New Land Purchase Bill before House of Commons

Published: 22 July 1913

Land purchase in Ireland has cost £125,260,000 to date and a further £60,000,000 is required to complete the project, according the Chief Secretary of Ireland, Augustine Birrell.

In a somewhat pithy assessment of the issue of land ownership in Ireland, the Chief Secretary said: 'It has always been a very difficult one to solve.' Birrell’s comments came as he introduced a new Land Purchase Bill for Ireland to the House of Commons in London. He told MPs that the transfer of the occupation and ownership of the land of Ireland was now 'two-thirds through.' As well as requiring additional money, the project of land purchase would take a further ten to fifteen years to complete.

Pioneer of land purchase in Ireland; Lord Ashbourne was largely responsible for the drafting of the Land Purchase (Ireland) Act of 1885.
Image: © National Portrait Gallery, London

Birrell told the House of Commons that he agreed that the series of land acts, extending back into the nineteenth century, had been expensive but maintained that it 'was worth all the money it cost'. The Chief Secretary has been lauded for his success in reforming land purchase in Ireland through the 1909 Land Act. This act was introduced in the wake of increasing levels of agrarian violence in Ireland and faced huge opposition from the Conservative Party. The Tories campaigned for the introduction of coercive measures, but Birrell instead introduced a new scheme that allowed for the compulsory purchase of land in congested areas and gave increased financial support for land purchase. That 1909 Act was seen as attacking rich landlords in the west of Ireland and cost more than £11,000,000.

In the course of outlining the technical details of his latest scheme, the Chief Secretary referred to the building of Labourers' Cottages across Ireland: '41,000 of these cottages have already been built, some of them very ugly and some really quite beautiful. They are all of them healthy and I think we may pronounce them a most productive expenditure, the interest of  which is to be found in vigorous labourers, in healthy children responding to education, and in the revivification of the whole countryside.'

Birrell told the House of Commons that he needed a further £1,000,000 to help build an additional 19,000 cottages across Ireland.

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