Friday, 16 October 1942
Dáil Éireann Debate
That a supplementary sum not exceeding £65,000 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1943, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, and certain services administered by that office, including grants and other expenses in connection with housing, grants to local authorities, sundry miscellaneous grants and grants-in-aid, and certain charges connected with hospitals.
This Supplementary Estimate relates to two matters. The first is the grant towards the supply of fuel for necessitous families, and the second, which is merely a token Estimate, is to enable us to implement the provisions of the Housing Act of 1942, which empowered the Government to continue the grants to be made to private builders. The most important item in the Estimate, of course, is the grant towards the cost of supplying fuel for necessitous families. The House, no doubt, will recall that, in introducing his Budget in May last, the Minister for Finance indicated that it was his intention to provide the sum of £100,000 to assist necessitous families, living in non-turf areas, to procure a supply of fuel during the coming winter.
In furtherance of that, the Government has communicated with the City  and County Managers in the non-turf areas, and a general scheme has been circulated for adoption by them. Under the scheme, it is desired to do two things: first, not merely to supply fuel at specially favourable prices — and in some instances, indeed, to supply it free of any charge at all—but also to ensure that those who come within the terms of the scheme will be assured of getting a definite fuel ration over the winter. It will be recollected that, last year, certain difficulties were alleged to exist in connection with the supply of fuel to poor persons, whereby it was suggested that fuel that had been given to small distributors for sale in the poorer localities had been diverted to the richer localities and sold, more or less, in the black market. One of the aims of the scheme has been to ensure that if that occurred last year, it will not occur again. Therefore, I should like to lay emphasis on the dual purpose here, which is the ensuring of a supply of fuel to certain necessitous households at a reasonable price. The general intention, under the scheme, is that the appropriate local authority — in the case of Dublin City, the Commissioners for the Board of Assistance, and in other districts or areas, the City Managers or County Managers—will open depots—at least one depot, where one will suffice, and in the larger areas a number of depots —where the fuel will be stored, and from which it will be distributed. It is hoped—and I do not see any difficulty in this connection — that the weekly ration will allow at least one cwt. of fuel for each household. The fuel may be either turf or timber. In general, I think it will be turf, but in some areas the proposal is that it should be half turf and half timber. Where it has been customary for the public assistance authority to make a cash allowance for fuel during the winter, it has been suggested that a lump sum should be paid by way of contribution to the scheme and that the turf should be issued free to the recipients of home assistance, but that the recipients of other forms of assistance shall be expected to pay at graduated rates. For instance, for old age pensioners and widow-pensioners, the rate, I think, will be 6d. per cwt., and for heads  of households, in receipt of unemployment assistance, the rate will be 1/- per cwt.
For other households, not in receipt of any form of public assistance, but with a low weekly income, the rate will be 2/- per cwt. It will be seen that these are particularly favourable rates when it is remembered that in the City of Dublin the probable average cost of supplying fuel to the city it is estimated will be in the neighbourhood of £4 per ton, and to that, of course, would have to be added the cost of distribution to the consumer.
Mr. MacEntee: Yes, but the distribution  costs to consumers are not included. As I was saying, the rates suggested are particularly favourable. It will be, however, a condition of the scheme that those who avail themselves of this cheap turf will be expected to take delivery of it at the depôts, and be responsible for bringing it to their own homes. Where, as in the case of old or inform persons, that is not possible, it has been suggested that arrangements should be made between the local authorities or public assistance authorities and the various charitable organisations to provide for the delivery of the turf from the depôt to the homes of these people, but, in general, those who are able-bodied and able to manage for themselves will be expected to take delivery of the turf from the depôts and take it to their own homes. For that purpose, the depôts will be sufficiently numerous to ensure that the distance from which the turf will have to be taken will not be unduly long. So far as Dublin is concerned, the arrangements for initiating the scheme are well advanced, and I anticipate that if this Estimate goes through to-day the scheme should commence to come into operation, perhaps, before the 1st November. It may be necessary in order to secure smooth working of the organisation that the scheme will only come into operation gradually because every care has been taken to try to cut costs to a minimum so that the greatest possible number of people may be able to avail of the scheme.
