Housing Bill, 1970: Second Stage (Resumed).

Thursday, 23 July 1970

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 68 No. 13

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

Mr. Flanagan: Information on Thomas P Flanagan  Zoom on Thomas P Flanagan  I must confess when I moved the adjournment of the debate last night I did not visualise that it would be nine hours after we began today's sitting before I would get in. If I had known that, I would not have been caught at ten o'clock last night.

I was goaded into intervening in this debate because I felt the debate opened on a provocative note. I must pay tribute to the Members on the other side of the House who did not continue on the same note but made contributions of a serious, constructive and reasonable nature. I covered most of the points I wanted to make last night, but I want to re-cap by saying that I do not think the limited floor area will result in substandard houses. I feel the Minister's objective of providing more houses with the money available will be achieved. The maximum grant for houses of 75 to 100 square metres [987] is an effort to provide good family houses and family houses are the objective. It is expected that if a person wants a more luxurious house he should be able to pay for it himself.

Last night I made several recommendations. The first recommendation I made was that as far as possible all existing cottages should be vested in the tenants. This would give the tenant the privilege and pleasure of ownership and would relieve local authorities of maintenance. My second recommendation was that people should be encouraged to own houses by offering them grants and loan facilities. People who build their own houses are able to provide a good deal of the necessary labour from members of their own family. This would enable them to build their house at less cost. They are also able to exercise strict supervision. My third recommendation was that local authorities should provide serviced sites where possible so that private individuals by the aid of grants and loans could build their own houses more easily. It would still be the responsibility of the county council to provide skilled supervisory staff to advise the people during the course of building operations and generally to guard against any shoddy or inferior workmanship.

I should like local authorities to provide grants for houses for old people. The grant available for an ordinary house of 35 square metres or more, but less than 45 square metres is £175. A 45 square metre house is equivalent to 484 square feet. I consider 484 square feet to be adequate to provide a house for old people. It would provide a living room and kitchen combined into which neighbours could come and chat. In addition it would provide one bedroom of 110 square feet and as we provided in the Social Welfare Bill today for the help and assistance of a relative to look after an aged relative a second bedroom should also be provided.

I would recommend to the Minister that he encourage the building of houses comprising, say, two bedrooms, kitchen, living room and the usual facilities for old people and that [988] they be made available at a reasonable rent. I also consider that the grant should be increased to £225.

I would suggest that in all new schemes 15 per cent of the houses should be earmarked for old couples. This type of house would also be suitable for newly married couples and a system might be introduced whereby couples could be transferred to larger houses when they had families.

I recommend that income levels for grants and loans be increased. In the booklet entitled Housing in the Seventies it is stated that local authorities may pay supplementary grants not exceeding the amount of the State grant to provide a house for a person with an income up to £1,045 per year. I regard this limit as too low. We must encourage people who are earning a a little more than this to build their own houses and, for this reason, I consider the limit should be increased to £1,500. Taking into account the figure of £100 allowed for each member of the family up to a maximum of four, this would bring the total figure up to £1,900.

I do not recommend any variation in the valuation as set out for farmers, and, speaking for my own county, I can say that there are very few farmers whose valuation is in excess of the amount specified.

I shall leave the matter of swimming pools to the Minister as I know he is interested in this subject, but in regard to the provision of recreational areas I should prefer if such areas were sited at the rear of houses. I say this for two reasons: first, they constitute a hazard for children, particularly if they adjoin busy roads; secondly, I do not agree that they add to the appearance of housing schemes. Indeed, the reverse is the case more often than not. I might add that in most towns there is a town park or a park used by the local football team and this can be used by the children. In addition, it has been found that very often it is necessary to employ an attendant to look after those recreational areas and this constitutes an additional burden on the taxpayers.

I am in agreement with other [989] Senators in that this Bill does not contain all that we would wish. There are many features in it I should like to improve but I realise what has been done is a step in the right direction and that the Bill has been introduced and designed to meet changing needs. Many previous Ministers have introduced valuable and progressive measures but all the problems will not be solved by this Bill, nor will they be solved in the near future. The housing of the working-classes is a complex matter but a step has been taken in the right direction.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Seán Walsh  Zoom on Seán Walsh  Like other speakers, I take this opportunity of welcoming the Minister to this Huse and I wish him well in his new appointment. We all realise that the post of Minister for Local Government is a highly responsible one.

One point which worries me about the housing situation is that there is not sufficient research being done in regard to the type of house or the standard which could be offered by local authorities to the ordinary individual. Are we concentrating too much on the quality-type house? In 40 or 50 years' time will people be looking for that type of house? No matter what type of programme the Minister tries to implement, or no matter how the local authorities work to house the backlog of people who are on the housing list, it would be difficult to house them all. I should like the Minister to refer to the type of house which is very well known in the south of Ireland as the Roefab. We hear very little about it in Dublin or at local authority meetings. I discussed the system involved in the building of the type of house with engineers and they seemed reluctant to commit themselves. It is a house which is approved by the Department of Local Government. It takes a short time to erect and appears quite suitable. Local authorities should decide to try this system on some small scheme. I might be of considerable help.

There are two types of housing, local authority housing and housing in the private sector. The difference between them is marked by the length [990] of the delay in getting the local authority schemes started. I often wonder about the clause, adopted in 99 out of 100 cases, which refers to the lowest tender. When I mention “lowest tender” I fully realise that it is important to save money. A local authority may put a notice in the paper seeking tenders for a scheme of houses. A number of firms will submit tenders. It is possible that the firm with the second lowest tender might have worked for the local authority and have a very fine record. Such a firm might be properly geared to build the houses for which the authority are seeking tenders. As a result of not submitting the lowest tender the firm might lose the contract. I have seen this in my own locality from time to time. It is quite possible that a new firm might get the contract and this might cause a delay of from five to 15 months.

With regard to local authority housing contracts, I fully support the need for a bond. The time has come when there should be re-thinking on this whole question. If a local authority is seeking tenders for a housing scheme the bond should form part of the tender. A firm seeking a contract should be in a position to state that they would be awarded this bond. I have seen contracts for schemes of houses held up for a considerable time because of delay with regard to the bond. A firm could be given a contract for 60 to 100 houses but considerable time is lost in relation to the bond. Six to nine months may elapse before the bond is awarded. A firm, which may have done work previously and be known to the company which deal in bonds, might have submitted the second-lowest tender and would not have been successful in getting the contract. There should be re-thinking on this question of the lowest tender. A local authority seeking tenders for contracts should be in a position to know who would be likely to be awarded these bonds.

I should like to deal now with the question of the sanctioning of loans and the delays in processing them. This matter requires urgent consideration. As a member of a local authority, I [991] have often had contract with the officials dealing with these loans. Sometimes one gets the impression that the officials discourage people instead of encouraging them. Much time is lost in the processing of loans. A local authority member can spend much time on the telephone trying to have a loan sanctioned for a person. This time could be more profitably spent.

An office should be established somewhere in the centre of Dublin city where information would be available to people looking for loans and where people could be helped in regard to loan applications. Members of local authorities, Senators and Dáil Deputies could devote more time to the important task of legislating if they had not to spend so much of it on the telephone trying to get grants for people.

I want to refer to the question of the supplementary grant with a ceiling rate for a single person of £1,045. A married man is allowed £100 for his wife and £100 for each dependant up to four. We will all agree and appreciate that at the present time a person does not have to be earning a great wage to earn £1,045. The tendency also is that when a person is thinking of getting married and buying or building his own home he will work as much overtime as possible and in that way he may find when he applies for this supplementary grant that he is £100 or £200 over the limit. Then a problem arises. My own local authority make the effort to meet people where they can submit information that the overtime worked is not likely to occur again or was due to unusual circumstances, maybe because of shortage of staff or something like that. This is a matter which requires consideration because the grants are going to be increased, and I feel that the rate of the supplementary grant should be increased also.

