Wednesday, 12 June 1946
Dáil Éireann Debate
That a sum not exceeding £1,338,860 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1947, 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 Estimate, for a total amount of £2,006,860 under the title Local Government and Public Health, covers the expenses of the central Department and in addition numerous grants which will become payable to local authorities and other bodies in respect of certain services administered by them. It does not, however, cover the expenses of the sub-divisions of the Department concerned with health insurance and the registration of births, deaths and marriages or the sums required for the maintenance of patients in Dundrum Asylum, each of which has a separate Estimate. From the volume of Estimates, in the hands of Deputies, it will be seen that there is an increase of £108,411 in this year's Estimate as compared with the preceding year.
This increase is mainly due to increased grants for public social services. Taking the increase under the various sub-heads it will be seen that the largest, £48,000 is for the treatment of tuberculosis. The amount provided for this service in the Estimates for 1932-33 was £114,750. Last year for the same service we provided £217,750, or almost twice as much as in 1932-33, and this year, as I have indicated, we are asking for £265,750. The figures I submit to the House speak for themselves.
In order to obviate any misunder  standing and, perhaps, confusion in the debate which I know will follow the introduction of this Estimate, I should remind the House that when the Estimates for 1932-33 were submitted to Dáil Éireann by the Minister for Finance, the Estimate for the Department of Local Government and Public Health was prepared by the then Minister in charge of that Department, the present Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Mulcahy. Whenever, therefore, I refer to the 1932-33 Estimates, the figures I give may be taken as a measure of the concern which the present Opposition had for the social welfare of the people when it was in power.
The next increase in the Estimate is in respect of housing grants. In 1932-33 which, I submit, was a fair criterion by which to appreciate the services which we are now offering to the people, the then Minister for Local Government, the present Leader of the Opposition, asked for £1,523 for grants to local authorities under the Housing (Ireland) Act, 1919, and for £10,000 under the Housing Acts, 1925-30, as amended by the Housing Act of 1931. The total contribution, therefore, which the Government of that day were prepared to make towards the housing of the people was £11,500. In that connection I think I could not do better than to put before the House an extract from the debate which took place on the Estimate for the Department of Local Government on the 29th April, 1931. Deputy Tadhg Murphy was then speaking and, in the course of his speech, said:
He was interrupted by the then Minister, Deputy Mulcahy, who said “385 were provided”. The ring of triumph in Deputy Mulcahy's voice, as he announced the figure, still resounds in the heavy volume that contains the report of that debate. The number, 385 houses for over 140,000 labourers, built in seven years after the passing of the 1924 Housing Act is, I think, an  achievement of which the present Opposition might be proud. The birds of the air have their nests, the beasts of the earth have their lairs, and in Deputy Mulcahy's day Irish rural workers had a share in 385 cottages. I suggest that Deputies on all sides of the House should bear that figure in mind, when we are told that our people have to bear costs of government to the extent presented in the Budget, or when Deputy Hughes says, as no doubt he will say, in the discussion of this Estimate: “We are spending money lavishly, slinging it down the drain very often,” or when Deputy Morrissey expresses this view: “We have piled up taxation and rates to an extent that is having a paralysing effect on the cost of living, and the vast increase of taxation and rates is, perhaps, the biggest contributing factor to the great increase in the cost of living.”
When these things are repeated in this debate, I ask Deputies to keep in mind the figure given by Deputy Mulcahy, as a result of his seven years' effort to try to house the workers in rural areas—385 cottages. I also ask them to keep in mind the £11,500 which figures in the Estimate for 1932-33, as the amount which the Government of that day proposed to provide for the housing of our people. This figure of £11,500, which I might describe as Fine Gael's ironic gesture to the homeless poor, must be kept in mind when we come to discuss the amount I am asking the Dáil to provide this year for housing purposes.
Mr. MacEntee: This is my justification for the figures I am presenting to the House. I submit that I am entitled to make the best case I have for the Estimate now before the House. I shall be told that I am asking the House to vote £2,000,000 of public money in order to provide for the services of my Department, and I submit in fairness that I must be allowed to make my own case in my own way.
Mr. MacEntee: I submit that the House cannot come to a fair decision upon what we are doing unless we have some criterion and some standard by which to judge our actions. I am setting up a standard to which the Opposition so often appealed when we were in opposition.