Mr. MacEntee: We can only carry it on under this Vote to the 31st March. Arrangements will have to be made in regard to each depôt to ensure that the same persons take their ration of turf upon a definite day and take it only from a specific depôt. In that way, as I said, we hope to reduce handling costs and storage charges to an absolute minimum and to ensure, as I have already indicated, that there will be a margin which will enable the greatest number of people to benefit from the scheme.
 It will not be possible at the very outset, I should say again, to extend the scheme to necessitous families who are not in receipt of assistance from public funds in one form or another. We shall have at the beginning in Dublin to confine it to those who are in receipt of home assistance, those in receipt of widows', orphans' and old age pensions and those in receipt of unemployment assistance, but as soon as the scheme is working smoothly in regard to these classes the machinery will be extended, so as to enable other households, where the family income is low, but which do not come within these categories, to get turf at 2/- a cwt. I anticipate, however, that the extension of the scheme to that category of households will not be very long delayed. So far as the rest of the country is concerned, the arrangements, I think, are fairly well advanced, and in Cork, Wexford, Waterford and other large urban centres, we anticipate that the scheme will come into operation also about the Ist November. It is a matter of conjecture how many families exactly will be able to benefit by the scheme in the City of Dublin, for instance, but preliminary calculations suggested that perhaps as many as between 35,000 and 40,000 households, if they desire, can avail themselves of the scheme. That is a very considerable percentage of the number of households in Dublin. How many beneficiaries there would be in the other centres, I am not in a position to say. We have addressed a questionnaire to the responsible authorities there and as soon as we receive the necessary information we will be in a position, if necessary, to give the House some statistics in that regard, but I think it would be reasonable to assume that the figure would bear more or less the same relation to the population of those centres as the figure does to that of Dublin.
General Mulcahy: We are anxious to see these provisions put into operation at the earliest possible moment, and we hope there is nothing too significant in the Minister's suggestion that these proposals are going to be put into force gradually because, as far as the City of Dublin is concerned, I think the last couple of weeks may be taken as an indication that we are running very quickly into the winter and there is very little time to see the exact extent of the problem that has to be covered and to make the necessary arrangements. I hope the Minister will not be too rigid in his regulations confining the scheme to the classes that he mentioned because, without going into the matter, there is, say, the class of men who were on the reserve or who joined the Army for the duration and who, as a result of the rigorous training the Army has gone through, have been discharged from the Army on medical grounds. They find themselves unable to get back the type of employment that they had before joining the Army, because the Army certificate that they are medically unfit makes a number of employers rather unwilling to take them back even though they may be quite fit for the type of work they were used to. These men, who, before they joined the Army, may have enjoyed even a better income than the Army gave them, now find themselves dependent on unemployment insurance alone for a period, and I know a number of cases where they are going from Billy to Jack trying to get some kind of additional assistance to enable them to maintain their families. Apart altogether from this Estimate, I think that that class of person requires a certain type of consideration. They ought not to be excluded from the particular provision that is being made here.
General Mulcahy: The purposes for which fuel is being provided during the winter are analogous to the purposes that would be served by oil, particularly in tenement houses where they have neither electric light nor gas.
General Mulcahy: I just want to leave it at that. Turning to housing, the Minister is asking for a nominal grant to continue the housing progress by private persons and local authorities. When are we going to hear that the Housing Commission has presented its report to the Minister? I forget how long ago the Housing Commission was set up. I never considered it a suitable commission.
General Mulcahy: If it was set up in 1939, it was set up very early in 1939 and a very substantial amount of work had been done before ever the emergency arose. As a matter of fact, the taking of evidence was completed before the emergency arose. I think we ought to see such report as that commission has to make on the conditions that it examined before they consider the position in the future. Has the Minister got the report already?