Speaking of the National Building Agency, no doubt quite a lot of good work has been done. Last November we introduced a Bill to give them greater powers. I was very pleased about that. The Minister should ask them to try to build houses for those people who may not be in a position [992] to qualify for a local authority house. The local authority, when they are allocating houses, particularly with such a heavy waiting list, will normally have to deal with persons who have three or four children or who may be living in unusual circumstances in the city and county of Dublin. The National Building Agency might be asked to provide houses which would cater for the person with one child or the person who may be just after getting married and not in a position to build his own home.

We had some experience of this in Dublin. The type of house I am referring to is the package-built house. By arrangement with Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council and with some of the building firms here 100 of these became available to Dublin County Council. They were allocated to the type of person I have referred to— the person who had one child or maybe two or in many cases was just after getting married and in the normal way would not qualify for local authority houses for years. The repayments, I admit, are a little higher than we first expected but, nevertheless, I feel that these houses were a great boom to this type of people. More of this should be encouraged, and I would ask the Minister to see what he can do about it.

I am very pleased that the grants have been increased by something over £100. This will benefit the people very much. My own local authority have quite a lot of experience in relation to applications from people purchasing a county council cottage—a vested cottage. Some of these people may be anxious to build an extension, yet they cannot meet the finances. As far as I know, a loan can be made available to them in the region of about £600. Unfortunately, £600 does not go very far towards the cost of building an extension, and I often wonder if the local authority could devise some scheme whereby they would build the extension for this type of person, or possibly make a greater amount of money available to him.

Senator Flanagan referred to parks. This is a very big problem in Dublin. What I am referring to is this question of open spaces when building contractors are not propared to face their [993] responsibilities. The Planning Act provides that one-tenth of an area should be left as an open space. Planning permission is granted. Then when the scheme is completed and it comes to handing over the area the local authority concerned has considerable difficulty in getting these people to hand over this open space voluntarily. The local authority of which I am a member had on a number of occasions to purchase these open spaces so that they could be developed properly for the children of the area.

I must say that the 1963 Planning Act helped in some way, but yet it has not gone the whole way towards solving this problem. Quite a number of estates in County Dublin were completed before 1963 but we still have this problem. The Planning Act does not go far enough to meet this position. I know that the Minister made a statement about this recently, but I am just wondering if the local authority has sufficient powers to deal with this matter.

Development and building in various parts of the city and county of Dublin where land is available has been held up because it is very difficult to get planning permission. It is very difficult to obtain planning permission when land is available at a reasonable price. A builder who might be interested and who would be anxious to build a fairly reasonably priced house which the ordinary working people may not be able to purchase finds it very difficult to get planning permission. I fully appreciate that we have such rapid development over the years that water and sewerage facilities may not be available.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  The Senator is going a bit outside the scope of the Bill. This is not a planning Bill.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Seán Walsh  Zoom on Seán Walsh  I think that it is relevant to housing.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  Perhaps the Senator can pass over that fairly rapidly and not go into it in much detail. I appreciate his interest in housing but, perhaps, he will lose it fairly soon.

Mr. Walsh: Information on Seán Walsh  Zoom on Seán Walsh  I hope that every effort [994] will be made during the coming years to deal with the housing problem. Housing is a particularly difficult problem for us all no matter what political party we may represent.

Mr. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  In what sense did the Senator refer to houses as being dear? Does he mean that houses are costly?

Mr. Walsh: Information on Seán Walsh  Zoom on Seán Walsh  No, not in that sense although I agree they were quite cheap a few years ago. However, we are all very much concerned with this matter and I hope that during the coming year every effort will be made to deal with the backlog in housing. Greater pressure should be exerted on local authorities in this regard. Local authorities have been very neglectful during the years by not purchasing land available for house building. I wish the Minister every success in his office.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I welcome the opportunity to discuss this Bill at this time because for the past year or more housing has been one of our major problems. Driving on the Naas Road, one sees many caravans parked on one of our few dual carriageways. I often wonder why the Minister for Local Government does not provide serviced caravan parks for these homeless people. Some of the caravans look as if they cost quite a bit of money and the least that could be done for those people would be to provide serviced sites for them.

Local authorities are referred to as the housing authorities but I often wonder, especially when the Department send down a directive in connection with some matter such as the rent system, who is the authority? Councillors often experience great frustration because of the delay in the Department in finishing various schemes whether they are big or small schemes. If we are to tackle the housing problem realistically and keep abreast of it, the Department of Local Government must let up a little on the red tape and allow the housing authorities to get on with providing dwellings for our people.

The Minister should encourage local [995] authorities to employ their own architects on a full-time basis. Housing schemes, whether group schemes of rural cottages adjacent to a village or larger schemes in an urban area, involve a great deal of trouble in getting the project through the various stages of planning and design because of getting the plans from the architects' office to the Department. Much of this traffic back and forward could be eliminated if the local authorities had their own full-time architects and surely with so much building in progress such appointments would be justified?

I was disappointed to hear the Minister say in his opening speech that he has lifted the restriction on the minimum sized room. I think he said that under the Act no room smaller than 70 square feet would be provided. This may be a mistake because in local authority houses at the present time it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to put a modern suite of furniture into a room without having the bed either under a window or across a fireplace or preventing a door from opening fully.

I believe that at least one lady consultant should be employed in designing a housing scheme because it is obvious that many men forget the finer points in design and we must build houses that are comfortable.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  What about all those wonderful architects around the country?

Mr. J. Boland: Information on John Boland  Zoom on John Boland  Are they the ones who are resigning from An Foras Forbartha?

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I am a member of a housing authority. I am aware that these authorities sometimes have to shoulder the blame for prosecutions instituted in accordance with the regulations on the owners of condemned or unfit dwellings for reletting such dwellings for human habitation.

This problem as it exists in the city is entirely different from the problem in rural Ireland because once one leaves the city and goes into rural Ireland the personal touch is very [996] evident all the time. Very often we find families who, while waiting for a new council house, do not keep their existing house in as good a condition as it might otherwise be kept. It is not unusual for families to put extra beds in a room so that, when an inspector comes, the place has the appearance of being grossly overcrowded and these people can succeed in getting their accommodation condemned and, perhaps, they will be allocated new houses. The next day the landlord may find a distressed neighbour on his doorstep with the pitiful story of having no roof over his head. If the landlord allows him to move into the condemned house on a temporary basis, the local authority, in order to get the two-thirds subsidy on the house that the original tenant is now in, must prosecute the owner of the condemned dwelling. In a recent court case in my county a man was fined £40 by the district justice for doing this. We have our order of priorities entirely wrong because the same justice, not so many months ago, fined a man only £7 on a charge of drunken driving and manslaughter. Those who are not able to provide houses for themselves should be shown more leniency and, perhaps, more charity and the regulations should not be applied so rigidly. In new local authority houses and, indeed, in all houses built by the local authority and by the NBA, especially the houses proposed for the poorer sections of the community, it should be compulsory to have fitted kitchens with modern up-to-date presses and cupboards. These would be of great help to housewives who may not be able to afford this essential furniture. In this regard it would be a good idea to have lady consultants employed in architects' offices to work kitchen designs out in detail.

I should like to congratulate the ESB on the installation of underground power cables to all schemes of 20 or more houses.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  How much does the Senator think they charge for them?

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I do not know how much they charge the individual but it does improve the aesthetics of the area.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  The Senator will get a [997] shock when he finds out how much it costs.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I do not think the estimate has been increased but we may get a rude awakening next year.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  The Senator should have found that out before the scheme started.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  Nevertheless, it improves the aesthetics of the schemes. The post office should emulate the ESB in this respect. While communal television aerials are permitted now, it is still quite difficult to get them installed but the sooner this is done the better it will be for the skyline.

