Wednesday, 25 July 1962
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister for Local Government (Mr. Blaney): When we were concluding last night, I was on the point of mentioning, in relation to the suggestion that grants are inadequate, the experience of certain groups of people in the country who have, by forming a local co-operative and public utility society and with the assistance of the local vocational committee who put at their disposal a building construction instructor, been enabled to build their houses without any cost other than the two grants which they have received from the Department of Local Government and the local council, together with the work which they themselves put into the building of these houses.
One place I have in mind is the little area of Glengad in North Donegal where about 30 houses have been built in this manner. I only mention it here to demonstrate that the grants can be of very great assistance to private people building their own houses and an extension of that idea throughout the country could give  very satisfactory results. This area of Glengad is in the Malin Head Peninsula and the people in that group of 30 were undoubtedly, with very few exceptions, of the class we have been talking about here who could not be expected to put any worthwhile amount of money along with the grants to have their houses built by building contractors.
In this relatively poor area of very small holdings, supplemented by fishing occasionally as the weather permits on that very rugged part of the coast, there are at least 30 families who have been rehoused by their own efforts, aided by the grants from the Department of Local Government and the county council, together with the invaluable assistance given by the building construction instructor who was put into the area by the Donegal Vocational Education Committee in order to demonstrate to these people, who had no building skill heretofore, how to do the job. An excellent job has been done. That is something which our vocational committees and our public representatives could very well copy and extend to other parts of the country.
Mr. Blaney: Of itself, it is not, but it is a help. If the Deputy were more concerned with efforts of that sort, instead of coming in here and obstructing the progress of business, it would be far greater help. The Deputy knows nothing about it.
Mr. Blaney: It is insufficient in itself but it is a method that can be used and which can be a considerable help. If in any one parish you can find 30 people who, with this assistance, are able to build houses, it is a considerable help.
Mr. Blaney: That is with one instructor. This is a method of assistance in these extreme cases. It is an excellent idea, one that has worked out in a practical way and one that has provided results which, without this assistance, could not otherwise have been obtained. I recommend the idea to the House and to members of the House who are also members of vocational committees. It is an answer to a very serious problem in many cases.
Overall, the grants that we have heard described here as insufficient, inadequate and meagre are not being spoken of fairly when these terms are used. The general picture is one in which the encouragement given by these grants is improving the building of these houses, their repair and reconstruction and also improving the amenities such as water supplies and sewerage facilities. That has been proved by the factual returns we have given to the House as to the amount and number of grants currently being allocated from the Department. For that reason, I cannot agree with those who decry the adequacy of the grants and I suggest to the House that Section 2 as it stands, continuing the grants at their present level, is a considerable encouragement at this time.
Mr. Desmond: The Minister must always understand that Deputies can make a comparison between certain advantages in County Donegal and disadvantages in other counties. In the south, we may not be able to avail of the method of financing building described by the Minister, particularly in areas adjacent to the city. We must  bear in mind the fact that outside the State grant, and the increased ceiling for the supplementary grant, if a man earns £10 or £12 a week and if there is other income to the house from a son or daughter, he is generally regarded as not eligible.
Mr. Desmond: I have not finished at all yet. It is not so long since the Minister explained the shortcomings of another Bill in the House. Is there anything to prevent a local authority from introducing something of that kind? I am hoping the Minister will say that there is not. I have in mind the case of the present county manager in Donegal who, before we were lucky enough to send him away from Cork, raised these points. When he was there, a man with a family income of more than £13 per week would not be considered for even a county council village type house.
Mr. Desmond: It was the manager. The record is in the Department of Local Government that, in spite of the opposition of Deputy Corry who, to give credit where credit is due, supported us, the manager's ruling went through. That is one point we have to consider.
There is another point in the section as it stands to which I should like to call attention. The explanatory memorandum states that grants in future will be paid unless where a piped water supply and sewerage schemes cannot be satisfactorily provided. In getting the report on the matter from the officials concerned, whether they be local authority officials or Department officials, such a report may show that the local authority may hope to provide these facilities within a number of years—it could be five years and it could be 20 years. It may happen then that in view of that, the Department may decide that in the foreseeable future such facilities may be afforded in the locality and, in the meantime,  the applicant may not qualify for the grant, unless he is prepared to wait until the facilities are provided.
I am not raising these matters for the purpose of obstruction but the manager and officials, acting on legal advice, as they are right in doing, may tell the members that the law is such and such and, irrespective of what the Department may say and of what circulars the Department may send out, the manager, fortified by his legal advice, can stand on his rights and say that these facilities will be provided in the distant future. In such circumstances, the members of the council would have to tell the applicant that in spite of their best endeavours, he will be unable to get a grant under Section 2 as it stands.
Mr. T. Lynch: The Minister said this Bill, with plans as they are, can be of great assistance to persons building houses for themselves. We all agree with that. What we cannot agree with in this Bill is that the position is being brought about that people will not get the grant. They could heretofore get grants.
It is important in urban areas to encourage tenants of existing working-class council or corporation houses to vacate these houses and to go to newer houses, say, with higher rents. That state of affairs has rightly been encouraged by the Minister and his Department. It is a good way of getting possession of low-rent houses which can be used for slum clearance purposes and which can be used for persons in the lower income bracket.
This Bill, however, through omission, will now rule out the tenants of corporation or council houses. They will not get a supplementary grant, under this Bill, if they apply to the local council to build a house under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts. I submit to the Minister that that is wrong. The giving of a supplementary grant is a matter for the local authority. I can see the Minister's point regarding his own bailiwick and the amounts he is giving for the grants.
It is a fact that if the existing tenants of corporation or council houses apply under the conditions of  the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts to build a house for themselves they cannot now, according to this Bill, get a supplementary grant.
Mr. T. Lynch: Let me come back to what I was saying in relation to the supplementary grant. I commend the Minister on this Glengad scheme. I would point out to him that such schemes exist all over the country. They are not the solution, but they are a great help. If you can get groups of people to come together and help themselves I agree that it is a very good thing. Here is where this comes in. The Minister for Local Government is a Donegal man and the Glengad people are at a great advantage  there. If the same occurred in other places and if groups of people got together they might not get the same tolerance and liberal treatment from the Department.
Mr. T. Lynch: They would get more grants, probably, in Donegal because you get more of everything. It is we who get the cut in the grants. That is what I am arguing here. We are told that the fair wage clause does not interfere with that in the Minister's constituency: I am sure it does not. That is peculiar to that area, and maybe to other areas, but it would interfere with it in my area.
I want to find out, under this Bill, if existing tenants of corporation or council houses qualify to get the grant under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts. I should be very grateful to the Minister if he would tell me that.
It was argued here last night that the cost of housing has not gone up. I have got some costings here of houses built down to even 680 square feet and it was always running around £2 per square foot. The houses that I am mentioning now, that were built at £2 a square foot, were built on land that cost from £100 to £150 an acre. That land is all used up now. In the area in which we are, our position is that we have to give £400 and £500 an acre for land to build ordinary working-class houses. Surely that is raising the cost of the houses, because that will have to be paid for by the tenants?
Then the wages went up between 8 and 9 per cent.—9 per cent. for the tradesmen and 8 per cent. for the labourers—and the working week was reduced to 40 hours. That will not increase the output. I would respectfully, then, point out to the Minister that housing, to say it conservatively, in areas such as I come from, has gone up in a short time from in the neighbourhood of £2 to about £2 10s. per square foot.
Mr. T. Lynch: We were always told about the proverb—I think it came from the Irish but my Irish is not good enough—that one swallow does not make a summer. The Deputy over there built one house for himself which is supposed to be the be all and end all of everything. I should be very glad if we could get the Deputy to come into our area at that price, but it cannot be done. We cannot get the land as cheaply as formerly. We have to employ trade union labour. That argument, therefore, is of no use.
I am trying to put a case to the Minister and I want to be reasonable about it. In the first place, the Minister should leave it to the local authority and give them the discretion as to who would get the supplementary grants. I submit to the Minister that that is very reasonable. The local authority are paying up the money. I know I am not without support on the Minister's benches for that. I would ask the Minister, before I sit down, if he can tell me now if existing tenants of corporation or council houses can get the grants under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts if they vacate such houses. If this is a six-mark question, I shall wait until the Minister and his officers——
Mr. T. Lynch: Grants. A supplementary grant will not be made available. They would get the loan but not the grant. A worker living in a corporation or a council house at a low rent might find in the course of time that he is earning more money or his family might grow up and his sons and daughters might have jobs and they might then decide to build one of these houses for themselves. I am sure Deputy Colley has come across that in Dublin and various places.
All members of local authorities welcome the Department's encouragement to get people out of low-priced  corporation houses or council houses all over the country. If you can get a man out of that type of house and encourage him to go into a dearer house, then you have a low-priced house to help you in your slum clearance for people in the low income bracket. Therefore, if the Minister can say to me that I am wrong, I shall be delighted.
Mr. Blaney: To get the matter into proper perspective, Deputy Lynch is right in one way but, I am glad to say, wrong in another way. He is right in asserting that in previous legislation in regard to local authority housing tenants and people eligible for tenancy, we had no limit. In this case, it is true to say that the £832 income limit does apply to all but there is this very significant difference: local authorities have discretion to determine in their own way what is the net income of a particular applicant. If an applicant of the type mentioned by Deputy Lynch had a gross income of £1,000 a year, the local authority may at their discretion decide, even though the gross income may be over £832, that a percentage of that income may be discounted for the purposes of the supplementary grants scheme and only the net remaining income will be considered. Therefore at their own discretion, they may devise a system whereby such a class can be treated in such a way as to bring their net incomes within £832.
The discretion is solely that of the local authority and is not subject to my scrutiny or approval, either now or in the future, so that Deputy Lynch is correct in saying the terms of the Bill have been changed as against previous legislation in this matter but the net effect is that class of people, or any other categories, may have their incomes discounted at the discretion of the local authority by an arranged percentage by the local authority who are best in a position to determine the percentage discount. Further, the local authority may decide that the £832 figure can be arrived at, even though the gross income of the husband and wife may exceed £832. There could  in fact be an allowance that would be discounted from the gross total in respect of the man having, as he probably would have, dependants or a number of children.
Mr. T. Lynch: I just want to thank the Minister for his forthright statement. It is so unusual for a Minister to meet a Deputy on this side of the House that I want to put it on the record that I am very grateful to him. This will be of great advantage to many people all over the country and a great help to the Minister in getting his Bill through today.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The Minister expressed his annoyance last night that the debate on this section had continued over such a lengthy period. He alleged that the statements made by members of the Opposition Parties were insincere and that there were no good grounds for opposing this section or for opposing the Bill. As was pointed out last night by speakers on the Opposition side, the Bill does not give anything extra by way of grants for the erection of new houses and naturally members are very disappointed. What did the Minister expect last night or what does he expect this morning? Did he expect that we should come along and say: “You are a great fellow. This is a grand Housing Bill. This will meet the requirements of people and it will do a lot of good in so far as the welfare of the community is concerned”?