Mr. Hickey: One thing I take objection to in connection with this Estimate is requiring poor people to have fuel and food dockets, as in that way we are developing a mentality that I consider to be dangerous. These fuel and food dockets are going to be issued to widows, old age pensioners and necessitous families, and I ask myself why I should have any more privileges than they, and be able to buy the things I want, while other sections, through no fault of their own, are pressed down with poverty. I do not know of anything so likely to cause social unrest than the method of issuing fuel and food tickets which has been introduced in this House during the past few years. I am at a loss to understand why the Government should come along with schemes of this kind while, on the other hand, necessitous people are prevented from receiving any allowance from relations who have gone to work in England. Old age pensioners are to get one cwt. of fuel for which they must pay 6d., but the pension of these old people is cut off because their sons or friends working across the water send them some financial assistance. For some months past some of these old people have been deprived of the pension that they were receiving because their children in America or in England help them.
Mr. Hickey: When this Estimate is passed it will be law also. I am not objecting to this kind of law being introduced, but it creates a feeling amongst one class of people that they are a class apart. I have in mind cases of old age pensioners who have been deprived of pensions for the reason I mentioned. I told the Minister for Industry and Commerce about them yesterday. In one case a man with seven dependent children, aged from 17 to five years, was getting 29/6 relief  from the local authority, but that has been cut off because the eldest son, who is in England, sent home £3 every four weeks.
Mr. Hickey: I submit that legislation of that kind is going to create social unrest and dissatisfaction amongst sections of the community. A widow's pension of 7/6 was reduced to 5/6, because she gets 7/- disablement benefit from the National Health Society. What sense is there in deciding that she should get food tickets when 2/6 is taken off her pension because she gets disablement benefit? I could mention many cases of that kind. I submit that we could not indulge in a more dangerous type of legislation than to develop this practice of issuing tickets and making those who get them feel that they are a class apart. It is time to get down to fundamentals and to ask if people who are compelled to remain unemployed, or if decent working people when they reach 70 years are not entitled to an income as well as other sections of the community. I am telling the Minister that the feeling amongst these people is that these schemes are a form of pauperism.
Mr. Hickey: I want to know if there is anything more likely to make for social unrest than the issue of these tickets, when those who get them have on cold days to wait their turn for supplies. Deputies can see what will develop. We are concerned now with people who have no means of buying fuel, and no means of buying sufficient food. On the other hand, we say by the newspapers in recent weeks, even in the Irish Press, that there was a display in a drapery establishment, and that fur coats value for £650, and others for £190, were on show. While some people were able to pay up to £600 for fur and seal coats, we have legislation here to provide other members of the community with tickets for fuel and food. I am opposed to that. I say that it is  time in a country like this to get down to fundamentals and to see to it that we do not differentiate between one section and another. We have been told that some people are to be charged 1/-, and others 2/- for the supplies indicated on the tickets. I wish to know what class of turf is going to be deposited in some of these depots. I am anxious to be helpful, but I say to the Minister that if any people are deserving of getting the right type of turf it is the poor people. There is other turf available in different areas since last year which would not be suitable for poor people who have not wood to make it burn. If that type of turf was issued to these people I foresee trouble.
We have been told that the turf would have to be removed from the depôts to their homes by the holders of tickets. I saw strangers taking photographs of poor people and children removing coal in old perambulators and home-made box cars last year. Are we to have a repetition of that during the coming year? I suggest that the Minister should be careful to see that we are not going to create turmoil and unrest by this proposal. We have been accused of objecting to the issue of fuel vouchers. We are anxious to see that the people are fed, but, personally, I object to any one section being marked out as the only section entitled to get fuel and food with tickets. There is no reason why old age pensioners, widows, and others who are the victims of circumstances, and who have given years of useful service to the community, should have to produce tickets to get one cwt. of turf from a depôt. I am not at all pleased at the manner in which this problem is being tackled. I had other hopes in years gone by, but I have been disillusioned by the means that are adopted to help the poor. I consider that a widow who has reared a family, and who is in receipt of a pension of 7/6 or the old age pension should not be penalised because a son or a daughter who is earning in England sends home financial assistance. I say it is unfair and unchristian. If a member of a family goes to another country, earns some  money there and sends home a little of it to his father or his mother, there is surely no justice in taking that into account so as to prevent the parents from getting some public assistance. There is no other country in the world, I believe, except this one, that would stand for that kind of thing. If the Minister really wants to help the poor and to maintain peace and stability in the country, then I suggest to him that, instead of trying to help this particular section of the people by food and fuel dockets, he should provide them with a weekly income.
