Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1992: Second Stage (Resumed).

Wednesday, 13 May 1992

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 419 No. 6

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Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  As I said before the break, this Bill was introduced a year and a half ago and was to do great things for many people throughout the country because the Government had failed to provide adequate funds for local authorities to build houses for the needy. To date, so far as I am aware, not one house has been provided in my constituency.

We must look at the position over the last five years. A Fianna Fáil Government were in office from 1987-89 and there has been a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government since then. During that time — to their credit — the Government provided a total of 109 dwellings in County Meath compared with 531 houses in the previous five years.

Mr. M. Ahern: Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  We are paying for those as well.

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  At present there are 462 people on the housing list in County Meath. Last Monday one of the Deputies in that constituency complained on the national airwaves about the local authority not providing enough homes for people in the constituency generally, especially in her area. In reply to that statement I will quote a remark made by a Member of this House, an elder statesman; it seems that Deputy Mary Wallace wants to be a mighty mouse in her constituency and a church mouse when she refers to problems in this House.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  Deputy Farrelly should [1350] attend meetings of our parliamentary party——

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  I do not have any wish to attend any parliamentary party meetings of the Deputy's party, I am quite happy where I am. Double standards from Deputies are not acceptable. The facts are that the Government and different Ministers for the Environment over the last four or five years have not provided the funds to build houses for the people about whom Deputy Wallace is concerned. It should be clearly stated that it is not the fault of Meath County Council that the people to whom Deputy Wallace referred do not have houses. Indeed, houses will not be built this year either and they will still have to live in mobile homes. As chairman I reject her accusations. Double standards should not prevail as far as Deputy Wallace is concerned. Indeed, the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Dempsey, was up to other tricks in connection with planning and things like that. When he was part of the local authority he was not very vocal in relation to certain issues and would have liked them to be discussed behind closed doors.

The social housing proposals will not make much difference when voluntary organisations throughout the length and breadth of the country are being asked to provide 90 per cent grants to provide housing. In fairness, what is proposed in real terms is passing the buck from the local authorities to voluntary organisations in relation to providing houses. Admittedly, some changes must be made. We have a proposal in connection with joint ownership. Many local authorities have written asking the Minister to clarify the position that will pertain when joint loans are taken out. The occupier will pay interest on the loan for half the house over a period of years, but it has not been indicated what amount will attach to the other half of the house at the end of that term. The Minister made statements at a recent conference in which he blamed local authorities for not [1351] implementing particular proposals, yet he himself has not clarified certain issues when requested to do so by local authorities all over the country.

In the recent past we had what was probably the sale of the century in relation to local authority houses. Houses of a very acceptable standard have been sold extremely cheaply. Previous speakers in the debate mentioned particular problems of service charges and the difficulties people face in meeting rental payments. It is interesting to note, however, that many householders whom the officials were led to believe had had problems in meeting rental payments, water charges and refuse charges, were very quickly able to come up with the total amount of their arrears so that they could buy their home when the sale of the century took place. That happened in my constituency and I am sure that it also happened in every other county in Ireland. I have to pose this question to everybody for whom we provide houses, and, after all, the houses are provided with State funds: have they the commitment and the will when houses are built and allocated to them to maintain the houses and to pay their way?

As has been stated, all houseowners have to repair and maintain their homes. I do not believe that it is unreasonable today to expect those who are provided with homes to carry out the necessary repairs to their homes. This morning other Deputies talked about carpenters who asked their local representative that repairs be done to their homes and painters who likewise asked that their windows and fences be painted. The policy should be changed. When we allocate houses it should be understood by the tenants that a certain amount of essential repair work must be carried out by them. Perhaps then the majority of those people would think a lot more of their homes. I do realise, of course, that only a small percentage of tenants abuse the system but it is not right that so much money should be spent on repairs when it could be put to more productive use.

If we are to deal with the housing lists [1352] throughout the country there is a very important need to reintroduce a reconstruction grant in certain circumstances. I do not believe that a grant should be made carte blanche. If I had any fault with the previous reconstruction grant it would be that the grant was made available for windows only. That was a mistake. We all know of the thousands of people who replaced quite adequate windows merely because the grant was available. There are many people living in houses in need of repair who, because they are on low incomes, find it difficult to get loans to enable them to carry out repairs to their homes. Some of those who are on housing lists because the house they are living in at present is condemned as being not properly fit for rearing a family would themselves, with the provision of a small grant towards paying for necessary facilities and making necessary repairs, be able to effect repairs. The numbers on the housing lists could thus be reduced by about 20 per cent. After five years in office and after having said when they abolished the former reconstruction grant that they would reconsider the provision of a grant later on, I cannot believe that the Government have not done so. The reintroduction of a reconstruction grant would result in an increased number of jobs becoming available in the construction industry. The material used in constructing houses would be about 95 per cent Irish produced. With the small amount of grant aid that would be allocated in each case under such a scheme the Government would do two things; they would provide badly needed jobs in the community, at a time when we have 300,000 unemployed, and they would be taking people off the housing lists and allowing them to repair homes, and in this regard I think particularly of homes in rural parts of the country that are in need of repair and should not be allowed to fall into total dereliction.

There is a problem with housing development in my county. We are located on the periphery of the city of Dublin and every year thousands more people want to come to live in the county. [1353] That puts enormous pressure on services in the towns of Ashbourne, Dunboyne and Dunshaughlin, which all require new facilities for water and sewerage. As a result, the rural part of the county is experiencing much greater pressure for planning permission. All of those issues combined mean that any site becoming available in the upper part of the county is quite expensive and is beyond the reasonable reach of many people. The council are not in a position to provide adequate sites at a reasonable cost. To go back to the new social housing concept and joint ownership, people find that it is too expensive to buy houses in the open market even if repayments are being made on only half the price. In that scenario, nobody can provide a house any cheaper or as cheap as the local authority. The local authority units in Meath have been provided in the past few years with one of the finest design teams in the country, who have been able to provide homes at £24,000 — as low a price as that paid in many, if not most, parts of the country. When individuals are given the opportunity to become involved in a joint ownership arrangement they are prohibited from doing so because of the cost of the sites themselves.

There is a serious problem in relation to the elderly. While I know that the Department of the Environment allow the Department of Health to carry out essential repairs under a grants scheme for many elderly people, I do not believe that apart from carrying out the essential repairs a much greater emphasis should be placed on providing not only improved windows and doors but also ordinary facilities such as bathrooms and showers. Once the essential repairs are done the tenants will not get the repair people back again in their lifetime. A small sum would ensure that these people could remain in their homes. In the long term it would save the State money it would have to spend on residential care for those people.

