Wednesday, 21 May 1969
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Gilhawley: In the dying minutes of the 18th Dáil it was rather amusing to listen to the Minister for Local Government speaking about clear indications of Fianna Fáil policy. I am wondering if it was a clear indication of Fianna Fáil policy that led him today to refuse information which affects not alone my constituents but people in a similar situation all over the country. Probably there is good Fianna Fáil policy but it is for Tacateers and racketeers, not for the poorer section of the community I am speaking for here tonight.
We had an example here today of an arrogant Minister and an arrogant Government who as much as said that the plain people of Ireland have no right to know what is taking place in Government Departments. There is a growing tendency, especially in recent times, not to give information sought and it leads me to think we should be very grateful that the referendum was not carried, because we would have dictatorship in this country before too long.
I asked the Minister today for the scale of increased new house grants for  people other than farmers. There is a scale of new house grants for farmers under £25 valuation. Those grants amount to £450 from the Department and also in my county of Sligo a further £450, making a total of £900. Between £25 valuation and £40 valuation a person who builds his own house can get £400 and £400, that is £800. Those were not the type of people mentioned in my question. The first part of the reply I got today related to such people about whom I did not want such information. The people in respect of whom I wanted information were those who became a liability on the local authorities, who qualified for rehousing by a local authority but who were not farmers. In those cases the higher rate of grant applies, as I know, and I need not have been told that. I also know the higher rate of grant applies to people in need of housing on medical or compassionate grounds. I was not seeking that information either, but I got it.
What I wanted to know in simple language was the scale of grants. In my county and in my constituency there are many people awaiting housing by the local authority and—I should like the Minister to take particular note of this—once they apply for a new house to Sligo County Council they are very lucky if that new house is built for them and if they are in occupation within a period of three years. That is exactly how it is working out. Building is held up by the Department of Local Government. There is a hold-up in regard to plans and everything else. It is a pertinent point that it takes three years. Consequently, many of those concerned come to me and ask: “Are we entitled to the higher rate of grants? If we have to wait three years for houses we will go ahead and build houses for ourselves, provided we get the higher rate of grant.” That is a logical approach. The next question they ask is: “How much will we get?” Again, a logical question, but I am not able to answer it. Now, that is the question I asked the Minister today. Any well-informed Deputy—I try to be well informed — should know these things in order properly to represent his constituents. I asked Sligo County  Council what the scale of grants was and they told me there was a scale of grants but they were not at liberty to tell me what it was. I know from my own sources that there is a scale of grants in the Department of Local Government, but the information is not available to Deputies or to the people fundamentally concerned. That is not democracy.
Mr. Gilhawley: I cannot understand why any Minister or any Department should withhold information which people badly need, especially those in need of housing. Mark you, I had another question down a couple of weeks ago when I hit on something pretty hot in regard to the Buchanan Report and I think the same position obtains here: this is a political gimmick.
Mr. Gilhawley: There is not a shadow of doubt about that. Time and time again I have raised the question of reconstruction grants because the cost of both labour and material has increased so much. A fortnight ago I asked what the value of the £ was compared with 1958.
Mr. Gilhawley: The value of the £ has fallen as compared with 1958 and  the Minister intends, I believe, shortly to announce, before, the general election, a substantial increase in reconstruction grants and, when he does, he will also come up with the very information I sought to elicit from him today.
Mr. Gilhawley: As a Deputy representing the people, I believe I should be told what the scale of grants is. Now, recently a qualified man came to me and told me he would have to wait three years for Sligo County Council to build a house for him and he asked me: “If I build a house myself what will I get?” I asked him what his income was and he told me £800. Another man, also interested in building a house, told me his income was £450. Now what I want to know from the Minister is will the man with £800 a year get the same rate of grant as the man with £450 a year? The Minister told me today that no income limits corresponding to the limits applicable to farmers have been prescribed in respect of grants under the section to persons who do not derive their livelihood wholly or mainly from the pursuit of agriculture. The only logical conclusion to be deduced from that answer is that anybody who qualifies will get the £450 from the Department and £450 from the local authority. I want the Minister to state if that deduction is correct. There is a scale of grants. I know there is. I want the Minister tonight to tell me what the scale is.
There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. I want the Minister to remember I was told the scale was there but they were not at liberty to tell me what the scale was. I took a very poor view of that. This is a negation of democracy. Information is withheld for the purpose of political gimmickry. The Minister said, in reply to a supplementary question today: “If the Deputy has something else he wants to ask I suggest he puts down a question next week.”