Mr. Doyle: I am inclined to go a good deal of the road with Deputy Hickey when he suggests that some change is needed in the dole and voucher scheme. I think every Deputy would be glad to see some change brought about. As the Deputy has said, many of our people, through no fault of their own, have been reduced to the condition of paupers, due to the fact that they have to accept this kind of help. We must, however, take into consideration that we are living in abnormal times. Therefore, any scheme that will meet the needs of the poor, in present circumstances, should be appreciated. For that reason I suggest there should be no delay in putting the scheme which the Minister has outlined into operation. As Deputy Mulcahy has suggested, the Minister should apply it immediately to necessitous people and families not in receipt of help of any kind from public sources. From my experience of the last six or seven months— I can only speak, of course, for the City of Dublin—I can say there is an urgent need to give help to that class. Many of them are very poor to-day. In normal times they never wanted a penny from anybody. They have no opportunity of getting fuel.
There is, as we know, an agitation going on in connection with school meals. I believe it to be justified. At the moment I am thinking of children returning from schools to homes in which there are no means whatever of cooking a meal. The Minister should bear in mind the conditions under which such families are living. They are not able to get a voucher for fuel.  Even if they had the money, they cannot get the fuel unless through some source such as the Minister has in mind. There is another class that needs immediate help under this scheme, the men who are being discharged from the Army and referred to by Deputy Mulcahy. Deputies representing the City of Dublin are plagued day after day with numerous cases of that kind. I appeal to the Minister not to delay in issuing those vouchers even though it has been suggested they ought not to be availed of until the winter. The weather may be mild now, but that does not make a whole lot of difference to the people I have in mind since, even in the summer time, they have no means of cooking a meal in their homes.
If the Minister were to send an inspector to some of the thickly-populated areas in the city, such as Keogh Square, Francis Street and other areas where you have people living in tenements, he could see for himself the conditions under which many large families are living. Most of them have no means whatever of cooking a meal —not even gas. In conclusion, I would ask the Minister to provide immediately for the needs of people in poor circumstances who have no means of cooking a meal, and who are not old age pensioners or in receipt of assistance of any kind from public sources.
Mr. Belton: That is a very strange revelation since the controlled price of good fuel is £3 per ton delivered. How does the Minister reconcile the  controlled price with what he now finds to be the average cost of this fuel undelivered?
Mr. Belton: If the fuel were there, there are a lot of people who would have endeavoured to purchase it, and in that way helped to lighten the burden on somebody else's back in providing cheap fuel. Somebody will have to pay for this. If the local authorities are to distribute this fuel, I presume they will have to buy it somewhere. Where will they buy it? In the matter of price, a headline now has been set for them. I am not going to deal with the Government's extravagance in the matter of fuel production. This is only part of the plan to let out Fuel Importers, Limited, as they were let out in the case of the turf. The Government are asking for £100,000.  Will that cover the cost of the whole scheme, or will any of the cost fall on the local authorities? I do not think that was mentioned.
Mr. Belton: So that this turf or wood fuel will cost the local authority £4 per ton. I challenge the Minister to contradict this statement: that if he had planned and looked ahead, and asked for the delivery of all the turf and all the wood fuel that we required, it would have been delivered into any dump in Dublin — and I am sure the same is true of Cork—at £3 a ton. Now, through the Government's muddling, inefficiency and incompetence it is going to cost £4 a ton.
Mr. Belton: We are being asked to vote a sum of £100,000 for this purpose, while in connection with it the local authorities will have to provide an unspecified sum. I submit, subject to the ruling of the Chair, that when the Minister comes here to ask for authority to spend this money, we are entitled to ask him what he was doing when the producing season was here. Everybody saw this coming.
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy knows full well that this Minister has no responsibility for the matter raised by the Deputy. That being so, and there having been numerous lengthy debates on fuel production, the Deputy must come down to the Vote before the Committee and leave the production and price of fuel for some suitable occasion.