The Minister has an obligation to allow housing authorities in rural areas to make direct contributions or grants-in-aid to group water supply schemes for isolated cottages and groups of rural houses. The group water supply scheme is nine years old but the Department are reluctant to sanction the erection of rural cottages unless the services are supplied. Last night Senator Gallinagh was not too kind to the farming community. He reminded me of Deputy Paddy Smith who at one stage in his agricultural career proposed to lay on 10 fields of inspectors to get the lazy farmers out of their feather beds. The main reason why a farmer qualifies for a higher grant for house-building than the urban dweller is that when he steps outside the door he usually walks into a puddle, whereas when an urban dweller steps outside his door he walks on a nice pavement provided by the ratepayers. There is a good case here to continue the scheme whereby farmers with a certain valuation get the benefit of a higher grant.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  They need not walk into puddles because there is a farmyard development scheme.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  Senator Honan has already made his speech. He should allow Senator McDonald to make his contribution.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  I support those Senators who advocated an increase in the rateable valuation to at least £75. [998] This is only in keeping with the falling value of money.

Every possible effort should be made to assist people in the middle income group to provide their own homes. The Minister is giving maximum grants of £350 and by doing so he is effecting a big saving because if people do not provide their own homes the local authorities are obliged to provide homes for them at ten times the cost. The onus is on the Minister's Department and local authorities to encourage people by offering direct grants and loan facilities to provide their own houses. This is a great way to encourage people to save. I admire the way young married couples tackle this rather sizeable problem. It is wonderful to see people in the middle income group, even guards who do not have fixity of tenure because they are liable to transfer, providing their own homes. These people should get the benefit of generous grants. It is a pity the upper income limit is not increased.

I do not think any effort has been made to curb the ever-increasing cost of building. When one goes into a hardware shop to buy some screws or nails one is presented with about half a dozen in a plastic pack at a price of 1s 6d. This is sheer extortion because if one bought the same screws or nails by the pound one would get a pound for the same price as the pack. The Department has an obligation to keep an eye on these prices so that people can afford to maintain their own houses properly.

I welcome the section providing more grants for maisonettes. Local authorities should be encouraged to build maisonettes. It is very important that we provide accommodation for elderly people and people without families. The logical thing to do is to provide a smaller type of accommodation such as maisonettes. The one danger I see in the new scale where the ceiling on grant aided development is 1,050 square feet is that we shall get a prototype house all over the country. The Department of Lands made that mistake many years ago and it took a very long time to get away from that one type of monotonous looking structure.

We should encourage people to express [999] their own individual ideas in their own houses. There should be as much variation as possible in the houses we build. Local authorities should build different sized houses in the same scheme. This may be a little more costly but local authorities should be empowered to allocate houses to people without families. It is not good enough that a married couple should be denied local authorities housing because they have no family and the Department should help in this matter. They insist on rent schemes and systems for local authorities and they should also allow the local authorities to let their houses to childless couples who have been on the waiting list for a considerable number of years.

The restrictions on the provision of isolated rural cottages have continued for too long. If the Department persist in their clamp-down on isolated rural cottages—it is almost absolute at the present time—they will completely denude rural Ireland. It is affecting the country because unless people live in the rural areas it will be extremely difficult to have an adequate labour force available.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  Everybody knows that in rural areas these cottages have been vacated and that it is impossible to give them away.

Mr. J. Fitzgerald: Information on John Jack Fitzgerald  Zoom on John Jack Fitzgerald  Progressive county councils such as the Meath County Council continue to build cottages in rural areas where there is demand.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  The Senator should be allowed to continue without interruption.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  What Senator Honan is saying is one thing. Some vested tenants are forced, due to lack of employment, to emigrate but they like to hold on to their homesteads and this is what Senator Honan has been speaking about. In such cases the houses are not placed on the market.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  There is no employment in these areas.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  If that is the case, it is the fault of another Department. [1000] We cannot put all the blame on the Minister for Local Government.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  I do not blame the Minister for Local Government. I said that we cannot give the cottages away. Everybody knows that people leave when there is no employment.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  If a young man wants to live in the country the onus is on the local authority to provide a house and people living in glasshouses in Dublin should not decide against it. People need houses and we do not want to put them all in caravans.

I have not heard the present Minister for Local Government speak on this subject but his predecessor gave a direction to local authorities last year that they should provide housing for itinerants. If the present Minister is of the same opinion, he should allocate to local authorities 100 per cent State subsidy towards erection of these houses. Local authorities are faced with many difficulties in acquiring and providing sites for this purpose and it would encourage them if the Department of Local Government would undertake the cost.

I should like to support those who advocated that with each housing scheme we should provide adequate playing facilities for children. This is generally accepted and when local authorities send proposals in regard to the acquisition of the necessary land to the Department of Local Government they are generally sanctioned. It is realised that unless we provide adequate recreational centres for children we will have our share of delinquents. We must provide adequate playing centres in our towns and villages. The provision of simple swings and slides cannot be so expensive.

Mr. Honan: Information on Dermot Patrick Honan  Zoom on Dermot Patrick Honan  That is already being done. In any area it is standard practice that if 50 houses are provided playing centres are also provided.

Mr. McDonald: Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  Reference was made to prefabricated dwellings. I think this kind of housing development has been a disappointment because at present it is as expensive as the ordinary solid constructed house if not more so. While it is easy to erect prefabricated [1001] houses at short notice they are still far too expensive and costings into this kind of housing development, especially for emergency purposes, should be investigated.

I should like to ask the Minister whether in cases where a local authority ask for sanction to provide accommodation for people in urgent need of shelter the Department have some method of short-circuiting the drawn-out procedure and thereby providing shelter in the shortest possible time.

There are one or two other points in the Bill with which we can deal more fully at a later stage and we have tabled some amendments.

Mr. Nash: Information on John Joseph Nash  Zoom on John Joseph Nash  I welcome this Bill as far as it goes but I regret to say that I do not consider it goes nearly far enough. There are approximately 60,000 families in need of rehousing, either because they are overcrowded or their present accommodation is not considered fit for habitation. I do not know whether other Members of this House have had occasion to visit houses that were in a bad condition. I have had such an experience—although I am glad to say not in Tipperary where housing conditions are good. However, in various towns throughout the country I have seen houses that were in a deplorable state. We are constructing about 13,000 houses a year which is an improvement on our average of 9,000—although it is not as good as it should be.

There is no use whatever saying to ourselves that by the mid-1970s we will be building 15,000 or 16,000 houses per annum. We must build 9,000 houses per year, according to the statistics, to replace houses which will become progressively unfit for habitation and to replace what is expected to be the normal growth of need in our population. We must get 60,000 houses to house people who are living in conditions unfitting to the dignity of man. Instead of thinking of 16,000 or 17,000 houses by the mid-1970s, we should be thinking of 16,000 or 17,000 houses for the year 1971 and we should increase the numbers from there on. Taking the normal growth of 9,000 houses and assuming that there is not [1002] any impetus to employment which can cause further houses to be required, it will take us ten years to house people living in poor conditions. Any family living in a house which is unfit for habitation can look forward to saying: “I may have a house in ten years' time”. This is not good enough. A considerably larger proportion of our current expenditure from taxation and of our capital expenditure should be devoted to our housing programme. There is no good talking about free university education and such matters if the children of this country must be reared in houses which are unfit, with all the possible mental frustration and dangers to their mental and physical health which accompany living in conditions of that nature.

At the present time the total subsidies from the State towards housing —given to the nearest quarter million pounds in each case—is £4.25 million for houses built by local authorities and £3.5 million for houses built by private individuals. That is a total of £7.75 million and this money has to be raised by taxation. The contributions of the local authorities are £5 million for houses built by local authorities and £2.25 million for houses built by private individuals. That £5 million includes also the subvention of rents. This is where the various tenants organisations who say “We are all right now and it does not matter about anybody else” can do very considerable damage to the housing programme of this country.

