Wednesday, 9 December 1931
Seanad Éireann Debate
Minister for Local Government and Public Health (General Mulcahy): Certain remarks were made with regard to the Local Government (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923. So far as that is concerned, there is a poor law side to it and there is also the question of local government reorganisation. On the matter of local government reorganisation I am not in a position to say anything more than I said in the Seanad in June last, when the Local Government (Elections Postponement) Bill was before the House. I then gave the backbone of what was in our minds with regard to these proposals. Since then the matter has been receiving attention, but with a Housing Bill, a Traffic Bill and a Town Planning Bill, and the general circumstances that I referred to then, we have not thought it advisable to put these proposals before the Oireachtas yet. I do not anticipate that these proposals will be put before the Oireachtas until after a general election. As I explained at the time, the proposals are of a kind that ought to be dealt with on their merits, and it would be difficult to do that leading up to a general election.
On the poor law side, I have said on several occasions that it is very necessary we should codify our poor law, but in view of the present position, as between, say, boards of health and county councils, and in view of the fact that they will have to be radically changed—at any rate that will be suggested in the legislation that will be put forward for reorganising local government—it will be quite obvious that any codification of our poor law must follow the legislation dealing with the reorganisation of local government.
Mr. Comyn: Would it be in order to call attention to an Act which comes  up for renewal in this Expiring Laws Bill? I refer to the Labourers (Ireland) Act. The first Labourers Act was passed, I think, in 1883. The question of these labourers' cottages is becoming a rather serious one in the country at the present time. Many of them have been built for forty years and some of them are getting into a state of dilapidation. They are showing considerable signs of wear and tear and of old age. I would like to know from the Minister whether it is his intention, when codifying the poor laws, that there should be some scheme whereby labourers will be put in the position to purchase their houses and plots. Of course, purchase has this great advantage, even in the case of ordinary agricultural land, that the tenant purchaser is more careful of the soil. I think he is more industrious than a man who is merely a tenant. I should imagine that that impulse would be much stronger in the case of a labouring man who felt that the house was his own, or was going to become his own. I would like to know from the Minister whether there is any scheme whereby labouring men in labourers' cottages can be enabled to become ultimately the owners of these cottages.
Sir Thomas Esmonde: I have always supported the ownership of labourers' cottages by the labourer. I had a great deal of experience of these Labourers Acts across the water. I always supported the proposal that the labourers in this country should own their cottages. I even introduced a Bill to that effect, but my efforts in that direction did not succeed. I think that the labourers ought to own their cottages and plots. I know that in some counties that view is not held. I think that so far as the rates are concerned, as well as on the score of improvements and of other things, it would be an advantage to the country if the labourers did own their holdings.
Mr. Brown: The difficulty about the suggestion that has been made by Senator Comyn is that if you give the labourer the right to buy you must give him the right to sell. There is no  reason why, if he has the right to sell, these cottages in probably less than half a generation would not be inhabited by people who are not labourers. It was for labourers they were intended.
Mr. Johnson: I am sorry the Minister has not been able to give the House any information as to when the Workmen's Compensation Bill which has been proposed and which is, presumably, to follow the recommendation of the Commission, will be introduced and passed into law. The same intimation has appeared several times on these annual returns relating to the Expiring Laws Bill. Certain things must wait. The Workmen's Compensation (War Addition) Act, 1917 must be continued until the proposed new Workmen's Compensation Bill has been passed into law. I want to give a little stimulus to the Department concerned as to the importance of bringing that Bill forward at as early a date as possible.
I do not want to go in any detail into the question that Senator Comyn has raised, but I put this to those who may be thinking with him: Do they anticipate at any time within, say, the next 50 years that there will be any improvement in the agricultural conditions in this country requiring any addition to the number of agricultural labourers? If they do, what do they think as to the housing of the future agricultural labourers if the present occupiers are placed in a position to sell their houses at any price they wish? When they have sold their houses there will be a new agricultural labourers' housing problem to be faced. I think we should be cautious about creating a new housing problem for the next generation so far as agricultural labourers are concerned.
General Mulcahy: Apart altogether from the problem that is, possibly, involved in the sale of a cottage by a tenant who has purchased it, it might be well, perhaps, if I gave Senator Comyn some figures. These can be got in the report of the Local Government Department. When the Senator has those figures before him he can, if he  wishes, return to the question on the Housing Bill to-morrow. The position, roughly, is that 42,000 cottages have been built in the country. At present there is a debt that is outstanding and that has to be repaid within the next 40 years or so. That debt amounts to £5,000,000. The finances involved in the matter are roughly that £120,000 are provided annually from rents. About £80,000 are provided annually by the local authorities, and about £70,000 by the State. The cottages are let at an average rent of about ½ per week. The great national advantage, so far as I can learn from people who talk about it, that would result from tenants becoming owners of their houses, is that they would not have to pay more than they are paying now— probably they would like to pay less— that by the tenants carrying out the repairs themselves the local authorities would not have to pay that £80,000, and the debt of £5,000,000 would vanish. There is an arithmetical problem there; the type of problem that faces people who have to pay off debts that have been incurred. While there has been a terrible lot of talk about it, and, as Senator Sir Thomas Esmonde has indicated, the talk has been going on for a very long time, no one has yet got a little bit of paper and put the figures down to solve the problem. It is for that solution that we are waiting.
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