Mr. Belton: This is the Minister who is asking for this £100,000. My point is that, if he had shown foresight, he would not require such an amount to do the same work. I am arguing about the cost, part of which is due to the incompetence of the Minister.
Mr. Belton: He has some idea of the amount of fuel that is required; he must have that in order to arrive at this figure of £100,000. If he had got that estimate in time, and asked for tenders for the supplying of that fuel —there are various dumps in the urban and municipal areas — I hold that he would have got it at £3 a ton delivered. Now, as he said himself, he is basing this estimate on a cost, undelivered to the customer — what might be termed the wholesale cost to the Government or to the local authority —of £4 a ton, so that the ratepayer will have to pay a quarter of the total cost owing to the incompetence of the Minister.
Mr. Belton: I would ask the Minister how he arrived at his costs? I am not concerned with the fuel that is in any other dump under the jurisdiction of any other Minister. Once the matter gets the imprimatur of this House, the local authority must carry out the job. The Dublin Corporation set about this over a year ago. They got a certain distance and could not get any further.
Mr. Belton: I do. The Minister's Department intervened and said: “Do not buy outside. There is timber in a dump at Inchicore belonging to the Forestry Division, and that will be sold to you.” We asked what their price would be, and the price quoted to us was £3 a ton. It would cost 14/- to take it from there to the sawmills, then it would have to be cut up and brought back again. It would cost us about £4 a ton. It was a by-product of the Forestry Division that they wanted to palm off on us.
Mr. Belton: We will take it for granted. How will the ordinary organisation of coal merchants and bellmen, and so on, fit in with this scheme? Will the fuel vouchers be used as money tokens to get bags of turf or bags of logs from the bellmen or the local merchants? If so, what will be the value of those vouchers in purchasing power? Are they to purchase fuel at the controlled price or at the cost price as disclosed here by the Minister? I should like if the Minister would tell us what are his plans for distribution. With regard to a point raised by Deputy Hickey, I do not think that the maximum emergency has come yet, so I think we should tell those people who come with their barrows and “prams” and everything else to cart home their fuel——
Mr. Belton: I do not think that stage has arrived yet; having gone so far,  I think the extra costs of distribution would be very little. For the time being anyway, I think the machinery of the coal and fuel organisation that is here should be availed of, and that the recipients of those vouchers should be able to buy their fuel from the merchants. If many members of the community have to go and fetch their own coal, many people will be thrown out of employment. Nobody can do a job, no matter how simple it looks, as well as the man who has given years to it, and I would suggest to the Minister that, in the distribution of this fuel, the machinery which already exists in the towns and cities should be availed of, so that in curing one social evil we will not create another.
Mr. McCann: I am sure we all welcome this Supplementary Estimate. While I am at one with Deputy Hickey on a great number of points that he has raised, I suggest that that is work to be done by the Minister for Local Government in formulating a comprehensive social security code on another day. The Estimate before us, however, deals with a particular problem. I also dislike the stigma of the voucher, but we must take conditions as we find them. I welcome particularly the aid that will be given to necessitous families. In that connection, I should like to ask the Minister whether he has any idea of the income limit that will be fixed in relation to those families. I have one suggestion to make in relation to the type of fuel to be distributed. I am wondering if there remain at the dumps any of the peat briquettes. I understood they were being stored specially as against an emergency. It is very difficult to kindle a fire in tenement grates but the peat briquette was an excellent fuel. I understand there is a considerable quantity of that fuel still available and if the Minister could release these briquettes for the cities, they would be very welcome. I support  Deputy Hickey's suggestion to the Minister that in assessing incomes— the means test at the moment is, I think, being too rigidly applied — a little laxity should be allowed in that respect.
Mr. Hurley: I am very glad that Deputy McCann has struck that note, because the means test is being applied to people with the lowest standard of living — old age pensioners, widows and orphans and people in receipt of unemployment assistance and home assistance. Their standard of living, low as it is, has been very adversely affected by the means test. The means test has been most rigidly enforced in recent times, and has brought about the position that many of those families are living below the starvation level. Anybody who is in touch with the people, as most Deputies are, knows that very well.