I do not approve of the militancy of certain groups like the Dublin Housing Action Committee but I can feel that protest of that nature would not arise unless there were grounds for it. Steps should be taken with a view to housing families living in unfit or overcrowded conditions. I have very little sympathy for the views put forward here that the size of houses provided for in the Bill is not adequate. I am conscious of the fact that the economy of the State must balance. I am not so much concerned with what people will have to suffer who have to pay more tax to provide for the needy. If they can afford to pay tax, they must pay it. I am concerned that the economy of the country [1003] should not become overburdened. One reads in the paper daily that the value of money is depreciating and that we are tending towards inflation because of Government expenditure. What is meant by Government expenditure which causes inflation? As many of our colleagues are well aware, the cause of inflation by Government expenditure is not the payment of money to civil servants but the payment of money for unproductive purposes no matter how necessary these unproductive purposes may be. I do not use that term in any disparging sense but I mean spending for purposes which are not giving a return, such as houses, schools and hospitals. In any economy the amount spent must have a certain balance and must have a certain relativity to the total productiveness of the country.

The day of the conventional-built house in this country has nearly come to an end. That is my opinion. It is our own fault. It is the fault of every section of the community in which we live. It is the fault of the militancy which is being fostered in every section of our community. For years past if the builder has his ordinary workers to build houses for him, he may not be able to get cement because 600 or 700 workers are on strike and hold up cement production. If the builder has the workers and the cement, he may not be able to buy goods because the banks are on strike. If he can write cheques, he may not be able to do his work because the dockers are on strike. We must learn sense. The section of the community who are sufficiently well educated to come together and discuss the reasons for their differences are giving very bad example. The people who suffer most are the people in poor houses. The unskilled labourer is the person who makes the least trouble in our country. He works for £12 to £16 a week in order to maintain his family.

I feel that the greater percentage of the capital of this country and of the taxation of this country should go to housing even if something else has to suffer. I fully realise that when the State pay a subsidy for a house that is not the end of the many charges required. [1004] The ordinary man who builds a private house gets his subsidy which may be anything from £400 to £900. He must then go to the local authority and borrow another £1,500 or £2,000. I would estimate that on average for every £ which must be got from taxation, either from the State or from the local authority, a further £2, £3 or £4 must be got by way of capital investment by the State in housing. This consists of national loans. The proceeds of these national loans are given to the local authorities who in turn lend to people building houses for themselves. I am wondering how with the present system of subsidies further encouragement can be given. I say with all respect—I do not claim to be as expert in how the housing requirements of the country can be met as those people who advise the Minister and who give their whole time to the matter—that a little more imagination should be shown in regard to our housing Acts.

Take, for example, here in this Bill. Before it can build houses the housing authority will take approximately three years from the date it decides to build the houses until the day the key of those houses can be handed over. That is not an unreasonable length and does not mean that the housing authority has been in any way careless. It tries to acquire suitable sites, but all sorts of objections are put in its way. First of all, the person refuses to give the sites. Then there must be a local government inquiry to force him to give them. Having got the sites, the person from whom they take the sites wants a price which bears no relation to the current market value of land even for housing purposes, so they have to have another local government inquiry for that. All sorts of advertisements have to be put in for those inquiries. To a great extent these steps could be shortened by cutting through the red tape and by expediting the various steps that can be taken there. Having done that, then they have to put in advertisements for tenders and so on and they have to get the various tenders approved. One does find then that, perhaps, the contractors do not do their work within the time within which it should be done. There are various [1005] hold-ups—possibly strikes, possibly shortages of money. Many Senators are members of housing authorities or of local authorities. I am not but I feel certain that they will agree with me that no housing programme undertaken by a local authority can be completed in less than three years. I think there is something radically wrong where that happens. The rights of private property should be protected, and adequately protected, but there is a limit beyond which the State could not and should not go where there is a shortage of houses.

In this Bill also there is provision for the erection of houses for skilled employees. Now for all practical purposes that will become a fatuity if it is going to take three years, as I say, to erect houses. Any industrialist knows full well that if he has got to bring into his factory one, two, half a dozen or ten skilled craftsmen to train his men he is not going to have them hanging around for three years while those houses are being built. This is another area in which a little more imagination could be used with a view to speeding up our housing programme. That company or factory on its own will acquire a site or sites much more readily and much more rapidly than will the local authority. It will make arrangements to have houses built, again much more readily and much more rapidly than will the local authority, and if the company or industry which requires houses for its skilled employees are offered the facilities which are provided for under this Bill I should imagine that in a relatively short time many more houses would be built. This would have the advantage also that many of these companies, instead of borrowing from the local authority for the balance of the money, would put it up out of their own funds, but only upon the condition that they would get, in the first instance, the subsidy which would be given to the local authority for the erection of the same houses.

I speak, I hope, not too emotionally, but I speak as one who has visited house after house in mean little streets where sometimes the people are suffering from rheumatism, from arthritis, [1006] from all those various illnesses that come from dampness, where the little children are obviously suffering from the lack of proper ventilation in their rooms. Therefore, while I speak strongly on their behalf, I welcome this Bill as far as it goes, but I would give it a far more hearty welcome if the measure showed a little more imagination, a little more encouragement to private individuals to build their own houses, to factories to build houses for their staffs, and to local authorities to expedite the time lag between when they make up their minds to build houses and when those houses will be completed.

Mr. J. Fitzgerald: Information on John Jack Fitzgerald  Zoom on John Jack Fitzgerald  I should like to join with the Senators who welcomed Deputy Molloy, Minister for Local Government, to this House on his first appearance. I should like also to welcome the Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy Cunningham, who was here earlier. The present Minister for Local Government was not the architect of the Bill. Therefore, his only responsibility is to present to the House a measure which he inherited. On that account I should not like to be hard on the Minister. I hope that when the Minister for Local Government introduces a future Housing Bill it will be, as Senator Nash quite rightly said, much more revolutionary and imaginative and will do something to help alleviate the existing housing position.

Many Senators referred to this Bill as if it contained just one provision. They seemed to think that by reducing the floor area a further thousand houses per annum could be built. If that could be done as a result of this measure I would be happy. I am sure all of us would be happy if we were assured that we were going to get an increase of one thousand houses per annum but I am not so sure that a reduction in the floor area will produce a thousand houses. I hope I am wrong. I speak as a member of a rural community and of an area with which I am familiar. I speak as a member of a local authority and I speak as one who has encouraged people to build their own houses under the Small Dwellings Act. I would say that I have completed as many forms as any other man [1007] in public life, but on only one occasion have I known of an applicant who was in a position or who desired to build a house that was more than 1,250 square feet in area and I think that must be the experience of anybody in a rural community who is involved in helping people to provide themselves with houses. In general, one finds that the area is approximately 900 to 1,000 square feet. In a house of that area one would find three bedrooms, a living-room, a kitchen and the other ancillary accommodation. To very many people such a house is a luxury and they are very fortunate, indeed, if they are in a position to buy or to build a house of that kind. At the same time, I would regret if anybody who wished to build a better type of house would not be able to do so because of any reduction in grant either for the building or for the purchasing of the better type of house. If the average cost of house-building is taken to be between £3 and £3 10s per square foot, it will be found that a house of 1,000 square feet would cost about £3,500 but that price would not include the cost of the site or any of the other expenses involved. In effect, this means that people who avail of loans and grants to build their own houses must cut their cloth according to their measure. They must build as economically as possible and, at the same time endeavour to qualify for the maximum grants.

The 1966 Act contained two provisions. One provided that a farmer with a certain valuation who was engaged in agriculture or an agricultural labourer would qualify for a 50 per cent increase in his grant, making a total of £450. As most local authorities pay a supplementary grant of 100 per cent—at least the local authority of which I am a member do—that means that he gets a grant of £900 in all. The same conditions apply to persons building their own houses who would normally qualify for local authority houses. I am not at all happy that the best way of helping persons to provide their own accommodation is by way of grant because in many cases the grant tends to find its way either to [1008] the person who has built the house and is selling it or to the builder. For that reason we should examine the position in relation to low interest loans. In that respect it is no harm to point out that Meath County Council the vice-chairman of which is a Member of this House—he can verify what I am saying—provide a 6 per cent loan to a person who undertakes to build his own house and who would normally qualify for local authority housing. In other words, he would get a local authority house when one would become available but he avails of the loan and grant and proceeds to build his own house instead. Although only a local authority we provide this 6 per cent loan for that type of person. We find that it works very successfully. I should like the Minister for Local Government to encourage people to build their own houses thereby getting them off the housing lists of local authorities.