Mr. MacEntee: The position in which the Labour Party is, is one of glorious inactivity. It has never been able to do anything for the people. I was dealing with the provision I am going to ask the House to make for the housing of the people. Last year the Dáil voted £611,670 for this service. This year I am asking for £657,690, of which approximately £612,000 will go to local authorities and £45,000 to private persons and public utility societies. The £658,000 is a very large sum. It is, in fact, something more than 57 times the £11,500 which would have met Deputy Mulcahy's requirements in 1932-33. But then we do not expect either local authorities or private persons to work the miracle of building houses without money. This is not all we propose to do this year to help to house the people. In his Budget statement the Minister for Finance informed the House that he proposed to set up a transitional development fund for the purpose of enabling local authorities to carry out at once, even in this period of abnormal costs, works of social and economic importance, under conditions which would not impose undue burdens upon the ratepayers or other interests immediately concerned. Out of this fund generous assistance will be given to local authorities to encourage them to proceed with their housing plans as expeditiously as the supply of materials will permit.
On the basis of the supplies likely to become available for the current 12 months, it is estimated that the supplementary and extraordinary grants,  which will be paid to local authorities in respect of building schemes initiated in this financial year, will amount to about £340,000. With the sum of £657,890 to which I have already referred, and which is to be provided in the ordinary course under sub-heads R and S for grants under the Housing Acts, this will make £1,000,000 available by way of grants to accelerate and assist the fulfilment of the Fianna Fáil housing programme. But the House will remember that, speaking last year on the Estimate, I undertook that local authorities who proceeded immediately with the execution of their housing plans would receive additional financial assistance as soon as conditions permitted us to determine in a reasonable way what supplement should be added to the existing statutory grants to meet the abnormal conditions now prevailing. In fulfilment of this undertaking, it is proposed to make, also out of the transition development fund, supplementary grants to local authorities in respect of houses built by them since 1st April, 1945. These retrospective grants will be made on the same terms as will apply to houses now being built by local authorities, or, as I have said, which will be begun by them during the current financial year. It is anticipated that the amount to be provided under this head will be about £120,000. All told, therefore, £1,120,000 for housing will be given this year by the Government to provide homes for the people.
I have no doubt that the money which is to be expended will yield a rich return to the nation in happy homes and happy families, in children free from disease and reared in decent, Christian surroundings. But I have also no doubt—and I should like to answer in advance the criticisms which I know will be forthcoming—that, in proposing to spend so much money for such a purpose, I shall be bitterly criticised by Deputies who, when their Party had responsibility for this problem, rated their obligations to the houseless poor at £11,500 a year. I know that I shall be told again by Deputy O'Higgins that “costs are beating the head of every family and breaking up our homes.”
 On the other hand, I know that Deputy O'Higgins, the county medical officer of health, will impress on his council the need to tackle the housing problem in his area in order to prevent the breeding of diseases and death. I prefer in this matter to disregard the harangues of Deputy O'Higgins, in his role of politician, and to listen instead to the wise counsel of the zealous, energetic and efficient public official.
I turn now to a group of social welfare grants under sub-heads J (1) to L (2), numbering nine in all, and covering such services as child welfare, milk grants, fuel grants, children's footwear, medical treatment for schoolchildren, etc. In 1932-33 the corresponding group of sub-heads was only four, and the amount provided for the services covered by it was £64,780. This year, I am asking for £793,000 for needs which were more exigent in the black days of the 1931-32 depression than they are to-day, but which a Government, shutting its eyes to the plight of the people, failed in those days to provide for. As Deputies will see from the Volume of Estimates, the expenditure of this year on the several groups of services to which I have referred, videlicet, for the treatment of tuberculosis, for housing, for social welfare is expected to reach about £1,716,440. It is a very large sum indeed—how large we can realise when we set it against the figure for 1932-33 of £191,036. The difference is over £1,500,000—£1,525,404 to be exact. Who should wear sackcloth and ashes for that fact? I suggest it should be the callous administration which, 15 years ago, refused to provide for the needs of the people.
Mr. MacEntee: I am not going back. It is very uncomfortable for Opposition Deputies, who have had their run during the discussion of the Budget and who have continually misrepresented  us and told us that we are driving the people out of the country, to know that there is one datum line to which all these things can be related, that is, what they did when they were in power. This Estimate is open to criticism and I submit to you, Sir, that I am entitled to answer those criticisms in advance. No attempt on the part of Deputy McMenamin or any other Deputy to stifle my arguments should be permitted.
