Thursday, 6 July 1972
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister for Local Government (Mr. Molloy): I should like to thank Deputies who spoke on this Estimate. As usual the number of subjects covered was quite extensive. I found the debate quite useful. These debates are usually helpful to a Minister. Many Deputies raised specific questions and asked me to deal with them when I was replying. Considering the number of hours during which the debate has gone on, it would be a bit impractical for me to attempt to deal with each point raised by each Deputy. I should like, however, to assure the House that, where a specific question was asked about some special scheme or some special incident, I will have the matter investigated and I will communicate with the Deputy letting him have the information he requested or clearing up some doubt that was in the Deputy's mind during the course of the debate.
My introductory speech was rather lengthy and I do not know whether I was blamed or thanked for it. There was a mixed reaction to the length of time it took me to read my introductory remarks. I should like to apologise to the House, but I was suffering under a medical handicap in that I had recently had a slight operation on my mouth and I had to speak rather slowly. That is why I was an hour longer than I normally would have been. I felt I should like to clear that up.
I want to deal mainly with housing as it is really my main concern in the Department. It occupies most of the time of the Minister and the Department and it is, of course, the Government's top priority. When I was introducing the Estimate I referred to the satisfactory way in which the housing programme has been built up on a planned basis with due regard to the needs and to the availability of the resources without which no expansion could have taken place.
I would be the last to claim that everything is fine in relation to housing and that we still have not got a long road to travel before we reach our goal of a decent home for every family at a cost that the family can afford. I would claim that we are making progress on a sound basis and  that we are building up the housing programme on a smoothly rising gradient without causing disruption in employment or in the building industry. This is very important.
It is not often fully understood by those who speak about the need for more houses, and who make requests from time to time for what they call a crash programme or a special programme, that if there is too much acceleration in any industry, and in the building industry in particular, untold damage can be caused, from which that industry may take years to recover. We suffered something similar to that in the past during the period of office of a Coalition Government. We have to be very careful to maintain a steady upward growth in the output and expansion and the employment in the industry, rather than to have peaks and valleys which can bring such pain and hurt to so many families when the valley period comes and which, as we know, in the past caused such mass emigration.
In the ultimate this is the only way in which we can accomplish what we are trying to do in housing. Let there be no doubt about it. There are no overnight solutions to the housing problem, no more than there are in any other country whether it is a socialist country or a capitalist country. My primary concern now is to keep up the momentum of growth which the housing programme developed during the sixties and to see, at the same time, that we do not just build houses but that we also get them, as far as is practicable, to the people who are most in need of them.
I want to give an assurance to the House that housing has been and will continue to be a first priority with the Government. I see proper housing as the foundation stone on which social progress in the broad sense is based. I do not see any point in pouring money into improved health services or better educational opportunities, if the people we are trying to help have not got the basic requirement of a good home. I am satisfied that the Government cannot solve the housing problem on their own. I am not the  first to say that. Housing is a community responsibility. The rate at which we are able to move ahead in housing is dictated largely by the community as a whole.
In this country, for example, it is a fact that, compared with other countries we spend rather than invest a very high proportion of our total income. This is something which holds back the level of capital resources which can be put into housing without imposing pressures that are self-defeating in the long run. The country must accept that the provision of proper housing is by its nature expensive. The Government cannot cloak that fact by pouring in more and more subsidies. They must also accept that, if we are to house the poor at rents they can afford, the inescapable result is that those who are better off must also pay for their housing in proportion to their means.
I have referred to the high priority which we attach to housing. I should like to take this opportunity, while replying to this Estimate, to illustrate this very point. To do that, I propose to outline briefly some of the initiatives and improvements in housing which have been introduced since I became Minister in 1970. These developments have enabled the output of new houses to grow from 13,644 in 1969-70 to 15,921 in 1971-72. The latter figure is an all-time record. It is likely to be surpassed in 1972-73. It is my confident hope that in this year we will be able to achieve a housing output touching on 17,000 houses.