When one compares the cost of carrying out those repairs with the cost of providing residential care it is obvious we are cutting off our noses to spite our [1354] faces. This should not be work for the health boards. The scheme should be run by local authorities and adequate funds should be provided. Many people would not have remained in their homes were it not for that scheme. We have missed an opportunity to go a little further and provide essential facilities so that people could remain in their homes for a longer period.

There is a serious problem in the provision of housing for travellers. The Minister made the case that it was a matter for local authorities and said he was disappointed that they had not been more positive in dealing with problem cases. In my constituency we provided 32 or 34 homes for traveller families over the past ten to 15 years. There is a halting site in Navan and all the travellers seeking accommodation live in the vicinity of the town. If a local authority decide to provide a site within a mile and a half of the town travellers can make the case that it is inconvenient and refuse to go there. The settled community must obey the planning laws and obtain planning permission to build their own homes and if a county council provide houses people have to accept them irrespective of where they are located; they do not have any choice.

It is hard to accept statements from any Minister in the Custom House that we should get off our butts and look after these people when if we provide accommodation we can be told by the travelling community that it is unsuitable while people in the settled community who provide their own homes find that the value of their homes might drop by £10,000 or £12,000 due to the presence of a halt in the vicinity. There is need for dialogue between all concerned to ensure that the law on unauthorised camping is implemented.

The community college in Navan caters for 600 pupils and there are 28 caravans on the road outside. There are 200 fewer pupils attending school because parents will not send their children to the school. The vocational committee made an effort to have some of [1355] the caravans moved and we made efforts to provide proper sites.

If there is an epidemic due to the unsanitary conditions there, the finger will be pointed at local representatives for not doing their jobs. I can see that happening. There must be a way to solve this problem. Responsibility just cannot be laid at the door of the local authority to solve the problem regardless of the expense involved or inconvenience caused. When dealing with housing we should refer to these matters. Public representatives can walk away from the problem and leave it at the door of the county manager but what county manager would go against his council? We need two-way dialogue and co-operation. The law in some instances is totally on the side of the travelling community and if they do not like a site they can refuse to go to it even if it is only a half a mile away from where they stay. We must look at this as reasonable politicians and recognise the problems.

Are we serious about expecting voluntary organisations to build houses? The Society of St. Vincent de Paul built a scheme of houses for the elderly in Oldcastle, County Meath, an enormous task, and the scheme was very successful. However, if we go down the road of expecting voluntary organisations to do the work local authorities should be doing, how many units will be provided?

The categories of people on housing waiting lists have changed. I have been a member of a local authority for more than 17 years. One single parent was on the County Meath housing list 17 years ago and now, the number has increased to 33 per cent of the 462 cases on the list. I am sure that applies in all rural parts and I understand it is twice that number in Dublin. While the type of unit we require now may be smaller we require more of them.

Social housing is a concept which has worked quite well in some European countries, but has not worked so well in other parts. I predict that the proposals encompassed in this Bill will work in certain areas and not in others. Unless the [1356] Minister and his officials accept that that will be the case it will mean that the problem will be partly dealt with in some areas of the country while, in other parts, the numbers in need of housing will escalate. For example, there will not be the voluntary organisations who can provide much cheaper houses. Therefore I predict that, because the costs will be prohibitive, it will work in some parts of the country and not in others.

Something that must be taken into account nowadays in the case of applicants for loans from building societies, banks, local authorities or whoever — which was not the case, say, five or seven years ago — are the ancillary costs of sending children to school, the cost of providing health services for them and so on. For example, a number of years ago an income of, say, £10,000 or £12,000 was sufficient to allow applicants obtain a loan and build their houses. But nowadays people are experiencing increasing difficulties in merely surviving because of all the ancillary costs which did not obtain heretofore. In addition, because of unemployment, many families encounter difficulties in repaying their SDA loans as they were known.

While recognising that it is the prerogative of local authorities to be repaid loans they advance they should be allowed negotiate with the occupants of a dwelling on which there are arrears of repayments, allowing him or her pay rent until such time as they may re-enter the labour force. I contend there is no point in a local authority taking possession of a house, recouping the amount owed to them, giving the balance to the individual concerned who must then, in turn, rent another house because the relevant local authority cannot provide them with an alternative home. There should be a new approach adopted in the case of an individual who may fall by the wayside in respect of his or her repayments on becoming unemployed. Rather the approach should be to deal with the circumstances pervailing, leave the family in their home and allow them pay rent in accordance with their means. If that [1357] approach were adopted it might help to alleviate the numbers on local authority housing lists.

These are everyday problems encountered by every public representative nationwide. To date local authorities' hands have been tied — being in the business of loaning money — in the sense that they must seek repayment of amounts owed to them. With more open, positive thinking in this respect we could leave very many more people in their homes on a rental basis until such times as they rejoined the workforce.

Many Members have highlighted the problems encountered in the construction and/or repair of homes, as it is recognised that houses can be built more cheaply in some parts of the country than in others. For example, sites cost much less in some parts than in others. But it will be a tough task for anybody endeavouring to purchase a site and build a house in the eastern region. Unless the incentive of a reasonable grant or mortgage subsidy is reinstated for the first time purchaser of a home the housing waiting lists nationwide will continue to increase. I know that the number of people now seeking loans, as compared with a few years ago, is very much fewer because along with all the ancillary expenses it has become much more costly.

At the General Council of County Councils I believe the Minister commented that he was disappointed that local authorities were not dealing with the matter of social policy on housing head on; in other words, apportioning the blame on local authorities for their failure to date. Local authorities posed several questions about the implementation of this Bill which have not been answered. Until such time as these questions are properly answered I predict this policy will not get off the ground. I contend that it is not the fault of local authorities but rather the inadequate information being made available to them with regard to the legislative provisions. Until such time as the attendant legal questions are answered the Minister and his Department will not receive people's full co-operation because they [1358] will be afraid of entering into commitments in areas where they may later encounter problems.

Initially I was pleased to hear the announcement of a £10,000 grant for people on local authority houses to enable them to carry out essential repairs. However, when we received full details of this grant, we discovered it was a £10,000 loan; in other words, the grant turned out to be an interest-free loan. I could not but think of the enthusiastic response to the launch of this scheme — a £10,000 grant to be payable to people living in condemned local authority houses, whose names were on the local authority housing waiting list, which would constitute a life-saver for them and immediately remove them from the housing list. But, when they got into the nitty-gritty people were astounded to discover the money had to be repaid.

