Committee on Finance. - Vote 26: Local Government (Resumed).

Thursday, 27 May 1971

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 254 No. 3

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Debate resumed on the following motion:

Go ndeonófar suim nach mó ná £13,762,000 chun íoctha an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31ú lá de Mhárta, 1972, le haghaidh tuarastail agus costais Oifig an Aire Rialtais Áitiúil, lena n-áirítear deontais d'Údaráis Áitiúla, deontais, agus costais eile i ndáil le tithíocht, agus scéimeanna agus deontais ilghnéitheacha lena n-áirítear deontas-i-gcabhair.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Before Questions I was dealing with traffic and in particular Dublin traffic. One of the most pressing problems facing urban road authorities is that of the traffic situation and how best to deploy the limited financial resources available to remedy the situation. If I refer at some length to the problem as it affects Dublin it must not be taken that I am unmindful of the existence of traffic congestion in other towns and cities, merely that the problem is more acute in Dublin. Traffic problems in Dublin largely derive from the fact that the form which central city development has taken was largely determined before the advent of the motor car. The street network is, therefore, incapable of catering for the vast and growing volume of vehicles. The inadequate number of bridges over the River Liffey also contributes to the congestion. A number of studies have been undertaken by engineering and planning experts for the preparation of long term solutions. These solutions involve very large amounts of capital which is [546] one of our scarcest resources. There is, further, the problem of dealing in the interim with the short term situation. Dublin Corporation are proceeding with a programme of traffic management works on the radial routes leading into and out of the city centre. These works involve maximising the use of existing street networks, by such measures as one-way streets systems, improved road junctions, improved parking control (including parking meters), clearway restrictions, systems of integrated traffic light installations, and box junctions. The corporation are also planning the provision of pedestrian subways at a number of critical locations, particularly at O'Connell Bridge and Henry Street/North Earl St. In order to speed the implementation of all these measures a special section dealing with traffic matters has been set up in the corporation.

The existing street network, even after the completion of the most extensive practicable traffic management schemes, will not be able to cater for all those vehicles, which in a “free for all” situation drivers would wish to bring into the city centre. Consequently, a greater degree of sophistication in traffic control, coupled with some restraints on non-essential traffic, are inevitable. Parking restrictions and the parking meter scheme are examples of the restraints already in operation. I am satisfied that some extension of traffic control will become necessary, for the very good reason that the greater the degree of traffic congestion the greater the disadvantage to public transport. It must be borne in mind that almost 50 per cent of the public in the Dublin area rely on public transport.

It was with all this in mind that I suggested to the Dublin municipal authorities that they should experiment with measures to secure further relief of traffic congestion and I suggested certain courses for the consideration of the corporation through their traffic committee. In particular, I suggested that experiments be conducted in the application of certain traffic techniques, including the pedestrianisation of streets and the restriction of certain [547] types of vehicular traffic in central city areas at certain times.

In association with this activity, I increased the “fine on the spot” penalty from £1 to £2 and I also made regulations which enable a local authority to tow away or arrange for the removal of vehicles which were unlawfully parked or abandoned. As regards the increase in the “fine on the spot” penalty, it had become clear to the enforcement authorities that a penalty of £1 was ineffective as a deterrent to many motorists who simply would not comply with traffic control requirements. The Dublin Corporation, who are responsible for administering the traffic warden system, pressed strongly for a substantial increase in the £1 penalty. The Garda authorities were consulted and also advised that the £1 penalty was not achieving its purpose as a deterrent to unlawful parking. In deciding to increase the penalty to £2, I had regard to the foregoing, to the fall in the value of money since 1964, and to the substantially higher and more strict penalties now in force in European cities for similar offences.

