Thursday, 23 June 1960
Dáil Eireann Debate
Sir Anthony Esmonde: I was referring to the appointment of rent and rate collectors in urban areas where the appointment is made by a committee set up by the county manager. It invariably happens that this committee consists of local authority officials who are chosen admittedly from other areas and have no local connection but it also invariably happens that existing local officers get the appointments. I have known of many cases of people who have gone to the trouble of applying, have  travelled considerable distances to be interviewed but it always seems to end up in the same way.
I suggest to the Minister—I feel he can do it under his present administrative powers—that these appointments should be made by the elected representatives on the local authority of the area concerned. Perhaps the Minister would consider that. It is a question that has been raised here on several occasions but no change has been made in the system which I think is an unsatisfactory one.
I want to make a plea on behalf of the salaried classes in regard to housing. In his opening statement, the Minister said that ordinarily local authority housing as it applies to the working classes is practically completed. I do not think that is quite true, but, however, the class I plead for this afternoon embraces those concerned with the Small Dwellings Acts. In every town in my constituency, there are salaried people who want to build houses. Their difficulty is that the terms of loans which have to be sanctioned by the Minister make it in some cases prohibitive. It is impossible for them to borrow the full amount. Anybody who gets a post in such an area, is earning a salary, and trying to rear a family, has no available capital. I do not know if it is the case with all local authorities, but in Wexford there is always a gap between the cost of the house and the amount of money that can be borrowed. These people can borrow only up to 75 or 80 per cent. and it means that salaried people who want to provide their own houses—which is most desirable as proper housing is the foundation of security—are unable to do so.
I ask the Minister to consider the case of a man, earning £600 a year, with a wife and two children, who wants to build his own house and settle in the district. Under the Small Dwellings Act, he gets a grant for a five-roomed house and subsequently he is lent so much money by the local authority over a period of years. In the case I mention, he must go to a  building society to borrow the money he is not allowed to borrow from the county council, and has to pay a high rate of interest on it. That seems to militate against the building of houses for middle-class people. As the State has dealt so extensively through successive Governments with the working-class problem, I think they could give more attention to the middle classes. It seems that the Minister has to sanction all loans. If he were prepared to sanction loans for the full amount I am satisfied that in my constituency there would be almost immediate building of houses in four towns, with resulting stability and good local employment.
There are special road grants, tourist road grants and also special grants for bridges but the county I represent does not get one shilling from these sources. By way of Parliamentary Question, I asked the Minister some weeks ago about this and he told me in the course of replies to Supplementary Questions I put to him that there was a five-year scheme in existence and that five years' expenditure was laid out and that there was nothing he could do about it. If the Minister for Local Government, who is responsible for grants from the Central Fund, cannot do anything about it, who can? I do not think he gave me a reasonable reply.
I have asked a question each year for the past three years and I do not see why Wexford, with its tourist potential, with its seaport through which come the greater part of the motor cars that are brought to Ireland on the ferry service, is not entitled to a special tourist road grant. Why should Donegal, possibly Kerry and Cork and other counties get these grants and why should we not get them? I ask the Minister to reply to that question. These applications are regularly made: they must be considered in the Department and in all justice, I think we are entitled to them just as much as anybody.
We have a greater road service than any other county, even counties bigger than we are, and we have just as high a tourist potential. Surely if the people who bring their cars into Ireland  through Rosslare want to see some of our rural life, they should not be shaken to pieces on some of our roads because we cannot compete with other counties for the reason that we do not get the facilities they get. This, I think, makes a very trenchant case for further road grants for Wexford.
Sir Anthony Esmonde: Deputy Booth can tell us all about them when he is speaking. I have not seen them in the counties in which I have travelled. We do not have lay-bys here. Cars are parked on the roads and that is the greatest cause of accidents, particularly at night time. Very often it is not possible to determine whether or not a car is stationary. Some of the most tragic road accidents in the last few weeks have been due to stationary cars. That is a matter that the Minister could consider.
Major sums of money are being spent on main roads. When Deputy O'Donnell was Minister for Local Government he transferred a sizeable amount of money from main roads to lesser roads. That does not appear to be the case now. The people who live in the country pay the charges the same as anybody else. They pay tax on motor cars and on tractors and they pay rates. They are entitled to a grant from central funds. It may be that Wexford gets the requisite amount for main roads. I do not know. It is likely that we get less than Donegal and Kerry get.
Sir Anthony Esmonde: That is entirely a matter of opinion. We get grants for main roads. I am reliably informed by local authority engineers that it is the policy of the Department of Local Government to straighten bends and to give us long straight stretches of road in so far as possible. I wonder if that is a good policy. I know of two jobs that are being done at the moment, costing £6,000 and £7,000 respectively removing bends. In Europe, particularly in the Federal Republic of Germany, one of the problems they have had to deal with arises from having long straight roads without a turn. After dark, there is difficulty in driving with lights. I have had personal experience of that. I have seen a three mile stretch of road without a turn. Our policy seems to be to spend money on providing straight roads. Accepting the fact that we have a limited amount of money at our disposal, is it right to spend money in that way? I do not think it is.
In the case of approaches that might be considered to be dangerous, the matter could be dealt with by erecting signs. When travelling on a strange road one can arrive at a fairly sharp bend without notice. There may be a small sign post which is high off the ground and does not engage the car lights and is therefore not in keeping with modern conditions. Obviously, such signposts have been there for years. Ten years ago car lights were located higher on the car than is the case today. Modern cars have their lights placed low. Warning signposts should be two or three feet above the level of the road, not six or eight feet above it. That goes for direction signs as well.
In and around Dublin and in other counties many of the signs have been lowered. I have not had the advantage of being in Donegal or Kerry recently so I do not know what the position is there. In Wexford the  majority of the signs are still placed too high. Having regard to overriding authority which the Minister for Local Government appears to have relative to every facet of road administration, he might give a direction or tender his advice to the local authorities to have the signs placed at a lower level.