People no longer accept that type of codology — that is what it amounts to. There is nothing wrong, in many cases, with an interest-free loan but it begs the question, why try to sell it as a grant? I have no doubt that many people could be taken off the housing lists if such small loans were made available to them. We in Meath were allocated £50,000 last year. It is very difficult to persuade people in receipt of low social welfare benefits to take up such an option since the amount has to be repaid. In addition, the amount of money granted was grossly insufficient to tackle the problem in any serious fashion. The Government will have to learn that they cannot propose something without providing the necessary funds for its implementation. Since this Government appear to have decided not to provide money for building houses they must then realise that each home will cost, say, £90 or £100 by way of subsidy or interest in repayments.

If the Minister seriously wishes to reduce the number of people on the housing waiting lists he should give them a grant or make sufficient funds available to enable them to carry out, essential and reasonable repairs to their houses. I referred earlier to the plight of elderly people who have much less money. Some [1359] elderly people who receive grants to do up their homes may die after four or five years. In such cases the person who inherits the property benefits from the work which has been carried out. These people should have to repay these grants. The State has paid out a great deal of money by way of grants to elderly people who have died four or five years later. I do not think there is anything wrong in asking the person who inherits such property to repay the grant — times are hard and money is scarce. If this were done it would enable repairs to be carried out to many more houses, ensure that old people lived in comfort for the remainder of their lives and ensure that people who inherit these homes did not benefit at the expense of the State.

Successive Ministers for the Environment with whom I have had dealings have been members of local authorities. I should like this scheme to be taken a stage further. There is nothing wrong in giving an interest-free loan provided the local authority are given discretion to set the level of the repayments — in most cases the recipients of these grants are on social welfare — on the basis of one's ability to repay. If this discretion were given to local authorities I believe the scheme would operate more efficiently. There is too much red tape in the present system. This is why Deputies come in here and say only one case has been dealt with in their constituencies. Local authorities can deal efficiently with individual cases provided the information is given and the legislation is straightforward. Unfortunately, the proposals in the Bill are not straightforward. Once the Bill is enacted the Minister should introduce regulations along the lines suggested by me. If the Minister talks to Fianna Fáil Deputies who are members of county councils I am sure they will confirm what I have said. The scheme will not work if the red tape is not eliminated.

The problems on the ground should be dealt with in a more imaginative way. We are not asking for millions of pounds to be allocated to individual counties; we want a certain amount of money to be [1360] allocated to local authorities to distribute in the way they see fit. We are asking the Minister to allocate £50,000 to a county with 105,000 citizens and with a waiting list of approximately 500. This money would enable the local authority to provide housing for 50 to 100 people. The Minister cannot have his cake and eat it.

The housing problem will not be solved if the Minister's colleagues from my constituency act as mighty mice in their constituency and as church mice here. As chairman of a local authority I could not let the debate on this Bill pass without referring to the double standards of some of the Minister's colleagues. This will not help the hundreds of people on the waiting lists.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  I have to refute the last comments made by the previous speaker because I know the Deputies to whom he is referring.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  Did the Deputy hear “The Pat Kenny Show”?

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  There is no point in the Deputy talking about this matter if he did not hear “The Pat Kenny Show”.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  All I know is that the Deputies to whom the Deputy referred do not have double standards.

Mr. Farrelly: Information on John V. Farrelly  Zoom on John V. Farrelly  If the Deputy did not hear the programme he should not——

Acting Chairman (Mr. Wyse): Information on Pearse Wyse  Zoom on Pearse Wyse  I have just taken over the Chair and I am not going to allow any interruptions. All Deputies got an opportunity to make their contributions without interruption and while I am in the Chair I will not allow interruptions by any Member of the House.

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  Thank you, Chairman. I am sure the Deputies in question will take up this matter themselves.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this very important Bill which sets out the legislative framework for the social housing plan. [1361] Even though I am relatively new to the political arena, I recognise the complexities involved in providing proper, suitable and appropriate housing for everyone. If I did not know any better I would think the Opposition Deputies who have contributed to the debate never had an opportunity to deal with the problem of housing needs, that they were never in a position to provide the level of housing required. However, I know most of them have at some stage had the opportunity to deal with housing needs. All they are doing here is playing charades: they criticise the Government's plan for social housing. If anything, they are probably jealous of what the Government are doing in this area through one of the most innovative plans introduced by any Government in the history of the State.

I wish to refer to the document entitled A Plan for Social Housing published in February 1991 which states:

The Government are committed to pursuing housing policies with the broad objective of ensuring that every household has a dwelling suitable to its needs, located in an acceptable environment, at a price or rent it can afford.

It goes on to outline the future strategy and highlights that it will embrace all sectors of the housing market. It focuses on the housing situation in Ireland and states:

While the broad policy objective remains constant, the changing dimensions of housing needs and the background against which they must be addressed require that public policy instruments be regularly reviewed to ensure that they are the most equitable, effective and efficient means of responding to needs in the circumstances of the time.

It goes on to highlight the new approach to social housing and the benefits that are expected from this approach.

After listening to Opposition speakers I do not believe they read this document in any great detail. Most of them used terms that are sensational and may grab [1362] a headline. They referred to a housing crisis and the Fine Gael spokesman referred to people sleeping in cars. He said people live in bed and breakfast accommodation for months on end — they were his words. All Members and those involved in local authorities and health boards, realise that few people are accommodated in bed and breakfast establishments or sleep in cars for months on end. That was an exaggeration.

I took the opportunity of asking the corporation the number of people accommodated in bed and breakfast establishments by them or by the health board and asked for what period people were placed in such accommodation. The housing official informed me that it could be for one night, that they try to accommodate people as quickly as possible, that they would not be in such accommodation for more than seven days and that the maximum number of people accommodated in bed and breakfast establishments is 30 to 35. It is important that one produces the facts and does not exaggerate.

I am pleased to be able to respond to a person who held ministerial office, and who now holds a senior position, who said that the social welfare rules need to be relaxed. He said that elderly people who take in a son or a daughter should not lose their living alone allowance or other allowances. He said that the present rules were effectively forcing old people to live alone and were costing the State a fortune. I am sure that statement grabbed the headline in some of the papers. That Member went on to state that the estimated number of people on waiting lists for local authority housing could be reduced by 2,000 to 3,000 if the sons and daughters of elderly people, their spouses and families were allowed to live with them. Unfortunately, that spokesman is not just exaggerating; he is misinforming people about their entitlements.