Arising from my suggestion the Dublin Traffic Committee recommended a phased series of experimental measures to be undertaken as a continuing programme. Measures so far taken comprise a week's experiment to measure the effect on traffic flow of full observance of the “Rules of the Road” as well as of the various traffic and parking control measures provided for and the introduction of an experimental bus lane on the Fairview route. An experiment in the pedestrianisation of certain streets during business hours will also be undertaken to explore the possibility of improving civic amenity.

I should like to emphasise that these experiments are designed overall to help to find ways to improve Dublin's serious traffic problem. The detailed results of the experiments are being carefully studied by the corporation and will give a lot of useful information on which to base future policy. I should like to take this opportunity to thank everybody for their goodwill and co-operation in the traffic experiments already carried out. I am confident [548] that such goodwill and co-operation will continue to be given in future experiments and that any inconvenience caused will be accepted for the sake of the common good.

I want to refer to traffic in other towns. As I mentioned earlier the problem of traffic congestion arises in cities and towns other than Dublin, and last year special Road Fund grants were made available to a number of urban authorities for the carrying out of traffic management schemes in their areas. The urban areas in question were chosen because of the urgent problems facing them and of the fact that traffic management techniques were most appropriate in these cases. I am satisfied that these grants will have a very beneficial effect and I am continuing to make such grants available for the current year.

Speed limits are reviewed periodically on a county-by-county basis. Revised regulations for a number of areas have been made and revised regulations for a number of other areas are in course of preparation. In reviewing speed limits account is taken of the views of the local authorities, the Garda and local representations.

In September last I announced that I had asked An Foras Forbartha to continue their study of the effectiveness of the general speed limit of 60 mph and to relate experience to the international developments in this field. The findings of a report by An Foras on the first seven months of their operation had not been encouraging. The limit had not during that period been successful in decreasing speeds or in reducing the number and severity of accidents. It is clear that the 60 mph general speed limit has valuable potential as a safety measure if it is observed adequately and enforced and it was for this reason that I decided to have the enforcement and publicity aspects associated with it examined. I asked my colleague, the Minister for Justice, to arrange for special enforcement of the limit on major routes. An Foras Forbartha have facilitated the Garda Síochána by providing them with particulars of high accident sections of these routes where enforcement of the limit would be beneficial in securing a [549] reduction in the number of accidents. I hope to review the measure again in the course of the present year.

I have now received the report and recommendations of An Foras Forbartha on a system of informative signposting which would be suitable for modern traffic needs. Before the report was received, certain decisions had been taken. These were that place names will be in Irish and English, both versions having equal prominence; that where the Irish version of a place name is reasonably similar to the English version, only the Irish version need be used; and that names of places in the Gaeltacht will be shown in Irish only on signs in the Gaeltacht. A revision of the signs regulations was made by me which enables the latter decision to be implemented. The recommendations of An Foras Forbartha are now under consideration and a suitable programme for the introduction of the new system of signs will be worked out.

Two regulations came into operation on the 1st September, 1970, as part of a programme of road safety measures designed to bring about a reduction in the number of fatal and serious injury accidents. These regulations provide for the fitting of safety frames to tractors and for display on the rears and sides of large goods vehicles and trailers of fluorescent and reflective markings. The safety frames fitted must comply with an international standard. They are required to be fitted to tractors first registered on or after 1st September, 1970. Frames will be required on other tractors as from 1st September, 1977. The requirement about the marking of large vehicles will enable such vehicles to be more easily seen at all times. This should reduce the risk of collisions at night or in conditions of poor daylight visibility.

I recently made regulations requiring the fitting of safety belts for the front seats in cars, station wagons and light goods vehicles, first registered on or after 1st June next. Safety belts and the anchorage points to which they should be attached are required to comply with certain national and international standards.

[550] If all new cars are fitted with belts from a given day, the number of cars on the road without belts will gradually be eliminated. This factor coupled with the growing voluntary fitting of belts will accelerate the growth in the proportion of cars with belts. A vigorous publicity campaign has now commenced to encourage owners of existing vehicles to have belts installed and also to persuade people to use the belts when they are fitted in the vehicles, and so reduce the risk of serious injury to themselves in the event of a road accident.