The question of traffic in the city of Dublin is not strictly my affair but I have to come to Dublin and my constituents have to come to Dublin. The traffic position in Dublin must be viewed with alarm. At rush hours there is difficulty in travelling. That is the case in a great many cities in other parts of the world. The city of Dublin would be capable of dealing with the traffic that exists, given a fair opportunity. Invariably there are cars parked on each side of the streets in the centre of the city. Is it beyond the imagination of the Department and the Dublin Corporation to devise a scheme to deal with that problem? The simple answer would appear to be to create parking facilities. In the centre of Dublin there are practically no parking facilities. People living in Dublin do not realise what country people have to put up with when they come to Dublin. The average person who is in an office or business in Dublin drives in every morning and has his pet parking place. By the time the person from rural Ireland gets to the city there is not a parking place left and he has to leave his car on the outskirts of the city. Very often people coming to see me have apologised for being late, the reason being that they had to go almost outside Dublin to get a parking place. A German came over here recently to advise us on traffic. Surely the officers of the Department and the officials and representatives of the Corporation could hammer out some scheme to relieve the unnecessary congestion that exists in every street in Dublin.
I have often wondered why there is such a delay in regard to housing grants. I think the reason is that in spite of the innumerable inspectors who seem to grow up like mushrooms  all over Ireland, there is only one inspector for housing dealing with three or four counties. It should be easy to employ a few more inspectors. It would cost only a small amount of money to do so and would obviate a lot of extra administration and delays. I must acknowledge I have always had the greatest courtesy from the officials in the Custom House, but unless a Deputy goes there and asks that a particular house be inspected, it will be some months before the inspection takes place. The inspector has too much ground to cover and he will deal only with the cases on which there is priority, that is, the cases in which pressure is exerted. That is a matter to which the Minister might give his attention.
The last matter with which I wish to deal is the Local Authorities (Works) Act. The Minister's predecessor abolished schemes under the Local Authorities (Works) Act which was one of the most useful Acts ever introduced here. It has passed into oblivion under the Fianna Fáil regime. If there is an emergency due to flooding, there is no fund to deal with it unless the local representatives impose a charge on the county as a whole. In times of heavy rain, several places in my constituency have been flooded and nothing could be done about it. Under the previous Government, before the former Minister abolished this scheme, it was possible to deal with such an emergency.
I believe the Minister is in favour of the restoration of this Act. I have asked him Parliamentary Questions on the subject and he indicated to me that his mind was travelling in that direction. I suggest to the Minister he should point out to his colleagues in the Government that this was one of the most useful schemes of which they could approve. It gave employment and it gave service to people who badly needed it.
Mr. Everett: The statement by the Minister that the draft of the Traffic Bill is still in course of preparation must come to the people as a great disappointment. We had expected when we handed over the reins of Government to our successors, that the Bill would be well on the way to being  introduced by now. The possibility now is that it will not be introduced in the life time of this Parliament. That is very bad news for the people, who were expecting so much from this important legislation.
The Department of Local Government is a most important Department, being in control of all the public bodies. The relations between the Department and those public bodies are friendly and helpful in many ways. There are, however, a few matters on which I wish to criticise the Minister. I refer, first of all, to the Minister's interference in a case of which, perhaps, he had not sufficient knowledge. If he had inquired locally, he would have formed a different opinion. A certain gentleman made an attack on the urban council in the Press recently in connection with the council's action in refusing to extend a lease to certain ladies. He was a member of the Minister's political Party and that Party disowned him when they recognised this gentleman had been treated most generously, a fact of which he did not inform the Press. He got a loan from the urban council under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts for the purchase of a house, and he put that house at a much higher rent than he had been paying. The council took proceedings against him and got an ejectment order. Notwithstanding that, the costs which were awarded against him were accepted by instalments of a very small amount per month. The council treated him in a most generous way. For his own personal reasons, he said there were two ladies who wanted to get a right of way through another person's property. He forgot to mention that the people concerned were invalids.
Mr. Everett: We were dealing with the question without any interference from the Minister. We were exercising the right to grant a lease to a person who already had a lease for 100 years. There was a licensed premises involved. We could not give a right of way. This man did not say that it was for himself and his wife——
An Ceann Comhairle: It seems to me that the aggrieved person had the courts to appeal to. The person who had a grievance against the urban council or against whom the urban council had a grievance had the courts to appeal to.
Mr. Everett: We had the right to grant a lease to a person whose lease dated back over 100 years. It was a licensed premises and one cannot interfere with licensed premises by a mere resolution. When this man sent a letter to the Minister, he did not say it was for his wife he wanted this right of way.
For years, the council have passed resolutions appealing to the Minister's Department for grants for main roads and particularly urging that provision be made for footpaths for pedestrians using one of the most dangerous roads in the country, the main road from Bray to Wicklow. A special grant should be made for the construction of these paths. At the moment, pedestrians using the roads at night have to carry lanterns to afford themselves some protection from motor traffic. I am sure there is more traffic on that road than there is even on the Naas Road.
With regard to grants, it was discovered  that 40 per cent. went in paying for hired machinery. Lorries hired by C.I.E. cost 9/6d. per hour. Sometimes these lorries were obtained as a result of subletting by C.I.E. and C.I.E. under their contract paid only half what they were charging the local authority. Even when the lorries were laid up, we still had to pay 9/6d. per hour for them. Rollers were hired at a cost of £1 per day, and that had to be paid even when the rollers were not working. Tar sprayers were hired at 10/- an hour.
Time after time councillors representative of all Parties protested to the county manager against what appeared to them to be an excessive hiring of machinery. The manager agreed it was more important to keep men in permanent employment than to pay for hired machinery. A decision was taken and, in the first year, there was a saving of £30,000. As well as that, 500 men were kept in permanent employment. One councillor told of an experience he had. He met three men who were home from England and he asked them where they were working. Thy told him they were making parts for the machines which had knocked them, and hundreds like them, off work.