Mr. Gilhawley: I will put the Minister to the test of honesty on this. If the Dáil dissolves tonight, was the Minister honest? Was he the rock of integrity the Taoiseach said he was? If this Dáil dissolves tonight why did the Minister invite me to put down a question for next week? Was it to cover up his refusal to answer my question today or was it blatant dishonesty? I should not like to accuse the Minister of dishonesty—I want to be very clear about that—but certainly “the rock of integrity” will begin to crumble if this House dissolves before next week because the Minister was trying to fool not only me but the other Deputies in this House in inviting me to put down a question for answer next week.
Mr. Gilhawley: As far as I am concerned, I want justice done to the people I represent. It is the people who are being disregarded. The people have a right to know these things. I want the Minister to tell us tonight if there is a scale of grants. Will the man with an income of £800 get the same grant as the man with an income of £450?
Mr. L'Estrange: I rise to accuse the Minister of deliberately misleading the House today in the reply he gave to Deputy Gilhawley and to point out that this is just another example of the arrogance we have come to expect from the Minister. I accuse the Minister of withholding information for the sake of political expediency, information to which every elected representative is entitled. It is a well-known fact that there is a new scale of grants in operation. We welcome the grants, but the Minister knows that, if he announced the new scale today, he would not get the publicity he would wish to get in tomorrow's papers. The Minister today, therefore, deliberately  misrepresented a Member of this House. He is withholding this information so that he can go to a political meeting in the near future and there impart the information he should have given to this House.
Mr. L'Estrange: The Minister refused to give the information. If the Minister can give the House any good reason for not giving the information, then let him give that reason when he comes to reply. Deputy Gilhawley has told the House that if a qualified person in Sligo applies to get a house built he has to wait three years. We know he has to wait three years because since Fianna Fáil got into power the dead hand has descended on house building. Plans have to be sent up to the Department of Local Government and because the Department have not got the money they have them returned to the various county councils to have the “i's” dotted and the “t's” crossed. In many counties, when we get contractors to tender for building houses and send the tenders up to the Department, the Minister holds on to them for two or three months and then returns them saying that the contract prices are too high and that we must advertise again. We advertise again and in the meantime the cost of building and construction has gone sky high and——
Mr. L'Estrange: I want to say, Sir, that if the Minister announced the new scale thousands of qualified people would avail of the grants tomorrow and instead of having to wait three years for Sligo County Council or Westmeath County Council to build  houses, because they cannot get the money from a bankrupt Government which tonight is running away from its responsibilities, they could get those increased grants and build the houses themselves. Deputy Gilhawley and this House are entitled, in the dying moments of this Dáil, to get the information.
Mr. O.J. Flanagan: I want to ask the Chair for guidance. Does the Chair not consider it desirable that as the Minister for Local Government has delivered his last speech as Minister for Local Government he should have a lighted candle in his hand?
To ask the Minister for Local Government the scale of increased new house grants in relation to income available to people, other than farmers under £25 valuation on land, who qualify for re-housing by local authorities but who decide to build themselves.
Now, that is all I had to go on in regard to what Deputy Gilhawley had in mind. That is a question to which there is no answer. I wanted to give Deputy Gilhawley an answer he wanted, to elucidate whatever was causing Deputy Gilhawley confusion, and I gave him the answer to the question that appeared to me Deputy Gilhawley might have wanted an answer to. The fact is that this question mixes up several expressions contained in the Housing Act, 1966, governing  the making of grants for new houses. In my reply I attempted to give Deputy Gilhawley the best information I had on the subject that I thought Deputy Gilhawley was worried about.
I endeavoured to give him information which would cover the basis on which the higher rate of new house grants for persons who derive their income solely or mainly from the pursuit of agriculture and certain other classes of necessitous persons in rural areas, are made available. As I say, there is no answer to the question that is down. That is what I thought Deputy Gilhawley wanted to know and that is what I answered. How can Deputy Gilhawley expect me to be able to probe the innermost recesses of his mind and make out exactly what it was he wanted to ask? I did the best I could.
Mr. Boland: All I can repeat is what section 16 of the Housing Act lays down and that is that for the purposes of the higher rate of new housing grants farmers are classified in three categories—those with a valuation of up to £25, those between £25 and £40 valuation and those with a valuation of over £40 and under £60.
Mr. Boland: This section of the Act  also provides for the payment of the higher rate of grant to a person ordinarily resident in a rural area in an overcrowded or unfit house and who is in need of a house on medical, compassionate or other similar grounds and where the circumstances of the person are such that he could not provide a house for his own occupation without the aid of a higher rate.
Mr. Boland: The question down here is not a question at all. There is no answer to it. It does not make sense. If there is some relevant question the Deputy wants to ask I can only repeat my advice that he should put down a question for answer next week.
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