On the private housing side, the measures taken by the Government have facilitated a very rapid growth in the rate of output in the last two years. They included, within the last few days, the fairly substantial increase in the limits applicable to local authority house purchase loans and supplementary grants. The maximum loan which local authorities may advance has been increased from £3,000 to £3,400 generally, and from £3,300 to £3,800 in the county boroughs of Cork, Dublin, Limerick and Waterford and the boroughts of Dún Laoghaire and Galway, and in the county of Dublin. The yearly income limit for supplementary  grants has been increased from £1,250 to £1,500 and the usual allowance of £100 for each dependant up to a limit of £400. This gives a maximum limit of £1,900 income for supplementary grants.
Mr. Molloy: It applies to houses commenced on that date, or after that date. I am also confident that these changes which I have announced this week will be of considerable help to the middle-income group who want to provide their own houses. The question of the availability of adequate mortgage facilities is a fundamental requirement in the whole field of private housing. I initiated discussions with the Building Societies' Association with a view to introducing arrangements under which local authorities could guarantee loans made by the building societies. Following these discussions I asked local authorities to draw up schemes under section 42 of the 1966 Act enabling them to guarantee loans made by building societies, insurance companies, banks and other organisations. A model scheme and form of guarantee were drawn up on the basis of discussions. These were sent out to each local authority. This is a matter which was raised by Deputy Clinton.
The purpose of these arrangements is to ensure that prospective house purchasers in all areas throughout the country have adequate mortgage facilities available to them. They can be particularly useful to persons living in areas in which building societies or other commercial agencies do not normally operate and also to persons in the lower and middle-income groups who require loans greater in amount than they would normally be advanced by these agencies. The principal types of loans for which guarantees may be considered are set out in the letter which I sent to the local authorities.  The amount of loan guaranteed may not be more than 25 per cent in excess of the maximum loan available from the local authority concerned. This proved very useful in recent months. I am anxious to see widespread use being made of the guarantee arrangements. I will keep that operation under review.
Another initiative I have taken to secure progress in the private housing field has been the development of an active site-releasing programme in the Dublin area. I have introduced arrangements to expedite planning appeals involving fairly large-scale housing developments. The promotion of the co-operative system of providing houses is another initiative which was taken, and also the widening of the range of owner-occupation by giving potential tenants of local authority houses the alternative of buying their houses from the local authorities rather than renting them. They can do this with the help of the usual grants and the other aids which are applicable to private houses. I am strongly in favour of this activity and grateful to the Dublin authorities for making a start on it. I hope to see it spread to local authorities all over the country.
Developments have not been confined to the private sector. From listening to contributions made by Opposition speakers, it would seem that they are anxious to convey the impression that the Government have a fairly successful record in recent times in private housing construction and policies seem to have been implemented successfully. They tried, however, to give the impression that we were not doing anything at all in regard to local authority houses. This is utter nonsense. I have been pressing ahead to the greatest extent possible. I have pressed ahead with the expansion of the local authority housing programme and introduced new methods of tendering and contracting which are designed to promote efficiency and rationalisation and at the same time obtain the maximum output from the available moneys. I am referring now to the guaranteed order project. It already involves a programme of about 5,000 dwellings, of  which about 1,800 are already in progress. This project has already established its worth.
I am amazed at the so-called progressives and radicals in the Opposition, particularly Labour Deputies, who are now proving to me by criticising the guaranteed order project that they are the most conservative people in Dáil Éireann. I made some radical changes in the system of tendering and contracting for local authority houses with one purpose in mind and that is to provide more houses for the people who are badly in need of them. For the amount of money available to me I have been able to increase the output substantially over the level of output from the same amount of money in years gone by. The savings which have been achieved under the guaranteed order project are remarkable when one considers that we are living in an age of spiralling prices. This is to be seen more clearly in the housing field than in any other activity. It is truly remarkable to be able to record that in the housing field, despite all the pressures which exist in the industry, we have had success in effecting economies in the cost of construction and that these economies are going directly to the benefit of the taxpayer and ratepayer.