If that spokesman, or any member of the Fine Gael Party, contacts me I will be happy to give them a copy of my budget information leaflet which is produced after each budget. In the budget [1363] of January 1990 the Minister provided that people over 80 years of age who avail of free electricity, a gas allowance and other schemes can retain these allowances if somebody goes to live with them. I would be happy to keep the Fine Gael Party, and other Members, fully informed of people's entitlements to ensure that scaremongering and headline-grabbing comments of the type I referred to are eliminated.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  What about those over 70 years of age?

Mr. Callely: Information on Ivor Callely  Zoom on Ivor Callely  The Fine Gael spokesman referred to the 2,000 to 3,000 houses and I should like to point out that we have provided accommodation for 2,000 to 3,000 people. However, I support his comments about young people who leave home to go into private rented accommodation and live on State benefits. They are entitled to unemployment assistance and, possibly, some other social welfare benefits including rent subsidy, assistance towards ESB and gas bills, medical cards and so on.

In recent days I received correspondence from a constituent indicating that an individual left home to avail of such benefits. This person was horrified that taxpayers' money was being misspent — as he said — in this manner. He asked me to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister as he does not want his hard earned cash to be spent in this way. Some people who came to me in regard to entitlements expressed great concern at the huge amount of money that is paid out by way of rent subsidy, in the form of electricity and gas allowances and assistance towards bills for young people who leave the family home. This matter should be carefully considered.

Many Opposition speakers are playing a game of charade. I had an opportunity to look at the comments of the Labour Party spokesman during their period in coalition with Fine Gael. He stated that Fianna Fáil always deprived those in greatest need of their chance of owning or renting a decent house and always cut back on [1364] council house building, depriving tens of thousands of construction workers of jobs and tens of thousands of families of houses. I described this as an exaggeration and misinformation on the part of the Fine Gael speaker. The same applied to the quotation by the Labour Party spokesman. It was utter rubbish. Other speakers exaggerated the housing position. I touched on that matter earlier when I referred to the numbers given by Dublin Corporation of those accommodated in bed and breakfast establishments.

The Bill addresses our housing needs. I do not come into the Chamber to play games on this issue because housing is very important. Present needs must be addressed and there are many ways of doing so. When I was elected to Dublin Corporation in 1985 that body were picking up the tab for housing development projects prepared by successive Governments.

Ballymun was purpose built about 25 years ago to meet housing needs. We have heard about Ballymun not only in the context of housing but in the context of the difficult social problems there. Other housing estates of a similar nature were built. One with which I am quite familiar is Darndale. Dublin Corporation housing architects saw a German development of approximately 300 houses. They came back and more than tripled that number by building 970 houses. People will also recognise Darndale as an estate which has many social problems.

When I became a member of Dublin Corporation in 1985 we had many difficulties to face as the controlling group on the council. One of the problems was securing vacant accommodation against squatters. In 1987 we were paying in excess of £2 million to security companies to protect vacant property. When speakers opposite say that many houses were built under their Government in 1984 and 1985 they seem to forget that in 1986 and 1987 a large number of local authority properties were vacant and tax-payers' funds were being spent on security.

[1365] Since 1987, when Fianna Fáil came into office, the huge sum of £26 million has been spent on refurbishment in the Dublin Corporation area alone. The Minister could have decided to spend that money on new housing projects, but then there would have been many more vacant dwellings in other areas, with associated security costs. The addressing of housing problems in the global sense through an innovative plan for social housing is the right approach.

This Bill is wide-ranging in scope, covering many aspects. The explanatory memorandum deals with the sections in great detail and each section has its own merits. I want to focus on the section dealing with shared ownership. This is a fantastic idea which gives people an opportunity to purchase their own home who heretofore did not have that chance. The scheme allows a person to acquire a house by purchasing only a portion of the equity initially, with a right to buy out the remaining equity on agreed terms. This is a fabulous idea and the scheme is to be available throughout the country.

I want to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that the cost of purchasing a house in the Dublin area is very high when compared with the cost in other areas. I do not know how the Minister intends to address this difficulty. It is only fair that people in the Dublin area should have the same opportunity to avail of the plan as people anywhere else. Figures show that 90 per cent of the people on the corporation waiting list are earning less than £8,000 a year and 80 per cent are earning less than £6,000, 21 per cent of whom are single parents. We must recognise the difficulties for a person in that category who is trying to purchase a home. Somebody in the country might be able to get a site from parents and local labour might assist in the building of a home. Such a person would require a much smaller loan than the person living in Dublin. The Minister could address this matter in a number of ways. I would earnestly ask him to give special consideration to people in the greater Dublin area. The price difference in respect of housing is easily recognisable. [1366] There could be special consideration by way of loan repayments, a greater subsidy towards rent repayments or the raising of income guidelines for Dublin applicants.

In the case of a couple, one of whom is working, I seek clarification as to the income threshold to avail of the shared ownership scheme. Where a couple are both working, what is the income guideline? I have been given some misinformation and I should appreciate clarification. The Minister has indicated that he will review the shared ownership scheme after an initial two-year period. I would ask him to take into consideration the point I have made in relation to the Dublin scene. He should look very closely at the income guidelines for married couples both where one is working and where both are working, so that the system is equitable. I believe that the shared ownership scheme could be applied to other areas.

I have already brought to the attention of the Minister and the Dublin City Manager a parochial matter in my constituency where a more flexible approach to the shared ownership scheme could meet a huge demand for housing. Following the recent sale of a block of apartments with the tenants in situ, known as Seapark Apartments, Mount Prospect Avenue, Clontarf, the new landlord decided to sell off the apartments one by one. The tenants do not have adequate cover under the tenant-landlord legislation and they now wish to purchase their flats under the shared ownership scheme. Some of the tenants have lived in the block of apartments for between 15 and 20 years and are now settled in the community. Some are still earning and others have retired. Because of the necessity to buy out the remaining share in the property within a 20 to 25 year period, the local authority will not consider applications from people over the age of 40 to participate in the shared ownership scheme. This is very unfortunate. We could insert other conditions whereby a son, daughter or relative would guarantee to take up the remaining share of the [1367] property in a shared ownership buy-out. I know the matter I raised with the Minister and Dublin City Manager is still under review but I think it would be quite simple to organise a scheme so that in this particular instance the huge number of tenants could avail of the shared ownership scheme.