I do not understand why the Minister bothered with this Bill. If he had brought in a few amendments in the previous Act, it would have done just as well and false hopes would not have been raised, as they have been raised in the minds of people about to build houses, that grants would be increased. The Minister adopted the argument last night that during the past two or three months the number of applications for new house grants had increased  by 25 per cent. That of course is correct but what is the reason for the increase? The reason is that those people expected big increases in the grants and they were getting through the preliminary work, submitting plans and so on, because in previous Housing Bills the new grants applied to buildings which had been commenced after a certain date. I am sure these people had not commenced the work because they were awaiting this Bill which had been announced some time ago at cumann and other meetings and it has proved a great disappointment.
Last night, I appealed to the Minister, as did other speakers, to reconsider the question of the grants on the final stages of the Bill. I said that some additional allowance should be given by the Department towards the erection of new houses. I hope that some of the Independent members of the House may join with us in appealing to the Minister to do this. I feel there are no circumstances to warrant his refusing it.
Mr. Coughlan: There is one point which I should like to clarify. Take the differential rent areas where not alone is the net income taken into account but the gross income of every wage earner in the house, together with the earnings of sub-tenants and relatives who are in the house only until such time as they qualify for a local authority house. We come to the net amount mentioned by the Minister. The local authority, who is the city or county manager in a particular area, looks for the last shilling rent from the tenants in corporation schemes. In Dublin, Cork and Limerick, the maximum rents are much higher than the rent that would be paid by way of a repayment of an SDA loan.
Surely the Minister would not expect a city or country manager to get his rents reduced by transferring a man from a corporation house to an SDA house and introducing a tenant at the minimum rent. I can see great difficulty and great obstruction put in the way of the tenant who wishes to leave a corporation scheme and build his own house under the SDA scheme. I would appeal to the  Minister to forget altogether about the local authority and if a man is earning £1,000 or £1,500—which many of them are, thanks be to God—he should not be left in the hands of the county or city manager.
These things should be automatic. If a man takes upon himself the responsibility of building his own house, he is an asset to the nation and should get every encouragement without placing a burden on the local authority, with the result that rents and rates are increased. The Minister is just shifting the load from the central authority to the local authority. That is the difficulty I see. I suggest that there should be no figure of £800 a year. We know that managers circumvent those things
Mr. Blaney: In order to allay any fears which might have been raised in the minds of members of local authorities, I want to point out that the manager would be more than mad to try to insist on his own wishes being carried out against the expressed will of the council. This is a matter for the elected body.
Mr. Blaney: They are just like any other group of people. Most of them are reasonable, but the odd one is unreasonable. Do not forget that the council have control of this matter ultimately and can require the manager to do their will. There is no question of the manager dictating a line beyond which he will not allow the council to go. This is not a question of interpretation of the law by the managers. This whole question of drawing up a scheme of supplementary housing grants is a policy matter, and it is the elected body who are, in my estimation, best fitted to decide on policy, so far as their housing programme is concerned. Normally, the manager has valuable experience and knowledge in interpretation  of the law but there is no law binding here. If the matter is dealt with by the council, I do not think any manager anywhere will try to suppress the wishes of the local authority who want to go further in their own best interests, and with their knowledge of the situation in the local authority area. I do not think there is any manager who would try to suppress the wishes of the local authority in a matter such as this.
Mr. Coughlan: In differential schemes, the manager will extract the last penny out of the tenant. In some cases, the breadwinner is taken to be a daughter. Whoever is earning the most money is termed the breadwinner by the manager. There is one specific case in Limerick of a man who was getting £2 12s. 6d. a week national health. His daughter started work about three months ago in a factory in Limerick. She is earning £5 a week, and she is taken to be the breadwinner in assessing the rent and the father is overlooked. The same is the case when married sisters or brothers come home from England. I appeal to the Minister to take advantage of this Bill to deal with that situation.
Mr. Blaney: The matter may seem relevant to this discussion but I submit it is not. In fact, there is no parallel between the law and the regulations governing applications for rent schemes in local authority housing areas. There is no comparison between that matter and what we are now discussing. It is related to housing but there the comparison stops.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The Minister seems to deal with Section 2 and Section 12 jointly, and to suggest that there is nothing in the Bill to preclude the council from ignoring the £832 in certain circumstances where the man has a family, and increasing the limit. I believe it is clearly set down in the Bill that on no account can the ceiling limit be interfered with by the manager or the council, whether or not they like it.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: It has not already been done and cannot be done because there is a statutory figure binding the local authority and any man paying a rent, if this Bill passes without amendment, irrespective of whether he has an income of more than £832, could be surcharged——
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The Minister now states that if that man and his wife have a family, some deduction could be made from their income to bring it within the £832. There is nothing in this Bill to allow that to happen. It is like the Taoiseach when he was Minister for Industry and Commerce telling us that even though something was not in the Transport Act, it could be done. We have learned our lesson about these Bills. I am sure the Minister has made a mistake——
Mr. Clinton: I should like to make an inquiry in regard to this matter. There were, I think, in 1958, what were described as letting grants for people who wished to build houses. The figure was £40 a year for ten years. Is there anything in this Bill that gives encouragement to people to build houses for their workers?
Mr. Jones: In respect to the regulations which are being made by the local authorities where they lay down scales according to family circumstances and net income, will those regulations be submitted to the Department for approval?
Mr. Desmond: I should like to draw particular attention to this section, in view of the statement made by the Minister last night. It suggests that the Minister is taking a very different line from that adopted by Deputy Smith when he was Minister for Local Government. He laid emphasis on the importance of the contract system as  against direct labour for house building. Last night, the Minister spoke of the question of costs and the allocation of grants and I would point out to him that we must here be concerned with the problem of a person compelled to pay a flat price for the building of a house. In this section, while the Minister may be right in saying he considers contractors' prices high, a fault lies with the Department in that their estimates of costs are outdated, particularly in the case of reconstruction.
I can prove that prices estimated by the Minister's Department were anything from 30 to 40 per cent. below the actual cost of the work involved. I am not blaming the inspectors who are tied down to the rates accepted by the Department, but the tragedy is that a person who has work carried out at a cost of £400 will find that he will get a grant of only one-third of what the Department estimated the work would cost, which could be as low as £300. This is not a new thing; it is a relic of old decency. We have been told the figures will be revised and unless this is done immediately, very few people can hope to avail of reconstruction grants.
Mr. Blaney: I can inform the Deputy and the House that a proposal to revise these scales of costs is at the moment under consideration in the Department. The revised scale will be circulated to inspectors very soon.
Mr. Blaney: No. There is one scale which covers all cases fully and if there are areas where the work can be done for less, it can be taken for granted that the people at the top of the scale will not suffer.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: I must again refer to the fact that there has been no increase in the amounts of the grants. The maximum grant remains at £280 in respect of a five-roomed house or 66? per cent., whichever is the lesser. Another point I should like to mention is the painting of a house.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: I understand that under subsection (6) painting is deemed to be decoration and accordingly does not qualify for a grant. The Minister should bear in mind that anyone who reconstructs or improves also paints and that painting is necessary to conserve the house and should be included as ordinary reconstruction. I should like to see the subsection amended on the Report Stage so that essential painting is included as reconstruction work. It is good for the Department to encourage people to reconstruct, paint and decorate their homes so as to brighten up the countryside. Is that not what we are endeavouring to do? This Bill, however, may be said to put a penalty on that type of work. It is a deterrent in so far as the applicant is told that once he has done the building work, it does not matter about decoration. If he does it, he will get nothing for it. If he does not do it, he will still qualify for the reconstruction grant.
Another case that arises is that of one or more applicants living in a bad house but not likely to change their state of life. They may be beyond marrying age but would like to have a house made habitable from their own point of view. If they apply, no grant will be available until all essential work is carried out and the house completely reconstructed. I understand the inspectors have instructions to that effect. This may be a house in an isolated area not likely to be inhabited when the present occupants have gone and it might, perhaps, cost £700 or £800 to have all essential work carried out. People in such circumstances cannot afford their portion of such an amount but would be anxious to have the house made habitable  according to their own standards and would be willing to pay the lesser amount.
The Minister may say they can avail of loans but these people are in very poor circumstances and in any case it is impossible, at least in Cork, to avail of loans, because, although the record of borrowers is excellent in Cork and there are no bad debts, it is difficult to get a loan. I want an assurance from the Minister that people in the circumstances I have described can get the reconstruction they themselves require done. I am sure the Minister has a number of such houses in Donegal and that every member of the House has met with that type of case.
While making this plea, I agree that it is bad policy not to have a house properly reconstructed, and if a subsection is inserted to provide for the case I have in mind, it should be rigidly applied. The number of cases involved should not be large as it is only where the Department's inspector feels that the house is not likely to be inhabited after the present occupants have gone that the provision would apply.
Mr. Carty: Heretofore, we had a different set of regulations obtaining in regard to Section 12 repairs and improvements grants as distinct from reconstruction grants. There is no  necessity to have local authorities certify that a house is fit for repair and improvement before the inspector from the Department of Local Government can call. I understand that regulation has been abandoned. If it has not, when the Minister is making regulations under this section, would he not provide that the necessary certification that the house is suitable for reconstruction be made by the officer of his Department? There is no necessity to ask the county engineer to send an assistant to visit and examine the house. It is quite easy for the Local Government inspector to do that on his first inspection.
Another anomaly which I could never understand arises when a person applies for a repair and improvement grant. The work has to be completed to the satisfaction of the Local Government engineer before any part of the grant is paid and naturally the Local Government grant must be paid before the supplementary grant issues. On the other hand, if one applies for a reconstruction grant and has half the work done, one gets half the grant from Local Government and if one applies and everything is in order, the supplementary grant comes along also. That puts a very unfair burden on the person trying to repair a house out of his own slender resources. He has to provide all capital and have all the work completed before he gets any money. I could not understand this divorce, why the Department take a different view of farm grants from their view in the case of people living in towns and villages, those in the categories of agricultural labourers and farmers. I hope that when the Minister comes to make regulations under this section, he will get rid of this anomaly.
I agree with Deputy Murphy that the estimates of the cost of work prepared by the Local Government inspectors are entirely unrealistic. They are completely divorced from realities. I have often seen contractors examine these estimates and smile. They say they would like to know where you would get somebody to carry out the work at the low estimate prepared by the inspectors. The  low estimate also has an adverse effect on persons hoping to qualify for a full supplementary grant. More often than not, work that cost £500 was estimated by the inspector at between £380 or £400. As a result, the applicant is deprived of a full supplementary grant, which he would get if the estimated cost of the work was three times the amount of the grant.
A plea has been made to the Minister to take decoration into account in the carrying out of improvement or reconstruction work. I hope some figure will be allowed for this. When a house is improved, it requires the final polish in the form of necessary decoration. Painting and decoration cost a lot now and some figure should be included for necessary decoration. As Deputy Murphy said, it helps preserve the life of the house.