I am disappointed with Opposition Deputies who are so conservative, who want to stick to the same old methods that have been used since the State was founded and are not prepared to accept the new ideas even when it is shown clearly to them that these new ideas are redounding to the great benefit of the community and, in particular, of course, to that section of the community that they claim is their special concern, and which is my special concern, the weaker section of the community. They are the people who are benefiting from the fact that I have been able substantially to increase local authority housing output, houses built for renting for people who cannot afford, even with assistance by way of grant, to buy houses for themselves.
Building activity is only one aspect of the Government's involvement in  housing. If our approach is to be sufficiently comprehensive we must operate policies that will serve and promote the best use of the total housing stock. For that reason I have recently launched a sample survey of the condition of the housing stock and will use the results of that survey as a basis for conserving the stock. The means of doing this will include a revised reconstruction grants scheme. Pending completion of this scheme, I have recently increased on an interim basis the maximum State grant available for reconstruction work from £140 to £200. This grant may be supplemented by a grant of an equal amount from the local authority, making a total of £400 available for reconstruction work. I am grateful for the warm reception given to the announcement of the increased grants.
In February last I introduced a special scheme of grants to encourage the provision of proper accommodation for physically disabled persons. The special grant is payable for work started on or after 1st February of this year, where an extra room or other structural work is necessary for the accommodation of a physically disabled person in an existing house.
In the case of a non-vested local authority house the local authority may pay a grant of up to the full approved cost of the work and in other cases they may grant two-thirds of the cost. Half of the cost of the grant is being recouped to the local authority by my Department subject to a maximum recoupment in any case of £400. These grants, I am sure, will relieve hardship in cases where up to now a disabled person with limited means had no effective means of adapting a house to meet his requirements.
I am very conscious of the main aim of the Irish Wheelchair Association which was formed to promote the wellbeing of persons who are confined to wheelchairs and who are restricted in the use of their limbs. The main aim is to work towards the situation where persons confined to wheelchairs can live a normal life. If they are unable to get access to public buildings, if they are confronted by steps everywhere they go, if the authorities  have not provided ramps to allow them to gain easy access without seeking assistance from a number of persons to lift them up the steps, they certainly cannot be said to be living a normal life. Many of these people have shown courage and determination and they are a shining example to the whole community in the way in which they have faced the difficulties that confront them. Many of them drive cars which have been specially adapted to allow them to drive and they can put the wheelchair in the motorcar and, in fact, they are completely mobile until confronted with steps or some other obstacle which will not allow them to move freely without assistance from some other member of the community.
Their main problem was in the houses where they live, not being able to go upstairs, not being in a financial position to convert the house for ground-floor living. Many of them were suffering some hardship and much inconvenience and their relatives also were suffering inconvenience. Certainly, the ambition of the Wheelchair Association was not being achieved if these people were not getting an opportunity to live a normal life.
One of my hopes and aims is to play a very full part in helping persons confined to wheelchairs to lead a normal life. I hope that the arrangements I have brought into force and the assistance by way of grants I have introduced so far and the legislation which I propose to introduce in the future will place this country in the position of leading the way for other countries throughout the world and showing countries how public authorities, States and governments should deal with those members of their community who are not free to move around as ordinary members of the community do, because they are confined to a wheelchair. I hope with the publication of the new building regulations to include a provision stipulating that all new buildings being designed and constructed must make provision for adequate access for persons confined to wheelchairs.
Another aspect of housing that I am anxious to encourage is the provision  of houses by philanthropic bodies because up to now voluntary bodies have not contributed much to the total housing effort. Their main contribution has been in the provision of small dwellings for elderly persons, with the aid of the special grants available for that purpose. They have met a very great need and those who have involved themselves in this work deserve the highest praise and thanks of the community. The experience of other countries shows that there is also scope for voluntary activity in relation to other kinds of housing needs, such as those of families of single office workers, of students, and so on, because there are a number of groups like these that are in need of assistance and there is no means of helping them over and above the ordinary. These are needs which exist in our community and which are growing but they may not at any one time merit the highest priority in the allocation of the resources available for housing. Because of that, voluntary bodies can be very useful by identifying and catering for this type of need and in that way supplement the housing efforts of the local authorities.