My Department are engaged on a general review of the vehicle regulations, helped by an informal committee which was set up for the purpose. This committee, and their sub-committees dealing with special aspects of the vehicle and its use, held a number of meetings throughout the year. The work of reviewing the whole body of vehicle regulations is a continuous process because of continual developments in the auto-motive field. While the committee pursue their task, therefore, I may find it necessary from time to time to introduce regulations as, for example, in the case of the safety frames for tractors, the marking of large vehicles and the fitting of safety belts. At the same time, my Department are engaged in the process of examining what adaptation of laws would arise in this field on the accession of Ireland to the European Economic Community.

Following representations from taxi interests for a limitation on the number of persons and vehicles admitted to the taxi business, an informal fact finding committee were set up to assemble all relevant facts relating to the taxi and hackney business. On receipt of the report of this committee, I amended the public service vehicle regulations so as to restrict entry to the taxi and hackney business to limited periods of the year and to raise the standards for entry to the business.

Consequent on the making of these new regulations and after considering representations made to me by taximen in the Dublin area I have set up [551] an informal committee which are looking into the factors relating to the livelihood of taximen in the area. The committee are composed of representatives of the people and bodies in the city with interests in the taxi business. When the committee reports to me I shall be in a better position to consider what changes, if any, in the law are necessary to serve best the interests of taximen and the public.

While on the subject of public service vehicles I should also mention that I have made regulations to permit the use of a 12 metre bus. This brings our regulations into line with those in Britain and other European countries. Public service vehicle regulations will, of course, be subject to the general review to which I have already referred.

Progress on the organisation of a pilot scheme of vehicle inspection is well advanced. I hope that it will be initiated this year. The scheme will in its first phase be a research exercise which will involve an examination of a representative sample of the classes of vehicles in use; data from this examination will be analysed with the primary purpose of determining the number of defective vehicles in use on our roads and the nature of these defects, including, for example, defects in lights, brakes and tyres. Motorists whose vehicles are subjected to examination under the working scheme will be given advice about the condition of their vehicles.

The scheme will also provide for a check on the laden weights of commercial vehicles; it will also include a comparison between defects in accidents—involved vehicles and those in the general vehicle population. Because of the research nature of the initial phase of the scheme I have requested An Foras Forbartha to undertake the project. It is intended, before the scheme gets under way, to have discussions on the main proposals with various interested bodies in the motor industry and motoring organisations.

I refer now to the movement of extraordinary loads by road. Evidence has been growing in recent years to show that problems exist in connection with the movement of very large [552] and extraordinary loads by road. In the light of information reaching my Department it has become apparent that the present system whereby these loads are moved under permits issued by local authorities requires to be examined. For this reason I have appointed an informal committee representative of my Department, the local authorities and the operators who will report to me on what changes in the existing system would meet the best interests of those involved.

Up to the end of March, 1971, a total of just 270,000 driving tests had been carried out. Approximately 54.8 per cent of applicants failed the test. This may seem a very high figure and, indeed, the test has been criticised from time to time as being too severe and of too high a standard. I do not accept this. In the nature of things, some people who fail the test are convinced that they are good drivers and are inclined to maintain that they were failed on what they call “minor points”, or on “technicalities”. I would like to emphasise that these “minor points”, or “technicalities” are more often than not bad driving habits displayed during the test which could, if persisted in, lead to serious accidents. The test aims at ensuring that a driver going on the roads has shown that he knows, and is competent to do, what is required of him for safe driving. Every effort is made to ensure that the standard applied to the test is the same throughout the country as a whole. To this end, and bearing in mind that applicants for test should generally not have to travel long distances in order to undergo the test, test centres have been established in 43 cities and towns each of which has a good network of roads carrying a reasonable amount of traffic. Test routes have been planned in each centre so that, in so far as is possible, each route has the same types of driving features and hazards and, what is also important, has much the same numbers of each type of feature or hazard. The necessity of planning in this way limits the number of towns in which centres can be established and also limits the routes which are acceptable for test.