Is there any reason why the Department could not encourage people by way of low interest loan or must we always be tied to this idea of handing out grants? It is my belief that grants will always increase the price of houses. For that reason I ask the Minister to examine this suggestion. The Minister for Local Government is a member of a local authority. He is fully conversant with the problems that confront every member of a local authority. I hope that with the experience he has gained as a member of a local authority, he will introduce more comprehensive or revolutionary legislation on the lines suggested by Senator Nash a few moments ago because this Bill will do nothing to alleviate or solve our housing problems.

I hope that loans will be made available at a much lower rate of interest and that the whole price of house-building will be examined and kept under constant review by the Department. At the present time, the demand exceeds the supply. It is absolutely impossible for people to provide their own house or get a site on which they could build a house.

Mr. Alexis FitzGerald rose.

Tomás Ó Maoláin: Information on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  Zoom on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  At last! I was [1009] wondering if the Senator was going to speak at all.

Mr. Alexis FitzGerald: Information on Alexis Fitzgerald  Zoom on Alexis Fitzgerald  The Senator has made me even more shy.

Tomás Ó Maoláin: Information on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  Zoom on Thomas Lincoln Mullins  I am worn out waiting for the Senator to speak.

Acting Chairman (Mr. McDonald): Information on Charles B. McDonald  Zoom on Charles B. McDonald  Senator FitzGerald without interruption.

Mr. Alexis FitzGerald: Information on Alexis Fitzgerald  Zoom on Alexis Fitzgerald  I welcome the Minister in his absence. I also welcome, with equal pleasure, the presence in the House of his Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy Cunningham.

Despite the discouraging sounds from the Leader of the House, I was truly humbled by the debate and by the discovery that I knew little about this subject. I realise now what an experience it must be in understanding our social problems to be a member of a local authority. This came out in every speech from both sides. I cannot say that I took in everything but I took in enough to be discouraged and enough to be determined to read it all when it is in print. I hope that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will take note of all that has been said because there must be great value in all of this.

Having said that, Senators may ask why am I speaking since I have told the House that I do not know much about the subject. The two points I was going to make have been made for me by the two previous speakers. I take Senator Nash's primary proposition to mean that he would give absolute priority to expenditure on housing. It is dishonest not to get our priorities right. The demands which articulate groups want should be put into second place when compared with the needs of the 60,000 people living in deplorable housing conditions. Without a doubt I regard the solution of the housing problem as a higher priority than the further extension of expenditure on education. It is my absolute conviction that we have no right to do anything with our resources but to dedicate them to solving the housing problem. It is all very well to say that [1010] the problem ought not to have arisen but, as it has arisen, every effort must be made to solve it.

The problem probably arose because the First Programme for Economic Expansion was planned on the basis that all social problems had been solved. The people who were endeavouring to make great progress at that time concentrated our resources in the field of production. It is an economic fallacy that in order to put money into something which produces an income return it is necessary to put money into something that is more productive. A house yields its own income in the shape of benefits to the occupier just as much as it might yield an income to a landlord if he were letting it. The important distinction between the two is that the landlord can save the income he receives from it, whereas the occupier of a house is spending for the benefit which he gets out of the house each year.

I want to develop the point made by Senator Jack Fitzgerald. I am extremely dubious that the grant system will provide a solution to our housing problem. I make a distinction between grants which have regard to the means of the people looking for the grant and those which are given without any conditions being made. There is a case to be made here for the supplementary grant as against other grants. In a situation in which one is dealing with scarce resources one must be able to say where a saving can be made. Senator Nash said that private individual expenditure amounted to £3½ million. I do not know how many of these would warrant a grant if the people had to establish themselves as below a particular income. I accept completely what Senator Jack Fitzgerald said about the ultimate beneficiary of grants. In Dublin where there is a tremendous demand for housing, to pump money in on the demand side can have only one possible effect and that is to increase the price of what is in scarce supply.

The other side of the equation should receive more attention than it has received in public discussion. I am sure it has received much consideration within the Department of Local Government. [1011] On the other side of the equation there is the supply factor. What is required to provide a house? Obviously, the first thing required is a site. A well informed person told me that 37 per cent of the cost of a new house in Dublin is represented by the cost of the site. There is also the question of the organisation of the construction industry. Would an improvement in the organisation of labour produce greater results than merely to hand out grants to people, who then make their own deals with the skilful people who sell houses in conditions in which they are well able to sell them to somebody else? There is also the question of the availability of skilled labour. The trade unions have restricted admission of people to qualify for these skills. The trade unions through their continued application of these restrictions may be causing the problem which many of their supporters are critical of the public authority for failing to solve.

I should like to see consideration given to incentives instead of merely giving grants to builders. After all, we do not give grants to exporters as such. One of the most successful schemes for the advancement of productivity in industry has been the incentives given to exporters. They generated incomes by their exertions to get the tax free money and a great deal of tax paying money is resulting from their exertions. If the situation warrants a crash programme why not offer incentives to builders such as special tax rates to encourage them to build?

The additional value of land in and about Dublin has been generated over the past 20 years because of the growth of the population and the growth in incomes. The people who own this land have been given a gift by the community. They should be taxed on this and the revenue collected should be used for the benefit of the community. It is difficult to control land prices. The English system has done little more than force people to invest their capital abroad and impede development. I should like to feel we had some body considering if any schemes could be devised to control prices and to improve the rewards in the building industry [1012] through tax incentives. I should like to see the Minister, in co-operation with his colleague the Minister for Finance, concern himself with special classes like old people. We have covenants in favour of science laboratories and splendid institutions are constructed. People are very happy to enter into a covenant if Revenue are paying two-thirds of the cost. It is extraordinary how attractive that is to the man who wants to do some good with his money. Perhaps, there could be covenants in favour of industrial and provident societies whose function it would be to construct houses for the old.

I might comment on the relationship in the provision of houses to the development of industry. I should like to think that this is a matter which is being considered by the Department of Local Government, the Industrial Development Authority and the Department of Industry and Commerce. A view held by many people is that in the modern Europe if you have a place where houses are available you will attract to that area the necessary skills which, in turn, draw industry into the area. We have generally thought in terms of industry going into an area and, subsequently, the community providing houses for the workers. Perhaps, we should think in terms of establishing housing so that industries would be attracted into an area.

I view with deep concern a subsection of section 12 of the Bill. I do not wish to go into detail on this matter in a way that would be inappropriate to Second Reading. However, as I attach such importance to it, I thought it might be permissible to say this in anticipation of Committee Stage so that the Minister's legal advisers might consider the matter. As the section is drafted, a large number of people will be in danger of committing a criminal offence without being aware in the slightest degree of the circumstances that could give rise to prosecution. From my interpretation of the section the sheriff himself, clergymen, doctors, lawyers, Members of the Oireachtas, social workers, postmen, process servers, milkmen, and all kinds of people could be in danger of committing a crime by virtue of the fact [1013] that this subsection states that a person who makes an entry into the dwelling may be guilty of a criminal offence. I shall develop this at greater length on Committee Stage but I thought I should give the lawyers opposite an opportunity to think about the matter.

Mr. E. Ryan: Information on Eoin David Senior Ryan  Zoom on Eoin David Senior Ryan  There is nothing like a little light relief in the Seanad.

Mr. Alexis FitzGerald: Information on Alexis Fitzgerald  Zoom on Alexis Fitzgerald  I should be happy to think this was so. However, this is my view of the matter and it is a view shared by some others.

Ruairí Brugha: Information on Ruairí Brugha  Zoom on Ruairí Brugha  Ba mhaith liom fáiltiú roimh an Aire agus roimh an Rúnaí Parlaiminte.

This has been an interesting debate. I am sure Senator Alexis FitzGerald will not mind when I say I understood him much better than when he speaks about legal technicalities in Bills.