The Department sent a letter threatening all sorts of penalties if this, that and the other was not done to keep the roads up to standard. The Minister has been over those roads. I claim that we have the best roads of any county of our size. We are taking over the culs-de-sac and putting them in repair. Inside of five years, we expect to have all the roads in the county in first-class order. I appeal to the Minister not to be influenced by the views of someone who is prejudiced. When I and others complained of the excessive hiring of machinery, at 4 o'clock on a Sunday morning men were employed to move the machines so that the county manager would not see them when he went out on inspection. I urge the Minister to consult councillors of his own Party. He will find they are in agreement with the decision taken to stop this huge expenditure of 40 per cent. on hired machinery.  People talk about the balance of payments. Some of this hired machinery was not in working order. Parts had to be replaced and the replacement meant so much money going out of the country.
I should pay tribute to the officials in the Minister's Department. Indeed, we have reason to be proud of our civil servants. It is very easy to use them as the scapegoats, but in my 30 years' association with them, I have never had anything from them but the greatest courtesy and help. The Minister's predecessor had to get rid of one official because he was abusing his position as a civil servant.
I should refer to the “Golden Mile”. It cost thousands but it was left in such a way that, once off the tarred portion, one could neither walk nor cycle. I understand a path has been made there. I want paths on every road. Within the past six months, in one quarter of a mile, we have had three fatal accidents. Had there been a proper path, those accidents could have been avoided. I live on a tourist road and during the summer 300 to 400 cars pass my house every day. How children survive I do not know. Parents spend the whole of Sunday trying to keep an eye on the children. I see cars travelling at over 60 miles an hour trying to pass one another on very narrow roads.
The Minister, as I have said, should avoid sending letters to a public body in future unless he is satisfied that there is a genuine grievance and knows that the individual concerned is a man of honour. I do not wish to say anything else about this but I should like to know how that man was able to get the ear of the Minister.
Mr. Everett: We in Wicklow want to employ as many people as possible on road work and I am prepared to recommend that we refuse to take grants to buy heavy machinery that will put men out of work. We shall not be influenced or threatened in any  way, and we do not want to be told that we ought to go to a certain man in Dublin and hire heavy machinery from him. We are endeavouring, by every means in our power, to give employment to the maximum number possible for the longest period possible, and we shall continue to do that.
Mr. Palmer: When the Diseases of Animals Bill was being discussed yesterday evening, the Minister for Agriculture stated that the debate was being prolonged because the Opposition wanted to prevent the Minister for local Government from introducing his Estimate before the House rose. Some joker must have spread the news that there was to be something wonderful in the Minister's statement, which would receive big headlines in this morning's papers on the day of the holding of some of the local elections, and which might induce people to vote for members of his Party. However, there is really nothing startling in the Estimate which he has introduced. It was just a full statement of local government business and progress that any member of a local authority would already know. In a sense it was instructive and, even though I have not fully read it, I have glanced over the various important points in the 17 pages of the Minister's speech. Perhaps it may be useful for a member of a council to keep it, in order to see if the Minister will carry out all that he said he would, and to see the money voted is spent.
Some previous speakers mentioned that local authorities really have no power beyond striking rates and appointing rate collectors but I do not quite agree with that. If that is the case with any particular county council, I do not think that county council is exercising its authority. While county councils are restricted in many ways they have many powers. I believe it was the old Cumann na nGaedheal Government which first put restrictions on them as regards the appointment of doctors and various other officials but my idea of a local authority—and it is one which is shared by many intelligent members of local authorities—is that the members  of a council are more or less the directors of a business. A council is really a business, just like the work of Dáil Éireann is big business, and the county manager may be regarded as the managing director of the firm: There is, however, a restriction which might still be imposed and I believe my view is shared by many other local representatives. It is that the appointment of rate collectors should not be left in the hands of members of a county council but should be the responsibility of the Appointments Commission. While some people may have the idea that the Appointments Commission is not really impartial. I have nothing to say to that.
As has been said, the duty of members of a council during any given year is to try to perform their business in such a way that when the time comes to strike a rate for the ensuing year they will not have exceeded the expenses for which they budgeted in the preceding year. It is true that rates have been increased in many areas and I regret very much to say that in Kerry we have struck a rate this year which is the highest of any county council in Ireland, and I am sure that for the past two years we have done the same.
I do not wish to mention the withdrawal of the food subsidies, which had a big impact on the rates question, but I would point out that we in Kerry, on average, have low valuations and a decreasing population due to emigration and unemployment. Despite these factors, however, we maintain the best possible services and try to give our people everything that their counterparts enjoy in counties where valuations are high and there is no emigration and unemployment problem. There are some areas in the country where that is so, and where it is easier to maintain all the services that people demand. While that is a matter for regret, and while it is not conducive to drawing the votes of our constituents in the forthcoming local elections in Kerry, we have to be satisfied with it and give our excuses and reasons for the high rate we have had to strike.
Some time ago I asked if the Minister  for Local Government could make some special provision for counties like Kerry and other counties along the western seaboard where valuations are low and where the population is dwindling but in which we must maintain all the services the people demand. To a great extent the people themselves are responsible for the increased rates because they are continually coming in deputations to the council demanding better roads, better sewerage and water services and other amenities to which they are entitled, and all of these schemes cause the rates to rise.