Mr. Jones: I was glad to hear the Minister say that a new estimates scale is being prepared in his Department. I would appeal to him to get it out to the local authorities as quickly as possible. Further to what Deputy Carty and Deputy Murphy have said, the amount of the loan is dependent on the net amount which remains after the grant has been taken into account. That, of course, is based on the estimates prepared by the inspectors. If the estimate is low and the amount of the grant is taken into account, the local authority will pay only a percentage of the balance of the net amount. Where these estimates have been badly framed, as they have been in the past, it has resulted in the amount of the loan available being insufficient. People have to find from their own resources much more than they are able to provide. It would be a great help, therefore, if the Minister would see to it that local authorities get this new scale as soon as possible.
In regard to subsection (3), I think a case could be made for giving an increased reconstruction grant even to the smaller type of house. There is a tendency for people to get a grant for the smaller type of house and find themselves precluded from obtaining further grants for a certain number of years. A three-roomed house is  certainly not a family type house, and at a later stage they find themselves having to add on a room. Therefore, I think a good case can be made for the small type of house getting as large a grant as the others.
Mr. A. Barry: I think the word “decoration” is a misleading word when applied to exterior painting. The Minister should look into that. If it is outside painting in good taste, which may add to our “Tidy Towns” drive, I think exterior painting should be regarded as essential maintenance.
Mr. Blaney: No. Deputy Barry made a point against his own case when he mentioned this was maintenance. That is exactly one of the reasons why it should not be included in repair, improvement and reconstruction grants.
Mr. Blaney: I do not think it is reasonable that the external decoration of a house should be included for grant purposes. Many Deputies know to their cost that it would take practically a full grant to paint a house, and we are not in a position to be quite so flaithiúil. It might be regarded as maintenance but I do not think it could be regarded as repair or improvement in the correct sense of those terms. To do so would be stretching the imagination a bit too far. I do not think we could regard this type of external decoration as so important that we could devote public money to it when we are not in a position to grant money for other very meritorious purposes.
Mr. Blaney: Deputy Jones referred to the restriction on second grants for the smaller type of house. He suggested it prevented people from building the small type of house and that they were not able to build the larger type. We have taken note of this situation and special facilities are now available to meet that type of case. Where a young married couple start off by building the minimum size of house and they make application later for an additional room, the restriction on second grants, which normally applies over a ten or 15 year period, does not apply in such cases where the need is due to a growing family. That is being taken care of. It appears in the Bill at a later stage but since the Deputy raised it, I thought I had better mention it now.
“When an application for a repair grant is made to the housing authority the officers of that authority shall conduct the examination of such application, and will carry out the inspection of the work during its progress.”
The purpose of this amendment is to change the system of supervision of work carried out under the repair grant. As Deputies know, this is a two-legged grant. Both the State and the local authority contribute the same amount. The applications are made to the local authority, in the first instance. The State examines and inspects, and then pays; then the local authority has to pay. There are frequent complaints that the work done is faulty and there is at the moment no machinery in the local authority organisation for checking on these complaints. As far as the members of the local authority are  concerned, they live in areas where these jobs are done and one is, therefore, inclined to believe the allegations.
The point is that such examination and such inspection could be better done by the local authority. If it were, then the examination and inspection would be more frequent, more searching, and speedier. Departmental inspectors' time would not be wasted. If provision were made on the lines suggested, by arrangement between the Department and the local authority, control and inspection of this work would be more efficient and cheaper. After all, the officers of the local authority are stationed in the local authority headquarters. There would be no question of subsistence and travelling allowances. Queries could be dealt with very speedily by those living on the spot, so to speak. I think the Minister should consider adding this new section to the Bill.
Mr. Crotty: I should like to support this amendment. In our local authority, the Kilkenny Corporation, the local engineer inspects the work before a supplementary grant is given. At the present time, therefore, we have two inspections, but we have to wait until the Local Government inspector comes and makes out his estimate. Work would be much speedier if we were allowed to have our local engineer do the entire inspection work instead of sticking rigidly to the present system. There are, as I say, two inspections. The first is often delayed because it is a matter of the inspector having time and, when he does come, he does two or three inspections together. The local authority officer could do them as they came into the office.
Mr. Blaney: The situation, as we have known it, is that reconstruction grant jobs are not covered by the local authority officers, but Section 12 repair jobs have been and are being covered by the local authority, whose certificate of suitability for repair or improvement is a necessary part of the application to the Department. In 1949—as far back as that—the implementation of these reconstruction grants was farmed out to the local authorities, but the experience of that  system was not one which encouraged the continuation of that experiment. It was terminated after a period of three years' trial because of not being a success.
The Section 12 repair or improvement grants system was continued; it was left in the hands of the local authority. What is proposed now is not that that will all cease, but, rather, that where it is expedient, in the opinion of the Department or the Minister, in order to improve an existing situation in any part of the country, power is being given under this Bill to have the work done; but we still have authority to allow the present situation to continue. I might say at this stage, for the guidance of some of our bigger centres of population, such as Dublin, Cork, and perhaps Kilkenny, that the intention is that the existing system and procedure will, in fact, continue to operate.
Mr. Blaney: They actually inspect the proposed scheme and must certify for the work proposed and the manner in which the work will be done. They must certify that the house on which the work is proposed to be done is suitable for the carrying out of such repair at a reasonable cost. That is the measure of their inspection at the moment, together with what may well be their own affair, namely, their own building by-laws in the urban areas, plus any planning permission that may be necessary for external reconstruction or change. All that has to be considered in the ordinary course of events, regardless of whether or not a grant is applied for.
We are taking this power of discretion on the part of the Minister for Local Government as to suitability for repair and reconstruction, but we are not precluding the Minister from farming out parts of the initial inspections to the local authorities in any case in which it appears that is the best and proper thing to do. There is, however, the overriding power to take it back again where it is not, in  fact, working satisfactorily and where there is not the expedition we require. Power is taken in this Bill to utilise the better of the two systems of operation in certain circumstances. I do not think the House will object to our taking that freedom. If things are not working well in any particular area for any particular reason, we can by-pass one system and do it ourselves. That is the change we are proposing here. To accept Deputy Barry's amendment would be a reversion to a position which was not always satisfactory in the past.
Mr. Jones: This is a new section empowering the Minister to make grants in cases in which grants have already been made under existing legislation. These grants for reconstruction and repair will apply where damage has been caused by wind, rain or flooding, and where the works will be carried out not less than 15 years after the granting of the first grant, or, in the case of reroofing, not less than ten years. In regard to these ten and 15 year limitations in this Bill, it is only fair to comment that these grants will be made available only where the damage has been caused by flooding or storm.
Now all these houses were, in fact, inspected by the Minister's inspectors in relation to the earlier grants. Where the tenant purchaser is dependent upon inspections for a guarantee that the work carried out is of first-class workmanship, it is only fair, I think, that the examination should be more than a mere cursory look around. I suggest that even the examination by the Minister's inspectors ought to be so thorough as to ensure that the tenant purchaser is getting a real job of work done. If necessary, I would suggest that the Minister might abate the grant by £5 or £10, a nominal sum, to ensure that the inspection carried out is such as will ensure that the workmanship  is first-class and that the materials used, and everything else, are the best possible under the system.
Mr. Blaney: In reply to Deputy Jones, statutory effect is now being given to certain arrangements which we have been operating for a short period by stretching the law and by ministerial arrangement in relation to storm damage grants and other special grants. We are giving legal effect and statutory authority to these procedures. The provision contained in this section in regard to these special arrangements is very necessary and will prove to be very useful.
The storm damage grants, which have been brought to a head by experience of recent storm damage, are a very necessary part of our housing grants code. The net effect, I should like the House to appreciate, is that where a grant is made for the purpose of the repair of storm damage, no cognisance is taken of when a previous grant may have been paid, nor does the payment of a grant in future have any regard to when a storm damage grant was paid. So that, to all intents and purposes, in so far as the general regulations and the law are concerned, in respect of second grants, it is as if the previous grant never existed. That in itself is quite a useful and very necessary feature of this code.
In addition, we are giving special grants for the erection of bathrooms. Again, the 10 year or 15 year period mentioned elsewhere for the general application of second grants does not apply, provided, of course, the bathroom is not merely a converted existing room in the house; it has got to be an additional floorspace to the house; in other words, an additional room to an existing house, not merely conversion of an existing bedroom or some other room within the confines of the house as it exists.
I mentioned to Deputy Jones earlier the question of the provision of extra rooms to relieve overcrowding. This is a very necessary part of our legislation. We are putting in here now, giving it statutory authority and weight, that additional rooms may be built where overcrowding exists. Overcrowding  usually arises and can create very great hardship where a young couple starting off build the minimum size three-room house and after four or five years find the house is bursting at the seams and there is no space. The 10 year period is being designated. An additional room built then can be paid for by way of grant of £50 and, of course, the general scheme of supplementary grants by the local authority may apply in like manner to that type of house. A further room might, in a hypothetical case, become very necessary some years later and that additional room could be provided.
By and large, what we are trying to do is to ensure that we do not force people to give up the idea of building a house, particularly young couples, because they know the minimum size house is likely to be too small for them in the future and as the law stood in the past, they would not be entitled to any grants for necessary extension. It is in order to relieve that to a large degree that we have designed this sort of building by instalment, as it were, when and as extra space becomes essential.
Under those few headings, while we have been operating the provisions by stretching the law as it was, we are giving statutory authority, at the first opportunity we have had, which is this Bill, in order to secure their continuance and legality in the future.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: Would the Minister mind having a look again at subsection (3), the subsection relative to the provision of bathroom grants? In order to qualify for a bathroom grant, a person must provide an extension to a house. Take a house where there is sufficient space, which has, say, a spare room which the owner is anxious to convert into a bathroom and to provide the necessary equipment. Such a person should qualify for a grant. It may be difficult in some cases to provide an additional room because space may be limited. I have no doubt that in some cases it would be impossible to provide the additional room.
That clause should be eliminated which provides that the work must involve an addition to the floor area.  If there is sufficient floor area already or if there is a spare room which the owners are anxious to convert into a bathroom and to reconstruct to standard requirements, that should meet the requirements of Section 4.
Mr. Blaney: There is just one point on paragraph (e) of subsection (1) of Section 4 I should make clear. The special £50 bathroom grant indicated there is not payable if part of an existing house is used for the provision of a bathroom. The special bathroom grant is not payable in those circumstances, no matter what case may be put forward. But, if a person providing bathroom accommodation within his house qualifies in the normal way or, being a distance away from a water main or sewer, has to provide his own water supply and sewerage system, he is not debarred from providing the bathroom within the confines of the house and availing of the water grant and sewerage grant. To some degree, in fact, quite a large degree, while he may not be paid for the conversion of the room into a bathroom, he does qualify, subject to other conditions, for water and sewerage grants and possibly, supplementary water and sewerage grants. So that, by and large, he is not just bereft of any support or assistance.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: Will the Minister not agree that under existing regulations, a person who provides bathroom facilities in an existing room qualifies for a grant and, as well as that, the bathroom equipment is deemed to be reconstruction work and a grant is based on the cost of the equipment? The conversion of an existing room into a bathroom and the equipment are taken into account in the estimation of cost, so that it appears that paragraph (e) of subsection (1) is a disadvantage.