The physical element of standardising [553] tests is thus taken care of. There remains, however, the personal element, that is, the possibility of variation in the standard applied as between individual testers. This problem is not an easy one to solve since the question of subjective judgment arises. However, everything possible is being done to ensure a uniform standard of testing and assessment. First, all testers are, on recruitment, trained for several weeks in the application of standards which have been worked out by my Department in consultation with representatives of many other bodies with considerable experience in driver training and testing. Later the testers' work is supervised on the road by supervisory testers while the Department itself examines work returns made by the testers. There are, also, frequent local consultations between the Department's headquarters officers, the supervisory testers and the driver testers and there are retraining and familiarisation courses on various types of vehicles. As a result, I am satisfied that as far as is humanly possible the driving test scheme is fair and impartial throughout the country.

I am glad to say that the delay period in arranging tests which had reached very unsatisfactory proportions last year, has been drastically reduced. Whereas the delay period last year was about 25 weeks it has now been reduced to seven weeks. This has been made possible by the recruitment of additional driver testers. The position is not as good as I would wish. However, further additional driver testers are being recruited at present and even though test applications are showing a continuing increase I hope that the waiting period will be further and progressively reduced.

It is a sad fact that year by year road deaths continue to increase in number. Between 1965 and 1968 road deaths increased by an average of 7 per cent annually. During 1969, 462 people were killed, compared with 447 in 1968. This was an increase of 3 per cent. The provisional figures for 1970, however, show that 532 people died on our roads, 70 more than in 1969. This represents an increase of 15 per cent. A full analysis of these figures will not [554] be available for some time yet. So far 1971 shows no improvement. In the first four months of this year, 157 people died on the roads—an increase of 24 on the corresponding period in 1970. Despite all our efforts, there is, therefore, no evidence of a decrease in the dangers which road users face in the course of their everyday lives. Indeed, it seems that the opposite may be true. The House will recall that because of the steep increase in road deaths in the months of August, September and October, 1970, I asked An Foras Forbartha to carry out a survey in depth of all fatal road accidents recorded during these three months, with a view to pinpointing any significant factors. An Foras have reported to me on their investigations. Their overall conclusion is that the increase in road deaths in the period investigated cannot be attributed to any single circumstance, condition or cause. Fatal accident patterns and trends are widely and diversely distributed in time, space and circumstance. There was an estimated increase of 3 per cent in motor vehicle travel between 1969 and 1970. Speed measurements made by An Foras in 1969 and 1970 show that there has been an increase both in the dispersion of the various speeds at which motor vehicles travel and also in the proportion of vehicles travelling in the high speed ranges. Since accident severity increases with increasing speed, it is not surprising that fatal accidents have increased.

The report goes on to point out, however, that growth in traffic and increased speed are hardly likely to provide a complete and adequate explanation. The inevitable conclusion from the study is that there has been a general overall intensification of the factors which contribute to fatal accidents and that the situation will not improve without greater efforts to improve the standard of behaviour of road users, the safety of vehicles and the roads themselves.

In relation to drunken driving I am very glad to be able to say that the breath test is now back in full operation. Some people still no doubt feel that this type of legislation is an unwarranted [555] intrusion into the liberty of the individual, but all the evidence points to the fact that alcohol plays a part in many road accidents. The breath test is there as a deterrent but if we are to make headway in bringing about a reduction in accidents in which alcohol plays a part, then there must be a radical change in our attitudes towards the present patterns of social drinking which lead too often to persons driving while their ability to do so safely is impaired by excessive amounts of alcohol. In the short period in which the breath test has been in operation, more than half of the specimens of blood and urine analysed by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety had an alcohol content of more than 200 milligrammes per millilitre of blood. This level is more than 75 milligrammes above the legal limit of 125 milligrammes laid down in the Road Traffic Act, 1968, which itself is considerably higher than the limit applied in many other countries. It is apparent that there is an appalling lack of appreciation by some drivers of their responsibilities as road users. This lack of appreciation is due either to their failure to grasp fully the effects of alcohol on their ability to drive safely or to a complete disregard for the safety of themselves and others. There is an obvious need to re-shape driver attitude in this respect.