On the question of housing, we in Kerry have always done our best to provide cottages for our agricultural labourers and we have also carried out much reconstruction work for farmers with valuations of £5, £6 or £7. Our aim is to erect 125 cottages per year and during the past five years we have built, on average, about 110 council cottages per year. Perhaps we could build more if we had enough sites but it is very difficult to get people to give sites voluntarily and, even when sites are made available, there is a great deal of red tape in having them finally passed. First of all, the county M.O.H. must have them inspected, and rightly so, but if the Department would agree that its inspectors need not inspect sites for service cottages, and that the inspections be left entirely to the county engineer, it would expedite matters. In cases in which the council engineer and the county M.O.H. agree on a site, even for service cottages, we have suggested to the Department that there should be no need for a Department inspector to carry out a further inspection which might involve delay.
In Kerry, as elsewhere throughout the country, we have very many derelict sites in our towns and villages. There is a number in my own village of Sneem. Recently, we got one of our engineers to inspect all these derelict sites because we felt that in many cases they would prove suitable as sites for council houses. I know there is some regulation under which it is necessary to give half an acre or  a quarter of an acre with a council house, but I think if the site is large enough to provide a small garden front and rere, that should be sufficient. The main thing is to house the people. We have 500 or 600 applicants for houses in Kerry, and I suppose there will be more to come. However, we hope to complete our housing programme within the next five or six years, that is, within the lifetime of the council shortly to be elected.
The Minister referred in his speech to open spaces. At our county council meeting last Tuesday, we discussed the question of the development of two greens at Sneem and it was decided to vote a sum of £960 for the purpose of rolling them lightly. The Tourist Board have offered £200 for the provision of ornamental shrubs. However, the county manager told us he was doubtful if he had the authority to do the work and that he will have to make a report to the Minister. In winter time, these greens are really marshes and in the summer they are baked mud. They are very unsightly. The local development association have tried by means of voluntary labour to keep them clear of rubbish. Sneem is on the Ring of Kerry route near Parknasilla and it is becoming a tourist centre. The houses there are well kept, and the development of these two greens would be a further amenity for the village. Therefore, when the matter comes before the Minister, I hope he will give it his sanction, if he is entitled to do so. If he is not, I hope he will consider the introduction of legislation to enable such open spaces to be developed.
I think the owners of caravan sites should be responsible for providing sanitary facilities on them. They charge a rental for these sites, and if they let them, surely they should have them in a proper condition rather than impose upon the local authority and the rates the responsibility of providing sanitary facilities on property which the local authority does not own?
The Minister referred to private water supplies, and I know that the Departmental regulations in regard to these are very strict. Sometimes people  in the country who do not know the regulations foolishly embark upon the provision of a water supply and apply for a grant when they are half-way through. The Department inspector then comes down and finds they do not comply with the regulations. However, I feel that in cases where people make an effort to supply water and sewerage to their premises, they should get every help possible. Even if it is not possible to give them the full grant, the Minister and his officials, in their wisdom, might be able to make some contribution to the cost.
It would be ideal if people in the country living in close proximity to each other could co-operate, particularly in seaside resorts, in the provision of small regional supply schemes, but you always find that somebody will disagree. Perhaps, there is some way of overcoming that, but before a local authority can spend money on such schemes, they require the agreement of all the people concerned. However, it would be a good idea to have such regional water supply schemes in rural areas, wherever possible.
During the past ten years, we have improved our roads in Kerry to such an extent that now all our main roads and some of our county roads are steamrolled. I think that on an average about 30 per cent. of our county roads are steamrolled. I do not agree with the method of maintaining county roads not steamrolled. When gravel is thrown into pot holes, the next vehicle coming along throws it out again, and it is only a waste of money. Recently, the members of the county council held regional conferences with our engineers, as a result of which we evolved a scheme whereby, within a certain period, we would try to have all our county roads dust-free.
The Minister referred to dust-free roads. We have a number of very narrow county roads, and in order to steamroll them, I believe it is necessary that they should be a certain width. We decided that where it was not possible to widen these roads, they would be left as they were, except that they  would be lightly rolled. These are roads on which there would not be such heavy traffic. You may have tractors and a few motor cars. That would be a much better method. In fact, may I suggest to the Minister that, when this scheme is put up to him, as it will because we would not have the money, perhaps, he would give us something extra for such an excellent scheme so that in Kerry all the county roads will be dust free.
I do not know who is responsible for signposting. Accidents occur in which country people especially are involved and it is very necessary that there should be some signs to indicate a main road. I do not know if it is the duty of the local authority but perhaps extra money could be granted for such a purpose.
Reference was made to the Local Authorities (Works) Act. I think Deputy Booth called it something else. There is not much use talking about it now because the grants were withdrawn. I do not know whether it was the Minister for Local Government or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance who recently referred to the fact that some provision would be made for the drainage of intermediate rivers. If such a scheme becomes operative it would overcome the difficulty in connection with the Local Authorities (Works) Act. I hope that in the near future, if legislation is necessary, provision will be made for it. It is most useful work not only from the point of view of drainage but also from the point of view of the employment it gives. The trouble is that there is so much less employment on the roads than formerly. I suppose that is due to mechanisation. I do not know if it was wise to change over. However, I suppose progress requires these changes and that there is no way of overcoming the difficulty.
All local authorities got a letter some time ago from the Minister requesting them to make suggestions by which projects of national importance would be put forward. We in Kerry put up various suggestions, some of which, perhaps, would be a matter for other  Departments such as the Forestry Department and so on. However, there were many other suggestions also. I believe I am correct in saying that not one of them received the sanction of the Minister. That is very unsatisfactory. After all, we went to the trouble of making out the list and sending it to the Department. When they were examined, if they were examined and I am sure they were, they were thrown out. None of them was passed for sanction.
I dealt briefly with housing, roads and so on. So far as we in Kerry are concerned, even with our limited resources, we are doing the best we can, with the aid of whatever grants we get from the Department, to see that our people are well housed and that we have good roads and all the other amenities our people demand.
In conclusion, I should like to pay a tribute not only to our own engineers and officials of the local authority but also to the officials of the Department of Local Government. Any time we approached them, the officials received us with the greatest courtesy and did their best to help us out of our difficulties.