The earlier part of the debate seemed to be confined to the Bill but later it moved into a wider sphere. I do not think this is undesirable because we are all concerned with improvements in housing. I do not go along completely with Senators Nash and Alexis FitzGerald when they speak of giving housing priority over education. I have spoken on this subject before and I repeat my comment that it all depends on the education one has in mind. If it is the subsidisation of higher levels of education, I agree that people could afford to provide this, but in regard to the primary level of education I consider we are not doing enough.

Perhaps a little more imagination might be displayed in regard to housing. Senators made reference to the help that might be given to people to build houses. I agree generally with Senator FitzGerald in his comments in relation to grants and I would add that grants have come to be regarded as a kind of commission.

I thought Senator FitzGerald was going to take a leaf out of my book when he referred to incentives. A breakthrough could be achieved if something like a tax relief incentive on earned income was made available to those who wished to purchase a house. referred to what the economy can afford and spoke of over-heating [1014] of the economy. It appears to me that the over-heating of the economy is coming directly from over-expenditure in certain areas. There is a section of the population—some of whom live in Dublin—who have weekly incomes of from £40 to £70 and in many of these cases the ratepayers have contributed to provide them with low rent housing. This is the section that should be encouraged to save to buy houses rather than have them provided by the local authority in Dublin.

The real problem is that young people who are trying to save in order to get married are taxed on all income in excess of £6 10s per week. If the young person is living at home and is not contemplating purchase of a house he can afford to pay the tax. However, it is an entirely different situation when a young couple are struggling to save for a deposit for a house. They have to pay away-from-home expenses and any saving must be done on the taxed income. Perhaps the Minister might have this question of saving incentives examined in order to relieve the housing difficulties of local authorities.

Although it is not in his area, the Minister might consider some system which could be worked out which would encourage young people to become owners rather than to rely to such a great extent on local authorities, on ratepayers and on the Exchequer, through the local authorities, to provide them with rented houses, following which they become exposed to elements who want to agitate about the level of rents. This is the fault of the situation which we have created by the mass-building of corporation houses in Dublin. The advances of the last 40 years have been very great, but we have gone too far in the direction of the State providing houses rather than encouraging the individual to provide his own house. As Senator Flanagan said—and it is no reflection on many who live in those estates—the young couple who have provided themselves with a house seem to have more dignity and a stronger sense of self-respect than those who are given houses. I am not reflecting on those who are not in a position to [1015] provide their own houses. This may be a reflection on ourselves.

Senator Alexis FitzGerald raised some questions on which the Minister might enlighten me. I think speculation in land is taxable. If it is not, it ought to be. I understand it is taxable within limits.

Mr. Alexis FitzGerald: Information on Alexis Fitzgerald  Zoom on Alexis Fitzgerald  Speculation —yes, but if you are the happy occupier of land which gets the benefit of increased value because of the approach of building to his land it is not taxable.

Ruairí Brugha: Information on Ruairí Brugha  Zoom on Ruairí Brugha  It is difficult to see how to get round it.

Mr. Alexis FitzGerald: Information on Alexis Fitzgerald  Zoom on Alexis Fitzgerald  It is done in England.

Ruairí Brugha: Information on Ruairí Brugha  Zoom on Ruairí Brugha  I have seen the extraordinary prices to which land has gone, and this is becoming a factor in housing costs. I should like to see this question settled. Senator FitzGerald raised a point in relation to the cost factor. Investigations have been done and there have been reports on window sizes, etc. I get reports from a committee of An Foras Forbartha which does such work. They have done a considerable degree of research. The strategical laying-out of areas, not alone in relation to what houses would be available, but also in relation to what other facilities would be essential, such as sewerage, has been examined. This has been done to a considerable extent. From my experience on voluntary committees in An Foras Forbartha I know that one of the difficulties which we have in Ireland is that there are not enough trained planners. I was chairman of a committee connected with the training and education and it was difficult to get the education authorities to provide courses for planners. I do not think this has worked out well. The fault did not lie with An Foras Forbartha. The situation seemed to me to be that, apart from Dublin Corporation, very few local authorities in the country have any trained planners to advise them. This brings me to an aspect of this which I think is becoming significant. [1016] Senator Alexis FitzGerald referred to the amount one learns from a debate like this when one listens to people who have actual experience on local authorities. I do not have this experience. It is a very useful exercise for some of us to hear about the problems which Senator Ryan and Senator FitzGerald and others referred to.

It seems to me that the almost continuous refusal to allow people to build houses in areas around Dublin is what I have come across most. I meet this problem regularly. It seems that there are bottlenecks about granting permission for building. It probably goes back to the problem that there are not enough planners available. If a man succeeds in buying a quarter of an acre 15 miles from Dublin there should be set rules whereby he can build, even if there has to be freezing of acreage and so on. People buy sites, and it can be frustrating to be unable to get planning permission. These people may be only a small number, but it is irritating for people who are interested in building for themselves to be constantly delayed. The more young people we can get to provide houses for themselves the better. It is better to encourage people to have a bit of initiative than that we should continue to rely on local authorities, the Department of Local Government and the Exchequer to provide houses for them. I welcome what the Minister has said in relation to this Bill.

Tá súil agam go gcabhróidh an Bille seo chun tithe níos saoire a chur ar fáil agus caighdeán réasúnta a chur ar fáil agus níos mó tithe san iomlán a thógáil. That is the aim. I would encourage and support the Minister in this. There has been a great deal of criticism of our housing situation from both sides of the House. It is good that that is so. We all know that the day we have not a housing problem we will be in trouble because that means there would not be people with jobs who needed houses. It is to the credit of local authorities and of private enterprise that there is something of an increase in the number of houses being built over the past few years. It is certainly not enough, and I would encourage the Minister to go all out to [1017] exceed even what he has in the Bill. There was criticism of the reduction in size of grant houses but I think that this has been answered by Senators on both sides of the House. All I would say on that aspect of it would be that if the reduction in size is going to mean anything like an extra 1,000 houses, I am all for it. Even if it only meant another extra 100 houses, I would favour it because the important thing to our community is that those who need houses and have worked hard should be provided with them or that they should, as I have been saying right along, be encouraged to tackle the job themselves.

I support the Bill as far as it goes, and I welcome the Minister and encourage him in the very difficult work he has before him in solving the existing housing problem.

Mr. Brosnahan: Information on Sean Brosnahan  Zoom on Sean Brosnahan  I think the House realises that this housing shortage presents a very serious social problem. This problem should be tackled with imagination and with vigour, but I do not think that a very happy note was struck here by Senator Alexis FitzGerald when he referred to priorities. He did say that articulate groups were pressurising the Government to, as it were, advance their own case, and he said that there should be a slowing down in the allocation of support for housing authorities. I do not think that that was a very happy expression.

Mr. Alexis FitzGerald: Information on Alexis Fitzgerald  Zoom on Alexis Fitzgerald  Of course, I did not use that expression of slowing down. I said that there should not be any further increase until we had solved this housing problem.

Mr. Brosnahan: Information on Sean Brosnahan  Zoom on Sean Brosnahan  I think that both should move along together. Senator Alexis FitzGerald would leave thousands living in misery in the slums while we were affording facilities for people in much better conditions. I do not think that Senator Alexis FitzGerald's interruption is in keeping with the more lofty mood in which he spoke a few moments ago. I am talking of several hundreds of thousands of people in this country who because of lack of education and lack of proper [1018] investment in education have been grossly suffering for years, when over a million of our people had to leave this country because of what some people term the irrelevancy of comparison made on the question of priorities as between housing and education. I say that the problem of housing should be tackled parallel with the problem of education, and I do not think that this evening at this stage it should be suggested that one should get priority over the other. To me they are both great social evils and miseries, when our people were forced to leave this country and are in slums without any housing in Birmingham, in Slough, and in Manchester because of under investment in education and because people were forced to leave the national schools at the age of fourteen or thirteen and a half.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  The Senator should now pass from the subject of education, which has nothing to do with this Bill.

