programme sufficiently actively and to approach it with a determination that in future we shall at least plant 25,000 acres a year. I am quite prepared to accept the amendment tabled by the Minister to this motion. I do not know whether I can do so at this stage or whether it would be more convenient to do so at the end of the debate.
Mr. Dillon Mr. Dillon
Mr. Dillon: Would the Deputy answer this question: what is his view on the relative merit of using land for the production of sheep and lambs readily saleable at profitable prices, and the acquisition of the same land for forestry which will not begin to yield for 25 years?
Mr. MacBride Mr. MacBride
Mr. MacBride: I do not know whether the Minister's question is designed to indicate that he, if not his colleagues, is opposed to forestry.
Mr. Dillon Mr. Dillon
Mr. Dillon: I am not opposed to forestry.
Mr. MacBride Mr. MacBride
 Mr. MacBride: It is purely a question of economics. It is a matter of whether you get a greater return from using the land for the growing of timber—purely a matter of mathematics and economics. However, there are vast areas, on which there are no sheep, quite capable of growing timber. There are also areas, on which there are few sheep, from which a much better return could be got from afforestation. In many countries agricultural land is being laid down for forestry at the moment. I am not saying we should adopt that principle. But we have over 1,000,000 acres of land which is sub-marginal, practically unproductive at the moment. I should like to see that land utilised, providing the employment that would result from its utilisation.
Mr. John Tully Mr. John Tully
Mr. John Tully: I second the motion.
Minister for Lands (Mr. Blowick) Joseph Blowick
Minister for Lands (Mr. Blowick): I move my amendment as follows:—
To delete all the words after “That” and substitute: “Dáil Éireann welcomes the very substantial progress in afforestation made since 1948 under the impetus of the Forestry Policy of the Inter-Party Governments and agrees that hereafter there should be an annual increase of 2,500 acres in the rate of planting until an annual planting rate of 25,000 acres shall have been attained, whereupon consideration shall be given to the future rate of planting to be pursued, in the light of our forest and general economic requirements.”
Mr. S. Collins Mr. S. Collins
Mr. S. Collins: It is a very necessary and, I think, a very fair augury that an atmosphere of quietness and deliberation comes into the House when we deal with a motion of this character. I have a slight touch of the same forestry disease as Deputy MacBride, and I do feel that while the Minister for Agriculture may well and properly make the point that agricultural land should be devoted to agricultural purposes, to the production of agricultural produce readily saleable, we must all know of the tremendous areas of land which could not only  beneficially be planted but, even in the process of their growth, could become immense scenic additions to the countryside.
Over the years, we have been far too complacent with regard to forestry and I am glad to see both the motion of Deputy MacBride and the amendment of the Minister before the House for discussion. They show at least that there is a reawakening to what the potential for forestry is. The Minister for Agriculture seemed to express surprise when Deputy MacBride adverted to the fact that some £15,000,000 to £17,000,000 worth of wood and wood by-products come into this country annually. It seems to be a terrible travesty on economic planning and sane judgment that we are still importing these immense quantities of wood-pulp for the printing and newspaper industries.
It is absolutely an unfortunate truism that if there had been any reasonable impetus or concerted effort to develop forestry 30 years ago we would now be living in a period where the huge industrial potential of our forests would be showing reality in the form of absorbing an important part of our labour. A target of 25,000 acres a year may sound ambitious, but when one examines what the necessary home consumption would be and what potential exports could be it does not sound so tremendous. There should never be, and I hope it never again will be, political capital made out of forestry.
The fact is that it is something which can be deliberately and effectively measured in a materialistic way and a real economic analysis of its value be furnished. I know that people are asking why are we waiting until now to make this tremendous drive towards reafforestation which some members of the House are now advocating. Unfortunately for this nation the impetus did not come 30 years ago. However, there is no doubt about it, if one faces up to the amount of the forest denudation that occurred during the period of the last war and the subsequent rebuilding of the nations after the war, there is a tremendous field for planting not only in  our own country but in many European countries and in Britain as well.
In a small nation with its recurring problem of unemployment, with its difficulties of seasonal lays off in some branches of industries, with its difficulties of migratory labour as we have in the west, a realist can see that in forestry and in the tackling and development of forestry one can find it an increasing rather than a diminishing benefit because forestry develops from stage to stage. Once you keep the initial cleaning, planting and weeding going, after years go on you will absorb more and more people into the general development of afforestation. Then you ultimately reach the stage where the forests reach maturity, when you can look forward to the immense employment potential that the matured timber can hold forth.
If we were ever in difficulties such as were created by the last world war we would at least have the raw material to ensure the continuation of production in many of our timber processing and furniture manufacturing industries. Forestry has inherent in it the giving of employment in such matters as the actual preparation of ground, planting and so on and this employment increases according as the forest grows. Take the congested districts as an example or an area such as I represent. When the forest is coming to maturity you have, instead of the emigrant ship, the drift from the land and the drift to England we have known in the past, permanent employment in the forests and in addition you have families settling down in the area around the forest.