I understand that the European Conference of Ministers of Transport, in association with the International Road Safety Organisation intend to sponsor a special international campaign to highlight the dangers of drinking and driving. The tentative time proposed for this campaign is mid-December, 1971. It is my intention that Ireland should participate in this campaign.

I want to deal now with road safety propaganda and education, and road safety officers. Education of drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, in fact, all road users plays an important part in road safety and is very much the concern of my Department. Other Departments, such as the Department of Education, also play their part, especially in regard to children. Down through the years the Safety First Association has worked [556] hard in the cause of road safety. With the aid of a grant from my Department the Association operates a regional road safety officer service and employs four road safety officers. Their work extends over 13 counties and includes instruction of children in schools, organising exhibitions, debates, competitions, film shows, indeed any worthwhile project likely to further the cause of road safety. Local authorities have in the past assigned special officers to assist my Department in promoting specific road safety projects. Following an examination of the possibility of getting local authorities to participate more fully in the promotion of road safety at local level, I asked county councils and county borough councils in the areas not covered by the regional service of the Safety First Association to consider appointing their own road safety officers. The response to my request was most encouraging and all the authorities concerned have appointed officers with the exception of Dublin Corporation where an appointment is pending. This new scheme of local authority officers is being tried out for an experimental two year period.

Another project which I think deserves special mention is the junior school warden scheme. The scheme was introduced in Carlow on a pilot basis in January, 1970, and has been a great success there. Boys of 12 years of age were successfully trained to patrol a school crossing for their fellow pupils. Not only does the scheme serve road safety but it is also a very valuable training in civics for all the students involved. A special word of thanks is due to the Christian Brothers at whose school in Carlow the pilot scheme was introduced. Without their whole-hearted backing, the generous co-operation of the boys' parents and the enthusiastic support of the Garda Síochána and the local authority, the scheme would never have got off the ground. Following the introduction of the Carlow scheme, I asked authorities to examine the possibility of introducing the scheme at suitable locations in their areas. The results so far are encouraging.

Two further schemes are now in [557] operation—one sponsored by Roscommon County Council at the Convent of Mercy in Boyle and operated by girl pupils from that school, and the other sponsored by Carrick-on-Suir Urban Council at the Christian Brothers' primary school. Two more schemes will be introduced shortly—in Millstreet, County Cork, and Kilmallock, County Limerick, and others are under consideration.

The junior wardens receive no payment for their services. Their duties are performed as an act in civics. The outlay to the local authority is the cost of signs, barriers, uniforms for the wardens and insurance and my Department pays a grant amounting to half of those expenses. The cost of a junior warden scheme, however, should not be the deciding factor. Its real value lies in the training it gives to young people, not only in road safety but in the responsibilities of citizenship. The boys in Carlow and Carrick-on-Suir and the girls in Boyle are now playing an important role in their own communities even at this young age and this augurs well for the future.

The junior warden scheme is just one practical aspect of training children in good road behaviour. While parents have the duty to train their children to be safe road users, teachers, because of their specialist knowledge and skill are in a most favourable position to influence children. During the past year my Department, with the co-operation of the Department of Education, the teachers and local authorities, have made available to primary and junior schools the first of a series of visual aids to enable teachers to instruct children in road safety during the course of the normal school curriculum. A second series of visual aids is in course of preparation and will be distributed to the schools later this year.