Again, I should like to emphasise that I am using the word “supplement” because I should not like anybody to think that I am suggesting that they should substitute. I do not look to voluntary bodies as a substitute or, indeed, as anything other than a supplement to local authority housing.
In terms of the number of dwellings provided, I do not expect that voluntary activity will ever account for more than a small proportion of the total housing effort or a small proportion of the local authority housing programme but in terms of the benefits that such groups can confer and of the pressing human problems they can relieve, their contribution can be very significant. It is my aim to see that contribution grow and, in fact, to create the financial and other conditions that will enable them to grow. I have, therefore, been reviewing on a general basis the aids which are available for voluntary housing projects and I have asked the local authorities, by way of circular letter, to consider making greater use of the powers they already have to assist  voluntary housing bodies and I have given them specific guidelines as to the ways in which they could and should assist them. I have also made some suggestions as to the scale of assistance they might make available. In addition, I intend announcing a new State subsidy to voluntary groups. This will be directed to the purchase, and subsequent conversion up to a good standard, of houses suitable for small families. I am hopeful this subsidy will give a new stimulus to the provision of this kind of housing; the provision of this type of housing is regarded as particularly suited to voluntary organisations.
Another aspect of housing—I referred to it recently and I should like to take this opportunity of emphasising it—is the question of standards in private enterprise rented accommodation. This matter has been causing me some concern. I am concerned about the need for an improvement in standards here, especially in bedsitters and flatlet type accommodation, which are, in the main, features of our cities and larger towns.
My functions in regard to this accommodation do not extend to rent levels. I want to make that clear. Rents are a function of the Minister for Justice. Many groups are apparently under the impression that, because housing is one of my functions, rents are also a function of mine and I am continually directing groups, which make representations, over to the Minister for Justice. I am, of course, involved in standards.
I am far from satisfied with the standard, the quality and the facilities provided in many small flats and bedsitters. Definite measures are needed to secure an improvement in standards and I have prepared draft bye-laws to apply to rented accommodation. On 28th June last I invited the public to give me their views on these bye-laws. They cover drainage, ventilation, lighting, the execution of repairs and the provision of essential facilities. The bye-laws are not by any means what I would regard as optimum ideal standards but are aimed rather at minimum  reasonable standards which can later be improved in the light of experience in operating the bye-laws. What I seek to achieve is a gradual and progressive improvement in standards so that there will be no adverse effect on rent levels or on the supply of private enterprise rented accommodation. Following my consideration of the views of the public and representative groups on these draft bye-laws, I will issue to local authorities a model based on the draft, together with the results of my consideration of the suggestions and comments, and I will take up with them the need to ensure that they are effectively geared to administer these bye-laws. There would be no point in going through the whole exercise of devising bye-laws unless we have the means of enforcing them.
Mr. Molloy: I do not think I did. I sent them to some organisations which had been writing to me about these matters. The Flat Dwellers' Association was one. If the Deputy would like a copy I will send him one. In fact, I will send a copy to every Deputy.
Now, where bye-laws are concerned, the task of enforcing them may present some difficulty because, if enforcement is too rigorous, it can, as Deputies will appreciate, create more problems than it will, in fact, solve. On the other hand, inadequate enforcement would allow a situation to continue which may be quite intolerable in some instances and we certainly could not allow that. It will not, as I say, be easy and it will provide no overnight solution, but it will be a start. Local authority involvement in this kind of housing is essential and I will be looking to local authorities for their full co-operation in what I am trying to do in this area. The day is past when local authorities could be regarded as being confined in their housing functions to the building of houses for certain sections of the community, the management of their own housing estates and to the making of loans and grants towards private enterprise housing. In my view, local authorities  must henceforth see themselves as having both a particular and a general responsibility in relation to all the housing problems in their areas; they must, in other words, be housing authorities in a real sense.