An Ceann Comhairle: There is no such attempt on the part of Deputy McMenamin. It is the Chair which is pointing out—when the Minister sits down—that if there is to be contrast of every figure back for 15 years and if that were to be done on every Estimate, debate would be interminable. The matter for discussion is the Estimate for one year, the expenses of one year, and not a contrast with what any other Government did.
Mr. MacEntee: Will you allow me to proceed, Sir? I asked the question; “Who should wear sackcloth and ashes for that fact?” That is a question which apparently loosens floods of remorse in members of the Opposition. I am not going to answer it again as precisely as I have already answered it, but I am going to say this: It should certainly not be this Government that is striving, to the best of its ability and with full regard to the resources of the community, to ensure that no one among us, weak or sick or poor, shall go uncared for or untended, or be houseless or hungry.  When, therefore, the Fine Gael Opposition beg us, as Deputy Hughes did less than a month ago—and I quote his exact words—to “reverse engines so far as this policy is concerned”— the policy for which I am asking this money and the policy which, since I am asking the Dáil to vote money, I am to explain to the House—I say “no.”
I say no, because to go back to Deputy Mulcahy's policy in regard to housing, tuberculosis, or social welfare would be to deliberately breed revolution. The plain fact is that when the Opposition were in power, and they will criticise this Estimate now, we might have had less taxation but we had also more starvation. They saved the pounds and the pennies; but they did not save the children's lives, nor provide for the aged and the destitute.
Mr. MacEntee: Our policy differs radically from theirs in that regard, and we have no apology to make for that fact. Naturally, a progressive social policy like ours involves an increase in departmental staff. I make the Opposition a present of the fact, in presenting this Estimate, that the Estimate for my Department for this year provides for a staff of 482 as against 255 in 1932-33. The figures merely reflect the difference between the conditions which obtain when the direction of a Department is semi-moribund and when it is vigorous, zealous and progressive.
If the Minister in charge of a Department is content to let things drift, so that he may enjoy an intellectual siesta between one general election and another, he can economise in staff. But if he wants to get things done and if, in contrast to his predecessor, he has a progressive mind and forward policy to carry out, he must make good all the penny-wise and pound-foolish economies which he inherited from an effete régime; and he must enlist a sufficient and competent staff to give effect to his programme. He knows that when he does  that he will be subjected to much ill-informed criticism and gross misrepresentation; and that he will be required to listen patiently to reiterated clichés about the growth of bureaucracy and swollen taxation. But if he can point, as we can, to good work well done, he can disregard all this, and do his duty, because the people will evaluate such shallow diatribes at their true worth. Deputies have only to compare the manner in which the Estimates for 1932-33 were presented with the way we put them forward to-day, to appreciate the truth of what I have said. So far as the Volume of Estimates for 1932 goes, it would not be unfair to say that it does not indicate whether even the rudiments of a conscious organisation existed in the Department. All sorts of staff and all sorts of officers were jumbled together, higgledy-piggledy, like prize packets in a bran tub.
Mr. Hughes: On a point of order, are we to have a review of the activities of the Minister's Department for the last 12 months or are we to have a review of the activities of his Department for the last 14 years?
Mr. MacEntee: Let any Deputy go to the volume of Estimates for 1932-33 and study what he will see there. For instance, he will find that no attempt was made to set out anything in an orderly way. Certainly no one could say by studying those Estimates whether or not there was a housing section in the Department for that year.
Mr. MacEntee: It is of some importance because I shall here have to deal with the sections which have been set up in my Department and which have come into existence since 1932-33; and it will be pointed out to me that, whereas in 1932-33 we had something like 255 officers in the Department of Local Government and Public Health, to-day we have 482. I shall have to listen to Deputy Hughes and Deputy McMenamin and Deputy Giles talking about the growth of bureaucracy and the burden of taxation——
Mr. MacEntee: I think, as a very experienced hand, I should be foolish not to anticipate trouble. We have a housing section in my Department and I challenge anyone to find any reference to a housing section of any kind in the Estimates for 1932-33. Perhaps a Minister who had only £11,500 to spend was not permitted to have a housing section. Perhaps, if he had a separate entry in relation to a housing section, it would be patently clear from the meagre staff he had under that head that he intended to do very little to house the people. But I, however, want to have a housing section in my Department and I want the Dáil to vote me a considerable sum of money in order that I may have a housing section to do the work which I intend to do. I want a housing section.