I now wish to focus on the development of senior citizen housing. From my short stint on Dublin City Council, I am aware that elderly people are being housed in one room units. If we consider the age of those who apply for senior citizen accommodation, we know they will spend a great deal of time in bed, whether at night or during the day. A great many elderly people like to take a nap after the midday meal. If the local authorities are to develop statutory senior citizen accommodation we should ensure that every senior citizen apartment has a separate bedroom. Indeed, I tabled a motion at a meeting of the city council to ensure this would happen and it was agreed that we would not develop any further senior citizen accommodation which did not have a separate bedroom. This is only commonsense. If a person lives in a one room unit, the sofa is used as a bed at night and then has to be folded up for use as a sofa during the day. If the elderly person takes a midday nap they have to go through the folding up process again.

I congratulate the voluntary housing groups as they are responsible for the development of excellent and superb senior citizen accommodation. I am pleased to note that special recognition as well as additional funding has been given to the voluntary sector in the plan for social housing.

I believe that the provisions in the Bill dealing with improvement works in lieu of local authority housing has great potential for accommodating the elderly and other categories such as single parents. If we can be a little more flexible I envisage we will see more people being accommodated in their local area which we all recognise is far the best way if at all possible.

We should specify that voluntary and [1368] statutory bodies approach the provision of housing for the elderly at parochial level in a co-ordinated way. The elderly person who may be living in a local authority house or a private house, which he may find difficult to maintain because of his restricted income, remains in the house because there is no other suitable accommodation available in the area. However, if we were to develop suitable appropriate accommodation for such people, one would find that this would free up local authority houses and private houses would be put up for sale. This would have a knock-on effect because others could purchase the house under the shared ownership scheme.

As I said at the outset, many other aspects of the Bill warrant mention and are of great merit: accommodation for travelling people; the provisions on private rented accommodation; the introduction of rent books, letting agreements and other controls; measures to counteract housing segregation; the increasing role for local authority tenants and homelessness. There are far too many to mention on Second Stage. I believe that given the opportunity the Bill should prove most beneficial in achieving proper integration and solving the present housing needs. This is why I fully support and commend this Bill to the House.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Because I have been tied up with the Special Committee on the Finance Bill, I regret I have not had the opportunity to listen to the contributions to this debate. This is a critically important issue for so many people in our society, and so many in my own constituency.

The Bill has been awaited for a very long time. An expectation has been built up that the Bill would make an appreciable contribution towards tackling the housing crisis. The only speaker I have had the opportunity to listen to was Deputy Callely. He certainly made the best of what is very poor material, and I want to reply to a number of the points he made.

Deputy Callely described the shared ownership scheme alternatively as a fantastic idea and a fabulous scheme but he [1369] then went on quite properly to show why it is almost of no relevance to the constituency he represents and the different constituency that I represent in urban Dublin. He dealt with the foolhardiness of a previous Government who left us with so many vacant houses in the mid-eighties that thousands of pounds of tax-payers' money had to be spent on security to protect these unoccupied dwellings. The Deputy is right, thousands of pounds were spent on the protection of vacant houses at that time and the vast majority of that money was spent in my constituency. If this anomaly is not addressed soon I predict it will result in an uprising a la Brixton, Toxteth or Los Angeles in my constituency where Dublin Corporation, for reasons of history, own the major part of public sector housing although it is a county council administrative area. In that constituency Dublin Corporation incurred the bill to which Deputy Callely refers. It was a scandal but it is important to point out the reason. What happened was that the then Coalition Government of Fine Gael and Labour introduced another fabulous idea which is known colloquially in my constituency as the £5,000 grant scheme. Of course, it was not really a £5,000 grant scheme, it was closer to a £10,000 grant scheme. In any event it had certain merits in certain geographic areas of the country but it was almost an unmitigated disaster for the local authority areas in my constituency and in Dublin generally. The reason was that in a relatively new constituency just as people are beginning to put down roots and community leadership was beginning to evolve, anyone who had a bit of get up and go and who was in employment got up and went. The result was a mass exodus at that time. People bought into low cost private housing as a result of assistance from the scheme in question. I had no objection to that scheme, it certainly had merits. Down the country, for example, it worked reasonably well from the point of view of my many constituents who availed of it and bought into the low cost private sector so it was successful and it was a good idea. Unfortunately, sadly [1370] and tragically some have had their homes repossessed since but generally speaking many did well as a result of that scheme and I would be the first to acknowledge that.

In terms of a constituency that has been planned so badly and which has such a vast homogenous belt of public sector housing and at a time when leadership was beginning to emerge and when people had put down roots they were encouraged to get up and go. The result was the situation to which Deputy Callely refers.

Dublin Corporation, at the best of times unable, in my constituency anyway, to co-ordinate a tenanting policy with casual vacancies arising, suddenly had a vast number of vacant houses. I recall bringing the matter to the attention of Dublin Corporation by way of motion. I took a photographer around to some of the vacant houses and in the motion I gave the estimate that the cost to the taxpayer would be of the order of £250,000. A gentleman who works for, I think, Dublin Corporation — in any case he works for the Dublin City Manager — Mr. Noel Carroll, a great friend of Gay Byrne, who has easy access to the Gay Byrne show, said I was talking rubbish. Subsequently it emerged that the cost to the taxpayer was £750,000 and that I had vastly underestimated the cost of restoring the units destroyed. That is the situation and that is what happens as a result of ad hoc planning of housing needs, introducing schemes off the top of the head, introducing schemes that take no account of the variants and the geographical factors and of the circumstances — as Deputy Callely said — that are unique and particular to urban areas and especially the greater Dublin urban area.

This Bill has been awaited with bated breath by the 30,000 housing applicants throughout the country as if it is to provide some badly needed relief. I am afraid it will make only a minimal contribution and will be a major disappointment to those people. In the local authority, of which I am a member, Dublin County Council, there are 2,117 [1371] people on the housing list. Some of these cases are desperate. Nobody in Dublin County Council area, to my recollection, has managed to be housed off the priority list during the past nine months or more. We have only managed to house people who have become homeless.

We talk about taxpayers' money being wasted on the security bill to protect houses but now taxpayers' money is devoted towards keeping people in bed and breakfast accommodation and in health board hostels. That is the reality and it is a cruel confidence trick on people who are in need of housing.

I should like to deal briefly with the question of the shared ownership scheme. I have heard only Deputy Callely on this as we have been dealing with the Committee Stage of the Finance Bill since Monday. That Deputy said that the shared ownership scheme will be a fabulous scheme, that it is the jewel in the crown of this legislation. As I have said, it is a cruel confidence trick because it is inoperable and it is wrong for any Member of this House to advise unsuspecting housing applicants to opt for such scheme. I should like to explain why that is the case by taking a particular example from my own constituency that is capable of being empirically applied. The facts are straightforward.