Mr. Blaney: No. I go with the Deputy this far: in discussing paragraph (e) of subsection (1), we are discussing the isolated bathroom grant. I  am sorry if I have confused anybody in regard to what has followed from Deputy Murphy. If there is a reconstruction or general repair job being done in the house and part of that job includes the provision of a bathroom within the confines of the existing house, and bathroom fittings, toilet and so on, that does come within the general repair or reconstruction grant provisions in the matter of costings but does not qualify for the special bathroom grant which is payable only, and could be in addition, in respect of a net addition in floor space to the house by the provision of a bathroom. The Deputy is quite right. There was that other facility in the past and it is proposed to continue to incorporate that in reconstruction or repair work. We are excluding, as we have been excluding, the application of the extra £50 special grant.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: Am I right in stating that a person who did not get payment of a grant or part of a grant subsequent to 1st January, 1960, can get a bathroom grant, even though he is not providing the additional floor space? Am I right in asserting that such a person is entitled to that accommodation at the present time?
Mr. Blaney: No. Such an applicant would not be, and has not been, entitled to any grants for that purpose, unless the provision of the bathroom is complementary or incidental to a general repair or reconstruction job covered by a general reconstruction or repair grant.
Mr. Blaney: No; I cannot go that far with the Deputy. The position in the past has been, as it is proposed to have it in the future, that the extension of the premises was a necessary part of the operation in order to qualify for this type of grant. There has been no change.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: Let us assume a man who reconstructed his house in  1959 was paid the entire grant before the end of the year. If he applied for a grant towards the installation of a bathroom, did he not get the grant even though the additional floor space was not being provided? As I understand it, several people have got bathroom grants. It is very necessary work.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: Have not a number of grants been approved, say, this year by the Department for the provision of bathrooms, in addition to water and sewerage grants? It is not termed a bathroom grant. The official name is “reconstruction grant”. It is being termed a bathroom grant in this Bill.
Mr. Desmond: I should like the Minister to clarify the position in regard to this section. It provides certain advantages in the rural areas but would it not be possible to offer the same concession to urban areas? Does the term “county health district” debar urban areas? I presume “county health district” will debar areas like Dublin, Cork, Waterford or Limerick, but I would naturally be concerned about urban areas generally. Yesterday we were discussing the fact  that many applicants there will not be able to avail of supplementary grants and apparently under this section a benefit which is being made available in other areas is being denied to them. I should like to know from the Minister if that is the case. I think it would be wrong if that is so and I hope it is not.
Mr. Blaney: The Deputy is quite right. It is not intended that this Bill should apply to urban areas. I shall explain why we came to that conclusion. As Deputies are aware, the local authority is normally obliged to secure the repair, closure or demolition of unfit houses. We could not encourage any relaxation of that duty that is imposed on our local authorities as regards this very difficult and grave matter of removing and replacing unfit houses with proper housing or whatever you will. We have had to take a very realistic view of the situation of the isolated house in respect of these special repair grants because the obligations that have been resting on our local authorities over the years in regard to unfit houses apply in these isolated areas just as they apply in the urban areas.
While theoretically it was laid down that the local authority should do one of these three things I have mentioned, repair, close or demolish and replace unfit houses, in no matter what part of its functional areas they existed, hard economic facts dictated that, in practice, our local authorities did not demolish, close or repair unfit houses existing in out of the way, inaccessible places, occupied in many cases by people who are possibly the last of their line and whom nobody would follow in occupation of these houses.
It is in an effort to cope with the practical situation as we know it— that the local authorities have not been doing their duty, for the fairly good economic reasons I have suggested, of replacing such unfit houses in the circumstances I have outlined in the rural areas—that we are now proposing, where a house in a rural area is occupied by a person or persons who are unable from a financial point of view to do anything for themselves or are not in the financial  position to enable them, together with the grants, to do the normal work that could be regarded as necessary repairs in a reconstruction job, that such cases be dealt with in an exceptional way, the exceptional way being that only necessary repairs will be insisted upon and that the general overall standards applying to ordinary reconstruction and repair grant cases will not be applicable.
Furthermore, the housing authority may supplement the grant from the Department of Local Government to whatever degree they wish or think is necessary to secure that some reasonable sort of accommodation will be provided in these extreme cases for the remaining years of an old couple or a single person. In that way, we are trying to remedy what we have known to exist for a considerable time, a matter in which the local authorities have had a duty and which, for practical reasons, they have not got around to doing. This is a method by which we hope to meet the most extreme of the hard cases to be dealt with. This applies to houses in the rural areas and the reason it does not apply to urban houses should be obvious. We cannot relax the duty imposed on housing authorities to rebuild and repair unfit houses in the urban areas. There is no reason, financial or otherwise, why they should not do their duty in the urban areas, for the reason that if they do repair a house which is unfit, that house will not be a dead loss to them when the occupiers have passed on.
Such a house could be a complete dead loss if it were situated in an isolated rural area. That is the reason we are excluding any of these necessary repair works in the urban areas and, instead, applying it to deal with a very special problem in a very little way, to ease in some way the desperate plight of some of our old people, particularly if they are living in an extremely bad condition in the out of the way rural districts.
Mr. Desmond: I would again ask the Minister to clarify the position even without having regard to the argument as between urban and rural  areas. The explanatory memorandum dealing with Section 5 mentions the owner of the house. Unless I am very dense, I cannot anywhere see in the Bill mention of the owner of the house. All the way through, I see the word “occupier”. In this case, are these grants being given to the owner or to the occupier?
The Minister has also explained that there may be an old pair living in a house which was the family home for a long time. There is no mention of that in the Bill. The Minister, when speaking on the Second Stage, in Column 2094, Volume 196 said that where the local authority are satisfied that a certain amount of work could be done on a house which, in the normal circumstances, if that work was not done, would be unfit for habitation, they can give a grant towards that work. The problem I have in mind in that connection is that of the county manager whom I have mentioned before. I remember a case in Cork where the official served a Form 5 notice on the owners of a condemned house, gave them a certain time to appear in person to listen to his demands and when they were not lively enough to attend upon him, served a Form 6 on them.
In that case, the owner would then have to go into court to meet that document. Where such a position applies under this new type of grant where the local authority state that they believe that a certain amount of work is warranted on the house, they are then placed in the difficult position that they themselves, having condemned the house under Form 6, and if they are inclined to offer a supplementary grant, will have to go into court to have their own decision altered. I have a horrible idea we will be up against all these things in the future.
It is pretty hard on the owners of houses in the urban areas. Here again the word “owner” does not appear in the Bill. The word “occupier” is used all through. If the old person is living alone and the owner of a house gets a grant for its repair when the old person dies, the owner may be able to make money out  of that house even though it has previously been condemned by the local authority. I should like the Minister to do something on Report Stage to clarify these matters.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The section goes a little way to meet the case I put forward on Section 3 regarding the approval of grants for partial reconstruction work. In this section, it is proposed to allocate a maximum grant of £80 from the State and £40 from the local authority making £120 in all. That is the maximum contribution.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: This is one of the few sections of the Bill that are helpful, but I can see difficulties ahead of any person making an application for such grants, whether his house is very isolated or not too isolated. How are the applicants to be segregated? What will happen in the case of a person living in a house that needs some repairs but that is not too bad? I see great difficulty in applying the section. Naturally there are bound to be a big number of applications and each person will be making his own case. For instance, a man of 40 years of age will say: “I am living in an isolated area. I do not intend to get married. I shall not do anything about this house as I do not require to do it.” Then, he could get married and have a big family.
I thought we would meet the situation by the Minister's agreeing to give grants for reconstructing the house in  a partial way, in such a way as would meet the requirements of the existing inhabitants. I realise that that would demand some contribution from the applicant. I do not think it is such a bad thing that the applicant should make some contribution towards repairs, even though it is terribly difficult for him to do so or to get a loan. However, it might be possible to get a smaller estimate and to give a grant without any of the restrictions in Section 5, whether a person resides in a rural area or, in exceptional circumstances, in an urban area. Therefore, before we leave Section 5, I should like an explanation from the Minister as to the type of applicant who will qualify. What yardstick will the local authority apply to distinguish between qualified applicants and non-qualified applicants and what other considerations will be taken into consideration?
I can visualise many discussions at local authority housing meetings on this section. You might have an applicant under this section who is capable of paying for repairs or who is capable of paying his contribution towards the repairs. I think it will give rise to big difficulties. I should like to hear the Minister on the type of applicant who is likely to qualify.
Mr. Blaney: I can well appreciate the Deputy's expressed fears in regard to the misuse or the abuse of this section by those who would like to dodge the column, as it were, and to get a little more than they are entitled to or to get it a little easier or to be allowed off with doing the job less well than it should be done.
Regulations will have to be made in this matter for the guidance of local authorities. The first point is that the local authority will be required by my Department to certify the circumstances of any particular applicant who may come along to our Department or who, through the local authority's prompting, may come to us, and so on. The problem has been brought to light, so far, of people who apply, specifying the amount of work that must be done and the estimate of the cost and who write back and say: “The grant you are giving is all right  and the supplementary grant from the county council is all right but there is £200 or £300 more work to be done and we have not got the money to do it.” That has more or less raised the problem.
Merely because a man is 40 years of age and living in an isolated part of the country in no way entitles him to qualify. That, and that alone, is not enough to qualify him for this minimum repair grant. The person would be of the type who cannot do anything for himself or the amount that he could do for himself or the amount of money he could provide from his own resources, added to the total amount available, would still not do the job under the normal reconstruction or repair grant procedure.
It is only when that stage has been reached that the question of whether or not an applicant would qualify for special repair grant consideration would arise. The local authority, at that stage, by virtue of their knowledge and various other operations of which they are in control in their functional area, will be in a very much better position than any other agency to certify to my Department that a particular person lives in a house that is unfit at the moment. They can certify that the person living there cannot do much for himself; that the financial resources are nil or next to it. They can certify that he cannot, because of physical incapacity or old age, do any actual work that would supplement the grants, as many country people do in these cases. By and large they can certify that the applicant may be old or infirm, that his life span or expectancy is probably not very long. They can certify that the minimum repair—possibly the repair of the roof or even of half the house, most of which may now be falling down—to put the house into proper repair by way or roofing, new windows, doors, ceiling, and so on, would, in fact, while it could not be regarded as ideal or coming up to the normal standards of a desirable type of dwelling, nevertheless, in these types of circumstances, provide such a person or such persons  in these very poor circumstances with a habitable home and shelter for probably the remainder of their days which, in the normal run, might not be very long altogether.