I know the Minister is enthusiastic but enthusiasm is something that can best be gauged by the reality of performance. I want to see the energy and singleness of purpose the Minister purports to have translated into action in the form of plantings and development. I know the Minister and his Department can put up many difficulties and I say deliberately to the Minister that they are cock-eyed in some ways. There is, for instance their views on what land can or cannot be utilised for planting. One has only  to examine the temperature and soil in the Scandinavian Peninsula and up to the ice barrier and what has been done there in the matter of forestry to realise that there must be a type of tree adaptable to any type of land in this country.
I do not want to labour this matter because the Minister will recall that I had much to say on his Estimate. However, I feel it is worth while that Deputy MacBride should come in here and give this stimulation and urge for activity to the forestry programme. We must be realistic. Any industries we develop in this country must be related as far as possible to the availability of raw materials at home. Is there any more potential source of raw material than the forest? In addition, the forest plays a large part in the development of one of this country's invisible assets —tourism. There is no part of Ireland in which forestry development has taken place that has not had its scenic appeal enhanced. One has only to drive through Wicklow, parts of my own county and parts of Tipperary, particularly places where there was formerly barren mountainside, to appreciate that facet of forestry development.
I want to say to the Minister in relation to the impetus he has given: “well done!”. I came into this House and I pilloried the Minister for many a day before we planted in Glengariff. I say now that there has been a tremendous stimulus given in that whole area stretching out into the Beara Peninsula. Much more land is being offered, inspected and acquired, and much more work is being done. If the effect of the establishment of that centre in Glengariff can mean so much to that area, I feel like saying to the Minister that the job can be done if he puts the same drive into other areas. I cannot say—it would be unfair of me to say it—that the Minister has not put energy and effort into this development. He could not have achieved the acreage he has to-day without that, but I want to say—I said it when speaking on his Estimate, and I think Deputy MacBride's motion clearly indicates it—that he will find here, as far as his forestry drive is  concerned, tremendous sympathy and support at all times, such as is necessary for the successful conclusion of the job. I feel we should take this motion and the Minister's amendment in the spirit in which they are offered —as an earnest of the unanimous desire of the Dáil to give the Minister the green light for the speedy development of the forestry programme.
Forests are assets. Year after year you can see them growing to the benefit of the nation and the enhancement of its wealth. With that picture before our minds there is no Minister—and certainly not the present Minister—who will not get from the House all the assistance he requires in the matter of money and legislation to acquire the type of land suitable for forestry. I do not say that the Minister should make inroads on agricultural land. The Minister has a wide field of land to plant before the necessity will arise to take one acre of fertile, arable, agricultural land for the purpose of forestry.
Mr. McQuillan Mr. McQuillan
Mr. McQuillan: I hope that I am not the first to sound very critical in the course of this discussion. So far, we have had a programme of mutual admiration in operation. For many years I have listened to promises made in this House that a forestry programme at the annual rate of 25,000 acres would be put into operation. I understand now that there is a decision to arrive at that figure by increasing the present rate by 2,500 acres per annum. I am almost inclined to demand that that promise be given solemnly on a stack of Bibles. There was agreement here four years ago on a rate of 25,000 acres. A thorough investigation was made of our forestry requirements by the Forestry Division. If anybody cares to study the Dáil Debates for the last two or three years he will have no trouble in finding a whole string of arguments made on the basis of the consumption of timber in this country against embarking on a very large afforestation programme.
While I may be critical in many of my remarks, I want it to be quite clear that I personally think the mover of this motion should have gone a great deal further. The mover of this motion  will be a very old man before he sees this 1,000,000 acres planted. In view of the fact that 30 years have elapsed in which very little was done in regard to forestry, for the next four or five years we should embark on a vast afforestation scheme. The people are becoming more conscious of the need for forestry. That is all to the good and the more debates there are in this House on forestry generally, the better from the public point of view.
The last speaker hesitated to tread on toes but I have no hesitation in jumping on the toes of all Parties in this House for the past 30 years with regard to their afforestation programme—Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or the first inter-Party Government. I have listened to excuses being trotted out here about scarcity of netting wire, about destruction of young plants by rabbits, and so on. There was never any shortage of excuses for not embarking on a larger programme. Of course, the main reason for not doing so was the dead hand of the Department of Finance. No matter what Minister was in charge of forestry, no matter how earnest he may have been, he was obstructed or baulked all through the years by the Department of Finance. When it is a matter of getting money for any worthwhile scheme, the Minister concerned has a tremendous task in getting the necessary money from that Department.
We have now a unanimous backing in this House for a forestry programme, even though some of us are dissatisfied with the proposed rate. At least, it is a step in the right direction.