Mr. Brosnahan: Information on Sean Brosnahan  Zoom on Sean Brosnahan  I was trying to show that there should be no suggestion——

Mr. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Would it be open to another Senator to ask whether there would be no emigration if there was conscription?

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  The Senator has made a passing reference to education and I suggest that he should come to the Housing Bill.

Mr. Brosnahan: Information on Sean Brosnahan  Zoom on Sean Brosnahan  I maintain it is important that every man should have a house because it gives him a stake in the country and dignity. It gives him an environment in which his children can be properly reared, because a proper environment is important for the character and personality formation of children. Therefore, everybody should have a house or a flat or somewhere in which he can properly rear his family. I also think that side by side with that every head of a family should have opportunities for the proper formation of his children and their proper education.

Minister for Local Government (Mr. Molloy): Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Gabhaim buíochas leis na Seanadóirí úd a d'fháiltigh romham [1019] ar mo chéad chuairt ar an d'Teach seo. Gabhaim buíochas chomh maith leis na Seanadóirí a chuir fáilte roimh an mBille.

I should just like to thank those Senators who welcomed me on my first occasion to the House, and in conjunction with that I should like to thank those other Senators, those who welcomed the Bill. I was happy, indeed, with the reception that the Bill has been given. I think it has been taken on its merits and generally accepted to be a measure which will make a substantial contribution towards increasing the number of houses which can be constructed in the country. I realise, indeed, that the debate has gone on quite long and many points have been mentioned. Indeed the debate seems to have ranged a little bit into a general discussion on housing and away from the actual detail of the Bill but in my concluding remarks I will endeavour to reply to some of the points that were raised. Many of the other points will come up in the ordinary way on Committee stage if they require further explanation.

At the outset, then, I should like, again, to emphasise that the main purpose in introducing this Bill is to enable more houses to be constructed than is possible under the present system, this is within the financial limits that exist, within the sums of money that are available at the present time for this purpose. This must be remembered in considering this Bill, because it will enable the building of more houses. The estimates that we have arrived at are that it will enable the building of a further 1,000 houses per year from the same financial pool. I myself, I think, should tell the House that whatever small experience all of us gather as public representatives there is one problem which exists in the country of which all public representatives are very conscious, and that is the need to provide houses for those who are in need of them, and we meet those people so often in our day to day travelling and meetings that we cannot but be very conscious of this great need in the community. I am, [1020] like the others, very conscious of this need and of the great responsibilities that are on me as Minister in the Department largely responsible for the building of houses in the country. I can only hope that whatever contribution I make while in this Department will be towards enabling more and more houses to be built and reducing the number of persons who are today homeless to a minimum figure, if at all possible.

This Bill, then, sets out in the main to give more aid to persons who are providing houses of moderate size. Because of the demand for houses today, this tremendous demand which is there all the time, and growing, it is imperative that we build more houses and equally imperative that with the scarcity of resources the help which we do give is given to those who are providing houses of a moderate size. Many Senators during the course of the debate felt that this Bill would be encouraging the construction of houses which would be too small. This is a very wrong interpretation of the effect that this Bill will have on the construction industry and the effect it will have on the size of houses to be built under this new system of grants. We must keep in mind that the average local authority house being built at the present time is 800 square feet. There is no doubt that these houses are of a very high standard. There are no complaints being made about quality or standard or the size of these houses. The one complaint which I hear very regularly is that there are not enough of these local authority houses of this particular size.

Mr. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Would the Minister say that the restriction in the size of rooms being provided for in this Bill——

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  I did not interrupt the Senator when he was speaking and I do not think I should be interrupted.

Mr. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I did intend to speak and I gave way to enable the Minister to end the debate. I should just like to have it made clear because I was interested to find out if this restriction is going.

[1021]Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  That is right. As I said in my introductory speech, there will be no restriction on the size of rooms. The grant will be given on the overall size of houses. This would give greater freedom to designers of houses and would not inhibit their designs by restricting them to certain sizes per room, because of the many new technological changes in the construction industry itself, and because of new ideas in design. It is felt, and I think rightly and many Senators agreed with this, that we should give designers a free hand. You have the open plan as one example of the type of design which is quite popular today in private built houses, and this I think is something which we should allow and encourage.

Mr. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  I understood that the original reason for the minimum size in bedrooms was a health one. I am wondering if there has been new thinking on that.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Michael B Yeats  Zoom on Michael B Yeats  The Chair considers it would be better to leave these questions for Committee Stage.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  We can deal with it then. To get back to the point concerning the size of local authority houses and the lack of complaints in this regard, it is not true for anybody to say that we are encouraging the building of houses that are too small. The Bill aims at encouraging the building of houses of a moderate size. The State should not assist by way of grants and other financial aids, persons who can afford to build the larger types of houses which, as we all know, are in the luxury or semi-luxury bracket. In any event, the grant would have very little significance in influencing these people in regard to the type of house they wish to build. We have a moral duty to provide houses for people of modest means and any available finance must go towards helping this section of the community rather than to help those who are not in any great need of financial assistance to build the larger type houses.

Reference was made also to the high cost of land. I shall refer to this again later on but I wish to make the point [1022] at this stage that because of the high cost of lands, builders are tending to build houses which are bigger and, consequently, dearer than the size of house which people are actually looking for. Of course, this is done so that a higher price can be obtained for the house and, thereby, a higher profit. The proposals in the Bill will counteract this particular tendency. We have already seen a reaction within the construction industry towards building houses of a more moderate size.

The main need for houses today arises generally from the demand for houses from young married couples. These people do not want larger houses at an early stage in their married life because such a house would place a heavy burden on a young couple in repaying the loan, furnishing and so on. One of the great effects of the Bill on the building of houses will be that it will meet the greatest demand at that level.

Under the old system there was a grant for houses of more than the 1,249 square feet area. It was deduced by some Senator who spoke today that by the introduction of the new scheme we would be denying State grants to about one-fifth of the persons who were building these larger houses and who would normally qualify. Of course, that is not so because most people, when this new scheme is in operation, will comply with the smaller floor areas as laid down in this Bill to ensure that they will qualify for the higher grants provided for in the Bill.

Another matter mentioned during the course of the debate was that of loan limits. I should say that this was outside the scope of the Bill. However, I will say that the attitude of the Department always has been that loan limits are kept under constant review and we are very conscious of the need to continue this practice because of increasing costs. Despite that, I should like to inform the House that the increase in expenditure on loans from 1964 to 1965 has been from £3 million to £11 this year. Therefore, whatever argument some Senators might make for a rise in loan limits to qualify more people for loans, the demand shows no falling off because of the present [1023] limits. Indeed, demand has been growing very rapidly as indicated from these increased figures that I have given.

Since 1968 then, the maximum loan and the amount of the State and supplementary grants have been increased by £400 per house. This increase has been brought about through a £300 increase in the loan limit from £2,700 to £3,000 and a £100 increase —in some cases more—in the grants. It is not true to say, therefore, that these loans and grants have been stagnant.

Perhaps I should refer to another matter which some Senators do not seem to know about and that is that in assessing income for loan purposes, local authorities were circularised recently by the Department and told to exclude exceptional overtime when assessing income, especially excessive overtime that was earned in the years shortly before a young couple married because some times this extra money is earned as a result of an extra effort on the part of a couple to save money for their marriage.

There was reference to the £60 valuation being an inadequate limit for farmers to qualify for certain benefits. I want to make the point that 90 per cent of our farmers have valuations of £60 or less, so I do not think that any great case could be made for the other 10 per cent being in need of greater assistance or greater facilities from the State as was stated by Senators who suggested that the £60 valuation limit should be increased to £75. I cannot accept that at all. I would also make the point that a farmer with a £60 or more valuation is capable of earning quite a substantial livelihood.

It was stated that savings will not follow from the emphasis being placed on this more moderate sized house. I cannot understand why that point was made. Senator Boland made the point a few times.