It is for that type of general and exceptional hard case, for whom nobody has been able to do much in the past and for whom the local authority, for good, economic reasons, are not inclined to do much at present, and you cannot blame them, that we want to cater for here. It is for that type of person who, for one reason or another, we have not been able to cater and who is not likely to be catered for through our normal re-housing by local authorities, and for whom grants in the past have not been sufficient, this type of section has been devised. In general, that is the category to whom the section will apply.
I do not visualise a widespread application of this section at all. It is the hard case and the exceptional case that we hope to deal with under this section—not the letting-out of somebody, merely to let him out, or to give something to persons to which normally they would not be entitled. That is not the intention of the section. So far as I can regulate it or control it, through the local authorities, such a person will not get any benefit or be allowed away with anything under this section that the ordinary applicant throughout the country is not entitled to get under the general sections.
The House will appreciate that to go into all and every aspect of the various circumstances which could add up to bringing about an operation under this section would not only be very difficult here in the House but would also be very lengthy and probably when we would be finished, we would still have left out various unthought of cases and circumstances. To get a full picture, anyway, in a general sort of way, you could apply what I have said to your own area where you can see that such an operation under this section would be of immense help and in fact would be the only way in which you could help somebody in your district.
I can see that this section might be  of help where, as is not unusual in the country, a few neighbours of maybe an old man or an old woman or an old couple would come to their aid in doing vital repairs. This would be of assistance to those few neighbours who in the past, indeed, may have done more than the grants would propose to do for these same old people. It is there that I think we could look to these neighbours by giving them this encouragement and help through these grants.
Those neighbours, with the aid of the supplementary amount from the council might, in fact, repair the house of the old couple whom they respect, whom they want to see remain in the district rather than see them go to the county home where they might have to arrive eventually for their own protection because of the state of the house. It can be used and will be used to supplement the charitable instincts and practices of our people in rural Ireland who over the years have done a great deal of this type of work without any grants from the local authorities. Together with the local authority assistance we can do something to help hard cases.
Mr. Blaney: Finally, it is the Minister who has the power to make or to stop a grant in any particular case. How it comes from the local authority is not really of the essence as it will be the Minister who will determine on the information or certification of the local authority whether a grant should be paid or not.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: If a local authority by a majority vote of its members decides to forward an application to the Minister and the manager disagrees must the application come to Dublin, can it be sent to the Department? I believe such a function should be vested in the members and should be a reserved function and not an executive function. Naturally, the members would have a better knowledge of applicants' conditions and  they would act fairly in supporting or rejecting such applications.
Mr. Blaney: If the Deputy would allow me, I have just one comment to make. All of my actions and statements, both inside and outside this House, both as a member of this House and as a member of a local authority, have always been directed towards upholding the authority of members and that would be my policy for the future.
Mr. Jones: I take it that subsection 2 (a), where it states “and the Minister is satisfied”, is the operative portion once the recommendation comes from the local authority and that that is what reserves to the Minister the right to determine in matters like that? Is that the case?
Mr. Jones: In subsection 2 (a) it says “furnishes to the Minister a certificate of the authority stating, and the Minister is satisfied.” Are those the words which reserve to the Minister the right to determine the case?
Mr. Desmond: I should like the Minister to clarify the differences existing between what is in the Bill, in the explanatory memorandum, and his contribution on the Second Stage, in regard to whether it is the owner of such a house or the occupier.
Mr. Blaney: What are mentioned in the memorandum are typical circumstances and not necessarily the typical case or the only type of case. Obviously that is what has given rise to a certain amount of confusion. As far as the actual section is concerned, the occupier is mentioned and, of course, the occupier may be only the owner——
Mr. Desmond: My worry arises because I believed it was an executive function. I fear that the owner may be victimised because of the fact that there may be a large number of applications from occupiers of houses owned by other people and if the manager gets a lot of applications he will probably dig in his heels and do nothing. Whereas it would be better if we could have it in such a way that we could help the occupier who is the owner of a house in a bad state of repair and who, through financial disability, was not able to repair the dwelling. On the other hand, should it be the case that the occupier is not the owner and the owner leaves the house in a bad state of repair over the years, then, if we spend money on it, we are helping not the occupier but the owner. I believe, as the Minister states, that very few cases will benefit but we should have it watertight and I suggest that between now and the Report Stage the Minister should consider the possibility of putting in “owner-occupier”.
Mr. Blaney: While I can follow the Deputy's line of argument, I cannot reach the same conclusions. If we were only to have it owner-occupier we would then exclude many hard cases  which probably we would like to include. How then would we deal with them? The occupier in this section, as in all other sections of this nature, can only do these jobs with the consent of the owner so that to that degree there will not be an unreasonable spate of people applying because they have no responsibility for house repairs in somebody else's house. Deputy Desmond has looked at it from a slightly different angle from the way I look at it. If an occupier of a house, who is not the owner, is living under the most desperate conditions at the moment and the owner has not done anything about it over the years, then the local authority should have insisted that he do something about it, or have taken appropriate action against him. If the local authority have failed to do that, and the stage is reached at which the house is of no real value to the owner and it would be unwise or uneconomic for him to spend money repairing it, he may get notice from the local authority that the house is not fit for habitation.
In those circumstances, there would not be any real financial or commercial interest in the future ultimate clearance of the site. In the rural areas where these types of operation are applied, the site may have some value to its occupier for a further number of years. With uneconomic rent, the owner of the site is probably not caused great hardship because the site is not that valuable nine times out of ten, if it is of any value at all.
Assuming we had reached the stage where the house is not owned by the occupier, where it is in a very bad condition, where it is in a condition of such a nature that its repair is not worthwhile from the commercial point of view, the owner cannot be reasonably expected to do anything about it. In those circumstances, I can see the owner being only too happy to give his consent to the occupier getting a grant of this limited dimension from the Department, and with the assistance of the local authority supplementary grant, doing the minimum repair which the council is empowered to do under the subsection of the section.
 I do not quite agree with the fears Deputy Desmond has expressed because it will be brought forward to the local authority, and the manager will decide it is too costly or that it is not worth doing anything about it. I may be wrong, but I do not think that “owner-occupier” only would be fair, or would meet the considerations which I had in mind in designing the section. Nor do I believe that by having “owner-occupier” only, and “subject to the consent of the owner”, it is likely that there would be an unprecedented clamour for this type of grant to a degree that would intimidate the local authorities from operating the scheme at all.
After all, the local authority will be intimate enough with the financial considerations and the standing of the applicant and the actual condition of the house. The circumstances in which a certificate can be sent forward by the manager to the Minister are very stringent and close-packed and a great number of them cannot possibly exist in which those unusual circumstances would be lined up and coinciding. I do not think there could be so many cases in a county council area as would intimidate the council or the manager and prevent them from doing anything at all.
The Deputy may have another view and he may be partially right, but I do not think he is fully right. I quite agree there may be a lot in what he says, but my view is rather to minimise what the problems may be. On the other hand, I think the Deputy's view is, may I say, exaggerated—not deliberately exaggerated—as against my rather conservative view.
Mr. Desmond: It is possible that both the Minister and I may be wrong, but from my own knowledge of the rural areas, I know cases in which the occupier is not the owner and the owner refuses to spend a shilling on putting the house into any fair condition. We are providing money for the benefit of the occupier—and that is right and proper — but we must remember that the occupier may be a man and his wife, an old pair, and the owner may refuse to do anything to  the house. If this Assembly, through the Minister, gave £80 for the improvement of the house, and if the local authority contributed to what was being done for the benefit of the occupier, perhaps in a few years, on the death of the occupier and his wife, the house would revert to the owner who had refused to put one penny into its improvement. He would then be able to let it to other people at a rent of 5/- or 10/- a week. That is what I want to get at.
I am afraid that we must admit there are a few Shylocks in the rural areas as regards rent, just as there are in Dublin or Cork. The owner who had refused to co-operate in spending anything on the improvement of the house could, on the death of the occupier, and on the house reverting to him, let his untenanted house to some other people and charge rent after perhaps a few hundred pounds had been expended on it between the State grant and the local authority grant. That is what I am worried about.
Mr. Blaney: I must say that in my first view of what the Deputy said I did not quite get what he was after. I fully appreciate now the anxiety of the Deputy about the relationship between the owner and the occupier, and what he has in mind. In the case instanced by the Deputy where the owner refuses absolutely to do anything with the house over the years and allows the house to fall into a bad state of repair, and an unfit condition, and is generally unco-operative, if a poor person who can do little or nothing for himself is the occupier, such a person may now bring to the house in which he is living the benefit of this section.
As Deputy Desmond has pointed out, the benefits may continue after his departure, through death or otherwise. It is the occupier, to a large degree, we are concerned with here, rather than the house. I may say that is a fundamental difference between this section and any other section of our housing code. We are usually concerned with the house but here, by and large, we are concerned with the occupant. It is the circumstances of the occupant that can set in train the benefits of the section which will have  the effect of having a few hundreds of pounds' worth of improvements done to the house. The owner may have a Shylock disposition and have refused to do anything to the house and probably treated his tenant badly down the years.
However, having reached the point where the present occupant has got the repairs done, here is the position as I see it. If the house is in an unfit condition or could be regarded as being unfit, the chances are that it still could be and would be regarded in normal circumstances as unfit, and the local authority would no doubt have regard to the type of owner with whom they were dealing, and would undoubtedly, although they should not, have a recollection of the manner in which that owner had refused to co-operate in the past.
Overall, the type of repair we are talking about is a minimum repair in connection with a house which is in a very bad way. Undoubtedly, such repairs would be urgently necessary in order to render the house merely habitable and no more. Even after these minimum repairs are carried out, it is unlikely most of these houses will be in a condition in which they could be let for a rent, and accordingly this rules out the possibility of a grasping owner, as Deputy Desmond said, making any money out of such a house. Our object in this section is to save an old person from being transferred to a county home or some such institution, or to save him from premature death from the effects of a leaking roof or a falling-off door—in order that he may die where he wishes to die. I repeat that all that is intended here is the carrying out of minimum repairs and that when these repairs are carried out the house would still not be regarded as a fit tenement. SECTION 6.
Mr. Desmond: I move amendment No. 5:
In subsection (1), page 8, line 47, after “persons” to add “, being persons aged sixty years or over”.
I would much prefer if I were not forced to move this amendment. It says “being persons aged sixty years or over” as a definition of what an elderly person is. I would much prefer to leave this to the Minister.
Mr. Sherwin: I assume that when the Minister, in this section, talks about housing elderly people, he also means elderly couples. In Dublin at the moment, the housing authority is looking after 600 elderly single people and 400 elderly couples, and the city manager says this section holds no interest for him because it will take him all his time to house the single people and the couples, all elderly, who are living in condemned houses at the moment. The Minister says he would like the help of outside bodies in catering for these elderly single people and couples. An elderly couple might be a man of 70 and his wife, aged 55, or an old man of 71 and his wife aged 61.
Mr. Blaney: She could be 21.
