The Land Acts effected an enormous social and economic revolution in Ireland. Over the space of a couple of decades, the ownership of most of the agricultural land in the country passed from landed estate owners to their tenant farmers.
Until the 1880s, Irish tenant farmers had very little security of tenure. Their tenancies could be ended for little or no reason by the landlord giving notice. There was no provision for fixing rents. The rents might be raised at any time by a landlord.
First Minor Steps
The first state-mandated and assisted land purchase was provided in the Irish Church Act 1869, which disestablished the Church of Ireland. However, the class of tenants benefited was relatively small.
The Act created the Church Temporalities Commissioners. The Commissioners had the power to sell land to church tenants. An advance of the purchase price payable over 32 years was available. They covered about 7000 owners.
The Church Temporalities Commissioners were given the power to sell tenants their holdings at prices fixed by the Commissioners themselves. The sale of each holding was for cash and a mortgage for monies borrowed. If a quarter was paid in cash, the balance might be secured with the mortgage to be paid off in 32 years of six monthly instalments. The sales under the Act were later incorporated under later land purchase mechanisms.
The 1870 legislation extended the powers of the sale to the landed estate courts, with two-thirds of the price being funded by the board of works. The loan was to be a 5 percent annuity over 35 years.
Under the 1870 Act, the so-called Bright Clauses, landlords and tenants of agricultural holdings could arrange for the sale of their holdings with state aid. Up to two-thirds of the price agreed could be advanced by the Board of Works to be repaid in 35 years by an annuity at a rate of 5%. This was reduced to 4% in 1885.
The first major revision was the Purchase of Ireland Act 1885. This advanced £5,000,000 pounds to assist the purchase of land by agreement. The commission advanced the whole purchase price. The annuity periods were 49 years, with interest charged at 4 percent.
For the first time, provision was made for a vesting order by the Land Commission. The Commission was empowered to buy estates through the Landed Estates Courts for the purpose of reselling them to tenants.
The Land Commission
The Land Act 1881 established the Land Commission. The Land Commission was given powers to make advances to tenants to purchase their holdings. The advance was three-quarters to two-thirds of the purchase money. A 5% rate applied over 35 years later reduced to 4%.
If a certain portion of the tenants on the estate were willing to buy the holdings, the Land Commission was given the power to purchase the whole of the estate with the power to sell it off in lots to tenants. A relatively small number of tenants and holdings were sold under the Act.
Under the Ashbourne Act, the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act 1885, £5 million was advanced to the Land Commission to enable sales by agreement to take place. The Land Commission was empowered to purchase estates in the Landed Estates Courts for the purpose of resale to the tenant.
The Land Commission was given the power to advance the full money. The repayments were payable over 49 years in annual instalments, including interest and capital. Interest was charged at 4 percent. For the first time, provision was made for a vesting order by the Land Commission..
Purchase by Government Stock
The Purchase of Land Act 1891 and 1896 provided for the payment of land in guaranteed loan stock instead of cash stock.An additional 1888 Act advanced a further £5 million to the Land Commission for land purchase. The Balfour Acts, the Land Acts 1891 and 1896 were enacted because the monies advanced under the previous Acts had been exhausted.
Under the 1891 Act, the landlord was paid a specially created government land stock which was exchanged for Consols at the option of the vendor. It was equal in nominal amount to the purchase monies and bore a 2 1/2% interest rate. It was not redeemable until 30 years from the date of passing of the Act.
The landlords did not readily accept the stock, which varied in the secondary market. Tenants were equally unhappy with the variable payments, which brought uncertainty in terms of their commitment.
The repayment of annuities was provided for. There was provision for variation of the interest. Further capital sums were voted by Parliament to assist.The payment period was later increased to 73 years and reductions of the annuity were provided
The Act was amended in 1896 and introduced a method for reducing in every decade up to the 30 years after the advance was made, the annuity to be paid. During the first decade after purchase, the annuity was calculated on the original advance.
In the second and later decades, it was to be ascertained on the portion of the advance was unpaid at the end of the previous decade. At the end of the third decade, the annuity was calculated on the amount of the advance, then outstanding, and ran until the entire debt was paid off.
The 1891 Act established the Congested Districts Board. Powers given to the Board were increased under the legislation in several successive years. The Board was reconstituted and expanded in the Land Act 1909.
The Congested Districts Act had been passed in 1891 to deal with special problems concerning uneconomic holdings along the congested West Coast. The Board’s role concerned land but also stimulation of local industry, improvement of transport and other Activities. The 1909 Act confirmed the congested districts to be the whole of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Kerry, and parts of Cork and Clare.
Over 900,000 acres of untenanted land had been acquired by the Board by the eve of independence, either by agreement or compulsorily and had been disposed of to over 46,000 individuals by enlargement of uneconomic holdings or creation of new holdings.