The idea is that the initial facility is there to purchase 50 per cent of the equity of the house, pay the rental at the same time, and during the 25 year period or, more literally at the end of it, there is an obligation to purchase the remaining 50 per cent of equity. What does all that mean for the people who queue week after week to come to my advice centres and to the advice centres of a great many Members of this House? The following are figures I have worked out to give advice in these circumstances, and I would be obliged if the Minister, when replying, would indicate if there is anything in them that is wrong or misleading. Take, for example, a typical house in my constituency of Dublin South West which is capable of being bought for £41,000 — there is a number of constituencies where [1372] one could not purchase a typical house for £41,000. Let us take it that 50 per cent of that price is funded by a deposit of £1,000 required for fees and so on, and by a mortgage of £19,500. The mortgage repayments on £20,500 at, say, 10.75 per cent interest is £199 per month, to the nearest penny. The rent on the remaining £20,500 at an escalator of approximately 5 per cent is £85 per month. That gives a total repayment, by the person who has been successfully approved under the scheme, of £284 per month. Having regard to the income group we are talking about here — and Deputy Callely made a very good point about that — £284 per month is a pretty hefty repayment.

If that were the end of the story it would not be too bad but it is not. At the end of 25 years that person must purchase the remaining 50 per cent equity which was £20,500, at an escalator of 4 per cent which is the kind of escalator that actuaries work on at present — it could be more or, in the context of the European exchange rate mechanism, it could be less. People out there who think that they have purchased their house for £284 per month over 25 years will find at the end of 25 years that it will cost them £52,500 to purchase the remaining 50 per cent of the equity. Can Members of this House in all conscience advise housing applicants who come to their clinics and advice centres to become involved in such an entanglement? How is it expected by the Government that the average low income earner, who may indeed have become unemployed by this time, who is nearing retirement age or is at retirement age, will find £52,500 to buy out the remaining equity? No bank will give a loan of £52,500 to somebody nearing retiring age, who may have become unemployed, who is certainly on a low income unless they won the lottery in the interim. How are they supposed to find that money?

I do not think the Government have seriously thought out this scheme at all. Is it any wonder that the uptake on the scheme is so marginal? Is it any wonder that it misses its target by a mile? Is it any wonder that when I raised this matter in the House on 19 December last not [1373] one single house in the greater Dublin area, where approximately one-third of the people live, had been purchased under the share ownership scheme? People are not fools at the end of the day, and it would be the height of folly to engage in such a scheme.

People do not understand that what we are talking about here is a double generation liability. There is no way that the average person on the necessary low income in their middle thirties or early forties could, 25 years hence and close to retirement age, take on a second mortgage. It must be presumed that they have offspring who, in turn, will have to get a very steep mortgage in order to, 25 years later, end up owning a very modest house.

I am not denouncing the concept of a shared ownership scheme. I am not denouncing the multifaceted approach to the housing crisis that is suggested in this Bill. I believe that all the different streams in it are necessary. I believe that the shared ownership concept may indeed have merit. However, as practically structured at the moment, it would be disingenuous — and I would not take the responsibility — to advise one of my constituents to embark upon such a scheme. It is high time the Government restructured it and had a look at this situation. When one has regard to the fact that that is such a major part of this scheme and it is so fatally flawed, people who are on the housing list will be tragically disappointed by the impact this Bill will have.

I will refer briefly to the situation in my own local authority where we have 2,117 people on the housing list. The number of people who could afford even to contemplate the folly of entering into the shared ownership scheme is but a fraction of those 2,117 applicants. Four hundred and ninety-five of them are employed or involved in a FÁS or SES scheme which, admittedly, is a very broad definition of being employed; 15 are on family maintenance; 1,585 are social welfare recipients and there have been no income details from 22. I honestly do not know what kind of world [1374] the Department of the Environment think we are living in or what kind of advice the Minister is getting. Is it that the Minister sets the political parameters and the advisers have no choice? I cannot believe that the advisers would not have brought these facts to the attention to the Minister. In regard to the estimated household income of these 2,117 applicants, 1,002 of them are in receipt of less than £4,000 per annum; a further 543 are in receipt of an income of between £4,001 and £6,000; a further 251 have an income between £6,001 and £8,000. That means that 1,796 of the 2,117 are in receipt of incomes of less than £8,000.

How in the name of God is it seriously suggested that this shared ownership scheme offers any hope to those 1,796 applicants in my local authority? It offers them no way out of a situation where many of them are walking the streets of Dublin because the requirements in the bed and breakfast accommodation to which they have been allocated requires them to leave at 9.30 in the morning and not return before 5.30 in the evening. This very day I was called out of the Finance Bill committee meeting in the Seanad Chamber to meet a family who have three children, one only six months old. They must get out of their bed and breakfast accommodation at 9.30 a.m. and walk the streets of Dublin until they are re-admitted at 5.30, with that six months old baby and two other small children. They will have to spend a period in limbo, in purgatory, before they have any prospect of being offered accommodation. Nobody, no matter how high their points on the priority housing list, will be housed because we have so many people on the homeless list.

From what I have heard of the debate I do not think there is any real understanding or appreciation of the housing crisis. I await hearing from Deputy Moynihan and my colleague on my left with regard to the serious problem outside Dublin, a problem which is being swept under the carpet.

I note that my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, made the remark that at least the unemployed have to queue weekly at the [1375] labour exchange and that one can see the number of people unemployed whereas in the case of the housing crisis one cannot see the people concerned; they are either hidden away behind the four walls of a hostel, in a bed and breakfast establishment, in grossly overcrowded family conditions or in sub-standard private rented accommodation. The Minister can therefore bring forward, under the guise of this Housing Bill or the plan for social housing, as many new-fangled ideas as he likes, some of which have merit — I endorse and support that — but unless we get back to building public sector housing again we will continue to have this trail of misery that I have spoken about.

It appears the Government are waiting for emigration to resume. There is no sign that any serious attention is being devoted to the kind of crash programme necessary. Only a few years ago parties who held out to the electorate the prospect that they would be in Government claimed they they would set out in specific terms the resources that would be allocated for the house building programme. Like so many other things, the fashion has been reversed. A house building programme is apparently the furthest thing from the minds of Ministers; I hope I cannot apply that remark to their advisers, but that would seem to be the situation.

Last year my own local authority, Dublin County Council, the largest local authority in the country, who cater for the needs of more than 500,000 people received an allocation to build 72 houses. Before the Minister replies, I am aware that they did not build 72 houses. I understand that when the Minister received a deputation from Dublin County Council recently he performed exceptionally well and took them unawares when he reminded them that they did not build 72 houses. For those of us who are members of Dublin County Council, it is a shame that those houses were not built. I have expressed my views on this in very trenchant terms at Dublin County Council meetings on a number of occasions; it is indefensible [1376] and a disgrace that we did not manage to build the 72 houses.