Mr. Lindsay: It would be difficult to overstress the importance of the Department of Local Government and the very serious effect the work of that Department can have on almost every citizen in the State, particularly on those who are householders, those who seek work under the various schemes and others affected by health services, sanitation services and services administered by the local authorities.
For good or evil, at the present time, the functioning of a local authority is divided into functions which are generally the functions of the county council and the functions that are reserved to the county managers but over all there is the paramount authority of the Department of Local Government itself which must take full cognisance of all the activities in every local body in Ireland and generally of its own Department.
Generally speaking, the work of local government proceeds in its own  fashion. Whether that fashion is a good one or whether the rate of progress is one that leaves nothing to be desired is quite another matter, but people, by and large, I think, have begun to accept the situation as it is and, apart from the occasional moan one hears from time to time from the person directly affected—I might say that the moaning is confined to the actual period of the pain inflicted in any particular case—one does not hear any great complaints except the complaint in relation to the ever-increasing burden of rates and, in particular instances, to the misapplication of the moneys collected, deliberately or through sheer inadvertence or incompetence.
The main complaint by people at present, not alone in rural Ireland but in urban and corporation areas, would appear to be that, whenever they embark upon any kind of improvement to their dwellings they are immediately set upon by local authority investigators or somebody from Ely Place and the valuation is automatically increased.
Somebody already referred to that as a legacy from the landlord practice of increasing the rent on occasions when improvements carried out by tenants became obvious to them. It certainly follows the same pattern. The increasing of rents by landlords in the old days because of improvements made by the tenants was designed to prohibit such improvements and to keep the standard of the tenants at as low a level as possible. Either deliberately or inadvertently, the policy of increasing the rateable valuation of such hereditaments as are improved by their owners has a stultifying effect on progress and tends to keep people down by way of punishing them for the capital which they invest in the improvement of their own buildings. It certainly stifles progress.
I am sure that is something that is not intended by the Department of Local Government or the Minister who is in charge of it for the time being. I think it is necessary that people should do a little fresh thinking in that regard and possibly  have some scheme whereby, if there are to be increases in respect of improvements of property, the increases will be on a sliding scale basis.
The housing section of the Minister's Department appears to have got quite an increase in staff. While the reply a Deputy receives in answer to a query, certainly speaking for myself, is always most accurate and sets out the position as it then stands, the only complaint that I have is in regard to delay. Recently I had the experience of dropping a note to the housing section of the Department of Local Government asking them to send out two application forms for reconstruction grants to two constituents of mine whose names and addresses I furnished accurately. It took almost a whole month for those two forms to reach the persons concerned and I might add that, to my great chagrin, people who had political views other than mine had been able to obtain them before that. Apart from that, the delay was very great and I think there is no reason for that at all.
While the staff of the housing section has been almost doubled, apart from the sort of delay I mention, the delay in the payment of grants is having a very unfortunate effect on suppliers of hardware and building materials throughout the country. One of them said to me not so long ago: “I wonder how long more we shall be able to act as bankers for the Department of Local Government?” One can readily understand that a builders' provider in a rural area must have a considerable amount of money invested in materials scattered over the country with builders of various houses. He has to wait for his money until such time as the Department pays. Far be it from me to complain too bitterly in that regard, if the situation were not such as to give rise to complaint. Let us hope that from now on, with the increased staff, payment will be accelerated and that the burden will be taken off the shoulders of these builders' providers.
Apart, of course, from the financial  inconvenience caused to merchants, there is the other type of inconvenience caused to the people concerned who have not got the money and are waiting for the grant and who probably transact some other sort of business in these shops. They are more or less ashamed to go into them because they owe this money and they feel that the builders' provider is thinking: “Here is a fellow who has not paid me the money for the material I gave him. His house is completed, he is living in it and he is enjoying the amenities which go with the house. He tells me he has not got the grant and I am not in a position to know whether he has or not.” As soon as these people get the Local Government cheque, covering the grant, whether it is the first instalment or the second instalment, a very high standard of honesty obtains in the country and they hand over the cheque in toto and finish up with the provider. I hope that these few words will act as an incentive to the Department with their increased staff to cut out these delays.
I cannot share the enthusiasm of the Minister regarding the percentage increases and percentage improvements in relation to either houses, payments or anything else. The figures which he has given, obviously supplied by his Department and of course over which he will stand, paint a picture the other way, unless there has been some increase within the last couple of months which appears to warrant these statements. Certainly if there was an increase it was only within the last couple of months. Accordingly I have to invite the Minister, when concluding, to study the reply given at Volume 180, No. 9 of the Official Report for the 29th March, 1960, which he gave to Deputy Ryan who asked if he would state, in respect of each year from 1945 to date, the number of new houses built by (a) local authorities and (b) private enterprise. The reply was given in the form of a tabular statement and I propose to give, for each of these years, the number of houses built by local authorities so as to show exactly what the trend has been and to show that the much maligned Government of  1954 to 1957 really did not deserve all the things said about them with regard to housing, particularly by Deputy Briscoe, who led the attack on behalf of the Dublin Corporation at that time.
Here are the figures. For 1945, the number of houses built by local authorities was 150. In 1946, it was 565. In 1947, it was 742. In 1948— and it will be recalled that was the year of Deputy Costello's first administration—the figure rose to 1,371. Lest anybody might claim any credit for any kind of backwash from the year before, it will be seen that that pattern continues. Again, quoting from the Minister's reply, for the year 1949, the local authorities built 4,026 houses and in 1950, they built 8,117. In 1951, they built 7,258. Fianna Fáil came back into power in 1952 and the figure for that year was 6,938, a drop. For 1953, their first whole year in office, it was down to 6,320, a further drop. In 1954, it was 5,697, dropping still. In 1955, it was 4,143. In 1956, the figure was 4,218; it had begun to go up. In 1957, which forms part of the year for which the inter-Party Government had made provision in the Estimates, it was 4,123 and in 1958, again the first whole year of Fianna Fáil in office, it was 2,033. In 1959 it was 2,399. That cannot be said to reveal a state of affairs in housing for which the Fianna Fáil Party, as a Government, can claim any great glory.