I should like to preface my remarks on forestry generally by a quotation from a statement made by one of the most prominent and experienced builders in Ireland, on the question of timber. I shall not mention his name but I will give it to any Deputy outside the House who wants it. This builder pointed out that the prices of imported timber of similar quality, on the average, for the five year period 1951-55, inclusive, was 66 per cent. more than that for native timber. He went on to point out that recently the  Irish wood was of such good quality that he himself used it for joinery and for furniture. He mentioned the Irish timbers that were used—beech, elm, sycamore, birch, Scotch pine and spruce. He pointed out that there are tremendously good prospects for native wood. He says that if Ireland, as regards timber, is not cursed with the usual inferiority complex, its course is clear—to grow more timber. That is a statement by one of the most prominent builders in this country in which he makes a comparison between native timber and imported timber and says that the cost of the imported commodity was 66 per cent. higher than the cost of the native timber.
Even if, to-morrow, we had enough forests to meet our own requirements, we could still pursue an exportation programme at prices competitive with other countries. The mistake that is being made all along is that the programme is estimated purely on the minimum requirements of the home market for some years to come.
Deputy MacBride pointed out on a percentage basis the contrast between the area under afforestation in Ireland and that in other European countries. In no civilsed country in the world is the ratio for afforestation as low as it is in Ireland. That has been said 40 times in the House in the last ten or 15 years and it seems to be like a pious hope to get it to sink into the minds of the people who count in this nation. The area varies in other European countries from 9 per cent. in Denmark up to 65 per cent. and 70 per cent., but the average throughout Europe is 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. Taking it on that basis, even if to-morrow morning we had the 1,000,000 acres of land which is mentioned in this motion planted, we would still have only 6 per cent. of our land under timber in comparison with other European countries.
The Minister for Agriculture questioned Deputy MacBride here on sheep: was it not more advantageous to have 3,000,000 sheep in the country than to embark on an afforestation programme? From a man with the ability of the Minister that is an extraordinary statement. We have seen  throughout the years what the position was in regard to cattle and sheep. We know how insecure the market for these two live-stock products is. We know that as far as sheep are concerned, we export the wool and that to-day we are priced out of the British market on much of our products from the land. Even taking that as part of the argument, much of the land with which the afforestation programme would be concerned is not being used at the moment for the production of sheep. A great number of the sheep the Minister referred to are bred and reared on some of the best land in the country. In afforestation land we have not that number of sheep being reared. In the mountain areas we have only a limited number. All over County Galway, which is one of the best sheep breeding areas in the country quite a large number of the sheep in the locality are bred and reared on the best of land. That argument does not count.
Let us take it another way. There are 17,000,000 acres of land in this country. Of that 17,000,000, 11,750,000 are supposed to be arable land. Of the remainder, 3,000,000 acres consist of coarse grazing. Out of that 5,250,000 that is described as non-arable land there is at least 1,500,000 of that ideally suited for afforestation. That will not interfere in the slightest with the land that is now described as agricultural, the other 11,750,000 acres; as a matter of fact if this non-arable area or portion of it was planted it would be of immense benefit to the agricultural programme of the country from the point of view of soil conservation, protection, and climate improvement.
Deputy MacBride pointed out that the average area planted over the last 30 years was, I think, around 5,000 acres. Let us have a look at the figures of employed in the afforestation branch. The number employed indoor and outdoor is around the 5,000 mark. I suggest that in that branch there is an undue proportion in the administrative section and that the administrative section, the Civil Service end of  it, outweighs the advice of technicians and skilful foresters.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Cormac Breslin
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister is responsible.
Mr. McQuillan Mr. McQuillan
Mr. McQuillan: I have to bring it home to the Minister what the position is. Perhaps I might, on the next motion deal in more detail with regard to the Department itself. Through the years the Parties in this House and outside it have, to my mind, only paid lip-service to afforestation. A difficulty has been finance and while no money could be made available or very little for the afforestation programme which would mean immense wealth in years to come, we were able to leave around £460,000,000 in external assets. We were able, in 1949, to lose 30 per cent. of that 460,000,000 when the British devalued the £. How would we have fared if that £160,000,000 we lost through a flick of the fingers of Sir Stafford Cripps had been invested in standing timber in Ireland?
Any Minister for Lands and forestry who has to come before a Minister for Finance should remind him of the lunatic policy pursued by Finance over the years with regard to the wealth of this country, being poured out of it instead of into the soil on projects like forestry. We have the statement here in recent months that the consumption of timber here would be met by an afforestation programme of 15,000 acres per year. I presume we have respect for international authorities who are invited here to give us advice in connection with afforestation or anything else. According to the F.A.O. Report the consumption of timber in Ireland is the lowest per head of any European country. The basis of this is: Ireland, 1; Britain, 2½; Denmark, 4½; Sweden, 6. It should be apparent to anyone in this House that when the consumption of timber is so low within the country it means there is a corresponding reduction in the manufacturing and in the employment end and it is in the manufacturing end of the programme that the real employment is given.
Dáil Éireann 160 Private Members' Business. Afforestation Programme—Motion.