The bureaucrats will say that they did not receive notice or an allocation until June and that they then had to design plans. One would think that the 72 houses were of a different design — and I am not defending this — but a good performance from the Minister will not build one extra house in my constituency. While Dublin County Council are at fault on that aspect the truth of the matter is that the brunt of the case to be made by Dublin County Council is a valid, urgent and critical one and no surefooted performance by the Minister, well in control of his brief, will change the fact that there are 2,117 people on the housing list. That was the position before the Minister received the deputation and it was also the position after they left. Therefore it has changed nothing. This is a shame in a country which professes to care for its people.

Let me now turn to deal briefly with the tenant purchase scheme. I cannot understand all the hype and concentration on the shared ownership scheme. What was wrong with the tenant purchase scheme? What is the reason we do not have such a scheme? I have always supported the idea that local authority tenants should be encouraged to own their own homes. I do not see why we should have this staccato arrangement which has some notional date for the expiry of one scheme before a new scheme can be devised. Why should we not encourage people who are living in rented accommodation to purchase those houses? Apart from anything else in areas of broad public sector housing it automatically lifts the environment that people are living in. Why, therefore, are we holding on to the fig leaf that the 1988 scheme has to expire before we can bring in a new scheme?

This system of planning a tenant purchase scheme has only created anomalies. I do not think the last tenant purchase scheme was realistic and houses were given away at uneconomic knockdown prices. Tenants who purchased their houses under the 1988 sales scheme are living cheek by jowl with those who [1377] purchased under the previous scheme. For example, there are people in my constituency whose repayments are of the order of £22 per week, say, to Dublin Corporation, whereas those who purchased under the previous scheme are repaying sums of approximately £45 per week. This only gives rise to resentment within the same estate. I do not know who thought up the 1988 sales scheme and, again let me say, on behalf of my constituents, before anyone from Fianna Fáil circulates a leaflet indicating that I denounced the scheme, that many of them have done very well under the scheme and I am delighted about that but it could not have been an economic proposition and it has created this resentment.

What is required is a well balanced tenant purchase scheme to ensure that tenants have the means to purchase but not at bargain basement prices that were available under the 1988 scheme. Such a scheme would do wonders for a constituency like mine if we could encourage such a concept. As I said, it would greatly enhance the quality of life in the area. I plead with the Government to consider it.

I suspect that the Government introduced the 1988 scheme for the wrong reason; they wanted to get the maintenance costs off their back. It seems we want to get out of providing public sector housing. The maintenance burden is a heavy one. We want to get out and use the moneys for maintenance and other purposes rather than put the money into building new houses and encouraging more people to buy and own their own homes. There is a great opportunity to ease the housing crisis. On the question of maintenance, I welcome the provision in the Bill to involve tenants because, in my constituency, tenants feel greatly alienated from the local authority. It is a positive and welcome provision in the Bill which, I hope, will be put into effect.

Do the Minister, who is from Tipperary, the Minister of State from Cork or the advisers in the Department of the Environment, who probably only pass [1378] through my constituency on their way to Brittas Bay during the summer, have any appreciation of the kind of constituency which I represent? Do the planning authorities and politicians understand the historical legacy of the expansion of Dublin, 20 or 25 years ago, to the county area and the purchase of land in my area of west Dublin by Dublin Corporation who remain the housing authority although the administrative authority is Dublin County Council?

Is there any appreciation of the problems posed for my constituents as a result? There has been complete neglect by Dublin Corporation of the housing needs of the people in my constituency who pay them rent. It is all because of the central factor of no democratic accountability to the people, through their elected representatives, by Dublin Corporation. There is no estates management, no proper tenanting policy or no response maintenance of the calibre and quality which the people deserve. The reason is that no elected representative of any party in this House can stand up in Dublin City Council and demand to know from the manager what the situation is in regard to alleged drug pushing — there are three or four pushers in one street in my constituency — their lack of control in tenanting policy and casual vacancies and the total absence of estates management. Nobody can ask a manager in a city council to account for that and, as a result, we are the poor relations.

Problems of anti-social behaviour and problem tenants in other parts of Dublin are dumped in parts of my constituency as a convenient response by Dublin city management to the elected representatives in City Hall. We feel powerless to do anything about it. I am disappointed — unless the Minister can tell me to the contrary — that nothing in this Bill will facilitate a resolution of that problem. Do not tell me, as Dublin Corporation have told me in arid documents, that the situation is no worse in Tallaght, Clondalkin or parts of Blanchardstown than it is in Ballymun or Darndale. That is not true and the proof is that, cheek [1379] by jowl with corporation estates in my constituency, there are Dublin County Council estates and the way they are managed and kept, the way tenanting policy is handled and the way tenants' grievances are dealt with, is light years away from the treatment meeted out to Dublin Corporation tenants. It is not a question of a uniform policy or a uniform run-down of services; I know that Dublin Corporation have a major problem in terms of the budget and it is perfectly understandable that their officials respond to the greatest areas of pressure; that is human. If elected representatives stand up in the chamber in Dublin City Hall and challenge the manager it is normal for the manager to respond. However, the situation is getting out of hand in some estates in Tallaght, which is evident if you talk to the inspector of the Garda Síochána, social workers, religious, community leaders or other politicians. This cannot be allowed to continue; I am talking about estates where more than 60 per cent of the people are unemployed and a great many more than that in some areas.

The £5,000 grant to which I referred earlier cleared out people who are in employment. By definition they had to be employed to receive the grant, they moved out and were replaced predominantly — surveys showed the figure to be 73 per cent — by people who were unemployed. Consequently, we have a concentration of unemployed in these areas and as public representatives we seem powerless to respond to the situation. I do not know when this debate will end but I should like the Minister to seriously address this problem. We are talking about 5,000 units of local authority housing.

The former Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, assured me in this House that the local government reorganisation Bill would provide a way out but it is almost impossible to get anywhere with Dublin Corporation. They do not seem to think that the solution which suggests itself, that the ownership of local authority houses in a [1380] given administrative area should be vested in the local authority who have that administrative responsibility and that they should have responsibility for housing. The former Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, in a specific reply to me during the processing of the Local Government Bill suggested that it could be facilitated in the Bill. I wish that somebody in the Department of the Environment would tell that to Mr. Frank Feeley and his managers in Dublin City Council because they do not show any signs of facing up to the worsening crisis. Their argument is that they do not know where they will house their own people if their houses are taken. However, that problem can be dealt with by a common housing list in the greater Dublin area and there is no point in erecting bureaucratic barriers where none exist. There is no will on the part of Dublin City Council to acknowledge this problem; they have a kind of imperial approach to the county which they regard as a somewhat subservient local authority and that it should be administrated as Dublin Council deem correct.

