What is the Land Commission?
Starting in 1879, long periods of agrarian agitation in rural Ireland (also known as the Land Wars) saw repeated efforts by various native reforming bodies to reduce the concentrations of land in the possession of a very small number of absentee landlords.
In 1870, 50% of the island was said to be owned by fewer than 750 families, which extracted large rents, with paltry reinvestment. At the same time only 3% of Irish farmers owned their own land, with 97% being tenants. This ‘inequitable’ situation led to ongoing civil unrest in the form of rent strikes, boycotts, and sometimes violence between famers and tenants.
In response, the Irish Land Commission (ILC) was founded in 1881 and its primary role was to oversee the dissolution of large land estates and enable tenants to purchase the subdivided holdings. Various land act reforms culminated in the Land Purchase (Ireland) Act 1903, which for the first time gave Irish tenant farmers a ‘…government-sponsored right to buy their freeholds…’. By 1929 the success of this and other land acts was measurable in that over 97% of tenants were now freeholders.
Post-independence in 1923, the ILC continued to acquire and distribute estates in the new state, and principally administered pre-Independence land purchase schemes. On 31 March 1999 the commission was dissolved, and its historic records were transferred to the Department of Agriculture.
Land Commission searches are conducted against these records.
Why might a purchasing solicitor/conveyancer request a Land Commission search when investigating title for a property/right/interest purchase?
In truth, the records of the Irish Land Commission remain an important resource for understanding historical land ownership, and the progression of the transfer of real estate over time. However, compulsory registration and the intervening years has meant that there is less and less recourse for purchasing solicitors/ conveyancers to access these records.
Typically, client search requests in the Land Commission these days are instigated when the purchasing solicitors/ conveyancers have been made (or become) aware of historical issues over boundaries or ownerships. Such searches are usually trying to establish how current folios had evolved over time and may include efforts to effect/ change current registered title.
How and what to search for on the Land Commission search?
Ellis & Ellis conduct searches in both the Records Branch (Estates bought by the ILC) for evidence of ownership, and the Administration Records section, which deals with the historical acquisition and break-up of the large estates, for proof of transfer, etc.
The queries presented to us by clients would (more often than not) be quite complex historical questions of ownership or transfer and would normally involve Ellis & Ellis liaising directly with the Irish Land Commission (ILC) where we would seek formal responses to questions posed on behalf of clients.
What will the Land Commission search result show me?
Ideally, we will have liaised closely with the Irish Land Commission offices and receive a written response setting out the historical record as it appeared, along with comments as to the sequence of events up to the current folio. Sometimes, a search result requirement will merely be a copy of an older version of a folio or folios. The contents of which are then made available to be interpreted by the purchasing solicitor/ conveyancer.
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