Not only have I persuaded the Government, through the Minister for  Finance, to provide £657,000 in the Estimates for housing, but, as I have already told the House, I shall obtain from the transitional development fund such additional assistance for the local authorities as will leave them with no financial excuse for deferring the execution of urgent housing programmes. Naturally, with this programme before me I need a housing section and an extensive one. Deputy Mulcahy might have been able to do without one when he was in power; and, no doubt if he were in power to-day, he would still be able to do without one. But the Minister for Local Government in a Fianna Fáil Administration cannot put himself in that position. He has work to do, and the Government of which he is a member——
Mr. MacEntee: And the Government of which he is a member has pledged itself to do everything humanly possible to provide houses for the people, and he must try to fulfil that pledge. In the Estimates, therefore, as I present them there will be found provision for a housing section with a staff of 70, together with one general housing inspector and 11 temporary housing inspectors, all at a total cost of £25,144 per annum.
Now I assume—and I think I am entitled to assume—from the speeches on the Budget that it is the policy of the Opposition to close down on housing, to dismiss the 82 officers, and to save this £525,000; and, as a natural corollary, to condemn no less than £60,000 families to continue to live in festering slums and condemned houses until disease and death solve the housing problem for Fine Gael. I can only say that may be the policy of Fine Gael, but it is emphatically not the policy of this Government.
Mr. MacEntee: So much for housing. Now take public health. I am not going to ask the Deputies whose consciences are now so tender to look at the Estimates for 1932-33. I think it is a painful subject for them. They have already evinced their annoyance when that fatal year 1932-33 was mentioned so I shall refrain from asking them to look at the Estimates for that year. It is perhaps unnecessary. They know what is in them. But they will find there no mention of a public health section. The Government of that time evidently did not consider this question sufficiently important to direct attention to it by a specific estimate in the Estimates for 1932-33. I have no doubt that the Cumann na nGaedheal Minister in that year could have told the Dáil how many babies died within the first month of their birth from preventable disease, and could have given the figure, I have no doubt correctly, to not less than three places of decimals and without hesitation. But, prior to the advent of the Fianna Fáil administration, no Government in this country did very much about it. We are doing it. It costs a great deal of money and it requires a reasonably large staff to do it, but we are tackling this problem of public health seriously and earnestly and, I am glad to say, we are meeting with a reassuring measure of success.
It is not our policy to let the children die, just because Deputy Hughes wants us “to reverse engines” or Deputy O'Higgins seeks to intimidate us by alleging that in framing the Budget for this year—the Budget which is intended to cover this Estimate—the Minister for Finance was thinking in terms of figures and not in terms of human beings. Anyone reading the speech which Deputy O'Higgins delivered in the debate on the Budget will see that it was Deputy O'Higgins himself who was thinking in terms of figures and not in terms of human beings.
Mr. MacEntee: Speeches like those of the Opposition may produce an unfavourable reaction to the Government on simple or narrow minds, but I see no reason to be ashamed of the fact that I have to-day in my Department a section wholly devoted to public health problems. It has an administrative staff of 34, together with 17 medical, ophthalmic and veterinary inspectors, and the salaries of this staff, inclusive of bonus, amount of £25,950. I am sure that the majority of Deputies will agree with me that, from the viewpoint of the health of the people, this is money well spent. I gather, however, from certain speeches on the Budget and on the Public Health Bill, that quite a number of Deputies do not share this view, and it is my purpose now to convert them and let them see the error of their ways. They tell us, like Deputy Morrissey:
Mr. MacEntee: This Public Health Section will be charged with the administration of that Bill pending the setting up of the new Ministry of Health. Deputies, like Deputy Morrissey and Deputy Hughes and the rest of them, will object to this Estimate of mine, presumably on the ground that, if they were in power, they would sack the lot of us and fill the churchyards.