This scheme has been debated from the Dublin point of view, but I want to put a Cork complexion on it now. The Minister has not told us what the cost of the turf in Cork will be. We have turf in Cork stored down in the park. If that is going to be distributed, I do not think it will be of very much use for fuel purposes, especially for the poor people who have no means of getting it kindled. I want to know what will be the approximate cost of this fuel in Cork?
Mr. Hurley: The Minister does not know how many families are going to be relieved in Cork, and he has told us already that he does not know how many families are going to be relieved in Dublin. He strikes this figure of £100,000, which he thinks will go some part of the way to meet the cost of the scheme. I want to remind the Minister of a few facts in regard to the quality of the turf. There is no use in dumping fuel into people's homes if they cannot burn it, and I should like to draw his attention to the fact that turf has been lying in Cork Park for 12 months which is not capable of being burned by anybody, no matter what facilities they have.
 Has the Minister taken into consideration the fact that there is a large number of families living outside the actual borough boundary? These people have been shifted from the city to corporation housing areas. There would be about 600 or 700 in Spangle Hill. There are also a good many people of this type living in Gurranabraher, where the road is actually the boundary between the city and the county. That road runs right through the housing scheme. You will have people within the borough boundary entitled to assistance under this scheme while their neighbours across the way, who will be equally necessitous, will have no provision made for them.
Then there are places like Douglas and Blackrock to be considered. There is also a place known as Horgan's Buildings, which is outside the boundary. You are going to have people living on opposite sides of a road treated differently, though it cannot be argued that their circumstances are different. I would ask the Minister, when he is replying, to tell us definitely whether all these people will be entitled to the benefits of the scheme, and to give us an assurance that it is not a question of the strict location of their homes according to boundaries, but that it depends on the circumstances of the people to be relieved.
I should like to know if the Minister has any intention of extending the scheme to towns and villages throughout the country. I have in mind portion of my constituency, east of the City of Cork, which is a non-turf area. There are villages, and some towns too, in that area in which it will be as difficult to procure fuel as in any city or urban district. Last year the parish council in one particular area, with the assistance of the parish priest, got a number of trees at a nominal price of 1/- each from the Land Commission on an estate on which there were trees for sale. I think the Minister should not treat this matter on the basis of an isolated scheme but should look into the position of the country as a whole and see what provision can be made, either through parish councils or some other organisation, to ensure that  nobody will be without fuel for the coming winter. I think that that is the function of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health.
Mr. Hurley: Public health connotes good housing, good fuel, good food and all the things that go with it. Without fuel you cannot have food cooked properly. No matter how the Minister may try to shirk responsibility, I say definitely that it is his responsibility to see to it that people, not alone in the cities and large towns, but in villages and small towns, must get consideration under this scheme. Under the food voucher scheme, the rural areas were denied any assistance. Now the proposal is to cut them out again under this scheme but I say that in villages and small towns many people are as much in need of assistance as the people in the big towns and cities. I am rather surprised at the cost of the fuel and certainly the cost of the fuel will have a big bearing on the amount of fuel that will be distributed under this scheme.
I think that the Minister, the Government or whoever is responsible, should see that the fuel is produced at the lowest possible figure and that the authorities will not tolerate any exploitation of the unfortunate people who are to receive this assistance by other people who will receive the profits of the scheme. I would like to ask the Minister to give us an indication as to whether he is going to make any provision for the people I have mentioned, who are living outside the congested portions of the city, from which they have been removed on account of bad housing. The Minister has the administration of parish councils in his care, and surely he could get them to make provision for people in those villages and towns where the scheme will not apply, so that they will be provided for under some scheme.
Mr. Hughes: While I agree there may be some stigma attaching to the voucher system, I do not think Deputy Hickey was quite fair in his criticism.  We are passing through very abnormal times, and any social scheme of this sort to help to relieve the poor should be welcome. Before Deputy Hickey was finished, I think he tried to make out the scheme as being anything but welcome.