The production of road safety literature, films and television material continues. Various leaflets are produced from time to time to publicise new regulations and emphasise particular aspects of road safety. These leaflets are useful not only to those applying for a driving test but to the general public as well and I am glad to be [558] able to report that there is an increasing demand for this type of literature. Arising out of this demand my Department have at present in production a small booklet for motor cyclists and scooterists. It is hoped to issue this booklet later this year and that it will prove a useful guide especially to the young motor cyclist.

Recent and impending new regulations make it necessary to revise and up-date the “Rules of the Road” booklet, the last edition of which was issued in 1967. Work has already started on this and I hope that I will be in a position to issue the new booklet towards the end of 1971.

Over the past ten years my Department have produced and distributed a number of road safety films. Several of these films are aimed especially at children and young people and, because of the importance which we attach to these age groups, we are at present devoting a considerable part of our resources available for film production to these groups. Two new films are at present in production, one for children and one for young motor cyclists. Apart from their uses at schools, clubs, road safety meetings, et cetera our films are screened extensively in cinemas throughout the country, and the co-operation of cinema managements and film distributors in this respect is greatly appreciated.

The radio and television media are regularly used and the production of television material continues with the co-operation of Radio Telefís Éireann. Time for the screening of road safety material by Radio Telefís Éireann is provided by the authority free of charge as a public service. This facility is very much appreciated. In particular, the television publicity feature on the junior school warden scheme contributed greatly towards the development of the scheme. The Press too by highlighting road accidents and by their coverage of road safety measures are making their own contribution and I should like to thank them.

From time to time the need arises for special publicity campaigns by my Department. Recent examples were the introduction of the new markings for heavy vehicles and trailers and the requirements [559] as to safety frames for tractors. The special publicity for these measures included the issue of special leaflets to owners of vehicles affected, together with radio, television and newspaper publicity.

Standard time has now been with us since 1968. While, generally speaking, the extra hour's daylight in the evening in the winter months has been beneficial, the dark winter mornings can be a special hazard for children going to school. To minimise the danger the Safety First Association once again provided reflective armbands at a nominal charge to primary school children through the schools. This scheme has already proved its worth and it now appears that the public are becoming aware—at least as far as children are concerned—of the value of reflective materials as an aid to making pedestrians more visible in darkness. In support of this measure steps were taken to highlight the dangers of early morning darkness and the hazards for school children through Press, radio and television. Perhaps I should mention that the question of reverting to Greenwich mean time in the winter months is at present under consideration by the Minister for Justice.

The tragic death of an adult school warden in Dublin brought home to us very forcibly the value of a service which, perhaps, we have come to take for granted and which involves hazards for the men whose duty it is to protect our children crossing busy roads outside our schools. As I have indicated already, further consideration is being given to making school wardens more readily visible to traffic, whether in darkness or daylight and to the possibility of providing more clear cut advance warning of crossing places where school wardens operate.

Mr. Hogan: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  This has been a very long speech and I must admire the Minister's stamina in being able to read us 76 pages of typescript. I do not know whether it is a departmental characteristic or a characteristic of the different incumbents of the office of Minister for Local Government but on all occasions they seem to have prolonged [560] speeches, and this was no exception. The Minister gave us an amount of statistical material in respect of housing and glancing superficially through this one would say that everything was well, that there is good work being done, and it is only when one begins to analyse it that one realises that with all the nice outward packaging, inside there is very little.

The Minister spoke of a housing target for the mid-seventies of 15,000 to 17,000 a year. The target at which we were aiming some years ago was 14,000. It has been increased a little. Of course a target depends entirely on what standard you are aiming at. Some years ago in South Tipperary when we were preparing our county plans we were given figures, requirements were laid down and after that targets were laid down. The targets fell short of the requirements and with the passage of years these targets have been lowered and lowered and our housing accomplishment has been quite poor.