Wyndham’s Land Act
The Land Act 1903 provided that future sales were to be carried out by estates as well as the sale of holdings. The whole estate was to be sold under the supervision of the estate commissioners who were supervised by the Land Commission.
The landlord was to be given monies in cash in place of the stock issue system. The stock had fallen in value and landlords were not incentivised to sell.A payment of 12 percent of the bonus on the purchase price was provided for. The tenant’s annuity was reduced by the 1903 Act to 3.25 percent and landowners and tenants were facilitated in making sales.
Tenants were to agree on the terms of sale with landlords and lodge them with the Commission. If it was satisfied with title and the agreements, the Land Commission could vest the holdings in the various tenants subject to the annuities.
If the tenancies had fair rents under the Land Acts, the annuities were calculated on the basis of reductions of between 20 percent and 40 percent on the events versus 10 percent to 30 percent on the second fix. In other cases, the price agreed was subject to approval by the estate commissioner.
Almost a quarter of a million holdings was sold under the 1903 Act. The Estate Commissioners were given responsibility for implementing the legislation. Within five years, over £80,000,000 pounds of sales had taken place.
1903 Act Operation
The Land Act 1903 established the Estates Commissioners within the Land Commission in order to administer land purchase. Sales under the previous Acts were carried out by holding. A landlord could agree with one or more tenants to sell holdings and if the Land Commissioner, after examination, found the holding was security for the advance asked for by the tenant, the advance could be made irrespective of other sales on the estate.
In order for a landlord to avail of the Act, he was obliged to sell his entire estate or such part of his land considered fit to be regarded as a separate estate. The Commissioners before dividing lands in an estate had to consider the circumstances of the district and the property. Once the estate was declared, all holdings in it were dealt with under the Act.
There were incentives for estate owners to sell their estates. A bonus was paid to owners on completion of the sale to enable them to regain their income when invested in suitable securities.
The tenant was allowed to borrow the monies on easier terms with the annuity being reduced to 3 1/2% — 3 1/4% and the repayment period was increased.
The 1903 Act give powers to Estate Commissioners to improve small and uneconomic holdings of untenanted land for resale to tenants or their sons or to occupiers of holding — small holdings in the neighbourhood. It gave power to Commissioners to purchase untenanted land for the purpose of enlarging holdings and creating new holdings. The Land Commissioner was given the powers of the Congested District Board for this purpose.
The Evicted Tenants Act in 1907 allowed the Estates Commissioners to acquire untenanted land compulsorily for the purpose of providing land for persons who had been evicted from their holding. The Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Act 1907 allowed compulsory acquisition for reinstatement of evicted tenants.
The 1908 Act allowed owners to sell their demesnes and untenanted land. The Commissioners had to repurchase them or so much as the Commissioners approved with advances in the same manner as tenant purchasers.
The Irish Land Act 1909 was found necessary with the benefit of experience under the 1903 Act. The 1909 Act reintroduced payment of 3 percent stock with tenants’ annuities at 3.5 percent with a reduced repayment period of 65 years. A new bonus was introduced for landlords to incentivise.
The 1909 Act provided wider compulsory powers of acquisition. The Estate Commissioners had powers in relation to both congested estates and untenanted land within their jurisdiction. The affected party could appeal to the judicial commissioner with a further appeal on a point of law.
The Land Act 1909 transferred the loss on the flotation of the stock from the ratepayers to the exchequer. Future sales were met by 3 percent stock, with the tenant’s annuity varied to 3.25 percent to 3.5 percent stock to back it. A bonus averaging approximately 10 percent in inverse ratio to the arrears purchased was provided for in lieu of the 12 percent bonus under the previous legislation.
Money required for advances to enable tenants purchase was provided by stock bearing issue rate of 2 3/4%. However, the money could not be raised on these terms except with a large discount averaging over 12%.
The Act provided for the Irish Development Grant which bore any loss on the issue of stock at a discount. The interest on the excess stock that had to be issued (due to discounting) was paid by a fund under the legislation, thereby subsidising tenant farmers to this extent.
After the fund was exhausted, the loss fell on the guarantee fund borne by the ratepayer. As this was not acceptable to the ratepayers, the charge for excess stock to finance all pending purchase agreements was borne by the Treasury instead of the ratepayers. Under future purchases, the vendor should be paid 3% stock and purchaser should pay an annuity of 3 1/2% instead of 4 1/2%.
By the eve of the foundation of the Irish Free State, over 316,000 holdings comprising over 11,000,000 acres had been purchased under the various schemes for .
The Irish Land Provision for Sailors and Soldiers Act 1919 facilitated the provision of land for men who had served in the British Armed Forces during the First World War.
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