Mr. Sherwin: It could also mean two brothers, one 80 and the other 58. The section as it stands could mean they would be able to live together in the class of dwelling suggested. At the same time, the Minister must examine the whole question of grants for these people in case local authorities might get the idea that people not so old could pay better than the very old people. I am wondering if there is to be a differential renting system under this section, in which case there is a danger that local authorities would give preference to people not so old, who might be in receipt of up to £10 a week, over very old people who are getting only the old age pension.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The amendment relates to the question of age only.
Mr. Sherwin: It is the mechanics  of the thing that worry me. There should be some sort of control but not the sort suggested in the amendment.
Mr. Blaney: Deputy Sherwin, in his last few words, has said what I intended to say in this respect. While it is undoubtedly true that in operations such as this, precautions will have to be taken and certain measures adopted by way of regulation and procedure so that there will be no abuse or exploitation of the elderly people concerned, on the one hand, or of the local councils and the Department, on the other, as far as the grant moneys are concerned, to put in a specific age, whether it be 70, 65, 60 or 55, would in fact create untold difficulties in the future. A couple, one of 80 years of age and the other of 59 years of age, would have to be segregated if this amendment were adopted. So would an old fellow of 80 and his wife of 59. These are the types of extreme circumstances that could arise, if we applied an age limit. It could cause great difficulty and throw up sufficient anomalies to render it necessary to bring the Bill back to the House for amendment later.
I do not think the stipulation of age is necessary. In fact, I think it would tend to strangle the intention of the section and therefore I would not recommend the amendment to the House. The general idea underlying the amendment is, of course, that there should be some precautions so that abuses would not arise. On that point, I can do no more than assure the House that we propose in the Department to devise whatever precautions we think necessary, and even go so far as to advise local authorities as to what precautions they should take to avoid exploitation or abuse under the section. I suggest that the amendment, though well-intentioned, would probably cause more difficulty than assistance and I do not think it would achieve what those who proposed it have in mind.
Mr. Desmond: I appreciate the difficulty but I should like the Minister to see our difficulty also. Much of this business will finish up by regulations made by the Minister but these  regulations, unfortunately, will be made at a time when this House will not be sitting. They will be tabled in the Library for so many days at a time when Deputies may not have an opportunity of seeing them. I am not suggesting that the Minister is going to bring in anything that may be obnoxious to anybody here, but we are at a disadvantage in discussing a measure, particularly a Housing Bill, where so much is tied up with regulations. I was not the member of my Party who wished to insist on an age being fixed. Young people may consider a man of 60 to be very old, while a lively man of that age may deem it an insult to be considered elderly. Under the circumstances we shall have to leave the matter as it is and I withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Desmond: I move amendment No. 6:
In subsection (2), page 8, line 50, after “dwelling” to insert “(which in order to qualify for a grant must contain at least a living-room, a bedroom and a toilet and must have cooking facilities in a room other than a bedroom)”.
This amendment makes clear what we have in mind. We feel there should be some definite stipulation in the regulations as to what must be done to avail of the grants from the Department and from the local authority. The Minister made it clear that the main objective is to cover philanthropic or charitable organisations who may be able to help but the Bill does not define these people. I can well imagine certain people looking ahead and seeing the advantage of buying four or five houses and converting them and, as far as I can see, there is nothing in Section 6 to prevent them from having each room considered as a separate dwelling. I may be wrong about that. I can only read the Bill and say what it means to me. Surely, we should get away from the position of these elderly people having a so-called dwelling for which the owner gets a substantial State grant and probably a local authority grant as  well. I do not always favour regulations but I think there is good reason for a stipulation that the dwelling should contain a living room, bedroom and toilet and have proper cooking facilities in a room other than a bedroom. If £300 is being given by way of grant and another grant given by the local authority and if we are anxious to help these elderly people to have a dwelling, we should make sure that what they get will be a dwelling which will be a real benefit to them.
Mr. Sherwin: I do not understand the section. I thought the grant would only be given in the case of three rooms. If that is so, it covers the amendment.
Mr. Blaney: That does not apply to this section.
Mr. Sherwin: I take it there is some misunderstanding. It was argued earlier that if it is proposed to give a grant for the housing of elderly people they would not need three rooms. It was argued that if they had to get three rooms probably people would not bother to provide dwellings at all as they would be too expensive for elderly people. It was suggested that one or two rooms would suffice. In fact, local authorities provide only one room for elderly persons and even a person living in a condemned house can only get one room from the local authority. I take it the Minister is not giving £600 to anybody to build a room. I think the Minister should explain the matter.
Mr. Blaney: There seems to be a very grave misconception of who may qualify to draw these grants from the Department or the local authority. I think it was said earlier that if we do not have some very stringent statutory regulations in regard to the number and size of the rooms we shall have speculators moving in to take advantage of the maximum £600 they may get for these relatively small dwellings, as they might be, and as a result we might have speculators battening on prospective tenants by charging a fairly substantial rent for such accommodation  to the cost of which £600 had been subscribed from public funds.
The very fundamental matter in this provision which is misunderstood is that the body that may get such grants must be approved by the Department of Local Government. It is not just any speculator chancing his arm trying to get more money than he would otherwise be entitled to by providing inferior living accommodation, herding old people into it and charging them exorbitant rents. That cannot happen. The first real stumbling block is that before a body can avail of these grants it must be approved. In addition, there may be further restrictions as regards what the local authority may do in respect of supplementary grants and conditions suggested to them attaching to the payment of those grants.
I do not agree with the amendment. As in the case of the previous amendment, I think that to have a statutory minimum would tend to defeat the object of the proposers. Such a requirement might defeat the type of development that might eventuate from what we are discussing. A building may be provided from the ground up or converted from existing structures, by some charitable or philanthropic organisation. That might incorporate, instead of a separate sitting-room for each tenant, a communal room with entertainment such as television and so on included.
It could well happen that by writing in these minimum requirements here we would hinder the availability of money to the philanthropic and charitable societies in question. Accommodation could be provided for these groups of elderly people in much more congenial surroundings than their own small sitting-rooms. Therefore, the very fact of putting in these minimum requirements statutorily might defeat the purposes of the section. I am not giving that as a complete answer but I am giving it as an example of how this amendment might be restrictive and a hindrance rather than a help.
I do not want to be taken as suggesting that a communal room in a large tenement type structure, with  cubicles for the elderly people, is my ideal of what they should have; but it could well be that a communal sitting-room, heated, and with various types of entertainment and, perhaps, supervised could in some circumstances be far more acceptable than separate small sitting-rooms where the old people are isolated in their own quarters. I am not suggesting that would be the best way of dealing with all cases, but I am giving an example of how this amendment could be a stumbling block rather than a help.
Mr. Sherwin: I am not clear on this at all. What will the Minister insist on in order that these people can get the £600?
Mr. Blaney: We have not specified it yet. Deputies are rightly somewhat uneasy that it is not specified, but I think they will agree with me in refraining from specifying particular accommodation as a minimum standard. We are talking in the dark in this matter. Until we get propositions from charitable and philanthropic organisations, it would be unfair to lay down at this stage conditions which may tie them in advance. I, personally, would have as much regard for the well-being of our old people as anybody else and, as Minister for Local Government, I would have more than usual concern for how they are housed. While there is great latitude in this section, any Minister for Local Government must exercise his mind to see to it that there is no abuse by anybody, charitable organisations and others, so far as herding people into uncomfortable accommodation is concerned. No Minister would encourage that, but we cannot restrict proposals in advance by laying down now minimum requirements.
Mr. Desmond: I am not anxious to divide the House on this if we can possibly avoid it. The Minister says he does not want his hands tied. On this matter I am not speaking merely of the present Minister. When this becomes law, it is law and no more about it. Some people are not slow to use interesting names for charitable  and philanthropic purposes. A case may be put up which appears genuine and watertight but these people may be financial vultures. It would be dangerous to leave the position stand as it is. If the Minister is approached now by representatives of genuine charitable organisations, all he can say to them is: “Go ahead and prepare your plans. Give me an idea of what you are going to do and then we will discuss business.” Surely, from a business point of view, it would be better that they could be given a rough idea of the type of scheme they should prepare for the Minister's consideration? All we have at present is the fact that one room can be considered as a dwelling.
Is there any possibility that the Minister could give us some indication that he would be willing to adopt a middle course? We are being asked to give £300 for the housing of elderly people, and local authorities are being asked to contribute also, yet we have not the foggiest idea of what type of dwelling it will be. I do not agree with that. The Minister and myself have one thing in common. We have a fair knowledge of rural conditions. In discussing this we should not confine ourselves to the position in Dublin, Cork and other cities. This would apply also in the large towns. I know the mentality of the elderly people in the towns. They do not want a room for a home and a large communal kitchen. If they meet a friend, they want to be able to invite that friend into their own home, where they can sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat or where the men can have a drink.
I would not like the communal kitchen. It may be all right in Dublin and Cork, but not in the rural and urban areas. We know that in the last century, around 1848, or thereabouts, a communal kitchen meant something very different from what it means to-day. To a large extent, however, we have not quite lost the earlier import of that term. I suggest to the Minister that we may possibly avoid dividing on this section if, between now and the Report Stage, the Minister tries to meet the situation and improve on it.
Mr. Blaney: Before we go any further on this, here we are talking about £600 free money. In regard to both the Local Government grant and the supplementary grant, part of the moneys may be paid. Arrangements may be devised subsequently by the Department and the local authorities as to how much of the £300 should be paid in each case. There may be certain conditions in relation to the number of rooms, the over-all floor space, and so on. Control can be exercised by relating the grants to what is, in fact, being provided. It will not be a matter of simply throwing out £600 for certain minimum standards.
Mr. A. Barry: The kind of organisation the Minister envisages doing this kind of charitable work belongs, I think, largely to the 19th Century. There are some surviving organisations of the kind described. I gathered from the Minister on Second Reading that he will consider the proposal that a local authority should avail of this section for the purpose of converting suitable buildings to this kind of accommodation. I should like the Minister to speak on that aspect again because that is a way in which some progress could be made.
There are suitable buildings in every city and big town where 25 or 30 single or married aged people could be provided with sensible and reasonable living space. These people do not want elaborate single dwellings. Two-roomed flats, with toilet facilities, would serve their purpose. All of us who serve on housing committees are aware of the difficulties of finding shelter for these people. There is an old charity in Cork. It is a 16th Century charity and the building is now very old. It is one of the drawbacks at the moment in that kind of charity. Up to 25 or 26 people are provided with single rooms. The fabric of the building is now in a state of collapse and the charity will require £5,000 or £6,000 to restore it. I do not know whether they could be dealt with under this Bill. None of the dwellings in that building—separate rooms with a common toilet for five or six—would qualify under the  ordinary grant system. It is a question of letting the building be demolished or restoring it. That is the kind of pragmatic approach involved. If we can save these old buildings in order to provide homes for these people, then I think we should do that. I should be glad to hear from the Minister that he is prepared to allow local authorities to take the initiative in matters like this instead of leaving it to organisations. Most of these charities are 19th Century. There are not many of them left now.