The White Paper on local government reorganisation clearly sets out my intention to delegate as many responsibilities as possible to local authorities but, before doing so, I am anxious to ensure that the local government structure at that lower level is a viable structure capable of adequately and efficiently carrying out the functions I will be delegating. This is the thinking behind the abolition of small authorities. At some point in the future I shall be coming to the House with a Bill designed to implement some of the suggestions in the White Paper. The Bill will be available early in the next session.
Mr. Molloy: There was a recognition by some Deputies of the fact that I am making an effort, where possible, to increase the functions of local authorities, give them more responsibility and more decision-making, withdrawing the Department, where possible, as much as possible. This is a somewhat delicate task since one must strike a reasonable balance. I am, however, convinced that the Department has been over-involved, has been, if you like, mothering local authorities.
Mr. Molloy: There is a proliferation of authorities. With all the authorities we have we must be the most over-represented country in the world. Many of the smaller authorities were given no powers of any kind; they are nothing more than talking shops.
Mr. Molloy: I do not think one can make a fair comparison with Sweden because there the population is very scattered. It would be generally accepted, I think, that we are not short of public bodies of one kind or another and there is, I believe, general acceptance that many of them must go. I have to decide which. The moment I announce which everyone will be for those which are going. That is life. I am quite determined, however, to reform our local government structure.
There is another function which I am anxious to delegate to local authorities but I have not made any decision yet. In my introductory remarks I hinted that I was aware of the delays in dealing with group water schemes. In the course of the debate some Deputies opposite suggested that the delays were deliberate on the part of the Department as a method of slowing down the payment of grants because of some lack of money. Obviously, that cannot be true because if it were the case, there would be no point in the grant being increased recently from £60 to £100. I appreciate that there is a genuine need for an improvement in the group water scheme system of operation but what I hope to do is to withdraw the Department out of these operations as much as possible and to involve to a greater extent the local authorities both in the design stage and in the operation of the schemes.
Mr. Molloy: I recognise this and I am trying to find some way of solving the problem. Eventually this will mean involving the local authorities to a greater extent. This should meet Deputy Creed's point, too, in so far as the difficulty in Cork is concerned. The Deputy suggested that an officer of my Department should be present at local authority meetings. My predecessor was not in favour of that practice and neither am I. I do not think any other  member of the Government or of any Government that might be in power, would be in favour of civil servants from the Minister's Department attending at local authority meetings. This is not on.
Mr. Molloy: It has been resisted. The best way of getting around the difficulty is to endeavour to reduce the causes of the frustration, not only to set up a system of information but to eliminate the reasons for the difficulties.
Mr. Molloy: I have not worked out anything yet but I am only giving the House some indication of my thinking in the matter. Perhaps I am foolish to mention it at all at this stage but during the next month or two I will be endeavouring to find some way of involving the local authorities to a greater extent.
Mr. Molloy: I shall not waste all my time on this subject now. Perhaps Deputies could bear with me for a month or two and see how I fare out. Then, they may criticise what I have done if they consider that necessary.
I would like to give a run-down on sanitary services. This is an essential field of operation in the whole housing programme. Much work is being done and the amount of money being invested in the sanitary services programme is being increased substantially year by year. The capital provided for 1971-72 was £6.25 million, which was an increase of £1.4 million on the previous year. This year the provision was again increased by £400,000 so that the total amount provided was £6.64 million. As an example of the positive and important work being done under the sanitary services programme, I shall give some examples of major water and sewerage  schemes which were approved during the past three years.
I am going to the trouble of giving these because at Question Time I am asked questions regularly as to why various schemes have not been sanctioned. There is a large number of applications in the Department and it is a matter for the local authority to let us know which is their No. 1 priority and to help us in that way. Deputies are inclined to table questions about the local authority No. 12 priority and demand to know why the Minister has not sanctioned them when, in fact, the Deputies' county councils would not wish the Minister to sanction No. 12 ahead of No. 1 In the Dublin area, which is a critical area now because of the population explosion and the increasing demand for houses, there will be needed many thousands of acres of serviced land during the next ten years. This land will be required if only to implement the plans that have been drawn up by Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council.