Mr. MacEntee: We come to the important question of road transport. Road transport has for very many years played a rôle in our economy which has been increasing continuously in importance. The well-being of all sections of the community—and, by no means least, of agriculturists— is significantly affected by the efficiency or otherwise of our transport system. This is a truth which was borne in on all of us during the critical periods of the emergency. In those days, where  should we have been without our road transport? If our roads had broken down, our road transport would have broken, down, and with that road transport our whole economy would have broken down. But, our roads did not break down, thanks to the attention which had been devoted to them, and the money which had been spent on them, in the period from 1933 to 1941. During that period we had so improved our roads, and spent so wisely in doing so, that they were able to stand up to the abnormal conditions that have obtained from 1940, and have come through the test triumphantly.
The figures given in this year's Estimate for the staff of the roads section will indicate why they did stand up. Since Fianna Fáil took office, the planning, improvement and development of our road system have become a major concern of the Department of Local Government and Public Health. Because the fundamental economic importance of having a first-class road system was recognised by us, our roads section was set up. It has a staff of 23, at an inclusive cost of £10,892.
I may say that no provision for a corresponding section was set out in the Estimates for 1931-32. For all the Estimates for that year tell us, the roads of the country might have been anybody's business or nobody's business. I am not saying that the roads did not get some attention, but I do say that they did not get all the attention which their importance in our economy deserves. When we realise how ill equipped my Department was 14 years ago to deal with public health, housing and roads, it will not astonish us to learn that no attention whatever seems to have been devoted to the important problem of civic planning.
Mr. MacEntee: I want to trace the development of the services which I am now asking the House to approve. Surely I must explain why it is necessary for me to set up a new section in the Department of Local Government and Public Health and to  set it up this year. Surely Deputy Dockrell, who is an Opposition Deputy and therefore wants everything fully explained, wants to know why it is necessary to set up this new planning section? I understand that the Deputy is a man who has a great regard for financial probity, who is very concerned to ensure that expenditure would be kept down and taxation with it, and he is not going to ask me to expect the House to take a Vote of this sort without having the items fully explained.
Mr. MacEntee: It is, because the Deputy was not here then and I would like the Deputy, if he is going to vote in a division on this, to know exactly what I am asking him to do. I was saying, Sir, that the first of the Planning Acts was not passed until 1934 and, therefore, of course, we had no town planning section. In this year's Estimate, as I have indicated, will be found provision for the new town planning section, which is to be set up under a principal officer with a qualified town planning officer, or member of the Town Planning Institute, on the technical side.
It is true that some years ago the Government of the day had no use for such an officer and I suppose I shall be expected, because no use was found for such an officer then, to accept the view that no use could be found for such an officer now. But to-day the circumstances are different. You have a Government with a different outlook, a progressive Government which recognises the outstanding contribution which trained technicians, by the exercise of intelligent foresight and imaginative skill, can make to the solution of the complex problems which will arise in the course of the physical reconstruction and development of our towns and countryside. If the House wishes to criticise the proposal to spend money on this new section in the Department, I will admit that a Government without enterprise and without vision, a Government dominated by men whose capacity for practical affairs was smothered in a lawyer's  wig, would have no use for a town planning section. They would, perhaps, adopt Deputy Costello's present attitude towards aviation development, or Deputy McGilligan's attitude towards the holiday industry—the attitude which he expressed here in the debate on the recent proposals to increase the resources of the Irish Tourist Board—or they would adopt Deputy Dillon's attitude, the attitude of another lawyer, towards wheat and beet and peat.
Mr. MacEntee: I am justifying the setting up of a new section and I say that while men with that mentality might object, a Minister in a progressive Government would see the need for such a section and, even though Deputy Hughes might complain about the burden of taxation and might talk about the growth of bureaucracy, he would come to the House and do his duty, as I am doing it, by putting before the House the need for such a section. I know there are Deputies who will oppose this, most of them lawyers, some of them lawyers at any rate, men who, taken from their musty precedents, would stand like bats blinking in the light of day at the progress of the world around them and they would want the Government of Ireland to stand still.
Mr. MacEntee: They would want the Government of Ireland to stand still in this new age while they looked up their law reports to see what the House of Lords had to say about airport control as laid down in the last of George IV or the first of Victoria. That is the sort of mentality we have to contend with on the benches opposite.
Mr. MacEntee: I am very sorry, but the motion I moved was a motion asking for money and I am entitled to tell the House what I want the money for and why the amount I want in the year 1946-47 should be so very much more than was required 15 years ago.