Mr. Carroll: I feel sure the Minister is endeavouring to work out something that will be of some benefit to these people. I do not support the amendment, but the Minister seems rather to be asking for a blank cheque: “Just agree to this now. I will give you the details later when I have worked them out.” When we talk about charitable organisations, I do not think anybody will suggest that the State is a charitable organisation. Now there are very expensive flatlets, consisting of one room and the usual amenities. I think the term “communal kitchen” is a bad way of expressing it. “Diningroom” might be a better word. Charitable organisations are of various kinds and classes. There might also be new charitable organisations formed on the lines of the utility society suggestion. If existing organisations are in need of funds for reconstruction, I am sure the Minister would consider them. Old people do not want three-roomed flats. They would not have the energy to keep them.
We have sent representatives all over the Continent to study housing. They have benefited by their experiences. The Vienna project in relation to old people is pretty well established. There is nothing communal about it even though certain numbers are housed in the one building.
With regard to tenant purchase houses, deficient of toilet accommodation, £600 will not go very far from the point of view of reconstruction. Money seems to mean nothing here. Yesterday we had a good deal of talk  about building a house for £1,400. That figure does not impress me in the slightest. I am sure the Minister's intentions are good but I am not sure that if, tomorrow, a group of people formed themselves into X charitable society for the housing of the aged and made representations to a Deputy of this House to approach the Minister, they would find themselves in a very satisfactory position.
What would they have to do initially? What is in the Minister's mind? What would they have to provide? Flatlets with a communal diningroom are just another kind of hotel. The Minister says he does not want people to take advantage of this. Surely the local authority in the first instance, with their technical and other experts, would submit their findings to the Minister for his approval? Surely that should be enough? The Minister says not to worry about that. He has to give his sanction. But we have nothing definite. This is just a formality. If we could get more flatlets, there would be some hope.
As Deputy Sherwin says, we will have to wait another ten years before we can house the people of this city. I do not know whether the conditions are any worse in other places but it puts my blood pressure up to hear people talking about the building boom being finished or saying that we have nearly reached our target. Deputy Sherwin has given figures cited by the City Manager. We require new buildings rather than reconstructed buildings. The Minister for Local Government was not in office when Dublin Corporation reconstructed Gardiner Street, may be to save a facade. What have we got? Only expensive slums again, nothing more than that. We require properly constructed flats and all the grants that can be given for that purpose. That is the answer, not the reconstruction of old buildings.
A separate grant to charitable organisations to bring their premises into a habitable condition would be a laudable provision but I do not approve of the idea that a person, charitable, philanthropic or perhaps keen on business, should be allowed to acquire any of these tenements for reconstruction.  I should like the Minister at this stage to state that he will not approve of anything in the way of housing that provides fewer amenities than the type of local authority houses he has approved of in the past. That would answer Deputy Desmond.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The Minister's statements on this section are too indefinite. He has been looking rather bored and tired for some time. He has brought that on himself because during the Committee Stage, he has not been inclined to debate the Bill as it should be debated and to give the information legitimately required by Deputies.
It is peculiar that this section should be inserted in the Bill without some idea being given to the House as to what regulations are likely to be drawn up governing approval for grants under the section. Surely the Minister and his advisers have some idea as to what the regulations will be? There is no definition of separate dwellings in the section.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,
Mr. M.P. Murphy: Assuming a person buys a building which could be converted into 15 separate dwellings, within the meaning of the Bill that person could draw from public funds £9,000. The Labour Party endeavoured by an amendment to secure minimum requirements for payment of a grant but the Minister has ignored that amendment and has not given the House any information other than evasive statements as to why it should be ignored. Before we would agree to the passing of Section 5, we should have more definite information as to what the regulations are likely to be.
Are we to house the elderly people by means of grants from public funds of £6,000 to speculators, as they could very well be, even though it is assumed, at least by the Minister, that applications would be more or less confined to charitable or philanthropic organisations or religious bodies? There is nothing in Section 5 to preclude any person from applying for a grant.  There may be some few persons around Dublin who have big houses capable of conversion into separate dwellings. It would be a very good way of disposing of such houses.
The provision of accommodation for elderly people is a difficult problem in some areas at present, but would it not be better or more advisable to make money available to local authorities for the provision of suitable accommodation for such people rather than by the method proposed in Section 5?
The Minister is not measuring up to his duties as Minister. He is not giving the House a clear definition of the meaning of separate dwellings or an indication of the regulations that will be drawn up, if this section is implemented.
Mr. Sherwin: The Minister has asked for power to decide the conditions, depending on what efforts are made. In that connection, I want again to refer to the question of rents. In Dublin, the local authority will let a one-room flat comprising a kitchen, a sittingroom and a bathroom, for 12/6 a week. That is all the local authority charges. If a person is an old age pensioner, the rent can be as little as 2/6. Supposing grants are given to bodies to provide accommodation for elderly people, what rents will be charged? Assuming an elderly person is employed and pays 25/- a week and becomes unemployable, an old age pensioner, how can he pay 25/-? Will he be evicted? I want to know if the Minister, before he agrees to the grant of £600, will lay down conditions as to what the rents will be and that there will be some form of differential rents so that people will not be thrown out if they cannot pay the rent that may be sought in the first place.
Mr. Blaney: It amazes me that such heat can be engendered by Deputies against the general background of the opinions they have been expressing here continuously for the past couple of hours. The suggestion is made that the grants proposed in this section are so generous as to induce sharks of all  descriptions to make money by converting private houses, no matter how small, for elderly people and that it will be a paying racket. Do Deputies not realise that the latest costings in Dublin city show that, for the minimum flatlet provided, the price is approximately £1,500 and that, I gather, is in a flat block. Even if there were £600 freely thrown out to be picked up by speculators, sharks and all the others we are told are lurking waiting to avail of this section, where do they get the rest of the money and in what way will they make a profit in providing another minimum £600 or £900 themselves in order to provide even the barest and smallest allowable space that up to the present has been provided by Dublin Corporation?
Where are these people? Is it not clear that there is in this section an attempt by the Department and the Government to encourage certain organisations, and indeed, even to bring certain organisations into being where they do not exist, to do work for the housing of the elderly people of this country that we have failed and abysmally failed to do over the years through our local authorities and through our other efforts? In asking the House to approve this section I am asking for it merely as an effort to help in some little way to do this work and to encourage philanthropic and charitable organisations to carry out this work.
It has been suggested that in operating this proposed section we should spell out to the last letter all the conditions under which these benefits should be given. Let us be quite frank about this. We in the Department do not know, nor do the people in this House who have been talking know, exactly what is involved. None of us has had experience of housing this type of people throughout the country so that we could come into this House and lay down stringent regulations as to how the benefits of the section should be applied. It is because of our lack of success in this matter and our lack of experience as a result of that lack of success that I propose this section and ask that it be not hedged in with regulations which none of us is competent to draw up due to our  ignorance and inexperience, never having done anything worthwhile in the matter in the past.
Leaving that consideration aside as to why we do not want to make regulations which might prove to be a hindrance rather than an encouragement, let me deal with the fears about exploitation. The Minister for Local Government must first approve of the group or person as the case may be. The fact that the approval of the Minister for Local Government regardless of who he is or in what circumstances he acts, is required surely is one of the prime safeguards against exploitation, against the “sharks” or the speculators even if there were something in this for them commercially, although I do not believe there is.
Secondly, there is in this section no provision that would compel the Minister for Local Government to pay even to an approved body the full £300 for anything they may provide. It is only up to £300 the Minister and his Department may pay out under this section. They may pay less and probably will pay less in certain circumstances if the accommodation being provided is more easily provided, provided more cheaply or is less attractive than might be the proposals of some other body. There is that discretion there which no doubt will be used when necessary.
On top of that, in regard to the other £300 about which we have talked and heard so much, adding up to this mythical £600 that is there for the speculator to make a racket out of, this other £300 is to be given only at the discretion of the local authority. If they do not want to pay any of it they need not. In drawing up their regulations under which they may pay any part of the £300 they may and will insert conditions in order to safeguard their interests in this matter. Indeed, I foresee and probably will advise local authorities to go so far as to indicate that if the dwelling accommodation provided with the assistance of a supplementary grant from the local authority be used for a purpose other than that for which it  was designated the persons so doing will be obliged to pay back to the local authority what they got from them. There are many other conditions far too numerous to mention which may arise or have to be contemplated and with which I do not intend to weary the House. However, I do assert there is no danger whatever of exploitation. If some Deputies seem to see such a danger, it may be attributable to the fact that we are here so long and that some of them may be suffering from hallucinations due to hunger from which I am also likely to suffer. Those may be the extenuating circumstances for the unreal fears that were expressed but, as I have said, none of us has had sufficient experience of housing this type of people and, therefore, we cannot feel competent to determine strictly the regulations under which grants may be payable for this purpose. By so doing we might stymie charitable and philanthropic organisations whom we hope to attract by this provision.
As regards communal kitchens, and so on, I did not mention them. I spoke about communal rooms for television and other entertainments. I did not suggest communal kitchens or communal cooking arrangements. I was merely instancing that as one reason why we should not be tied down by the proposed amendment to such an extent as to spell out the minimum requirements for a room. I tried to show how such a spelling out of conditions could defeat what might otherwise be an attractive proposal from some of these organisations.
In regard to the matter raised by Deputy Barry which he also raised on the earlier stages of the Bill, we hope it will be feasible that some organisation or other may take over a large or medium-sized building and by conversion, repair and reconstruction provide—and that is what the Bill says, “provide”—dwelling accommodation for elderly people.
Mr. A. Barry: Can the local authority initiate this?
Mr. Blaney: If the local authority wishes I see no reason why it cannot set itself up and be accepted by the  Minister for Local Government as an approved body. In fact, I see no person or group better placed to co-ordinate the various activities in housing generally, the utilisation of housing sites and the planning of such building on these sites. That could work eminently well and I do not think anybody would regard the local authority as likely to abuse its situation and make a racket out of this as has been suggested here. The local authority would appear to be an excellent type of body to constitute its total membership as a charitable or philanthropic organisation because they would be able to co-ordinate their efforts in that connection with their efforts in the general direction of rehousing the people in their area.
I did suggest, on the earlier stages of this Bill, that we would have to encourage the sub-committees of our local authorities, such as the old age pension committees, to act in this way. They would be in a position to determine the age of the old age pensioner and as such they would be in a position to set themselves up as a philanthropic society to promote housing for the aged. Taking into consideration the need for some advance in regard to housing the elderly, the lack of success in the past in this matter, and also having regard to the fact that the total grant, subject to conditions imposed by the local authorities and the Minister for Local Government, concerning such reconstruction is only £600, the idea of somebody exploiting the situation and getting away with it cannot merit any great attention. The suggestion is that if we can do some good in this matter so much the better. It cannot do any harm. I cannot see what damage the effect will have on the national Exchequer or on the finances of any county council.
Mr. Desmond: It has taken the Minister a long time to come to the stage of suggesting the possibility of considering members of a local authority as an approved society.
