Adjournment Debate. - Housing and Land Transfers.

Thursday, 8 February 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 461 No. 3

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Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  Unfortunately I must take up the time of the House yet again. [859] This matter was raised on the Adjournment during 1995. I communicated at length with the Minister for the Environment. The Minister of State who is here today came into the House and tried to put a gloss on the issue. To date no decision has been made.

The Taoiseach, the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, the Minister herself recently, obviously with the make-up artists, the spin doctors and other expensive back-up staff, cherry-picked a small housing area in Cork from which the Minister appeared on our television screens explaining about estate management and how local authority estates will do this, that and the other. However, in north Clondalkin, west Blanchardstown and west Tallaght there is a trail of destruction dating from the time when the Minister's former party leader at the time, Tomás Mac Giolla, made the ridiculous, stupid argument that Dublin Corporation should be allowed to retain the ownership of local authority houses in those areas.

It is obvious that the Minister cherry-picked the estate in Cork for publicity purposes, not in the interests of factual decision-making. What has gone wrong? Why can a decision not be made? Why can the people of north Clondalkin not pay their rents to the South Dublin Council in Tallaght? Why can that council, which is answerable to the electorate in that area, not be available to look after the estates? Why are there mud patches all over the place? Why has Dublin Corporation got away with one of the biggest land speculation transactions within the past 100 years, flogging off every bit of land it owned in the county before the break-up, blatantly abusing the potential for the reform of local Government? It is a shambles which should be addressed forthwith. I sincerely hope the Minister will be definitive and make a decision.

The Minister has a report from the South Dublin and Fingal Councils and from the corporation, but there seems to be a lack of will to interpret the [860] reports, bring them together and make a decision. Under the legislation it is the Minister's responsibility to make a decision. Dublin Corporation has been a planning disaster in County Dublin. North Clondalkin is the unfortunate area that has the distinction of having a task force on urban crime, mainly because Dublin Corporation came out into the county, dumped thousands of houses and families in the area and walked away.

I have represented this area for close on 20 years now. I have lobbied in City Hall, met city managers and lord mayors and made a case for these areas, but nothing has been done. What was needed was reform of local government. These tenants were to get a service from locally elected councils, but this matter is well into its second year and nothing has been done. I plead with the Minister to make some real decisions. That is why she is in the Department and that is what she should be doing, not cherry-picking television appearances and waffling instead of making real decisions. It is one of the real failures of the Government that it has not been capable of implementing this aspect of local government reform that is so desirable.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus): Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  I listened with interest to what the Deputy said. I wonder if his Fianna Fáil colleagues from Cork city would share his denigration of that very fine city and of the initiatives that are taking place already as a result of cash being provided for the first time by this Government towards the very important function of housing management. It is a pity that it is beyond the capability of the Deputy to understand the importance of housing management.

Having said that, I want to set the record straight. I reject the imputation by Deputy Lawlor of a failure on the part either of the Minister for the Environment or myself as Minister with responsibility for housing and urban renewal in this matter and I propose to say why.

[861] I will set out, briefly and in a general way, the background to the current position. For many years Dublin Corporation built houses and purchased land for housing and other purposes in County Dublin to the point that the corporation owned some 7,500 houses in the county. This was clearly not ideal from the point of view of efficient organisation or of proper democratic representation. The fact that such a large number of houses in the area of one local authority are owned by another, which is responsible for management and maintenance, and that the local authority members elected by the residents of these houses exercise no control in relation to these matters, is something I recognise as undesirable. The same arguments apply, with somewhat lesser force, to land holdings generally.

The break-up of Dublin county into three separate local authorities was bound to exacerbate the position on housing. As Deputies are aware, the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1993, sought to rationalise this situation by providing that, in general, houses should be owned by, and be the responsibility of, the local authority in whose area the houses are situated. Similarly, lands not immediately required would be transferred from one authority to the other.

Clearly, a reorganisation of this nature poses complex issues, including the terms under which transfers are to take place. For this reason, the Act set out a procedure which required schemes to be prepared by the managers, after consultations with each other and their elected councils. Schemes prepared in this way were submitted to the Minister for approval, and the other authorities affected have exercised their right to make submissions on these schemes.

It is well known that there was a wide divergence between the transfer schemes submitted by the Dublin city manager and the submissions made on the schemes by the county managers. Indeed Deputy Lawlor in a previous debate in this House claimed that the [862] transfer schemes made, in Deputy Lawlor's words, “unacceptable demands on the new county council and, if accepted by the Minister for the Environment, would seriously damage the finances of the county council and its ability to meet its statutory requirements”.

Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  On a point of order, does the Minister understand the point I made, and has she interpreted it correctly? The corporation is trying to damage the two new local authorities and the Minister should penalise the corporation, who has been the cause of the problem.

Mr. McManus: Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  It is unfortunate that the Deputy does not get my drift. The Deputy, more than anybody should be aware, considering the words he used, that we have to deal with this fairly and ensure the best result is achieved.

Mr. Lawlor: Information on Liam Lawlor  Zoom on Liam Lawlor  To the detriment of the people in the houses?

Ms McManus: Information on Liz McManus  Zoom on Liz McManus  Deputies will be aware that separate schemes were proposed for the transfer of housing and land. I am pleased that decisions on the transfer of land will be made very shortly. The transfer of housing, presents additional and more complex issues than arise in the case of a land transfer. Therefore, at the suggestion of my Department, the four managers got together in an effort to establish what scope there might be for achieving a greater level of agreement on the issues involved. Some progress has been made towards resolving the issues and I hope that further progress will be possible in the near future. I consider the issue an important one and I assure the House that I will do what I can to bring the matter to finality at the earliest possible date. I am giving it great attention and I hope the Deputy might be a little more constructive in his approach to dealing with a complex matter that must be resolved. I share the Deputy's sense of importance of resolving this matter.

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