Mr. MacEntee: Another provision which the Dáil will find in this year's Estimate and for which no counterpart will be found in the Department's Estimates years ago is for the turf section. The need for that section will, I hope, become rapidly less until it ultimately disappears. It was established towards the end of 1941 to deal with the problem which had been created by the sudden interruption of our normal supplies of imported fuel. When it was first established, the nation found itself faced with an emergency of the gravest kind.
In 1939 we imported practically £3,000,000 tons of coal. In 1941 our imports were suddenly and drastically reduced to about half this figure and continued to decline until, in 1944, they were only three-quarters of a million tons. This was the emergency to cope with which the aid of my Department and authorities under it was enlisted. Immediately our help was asked the road-making organisations of all the local authorities in those areas where the peat deposits were of sufficient importance to justify it were switched off from their normal work to the job of fuel production.
In the period from that time until the end of the last cutting season the road-making staffs of the local authorities, under the direction of the turf section of my Department, have produced almost £2,500,000 tons of fuel, a figure which represents by far the most important native contribution to the solution of our fuel problem. Not only did the road-making organisations of the local authorities produce this huge quantity of turf themselves, but they made it easy for others to produce turf. Under the aegis of the Department they acquired and developed turf banks and leased them to other producers.  They worked in co-operation with the Turf Development Board and by propaganda encouraged private producers and organised groups, such as parish councils and turf societies, to win turf. Without their help I think I can say the domestic fuel position in the non-turf areas would have been desperate indeed.
The County Councils spent over £5,500,000 on the work, the greater part of which has been recouped by the various purchasers. The part unrecouped is represented by the value of turf on hands and by sums due to the councils, but not yet certified for payment.
When we remember that the task of providing fuel for the nation's need was undertaken, at almost catastrophically short notice, by men, the great majority of whom had no previous knowledge of the job, and who had to acquire their technique and perfect their organisations as the works progressed, I think we have every reason to be grateful to them, and to the staff in the section in my Department under which they worked. That section is not a very extensive one; its personnel numbers only 12 and its annual cost is less than £3,000, but without it I doubt whether the community should have done so well in regard to fuel as, in fact, it did.
I have given the Dáil some account of the services for which we require this amount we ask for this year. It is not as full or as explicit an account as I should have liked, and I have given at least such an account of the services as the position will permit me to give. I have outlined some of the reasons why an active and progressive Minister and his Department would require a much larger staff than sufficed for his predecessor in 1931-32. I now propose to refer to some of the more salient features of our works during the past 12 months.
We have, for instance, almost completely overtaken the arrears which had accumulated in the audit of accounts of local authorities. As the House is no doubt aware, for a variety of reasons, these audits were for some considerable time heavily in arrear. I must safeguard myself from misrepresentation  by pointing out this uncomfortable fact, that at the 31st March, 1932, the number of audits in arrear was 516; on the 31st March, 1943, it was 492; on the 31st March, 1944, it was 466, and on the 31st March, 1945, it was 441. To this figure of 441 had to be added 256 new accounts arising for audit in the next financial year, which gave a total of 697 accounts to be dealt with last year.
The position in regard to the audits has been a matter of great concern to me since I became Minister for Local Government. Accordingly, when Deputy Childers was appointed Parliamentary Secretary I assigned to him, among other tasks, that of dealing with this problem. Since then very close attention has been devoted to it. As a result, I am happy to say now that, following the reorganisation which has taken place in the audit section, and the additional staff which we have been able to obtain, 631 out of the 697 audits were completed on 31st March last, reducing the outstanding arrears to 66. These will be cleared off in a month or so, and the current audit work for the present financial year has already commenced. Henceforward all concerned can feel assured that local authority audits will not be long delayed after the closing of accounts.
I have already drawn attention to the fact that this year it is proposed to set up a town planning section in the Department. Were it not for the need to concentrate attention upon the complex problems thrown up by wartime conditions, this would have been done some years ago after the passing of the 1939 Planning Act. As it was, the work arising out of the Planning Acts was temporarily entrusted to the housing section of the Department. That section, however, will now be more fully occupied in getting the resumed housing drive under way. Moreover, it is my intention to induce local authorities to give their close consideration to the need for careful planning in the development and improvement of their functional areas. It is, therefore, urgently necessary to constitute the new section. With the establishment of a town planning section, it will be possible for the  Department to be of greater assistance to local authorities than hitherto during the various stages in the preparation of a town and district plan. Though a considerable amount of educative work, by way of explanatory pamphlets and model clauses, has been done already in order to help local authorities to take advantage of the Acts, nevertheless, when draft planning schemes are prepared and submitted, the responsibilities of the Department will be considerably increased and will fall mainly on the new section. The specially trained officers of the section will confer with local authorities on the questions which will arise in the preparation of draft planning schemes, will assist them in their difficulties and will, it is hoped, convince local authorities that planning, if carried out in time, is a sound and economical business proposition.