Mr. Hughes: We can carry that a bit too far. Deputy Hickey went on to say that he objected even to the collection of fuel at depôts. How many decent, hardworking people have to go to depôts, as they are earning barely a living wage? They have to go to depôts.
Mr. Hughes: When there is only a certain amount of money allocated in this direction, the number of people benefiting must be reduced if the cost of distribution has to be added. There are 35,000 or 40,000 families concerned, and the cost of distribution would be considerable if applied all over. Certainly, it would reduce the amount of fuel available within a given sum of money. I think families will be very glad to collect fuel at a nominal figure.
Mr. Hughes: Does the Minister not feel that there are poor people in the turf areas who are hit by the emergency and who have their employment taken from them? There may be families who have to live without any assistance from the State or any other source. They were capable of earning their livelihood, and now, through no fault of their own, they are stricken at the present time and have to rely on charity in one form or another. The turf area is just the same as the non-turf area. I happen to represent a turf area. In towns like Naas, Carlow and Newbridge there are people as poor as in the non-turf districts. I do not see why the Minister differentiates between them. The fact that a man happens to be living in a turf area and has no money in his pocket does not get him fuel. I would ask the Minister to reconsider the matter, and not to differentiate between one district and another. This is a social scheme, to  help the necessitous poor at the present time, to help those people unable to procure fuel, and I think it should apply all over the country.
Dr. Hannigan: I am sure the Minister is aware that the Dublin Board of Assistance makes a monetary grant of about 2/6 to recipients of home assistance. Will it be possible for the Minister to ensure that that grant will not be withdrawn? If it is withdrawn, it would be equivalent to a levy of 2/6 on the worst-off section of the community. I see difficulties in the way and am sorry I had not an opportunity of saying a word or two. However, I am glad to take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on introducing the scheme.
Mr. M. Morrissey: I am particularly  interested in the Dungarvan area, which was a non-turf area up to two or three weeks ago. At that time, the cost of turf was 40/- a ton. The area has been declared a turf area now and the cost of turf is £3 a ton.
Mr. M. Morrissey: Yes, within the last three weeks. In the town there are about 250 families on home assistance. These people will feel it very hard if they do not get some relief under the scheme. In Waterford City, which has ten times the population, there are 300 families on home assistance and these people will not come under the scheme. It is the only urban area and it is very hard on them to pay extra for fuel and not benefit by the scheme. As well as that, the county ratepayers will be contributing four-fifths of the cost of the scheme operating in Waterford City and the city people will not benefit by it.
Mr. A. Byrne: May I ask the Minister if he will assure the House that the turf to be distributed from these depôts will be of good quality and that all the good stuff will not be kept for the big traders? Secondly, will he consider extending the scheme throughout all the year, as turf is just as necessary in June and July as in other months.
Mr. MacEntee: I would like to make my position clear. I have got £100,000 to apply as best I can to a specific purpose and a specific area. As the Minister for Finance announced in the course of his Budget speech in May last, £100,000 is to be devoted to helping necessitous families in non-turf areas to procure a supply of fuel during the winter. That is the purpose. Whether a case could be made for extending a scheme of this sort to turf areas or not, I cannot at this moment argue. I will say this, that one of the justifications for this scheme, apart altogether from the financial justification arising out of the price of turf in non-turf areas, is the physical difficulty of getting fuel into urban centres such as Dublin, Cork and Waterford, which are in the non-turf areas. We may  assume that in a turf area it is, by comparison with these areas, easy to get fuel, whether timber or turf. To the extent to which people's means will not permit them to get turf in a turf area, we think there is a responsibility on the local communities there. We believe that the existing charitable organisations and parish councils can do in Carlow, as in Limerick and elsewhere; they can organise a supply of turf which can be disposed of at a reasonable price to those whose means do not permit them to pay the ordinary market price. That is the general argument against the suggestion which Deputy Hughes has advanced.