In the Dublin area there are sections 3 and 4 of the Dodder Valley sewerage which is being provided at a total cost. for the two sections, of about £2 million. Section 3 is almost completed and section 4 is well under way. These are final sections of the main sewer which in the Tallaght area, will drain up to 6,300 acres of new land. Section 1 of the new treatment works at Ringsend which will treat the flows coming through the Dodder Valley sewer will cost £2.2 million. I recently sanctioned a tender for the tunnel section of the greater Dublin sewer, which was known as the Grand Canal tunnel. It will cost approximately £3.5 million. That is an essential part of the scheme to open up 11,000 acres to the northwest of the city. The work there will commence soon.
Regarding the provision of water, the duplication works at Leixlip will double the capacity of the water treatment works there from 9 million gallons to 18 million gallons per day. The estimated cost of that scheme is £266,000. Work is already in progress on it. The Ballymore Eustace treatment works extension is costing £500,000  and will extend output from 20 million gallons to 27 million gallons per day. These, then, are some of the very heavy capital works that are under way in the Dublin area at present.
In the Cork area the combined effects of the scheme, including further extensions of the preliminary drainage scheme, that is, the trunk sewer No. 3, Knockahinny sewer and the Beaumont sewer, will be to provide some 10,000 new sites within the city boundary and about 21,000 sites in the adjoining county areas. The total cost involved is more than £1 million. A number of these works have been completed already and others are in progress.
In Limerick the first section of a major scheme to increase the city's water supply from 5 million gallons to 12 million gallons per day at an overall cost of £1.4 million, will cost £240,000. There is a major scheme in Dundalk which will provide a main drainage for the town. Stage one will open up considerable land for housing and industry.
A modern main drainage system is required for Sligo town, the estimated cost of which is £130,000. This will provide land for further housing and industrial development. In Drogheda there is in progress a further major stage of the water supply augmentation scheme. This scheme will provide headworks for an extra three million gallons per day for the town plus one million gallons per day for the east Meath area. The cost there is £370,000. The total cost of the scheme is £800,000.
In Ennis, too, major work is going ahead. Section one of the main drainage will cost £70,000 while the total cost will be £900,000. In Kildare tenders have been approved for a reservoir at Old Kilcullen as part of a system for the distribution of piped water to Naas, Newbridge and Kilcullen. The cost there will be £180,000. There is a big water supply scheme in Ballina costing £190,000. Tenders have been invited for that scheme and it will commence soon. Tenders have been approved for a £94,000 water mains distribution improvement scheme for the town of Ballina. At Arranmore in County Donegal there is  a water supply scheme in progress to cater for the island's needs. The cost will be £112,000. I could give many more examples. However, I am only giving Deputies an idea of the amount of capital that is involved and the investment we are making in providing these facilities which, as the House knows, will contribute substantially towards reducing pollution where pollution is being caused by the discharge of untreated effluents from public sewers into rivers.
This heavy capital investment, especially in the Dublin area, will contribute substantially towards a reduction of the level of pollution in the rivers especially in the Liffey and, eventually, in Dublin Bay. I am assured by my technical advisers that when these schemes are in operation—it will probably be at least four or five years before they are in full operation— there will be a remarkable improvement in the quality of the waters in the Dublin rivers. That is my hope. The Camac is an open sewer. It is a disgusting sight but there is very little that we can do to improve it until such time as these major schemes are in operation. By then, too, Dublin Bay should be restored to its former glory. It is a particular ambition of mine to have restored these waters which, unfortunately, have been allowed to fall into a state which is less than satisfactory. The community will have to accept that no remarkable improvement can be brought about overnight.
I am tempted to reply to the various points brought up but I think I had better avoid that and assure Deputies who raised matters of particular concern to them that I shall have these matters fully considered and I shall communicate with them where I feel the matters warrant communication.
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