Last year 21 local authorities resolved to make planning schemes, bringing the total number of districts in which the Planning Acts now apply to 57. In addition, two authorities have taken the initial steps. Other local bodies are giving consideration to their powers, particularly in view of post-war development. So far only a small number of draft schemes have been completed but the work generally is well advanced and preliminary reports and surveys have been or are being made.
The next matter to which I propose to refer is the condition of the rate collection. Last year, I am happy to say, it showed a marked improvement, the percentage collected during the year being 94 as compared with 90 the previous year. The financial position, therefore, of local authorities has improved generally and this is reflected in the diminished amount of temporary borrowing from their treasurers by way of overdrafts. It is gratifying to be able to say that every county council had a credit balance on its ordinary revenue account on the 31st March last. Not only is the present position satisfactory but I think that it will perhaps be more satisfactory in future because there are two new factors which should help county councils still further to conrecoupe  solidate and improve their financial position. One is the increase in the grants from the Road Fund which I was able to announce earlier this year and the other is the increase in the Agricultural Grant announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget statement. At this point I should like to impress on all managers, their personal responsibility for ensuring that all moneys owing to the local authorities for which they act are expeditiously and systematically collected. One of the most important duties of managers is to see that the finances of their councils are in order and the most serious view will be taken of any failure to fulfil this obligation fully and satisfactorily.
Expenditure on roads is normally the largest single item in the estimates of county councils. Partly on account of shortage of road surfacing materials such as tar and bitumen, and partly on account of the diversion of labour to agriculture and turf, the condition of roads in recent years suffered some deterioration. County councils generally have responded to the offer of increased grants by widening the scope of their road schemes and it is expected that by this time next year there will be considerable improvement in the condition of the roads. It may be well to emphasise that the increased grants which were made this year were made on a temporary basis only, limited from year to year; no question, therefore, arises of stabilising them at their present figure.
Housing must remain one of the main preoccupations of the local authorities and the Department. The efforts made to induce housing authorities to continue building, despite increasing difficulties, is proof of our determination to solve the housing problems with the least possible delay. While the falling off in new construction, due to shortage of materials, continued during the last year the number of houses built was not unsatisfactory having regard to the scarcity of essential materials. Of 695 houses erected, 656 were in urban areas, mostly in Dublin City, and 39 in rural areas.
As the House is aware, local authorities have, at the instance of the Department,  been engaged in making a survey of the housing requirements in their areas. This survey is now practically complete. As a result it is estimated that approximately 60,000 houses will be required to meet the needs of workers in all areas. Roughly half the total is required in the four county boroughs and less than one-quarter of the total in other urban areas. The remainder, comprising between 16,000 and 17,000 houses, is required in rural areas.
Where surveys have been completed, local authorities have been urged to prepare schemes that can be commenced when building materials become available. As a result land has been acquired in urban areas, excluding Dublin City, for over 6,000 houses and in rural areas for over 3,000 houses while proposals for the acquisition of land in a large number of urban and rural areas have also been approved or are at present under consideration. Plans have been prepared and, in the majority of cases, approved for the erection of over 6,000 houses and for the development of a further 442 sites.
In Dublin City, in which a considerable number of Deputies will be interested, schemes for 2,717 houses are ready for contract. Tentative proposals for the acquisition of sites for a further 2,157 houses are being considered. In addition the reconditioning of tenement houses in several streets is proceeding satisfactorily and further reconditioning schemes providing for a total of 354 flats have been prepared by the corporation and compulsory purchase orders made.
In Cork City, almost 4,000 additional houses will be required. Sites comprising 170 acres have been acquired. A scheme for 200 houses on which it is hoped to commence work at an early date has been drawn up. I cannot say that I regard the rate of progress in Cork as very satisfactory.
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