Let us approach it in another way. As reported in Volume 181, No. 10 of the Official Report for 17th May, 1960, a little over a month ago, Deputy Corish asked the Minister for Local Government the number of houses completed by local authorities in each year since the 1st April, 1948. The reply was again in the form of a tabular statement: 1949, 1,871; 1950, 5,299; 1951, 7,787; 1952, 7,185; 1953, 7,486; 1954, 5,643; 1955, 5,267; 1956, 4,011; 1957, 4,784; 1958, 3,467; 1959, 1,812; and 1960 showed some improvement by jumping to 2,414.
That is the only place where we can see any indication of an effort being made by the Minister to give an impetus to the housing drive which we  were assured by the former Taoiseach he was specially appointed to do. There is a great deal of leeway to be made up before the hopes then expressed are fully justified.
With regard to local authority housing in rural Ireland, I notice that 30 extra engineer-architects are employed. I strongly urge on the Minister that some sort of encouragement should be given to them to vary their designs so as to alter the picture of the Irish countryside and get away from the uniform appearance. While at present the houses are good, nice, perfectly comfortable and well laid out, nevertheless if there are rows and rows of the same type of houses, even something which is uniformly good presents a rather drab appearance.
Too many people are involved in the building of houses and from that point of view I deplore, to some extent, the extra staff of engineers, unless they give an impetus to the building of houses and complete the job more quickly than is at present envisaged. My experience is that, first of all, a person has to get a plan and then the site has to be seen by one engineer. Up to a certain point, he looks after it, but then a second engineer comes along and approves of the final plan for the house. The matter does not end there. There may be a supplementary housing grant payable by the local authority, and before that grant is paid, at least one other engineer in the local authority's jurisdiction must visit the place to see if the house qualifies for the supplementary grant. The fact that it has been certified for the primary grant from the Department ought to be sufficient, in my view. Once the certificate goes down, there ought to be no more about it. So much for housing.
The matter to which I am about to refer will come before the House by way of a new Road Traffic Bill. It will be some time before that Bill will be ready. Certainly it will not be available this side of Christmas, and we are passing into the holiday and tourist season. If I am permitted to do so, I should like to make a few recommendations to the Minister which he might consider on his own initiative,  where he has power to do so, or in co-operation with or on the advice of the Minister for Justice, with a view to taking certain steps.
I do not know whether this matter has occurred to anyone else with regard to driving, particularly in rural Ireland. I refer to the effect the great number of wayside petrol filling stations have on traffic. First of all, they constitute a danger which is an ordinary danger in modern times in that people must drive in, fill up with petrol and drive out again. That is fair enough, but where I think there is positive danger, and where there should be some control, is in the position and power of the lighting of the station and the shadows they throw. A number of people passing some of these stations, driving either with full headlights or dims, find it quite impossible to see what is on the other side of the lights of the petrol stations. They are advertising lights mainly, close to the road, and it is impossible to see what is on the far side.
I do not want to single out any particular station, but there are a few on the road between Dublin and Belmullet, and that gives anyone interested plenty of room to guess where they are. They constitute a danger to the motorist and to the pedestrian who happens to be on the road at the time.
I do not know what is the real situation with regard to the dimming of lights. I know there is an order in force whereby every mechanically propelled vehicle must be fitted with a dimming device, but nowhere could I find any order that compels anyone to use it. Since I could not find such order, I do not think it exists. I think a motorist qualifies if he has a dimming device, but there is no obligation on him to use it. When one motorist finds himself blinded by an oncoming vehicle, the only recourse the aggrieved person has is such invective as he can pour upon the motorist as he passes him by. He cannot be expected to turn and chase him along the road in order to have some sort of charge preferred against him.
In that regard, I urge on the Minister as the person responsible for road  traffic to consult the Minister for Justice with a view to making a supplementary or correcting order compelling a person to fit a dimming device which is really effective and to use it on all occasions, not only when meeting an oncoming motorist, but also an oncoming cyclist, or oncoming horse-drawn traffic. In other words, there should be an order compelling him to use the dimming device to the advantage of all users of the road.
There is another aspect of lighting which I think is extremely important, that is, the grossly inadequate manner in which trailers hauled behind lorries which are already of a substantial size, are lighted. Anyone who has experience of driving on the Continent knows that one of the things brought to one's notice very forcibly at night is the great number of lights on all trailers and even on lorries by themselves. They are almost set out in outline, with strips of light indicating to the oncoming driver the extremities of the lorry and the actual amount of space taken up by the lorry and trailer, so that he can allow for it accordingly.
Again, I would say that the Department, not deliberately, but with some degree of carelessness, takes the sanctioning of contracts and the implementation of contracts very lightheartedly indeed. I know it is invidious to refer to matters in detail, and particularly to matters relating to one's own county or constituency, but nevertheless from such details the Minister may be enabled to make certain inquiries. The pattern might be quite uniform but might not be in the interests of getting the most out of public expenditure.
I want to refer to a few things that happened and are happening in Mayo. I do not know if it was the present Minister or his predecessor who sanctioned moneys out of which a sum was payable for the erection of a new bridge at Ballylahan on the road between Foxford and Castlebar where there was a very old-fashioned crooked bridge which was adequate. The contractor who got the contract to build the bridge proceeded to do so. I suppose he had all the advantages  of the services of an architect. Lo and behold, a little flood came last year when they were on the point of laying the floor of the bridge and the flood covered the parapet prepared for that particular project.