Indeed, originally the method of calculation was completely inaccurate and requirements were greatly understated, even approaching it as objectively as possible. It is also true to say that the requirements in the White Paper dealing with the assessment of our requirements are also an understatement. Again it is relative; it depends on how high you are trying to go, what kind of living standards you are trying to provide and what kind of housing standards you aim at. The Minister mentions that total expenditure on providing and reconstructing houses is now running at an annual rate of almost four times that of a decade ago. Then he goes on and very smoothly, speaking of local authority houses, says that:

While the growth of housing output has been most striking in the private sector——

and then he goes on to say in parenthesis——

reflecting the increased prosperity which enabled more people to provide their own houses.

Does it reflect that, or does it rather reflect the fact that local government [561] have failed to provide the less well off sections of our society with houses and that willy-nilly they have been forced to scrape the barrel, forced to mortgage their future because houses for letting are not available to them and they have been forced to go to building societies, banks, insurance companies and so on in order to get the necessary capital to provide a house for themselves? I agree that it is nice to see people buying their own houses but if it is done by forcing them to mortgage their future then there is something wrong with the social thinking behind it.

In the eyes of this Government housing has never been a matter of first priority. I think it was in the First Programme for Economic Expansion—if one can use the word “expansion”— that it was stated that it was regarded as social welfare investment and therefore not in the same priority list as commercial investment which would give a commercial reward. That is harsh economics. I suppose it is true that a man from a slum is just as good a productive unit as a man who is well housed, or very nearly. If that is your approach then you will say that this is social welfare spending and it has not, in the general programme of spending, a high priority.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  The Deputy knows of course that that is not true—in case my silence might be taken to indicate assent.

Mr. Hogan: Information on Patrick Hogan  Zoom on Patrick Hogan  Various suggestions have been thrown out from time to time in regard to methods for improving house building and there is reference again to that in the Minister's speech when he was dealing with the special facilities made available by his Department to co-operative groups for house building. I have nothing against co-operative groups. I am sure the idea is an excellent one but the essential thing in getting houses built is a Minister who wants to get them built or a Government who want to get them built. Whatever technical method you use does not really matter, whether you do it through a co-operative system or whether you do it directly through the National Building Agency or [562] whether you get them built through the local authorities. If the will is there and if the Government want to do it and the Minister wants to do it it can be done. If the Minister or the Government do not want to do it it is quite simple to scale it down without showing your hand.

The details of any housing scheme or even of a single house have to go to the Department several times. We do not have to get sanction for the site. The plan, tender, borrowing of money, et cetera have to receive ministerial sanction. The Minister and his officials can slow down a project if they feel there is too much building. An inspector can come down from the Department to a scheme of 20 houses, speak to the local engineer and cut down the number of houses to be built to ten. The county councils do not always know what has happened. Quarterly reports are furnished and in each case we can ask what has happened. The schemes can be drastically reduced. The details of a scheme can lie on a Minister's desk for a long time. Further questions can be asked about it. The Department can speed or impede house building. It is all a matter of policy decisions. If the Government feel that capital expenditure should not be allowed to rise too rapidly they can slow down house building.

The Minister's predecessor often blamed local authorities. The authorities were blamed for anything that went wrong. If there is a fall-off in housing the responsibility lies with the Minister. There was a change of Government in 1947-48 and before the change a White Paper was published in which it was stated that 100,000 houses were needed in a decade. A new Minister came into office. Within three years the total housing production increased seven-fold. Local authority housing increased at least tenfold. There was no co-operative effort and no fancy ideas, but there was a Minister who said “I want houses built” and they were built. That has not happened since then. The annual housing production expanded in three years from 1,602 to 12,305. The local authority content expanded from 729 to 7,787 houses. That was a housing revolution. At that [563] time we were not regarded as being as well off as we are now.