Let me go back to the scheme as it stands. We have got a limited amount of money to allocate. We are not— and I should like this to be quite clear —responsible for formulating schemes for particular areas; we are not responsible for formulating a scheme for Dublin, Cork or Waterford. It is true that in the case of Dublin my Department did co-operate with the board of assistance in working out a scheme, and in that connection we were assisted by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance. We have had his assistance and co-operation and I am glad to acknowledge it, because it has enabled us to get a very satisfactory scheme worked out for Dublin. But we are not primarily responsible. The responsibility for devising these schemes rests upon the local authority from beginning to end. We have, however, local authorities acting through their managers.
Mr. MacEntee: The circumstances in each area are different and we have to consider each proposal on its merits, bearing in mind the difficulties of securing fuel in one district as compared with another. It is more difficult to provide fuel in the City of  Dublin than in the City of Waterford and it is, perhaps, more difficult to provide fuel in the City of Waterford than it is in the City of Limerick. Therefore, in considering what grants will be made, every proposal which will come to us will be considered on its merits in relation to the difficulties which we know and which the Parliamentary Secretary, the Turf Controller, knows to exist in securing an adequate supply of fuel for the particular district to which the scheme relates. It is true that we have done here in Dublin a great deal of spade work. We have worked out a scheme which we would hope can be adopted in relation to local circumstances by most of the local authorities who are going to be responsible for working out these schemes to suit their own districts.
Mr. MacEntee: I was good enough to give the Deputy a portion of my time. Quite obviously he wants to keep on interrupting me so that I will not be able to answer the points that have been dealt with. Deputy Byrne and others have asked about the quality of the turf. We have no responsibility for the quality of the turf. That responsibility will rest upon those who are operating the schemes and, therefore, the responsibility will be a local one. Quite clearly the Government could not be responsible for the quality of the turf to be supplied throughout the length and breadth of the country. We have emphasised to the local authorities the need to ensure that the fuel will be of good quality and I am satisfied that, so far as Dublin is concerned, it will be of good quality and I do not anticipate any objection can be taken to the scheme on that score. That is the general outline of the scheme.
I should like now to get back to the  extraordinary speech made by Deputy Hickey. Deputy Hickey talked about the old age pensioners whose pensions were cut down if they were getting contributions from their sons and daughters. I think the Deputy must be completely unaware of the provisions of the Old Age Pensions Act. So far as the Act is concerned, if an old age pensioner gets a benefit or privilege not of statutory right, it is not taken into consideration in computing his means. In fact, the Act of 1932, which my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy Ward, was responsible for piloting through the House, provides that benefits or privileges will not be taken into consideration in computing the means of old age pensioners. Let me come to another aspect.
Deputy Hickey, as usual, tried to embitter this debate by raising class prejudice and making it a class question. He talked about vouchers and asked why did we require people taking advantage of this scheme to get vouchers. We do so in order that there may be a certificate to the effect that they really do require help from the community. He asked why we do not put them on the same plane as the people who are able to buy fur coats at £150. Does he want the community to provide fuel for people who are able to buy fur coats at £150? Is that the co-equality that the Deputy wants?
Mr. MacEntee: The fact is that we have limited resources at our disposal and we have to ask people to adduce some proof, when they go to depôts to get fuel, that they are entitled to get the fuel there largely at the expense of the rest of the community. Let me come to another point that was raised by Deputy Hickey. It was mentioned that where persons in receipt of unemployment assistance got contributions from their sons and daughters, their unemployment assistance was reduced. What sort of community does Deputy Hickey want to have existing in this country? First of all, he wants the community to maintain the parents and relieve the children of any responsibility for their parents.
Mr. MacEntee: If children can afford to contribute to the support of their parents, they are bound to do so and not leave them a burden on the community. Deputy Hickey never debates a question here without introducing this element of class warfare and class prejudice.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: This discussion has proceeded on fairly reasonable lines. Everybody got an opportunity of expressing his views. The Minister has a limited time at his disposal and he ought to be permitted to talk without being interrupted.
Mr. Hickey: I stand over everything I have said here. I say, with deliberation, that there is not a pagan country in the world that would have the type of legislation we have here in regard to family life.
Mr. MacEntee: This canker of communal responsibility with which  Deputy Hickey is always endeavouring to infect into debates here, can only have the effect of rotting family life in this country.
|Last Updated: 18/05/2011 23:41:05||Page of 6|