The Minister can readily understand the local consternation. It was the show piece on the Sunday afternoon it occurred. Motor cars travelled from a radius of 30 miles to see what was happening at this bridge at Ballylahan. That was all right. In the first place, the pillars were not tall enough. Then, for some months past, the work has ceased altogether.
My information is that the beams supplied by a firm within the jurisdiction of this State, I regret to say, were found to be inadequate in strength of material. I further regret to say that my information is that these beams could have been supplied by a firm from Northern Ireland but, around the time they were to be ordered or supplied, I cannot say which, an Order was made here by the Department of Industry and Commerce clapping a duty upon that particular type of beam. The result was that, on the figures quoted, the Northern Ireland firm could not compete and the firm within this jurisdiction was able to collar the contract for the beams at a price almost equating to that of their price prior to the imposition of the duty plus the whole of the duty or very near it. The Minister should make inquiries into that matter in relief of the ratepayers of County Mayo and find out if what I have said is true. I am not stating it is true, but it is information given to me from a reasonably authoritative source.
What is the position in regard to the contractor? Will he be compensated for the length of time he has been held up? It is now a period of some months. A clerk of works was employed there at a special rate, I am sure—probably at an adequate or fair remuneration. He is doing nothing there at the moment. Is he being paid? If the contractor is to  be compensated and if the clerk of works is to be paid, who will be responsible for the wholesale waste of money and time?
I hope the Minister will take up that matter seriously. No matter what political Party we belong to, we must take seriously this apparent waste of public money. If, upon investigation, it is found that there is no real waste, that there were special circumstances, then public feeling in the matter will be considerably relieved and allayed. It will also be good to know that there was not any such wastage or incompetence. By and large, an investigation into a complaint does an amount of good even though it may reveal that the complaint was not really justified. That applies to many complaints, apart from this.
There is a second matter in relation to the administration of Mayo County Council to which I want to direct the Minister's attention. I have already done so by way of a Parliamentary Question some time ago. I inquired about a tar spraying material depot at Castlebar. I can well understand that this would be a particular item within the moneys sanctioned in globo by the Minister. However, I brought it to his notice. I can well understand that, at that time, the Minister would not have the information available to him which I should have liked to get. I remember being stopped by An Ceann Comhairle who said I was giving information to the Minister rather than getting it. I gave him a considerable amount of information on that Supplementary Question, contrary to the rules governing Questions. I hope it was useful information. I hope he will have something to say about this when he is replying.
The Minister will recall that the Mayo County Council, through the County Manager, proceeded to build this depot near the railway station in Castlebar. They procured a site from Córas Iompair Éireann—certainly they leased it—upon which to build this peculiar structure. Nearby was a resident who felt he should take exception to the structure. He knew that such operations would interfere with the amenities of his house, his grounds and  his family. He so warned the county manager, through the secretary, by letter. He got very little satisfaction.
The building was begun. Then the man with the grievance brought it to the notice of his solicitor who took up the matter. An extraordinary situation developed. Side by side with the erection of the building there was being built up all the necessary pleading for the action that was to be taken by this neighbour against the Mayo County Council looking for an injunction restraining this project, seeking damages and the usual costs.
When the building was completed the pleadings were completed and the case was ready to begin. In the course of it all, very learned specialists were sought by either side to give evidence. Two days were specially set aside at the Castlebar Circuit Court in order that this case might be heard and justice administered as between the parties. Then, lo and behold, about a day or two before the eminent gentlemen were asked to travel from their respective abodes, the County Council stepped in. An injunction was agreed to.
That matter will come up on the local audit. I sincerely hope, having regard to the persistence of the persons responsible—the county manager and the county engineer—that there will be no ease or remission by the Minister of any surcharge which should properly be found against them in this regard.
Mr. Lindsay: I am not talking about Mayo County Council. The Council is not comprised of members of that  Party if the Deputy inquires into and examines their conduct over the last year. Deputy Killilea will have plenty of opportunities of dealing with this matter.
Mr. Lindsay: The Deputy knows well what I am talking about. He knows that what I said is perfectly accurate but he is trying to shift the blame in regard to something that happened through sheer personal malice with which he is conversant.
Mr. Lindsay: I want to refer the Minister to another practice that appears to be growing up in local government when an official retires. The official is kept on in a temporary capacity awaiting a permanent appointment. While he is a temporary official, or indeed even before he becomes a temporary official, he secures another position. That situation applies in Mayo at present where the county engineer retired some time ago and is being kept on in a temporary capacity. While in that capacity he occupies a post as director of the reconstituted Grass Meal Project no doubt at some fee per annum. In addition, he holds an agency for a firm or firms supplying materials connected with road-making and additives to increase the strength of tar mixtures. My information, from a relatively authoritative and reliable source, is that this gentleman has such an agency and has got a contract through the Mayo county manager for these materials for a period up to two years from now thereby committing— wrongly in my view—his successor to these things. Perhaps the Minister would inquire what the amount of commission is in this respect and  whether it is proper that the future county engineer in Mayo should be committed for the first two years of his office by his predecessor at the predecessor's price.
I should like the Minister to make inquiries, if possible before he replies to his debate—he will have an opportunity I should say between this and next Tuesday—to find out what steps Mayo County Council have taken in regard to water and sewerage schemes for domestic connections so as to comply with the direction given by the Minister himself—a direction or exhortation, but I think it was a direction—in September, 1959. While useful work is being done I think there is a great deal that can be investigated with profit and saving to the community. These schemes for water and sewerage generally in my view, and I think in the view of every reasonable person, take far too long. Everything appears to be under consideration; it is moving from one Department to another: inquiries have to be made. I know the difficulties—certainly the legal difficulties —that often crop up and how people themselves sometimes hold up schemes but I do not know of any instance in which water supplies or sewerage schemes are urgently required—particularly in Newport, Foxford, Belmullet, Achill and such places— where there is any local objection standing in the way.