From 1948-49 to 1957-58, covering the period of office of two inter-Party Governments and a Fianna Fáil Government in between, over 100,000 houses were provided. Fifty per cent of these were local authority houses. In the 11 years subsequent to that under Fianna Fáil Government 95,000 houses were built and of these 28,639 were local authority houses. These figures show a complete change of policy in favour of private housing. It is cheaper for the Government to provide grants for private houses and then to take credit for having built them than it is to provide local authority houses. There can be a great show and better figures can be produced, but this is less desirable socially. Those who cannot provide a house for themselves are placed at a disadvantage. If the percentage of local authority houses is too low the poorer sections of the community suffer.

The Minister spoke of the switch to private housing as being a reflection of increased prosperity. I have looked at comparative figures for Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. I have figures for 1960-69. In Northern Ireland 62 per cent of the houses available for letting were local authority houses; in Scotland 76 per cent; in England and Wales 40 per cent; and in Ireland 30 per cent. If these figures are accurate, it would seem that we are better off than the people in those countries. We know that it is not so. The per capita income is higher in those countries than in this country. I fail to see the logic of having a low percentage of local authority houses and a high percentage of private houses when the incomes of our citizens are lower than those of people in other countries. In most cases people in the countries I have mentioned are earning bigger salaries than corresponding people here. I fail to reconcile the different situations. Northern Ireland, with half our population, built as many houses annually as we are building. Double the proportion of their houses are local authority houses and are available for letting.

[564] Members of this House get copies of the OECD reports. The question is often asked here how we stand by international comparison. It is a sorry comparison for the Minister for Local Government because we have occupied one of the lowest positions internationally as regards the number of houses built per thousand of population. For many years we were fourth lowest of the countries listed by the OECD, the countries at the bottom of the table were Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey—which are not perhaps very progressive countries by modern standards. Spain has been conducting a quite considerable building programme and has now moved ahead of us and at the moment we are the third lowest.

Our expenditure on housing as a percentage of our national wealth is among the lowest in Europe—at 4 per cent or 4.1 per cent. These are aspects of housing to which the Minister does not advert when he tells us what has been done in house-building.

If one examines the number of persons at work in the construction industry it will give an indication of what is happening because it reflects in great measure how our house-building programme has been proceeding. In 1948 there were 74,000 people at work in the construction industry; in 1970 we had the same number at work in that industry. In the immediate years after 1948, when the great housing expansion took place, the numbers engaged in the construction industry increased to 86,000. During an adverse period when our housing figures were low we had a corresponding drop in the numbers engaged in the industry. In 1958-59-60 it dropped to 56,000—the lowest in the last 20 years and it happened after the second inter-Party Government left office.

Over a year ago the then Deputy Boland said that if we were to achieve full employment by 1986, some 30,000 or 40,000 extra jobs would have to be found in the manufacturing and mining industries and the same number of jobs in the construction industry. The fact that in 1948 and in 1970 the same number of workers were employed in [565] the construction industry does not look so hopeful as to enable us to secure that degree of expansion which will give us full employment by 1986.

The Minister stated that about 41,000 houses were built in the last three years, which he stated was a greater number in such a period than ever before in our history. The Minister is correct in that as the highest figure up to this time had been 39,000 houses. However, the fundamental difference is the percentage of houses which are grant houses and the percentage which are local authority houses. There was a decided change of policy and one set of figures is not comparable with the other.

The Minister also stated that over a period of three years the cost of constructing an average local authority house increased by nearly 30 per cent and that this escalation of cost must be halted if we hope to overtake our needs. It would be interesting if the Minister would tell us how he is going to halt the cost because this cost of 30 per cent in a three-year period is merely a reflection of the fierce inflation which has got such a grip on this country— an inflation for which this Government stand charged. They have failed to grapple with the problem; they have been looking at it foolishly in the expectation that it might disappear.

In regard to housing, the Department of Local Government stand condemned. In his long speech the Minister has mentioned all kinds of activities but the essential point—the number of houses being provided for those who need them most—has been glossed over.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.


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