Mr. Blaney: I went into that matter very deeply on the Second Stage.
Mr. Desmond: In column 2250 of Volume 156 the Minister mentions a suitable occasion on which the county council, through its sub-committees such as the old age pensions committee, could act as approved societies. I cast no aspersions in any way on any old age pension committee. I am a member of one myself but we could not hope to make a success of this by arranging for the members of an old age pensions committee to operate as an approved society. It just would not work. It is only now that the Minister has indicated the possibility of all the members of a local authority being brought into it in the form of an approved society.
In column 2251 of Volume 196 on the Second Stage the Minister was questioned by Deputy Barry, who asked: “How would the Minister define dwellinghouse?” The Minister replied that there was no definite definition and that it was a matter he would look into. He said he could assure the House that it would be reasonable accommodation for the aged. Now, on the Committee Stage, I really did believe that the Minister would be able to give us some clear indication of what had been considered on this matter by him and his advisers between the time they were questioned on the matter by Deputy Barry and now. It is still as vague as it was in the beginning. It might be a bed sittingroom with a kitchenette and sanitary facilities. That might mean that a large number of families might have a bed sittingroom and that they would all avail of the facilities of a kitchenette and sanitary facilities.
Mr. Blaney: It is not communal.
Mr. Desmond: I am not trying to tie the Minister to the word “communal” but if the Minister wants to adopted a different attitude from that which he has adopted since 11 o'clock this morning, we will welcome it. He stated in this column that these people may avail of the facilities of a kitchenette and the sanitary facilities but the fact is that this Bill is now the property of the House. It is no longer the property of the Minister or of the officials of his Department. If  this Bill is a failure, it is not the Minister for Local Government who must accept responsibility for it and it would be no use for us to blame the Minister or his officials. The obligation is on us to do as much as we can to help the Minister and his officials. I agree with what the Minister has at long last said to us, that there is a possibility of the members of local authorities being brought in under this category of approved societies. That may do some good.
However, there is nothing to prevent some group coming along and using the name of some charitable or philanthropic nature and there is nothing to say what rent they may charge or may not charge. Why should the Minister later blame us if anything should go wrong in view of the fact that the House will be adjourning shortly? Regulations may be made and tabled in the House and if we are not here to examine them it may be too late to do so afterwards.
In this instance I am offering constructive criticism and nothing else. I am one member who has signed this amendment and I believe that if we start off by accepting as members of approved societies the full membership of local authorities we may be able to do some good and we may be able to help to keep the sharks who will come to the surface from doing the harm we are afraid they will do.
Mr. Blaney: I am afraid that Deputy Desmond has misunderstood the situation. He has said that it was only to-day that I came out with the suggestion that members of a local authority could form themselves into an approved society. It is not recently I suggested that a local authority could operate in that way and I did not think it was necessary that it should be said that a local authority could become a philanthropic organisation. In fact, I think it is evident to everybody that by their very nature local councils would obviously be a group likely to be acceptable to any Minister for Local Government. I should like to go back to a point I referred to here on 12th July last and reported at  column 2250, Volume 196 of the Official Report:
As far as local authorities are concerned, I have been thinking that, in fact, every local authority has a pension committee with several sub-committees radiating from it. It might be in the interests of the county council and the pensions committee, as well as the pensioners, where there are no suitable organisations or philanthropic societies, for the county council, through its sub-committees and pension committees, to set themselves up to do this work.
My understanding of a pensions committee is of a body made up of the total membership of a county council. A pensions sub-committee would be drawn from some members of the council.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: A pensions committee has no function.
Mr. Blaney: Deputy Murphy has not the faintest idea of what I am talking about. He was not here when the matter was mentioned. The entire county council is represented on the pensions committee and, therefore, could act as a charitable or philanthropic society. The pensions committee to my mind is distinct from a pensions sub-committee or any other sub-committee of a county council which might have members from outside the council.
Mr. Desmond: The Minister stated, and I shall quote him again to make it clear:
Every local authority has a pension committee with several sub-committees radiating from it. It might be in the interests of the county council and the pensions committee, as well as the pensioners, where there are no suitable organisations or philanthropic societies, for the county council through its sub-committees and pension committees, to set themselves up to do this work.
The Minister went further to-day when he suggested that the county council itself may be considered.
Mr. A. Barry: In effect, that is what it is.
Mr. Desmond: In effect, I am a member of an old age pensions committee and God forgive me for saying it, but it is true, it is a shocking thing to have a name like that. I would be afraid to have an old age pensions committee approved as a philanthropic society.
Mr. Blaney: There seems to be some confusion here. Deputy Desmond seems to be confusing members of a pensions committee with members of a sub-committee.
Mr. Desmond: We know what happens. The members of the council meet after an election and each of them proposes a person for a sub-committee. Then, as a pensions committee, they meet no more. That is our experience.
Mr. Blaney: They meet every council meeting.
Mr. Desmond: Not as a pensions committee. Anyway, there is no need to argue over that.
Mr. Blaney: The plain fact of the matter is that there is nothing between us on this.
Mr. Desmond: I had no intention of misquoting the Minister. I am prepared to give this a trial.
Mr. Blaney: Deputies will fully appreciate that I cannot give here and now to each council approval in advance of that body as per the terms of this Bill. As I have said, there is no group of people whom I would more readily accept to fulfil the role of an approved philanthropic society than county councils. I cannot say they would all be approved——
Mr. Desmond: I accept that from the Minister but I suggest there should be a very good reason why the Minister would refuse to accept any such body.
Mr. Blaney: There will be a very good reason and the Deputy will hear of it.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: One was led to assume from an earlier statement of the Minister that legislation passed through this House could not be defective. He mentioned possible abuses on the part of some sharks who might exploit certain sections of this measure. In Committee here we try as far as possible to go over the Bill, section by section, and see that abuses do not arise. Unfortunately, as far as this section is concerned, the Minister has told us he is not too sure about it —that we will just pack this section into the Bill and hope for the best. I believe the Minister and the Department erred badly in this matter by bringing the measure into the House without any idea of what regulations they propose for the implementation of this section. The Minister cannot expect Deputies to co-operate with that frame of mind. Surely there was an obligation on him to give us much more information than he has given?
The main safeguard the Minister sees in this measure is that he himself must approve of grants and any person who may be trying to exploit the provision will not be approved. I assume, when this legislation is enacted, it will be equitably applied and that under it any citizen is entitled to apply for a grant and have his application examined under the terms of the Act. There is nothing to preclude the owner of a big house applying for a grant to convert that house into dwellings and collecting up to £600 in grants in respect of each dwelling and letting such dwellings to elderly people with no limitation as to the rents chargeable. So far the Minister has given us no indication that he will limit the rents that may be charged by societies availing of grants.
I regret having to make such comments but if we give the Minister Section 5 on this Stage when the Bill comes before us on Report Stage he should have some more definite information about this section than he now seems to have. He should discuss in the interval with his advisers how the section will be applied and be able to give the House some idea of the regulations that will be drawn up for its  implementation. As public representatives, we cannot give blank cheques. We had the same difficulty with another Minister yesterday and generally, so far as the Government are concerned in bringing measures to the House, they must present with them the detailed information that is required by Deputies before a decision can be reached.
Mr. Blaney: I am loath to continue this rather nebulous discussion which is based on assumptions, misconceptions and misunderstandings—everything except what is in the section. The basis for the greatest fear Deputy Murphy has does not even exist, that is that a person owning a large, useless house at the moment can get £600 in grants to convert it into makeshift accommodation to be rented to elderly people such as pensioners at exorbitant rents. In the first place a person cannot get a grant at all under this section for any of the purposes the Deputy mentioned. A person does not qualify.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: What section or what part of Section 5 precludes them?
Mr. Blaney: I am asserting they do not come within the terms of the section.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: It is not laid down in the Bill. It is not what the Minister says but what is in the Bill that counts.
Mr. Blaney: Has the Deputy read it?
Mr. M.P. Murphy: I have, but I do not think the Minister has read much about Section 5. I suppose he thought he would get it without discussion.
Mr. Blaney: I thought I should get it with some intelligent discussion. I had not counted on the Deputy being present.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The Minister thought he would have a free day and be home in a canter.
An Ceann Comhairle: Order! The Minister should be allowed to speak.
Mr. Blaney: Perhaps, the Deputy missed subsection (1) and read the others. It is to subsection (1) I am referring when I say that a person does not qualify for those grants and that the fears expressed do not arise. All the commotion the Deputy has kicked up has been founded on something that is not there. He has blamed myself and the officials of the Department for not knowing all about this. What does the Deputy know about it? Has he put forward any worthwhile suggestion?
Mr. M.P. Murphy: I have put forward constructive criticism.
Mr. Blaney: Where is the constructive element in anything that has been said by the Deputy?
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The Minister has contradicted the statement he made a short time ago.
Mr. Blaney: I object to the destructive approach of Deputy Murphy to this matter. He has accused the Minister and his Department of not knowing what they are doing. I am asserting that the Deputy does not know what he is talking about.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The Minister states that no individual will qualify for a grant when this Bill is passed. Some 15 minutes or a half-an-hour ago he told the House that the term “body” in Section 6 (1) meant any group of people, charitable organisation, public body or an individual. I am assuming from the Minister's interpretation that an individual can qualify and I want to know whether that is so. The Minister has said now that such a person could not qualify. Can an individual owner of a building suitable for conversion into dwellings qualify for a grant within the scope of this section? I think the Minister has not read the Bill or cannot understand it. Will he answer that question now?
Mr. Blaney: If the Deputy has manners to listen—which I doubt— will he remember this——
Mr. M.P. Murphy: I know the Minister's manners are not so good  and he thinks everybody is like himself.
Mr. Blaney: Will the Deputy please bear with me while I tell him that an individual will qualify for a grant in one sense and an individual in another sense will not qualify for a grant and I shall leave him until after Questions to think that out?
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The Minister made a blunder. He could not interpret the section.
Mr. Blaney: I did not. The only blunder I have made was trying to talk intelligently to the Deputy.
Mr. M.P. Murphy: The Minister made a blunder.
Mr. Blaney: I did not.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 6 agreed to.
Mr. Blaney: I move amendment No. 7:
In page 9, subsection (3), to delete lines 27 to 50 and to insert the following paragraph:
(a) In every case in which a grant is made under this section and a revision of the rateable valuation of the tenement consisting of or including the house to which the grant relates is made, such amount of the revised valuation as is attributable to the erection of the house shall, in each of the nine successive local financial years following the local financial year in which the house is completed, be deemed to be reduced for rating purposes by the proportion of such amount specified in the second column of the Table to this section opposite the number of the year in the first column of the Table.
This amendment is, in fact, a replica of Amendment No. 1. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are similar to Nos. 1 and 2.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. Blaney: I move amendment No. 8:
In page 10, in the Table to section 7, to delete “proportion of increase in valuation to be reduced” in both places where it occurs and to insert in both such places “Reduction in valuation of house”.
Amendment agreed to.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
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