I want to draw the Minister's attention particularly to the sanitary arrangements existing at Newport and also to inquire into the length of time it has taken to get any action from Mayo County Council in that regard. Public health may be endangered, as I indicated yesterday, on a question put by Deputy Calleary who, no doubt, had been asked to put it because of existing circumstances. He wanted to know when the water supply would be ready. The Minister was asked if he was aware that the present position constituted a danger to public health. I know it does. I was there on one day in the past three weeks and one would scarcely believe that such a situation could exist anywhere  in this country at present. I know it may well be due to circumstances over which the Minister may have no immediate control but it has existed for so long and has been so persistently ignored by those in a position to remedy it that it required investigation, I think, at the highest possible level.
In regard to roads and tourist grants, I think the Minister's Department has a considerable burden to bear in regard to the provision of adequate roads, certainly adequate road surfaces for our tourists. Almost invariably, as somebody recently put it, to get to a really beautiful place, a place of scenic delight, one needs to travel over bad roads or over no road but a mountain path. For that reason I think the by-roads require the greatest possible attention.
It is interesting to note in regard to roads and road traffic that better roads, according to the Minister's statement, have improved the whole situation. Somebody told me—I do not know if it is true—that there is a West German consultant here advising the Department on road traffic. Having regard to the population of Western Germany, of Britain and of this country and the number of motor cars in use in the three countries and also to the numbers killed and maimed on the roads in the three countries, relatively speaking, I think the Department would find that the figures in Western Germany are such that their consultant might not be of as great a value as a consultant from countries where the population is greater than here, the number of cars greater and the number of deaths by road accidents fewer.
I wonder if the local authorities would review the position with regard to their responsibility regarding the maintenance of piers, slips and harbours after construction by the appropriate Department? Some kind of inter-departmental committee should be set up, if such has not already been set up, to examine the likelihood of easing the situation in this regard so that good schemes that are for the benefit of the local people will not be subjected to so many  hindrances by having to go through so many channels before final sanction. I can well understand the necessity for maintenance after construction and the withdrawal of some body, but I do not know that it cannot be done by the appointment of a local caretaker who will be able to see what is required from time to time and bring it to the notice of the constructing authority, if I may so describe it, so that whatever work is necessary can be done without having recourse to the local authority concerned.
Deputy Palmer referred to the fact that his county had been asked to submit schemes. That, of course, was in pursuance of a great invitation issued by the Taoiseach after he took over control of the Government in order to show that he was greatly in earnest about improving the situation as he found it and in recognition of the necessity for such schemes and the more immediate necessity for the employment that would result. As was the case in Kerry, a considerable number of schemes were submitted from county Mayo. They may have been on the ambitious side but some of them certainly were schemes that, with a bit of pruning, were capable of implementation. They would give employment and lasting benefits in the areas affected.
I think my recollection is correct that not one of those schemes submitted in response to that invitation is to be carried out. The general phrase was used that they were not suitable or that they were beyond the scope of the expenditure contemplated. Some such phrase was used either to kill them entirely or to put them away to be considered if and when the necessity should arise further to excite the people's minds as to the better things to come and the prosperity which we are assured is always around the corner. The complete shallowness of that invitation and the great insincerity behind it are exemplified by the fact that so few, if any, of the schemes submitted by local authorities in response to it have been started or will be started.
Taking the broad general view, having regard to the figures which I  have quoted and which I have been given by the Minister in reply to various questions, the situation is not at all as rosy as the Minister would have us believe. One can do many things with percentages and figures. One can make a case one way or the other. The figures given by the Minister for houses completed by local authorities over the years show quite clearly what the trend was at particular times and what the trend is now.
While I criticise the Minister's optimistic viewpoint based upon percentages and figures, which, I am afraid, I cannot accept having regard to answers of very recent times, I have to share the sympathy that people will have for him because he finds himself in the same position as other Ministers of Government, either at home or abroad, in the course of debates on their Estimates, at public functions or even at election meetings, where they have to assure the people that the economy is buoyant, that prosperity is around the corner and that things are beginning to be on the up and up.
If the Department of Local Government, through its Minister, would cease to be less political—I use that word in its highest sense—things might be much better. Once politics have entered into local government, the difficulties which even officials of the highest efficiency and highest integrity must encounter are understandable. It is deplorable and regrettable that politics have entered into local government and into local authorities particularly. That is the position as we see it. The county manager, on the one hand, has his responsibilities; the local council, on the other hand, have their responsibilities. The Minister has the overriding authority.
The recipe for the success of any Minister for Local Government is to give the people the greatest possible value for the minimum expenditure, thereby asking the people to pay for what is sound, useful but not grandiose. He should certainly not ask them to pay for schemes like Ballylahan Bridge in county Mayo or the tar-spraying depot in Castlebar. I do not say for one minute that the Mayo County Council have not been very remiss in this matter and I say that of all the councillors. I  am reasonably safe in saying it at this time. They are on their way out; they have less than a week to go. They have all been remiss. Not one councillor of the 31 raised a voice against the wholesale waste, the deliberate and wanton waste at Ballylahan. It would be interesting if the Minister, in addition to whatever inquiries he proposes to make—and I do hope he will make some—could give us the expenditure on the tar spraying depot at Castlebar, how much will be salvaged out of it, and what the loss will be.
These are the recommendations I would make to the Minister and ask him to consider. The time is rapidly approaching when people will begin to throw up their hands at increases in rates and everything else, when we shall reach the stage that people will  be no longer able to pay, when movements will be started asking them not to pay and when it will be very difficult to resist such exhortations, if and when they are made without serious risk of breaches of law and order. That has started already in the islands off the south coast. There is agitation about non-payment of rates or reduction of rates. That will eventually extend to the mainland where people are not getting value for the money they are paying. In that regard, I would ask the Minister to give the question of expenditure, particularly wasteful expenditure, his serious consideration.
|Last Updated: 15/09/2010 12:26:52||Page of 10|