I plead with the Minister to take time to be advised on this point and to see if we can make any improvements. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I regret that you have entered the House when I am winding up. I have drawn attention to fatal deficiencies in the central core of this Bill which establishes the necessary legislative framework to facilitate what the Minister clearly hopes will be the easy implementation of the shared ownership scheme. There are fatal flaws in the scheme, which I outlined, and I hope they will be addressed. I drew attention to the fact that the tenant purchase scheme should be revised as a priority and that a greater share of the receipts from the tenant purchase scheme should go towards a new building programme.

Above all, if we are to make any impact on the trail of misery about which I spoke, a crash building programme is necessary. The situation is now where it was in the sixties and it must be dealt with if we are not to have a Brixton, Toxteth or a Los Angeles on our doorsteps. [1381] I am amazed at the tolerance and the acquiesence of people who find themselves on the housing lists. They are not now organised as they were in the sixties but they will be so organised if we do not address the problem.

I acknowledge that there are some good measures in the Bill and I acknowledge that there are good measures in the social housing plan but I reject the political con trick that suggests to the people that the Bill is somehow a solution to the housing crisis. It is not.

I should like to see a greater role for the voluntary agencies. Agencies such as NADCORP have a facility, if the question of resources was addressed, to make a greater contribution to reducing the housing lists.

I do not believe that, at a time when, in my constituency, there is a trickle of regular home repossessions and a damburst of people on the housing list, battening down the hatches, cosmetically presenting the social housing plan as a solution and hoping that emigration will be revived earlier than we expect is an answer to the housing crisis. The one clear message that I should like to give to the Minister is that the housing crisis will not go away. I should like to hear his reply to that message.

Miss M. Wallace: Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  I am glad to have the opportunity of this Bill to speak on the whole matter of housing. Deputy Rabbitte's comments have brought home to me even more the various difficulties experienced in areas such as the one he represents and the more rural areas such as the one I represent. During a debate such as this, it is interesting to share our ideas about many of the problems we come up against.

Most of the problems encountered in connection with local authority housing in my area would concern people living in caravans and other mobile homes, people living in very damp cottages and people living in “tied” houses, that is, houses that go with their employment. In many cases people have been on the housing list for a long time. Some of those at [1382] present living in caravans could wait five years before being housed.

A particular problem encounted in my area, and I imagine that it relates to Dublin as well, concerns location. Frequently people on a housing list cannot move to another area of a county because of transport difficulties or for other social reasons. For example, a family might have a handicapped child attending the local school and there may be a bus service to the school and other facilities. That family would not be able to chose to move 20 or 30 miles further into County Meath and would be unable to live anywhere other than in their own locality.

I was very surprised at the contribution made by Deputy John Farrelly, who is also the Chairman of Meath County Council. He made an unmerciful attack on myself and the other Fianna Fáil Deputies from the constituency. I was particularly surprised because the attack has no solid foundation. I do not think the Deputy could possibly have heard the “Pat Kenny Show” on the radio last Monday because he certainly misrepresented the facts. For the sake of the record, it is important for me to clarify the position.

Deputy Farrelly, as Chairman of Meath County Council, seems to think that I and other people are complaining that the local authority are not building enough houses in County Meath. In fact, the specific debate on the “Pat Kenny Show” last Monday morning concerned location and the fact that people from the Dunboyne area of County Meath who are on the housing list are disappointed that of the 25 houses being built in our county this year none is being built in the Dunboyne area. An auctioneer was interviewed on the radio programme, as was an applicant who has been living for five years in a caravan in the area and could not take up the option of moving to Navan, Trim or Kells because of special social circumstances. The case was made for special families who wait on the county council lists for houses to be built in Dunboyne specifically, Dunboyne being a developing area in the county. For that reason, I was taken aback when [1383] Deputy Farrelly alleged double standards on the part of other Deputies. He talked of one being mighty mouse in the constituency and a churchmouse here. I was very surprised at the chairman of the Meath County Council using this forum to vent his anger on an issue and make inaccurate statements in doing so. The Deputy talked of there being double standards on the part of Fianna Fáil Deputies from County Meath but one would have to question his own standards. I suggest that the Deputy tell the House what he is doing for the people he purports to represent rather than criticise the rest of us. I suggest that he is a churchmouse in the constituency when he can do so little for the people he represents.

Deputy Farrelly has a nerve to attack the rest of us and to make an attack based on a programme that he evidently did not hear since his information was so inaccurate. The specifics of the programme related to a particular problem in south County Meath because of its location. As most Deputies would realise, south County Meath is ideally located for those who want to work in the city and live in the country. The difficulties associated with that are an increasing cost of housing and house rents. The auctioneer and others on the radio programme discussed the problem wherby people on the local authority housing list cannot afford to rent a house because of the rents charged, which result from demand for housing. During the programme an appeal was being made to the local authority to locate at least four of the 25 houses in Dunboyne in the south of the county in order to deal with the special cases of people who do not have the option of moving elsewhere. Deputy Farrelly would be better employed trying to do something for those people rather than coming into the House and attacking those who are trying to do something for them.

Because of the wide-ranging and increasing problems we have, I believe the Minister is correct in seeking to provide more innovative and flexible approaches to individual housing needs. [1384] Among the problems faced is that of marriage breakdown, which poses an immediate housing problem and an immediate dilemma for the families involved. Those involved in marriage breakdown form a special group who, increasingly, are coming on to the housing lists. The time has come when we must accept that it is no longer enough to say that the only way to deal with housing needs is to build more and more public housing. If the Government took that attitude we would continue to concentrate our efforts on the provision of public housing and in doing so would ignore the fact that there are other ways of dealing with the specific needs of individuals.

I am particularly interested in the voluntary housing scheme option, which should be utilised more. That scheme provides an excellent opportunity for a community to provide for its people within its own area. Local authorities should promote the voluntary housing option more than they are doing and send out the message to the many people in the community who would be prepared to participate in that programme but who may not be aware of it. More and more we need to get the message out to the community that there are options available through the voluntary housing scheme. As most of us who deal with the community know, voluntary involvement in many schemes has a great impact and they should be encouraged. One difficulty we have is in getting the message across to people.

Debate adjourned.

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