Mr. J. Boland: Information on John Boland  Zoom on John Boland  Savings on the finished house unit.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  An 800 square foot house is costing roughly £3,200 on average at the present time and a 1,000 square foot house, which would [1024] be an average private sized house, is costing £4,200. It cannot be denied that much of the difference in price is due to the different size. Private houses are now costing £4 or more per square foot. If a house is reduced by 100 square feet in size, some saving must result. It must be remembered that the many new changes taking place in design and in domestic equipment are bringing about a certain saving of space. With the installation of central heating and the elimination of fireplaces a saving of up to 60 square feet can be made.

A distinction must be made between grants and loans. I was asked to consider having the same limits for grants and loans from local authorities. It must be remembered that grants are a form of social welfare payment, whereas loans are a form of investment which do not cost local authorities anything because they are repaid with the interest due on them. There is a definite distinction between those two facilities.

Mr. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  I take it it is agreed we sit on to enable the Minister to finish.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  I shall try to facilitate the House by being as brief as possible. Those who know me are aware that I am not long-winded.

Mr. O'Higgins: Information on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  Zoom on Michael Joseph O'Higgins  I just want to let the Minister know we are prepared to sit on.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Some Senators thought grants would inflate prices, whereas other Senators thought grants had not kept pace with inflation. Builders will tell you that if the £275 or £325 are not coming from State grants it will have to come from somewhere else. They have been adamant about this. The Department have kept a very close eye on this matter over the years to ensure that grants and the large sums of money being paid out through grants were of the maximum assistance to the persons qualifying for them. I have been given an assurance, which I accept in good faith, that if the grant was not provided the price of the house would be increased by the amount of the grant. Houses over 1,249 square feet will operate in a free market as there will [1025] not be any grants available for houses of that size. The other point made about grants was that they had not kept pace with inflation. In 1948-49 £.34 million was paid out in State and supplementary grants. In 1970-71 an approximate estimate is that £5½ million will be paid in State and supplementary grants. This is a substantial increase in the amount of money being paid in grants. How did this come about if grants had not to some extent kept pace with inflation?

Mr. J. Boland: Information on John Boland  Zoom on John Boland  The individual grants have not kept pace.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Grants can now total £650. In the case of farmers, grants can total £900 and in the Gaeltacht areas they can total £1,100. To take the figure of £650 which is the maximum grant in most cases, it is more than twice what the grant was in 1949.

Because of the large cost involved in increasing reconstruction grants, I think it would be better to see how these new grants will effect expenditure on grants and loans before making commitments to increase the reconstruction expenditure. The whole thinking behind this Bill will affect the construction industry, the size of houses and grant applications in many ways. I would rather wait and see what real effect it has before deciding to increase reconstruction grants. Our first priority is to increase the existing house stock. We do have an obligation to conserve the stock that exists. Reconstruction grants have played a vital part in ensuring that the housing stock in the country was maintained at a good standard. Indeed, it can be said that we were ahead of most European countries in introducing reconstruction grants. This fact is never quoted when one is making comparisons with international statistics. I accept the tremendous part that reconstruction grants have played and are playing. I am disposed towards considering the need for an increase in those grants but I intend to wait and see what effect these new grants will have on grant and loan applications.

The question of land prices always comes up when one is discussing housing, [1026] and the seemingly ever-increasing price of housing. What are we doing to try to keep down the price of houses? A number of things are being done and although they will make some contribution, I am not completely satisfied that everything that could be done is being done. Large sewerage and water schemes are being processed to provide a surplus of serviced land and this will help to stabilise the price of land. This is being done at the present time within financial limitations. Local authorities have engaged on a large scale on land acquisitions. As the House knows, they are empowered to do this under the 1966 Act. A £150 subsidy per site is provided by local authorities to enable them to provide serviced sites for private house building. In the Dublin area alone over £3 million over the last three years has been provided, and although that was the largest amount all major local authorities had large sums of money made available to them and large tracts of land have been purchased as a result.

I should like to put on record the effects the spending of that money has had. The land in the hands of local authorities for housing on 31st December, 1967 was 13,616 sites and on the 31st March, 1970 it was 46,920 sites. If the sites which were being acquired at the 31st March, 1970 were added in, the figure would be just under 60,000. This has had an obvious effect in stabilising prices and when local authorities are able to get the land into their own hands this will play a major part in pegging down land prices.

Mr. J. Boland: Information on John Boland  Zoom on John Boland  They are virtually all in the Dublin area.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  No, that is not correct. I have not the figures with me but every local authority has had authority to purchase land.

Mr. J. Boland: Information on John Boland  Zoom on John Boland  A thousand acres was bought in Dublin one year. How many sites would that provide?

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Thousands of acres have been purchased because of the Government's policy being carried out [1027] by the Department of Local Government to provide special sums to enable them to purchase that land.

The building of the more moderate sized house which this Bill will encourage will also make a contribution towards reducing land prices per house because there will be a consequent increase in density.

The matter of international comparisons always crops up when housing is being discussed; comparisons are made between our country and countries in the EEC and also in other places throughout the world. However, it is difficult to make valid comparisons in this matter because of the many factors involved.

The point was made that we compare unfavourably with other European countries but this is not altogether true. The main need for houses arises from the demand from newly married couples and in this country the number of married persons as a percentage of the population is lower than in most countries in Europe.

Reconstruction grants have been available here for longer than in the European countries and they have played a major part in reducing the degree of obsolescence in housing. It is generally recognised that houses in Ireland are, in the main, larger than in many of the European countries.

Mr. J. Boland: Information on John Boland  Zoom on John Boland  After this Bill it will be a case of “were larger”.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Let me put this to the House. Which is more beneficial for us—to have 15,000 houses with 6 bedrooms each or 30,000 houses with 2 bedrooms each? I think we would opt for the former.

There is much less overcrowding in Irish houses than in countries that are often regarded as models we should imitate, the number of persons per room being less than the European average.

Some Senators sought extra subsidies but this is outside the scope of the Bill. In passing, I should mention that if we use money for subsidies, less is available for building and the first priority is to build houses.

Senators referred to the part co-operatives [1028] were playing in the building of houses. I have personal experience of this and I hope to be able to effect some improvement in the different processes the co-operatives have to go through before they get to the actual building. I agree with the idea of encouraging people—especially skilled tradesmen—to come together and build their own houses. They will, of course, qualify for all the grants and I shall be happy to do what I can to help such groups. Perhaps we have not given sufficient attention to the role this kind of joint building effort can play and this is a matter that will have my attention.

Credit unions are one of the most important institutions in the country. They play a major part in enabling people to save money to purchase their greatest asset, namely, their homes and I recommend the credit unions to all people, especially young couples who are interested in building their own homes. I should be glad to see credit unions operating throughout the country. Generally, I agree with the remarks made regarding co-operatives and credit unions and I hope to see their activities extended.

Reference was made, particularly by Senators Honan and Flanagan, to the need for strict supervision in the construction of houses. I am aware of the ease with which certain faults in construction can be covered up with a dash of plaster and I appreciate the necessity for more strict supervision. I can assure the House that I intend to investigate this matter and I shall do what I can to ensure that houses of a satisfactory standard are provided in all cases. Perhaps it may not be fair to refer in a derogatory manner to one aspect because sometimes reflection is cast on the entire industry. That is not the position in this instance but the need does exist for a more strict supervisory system of inspection of houses.

The matter of package-deal house building—mainly in Dublin—was referred to, and Senator Belton spoke on this subject at some length. This is an admirable arrangement between building societies and the assurance companies and it ensures that houses, which those agencies would have [1029] financed in any event, will be put on the market at a cheaper price than in the normal way. As the arrangement was made with the local authority, it means that the purchaser has the benefit of bulk-buying and, consequently, a cheaper house. This arrangement also is of assistance to those with lower incomes who possibly might have been priced out of the market. Where it is feasible I would recommend this course to other local authorities.

I have not referred to all the points raised but in view of the late hour, perhaps, Senators will not hold that against me. When I came into the Department this Bill was already there: I was happy with it and I have already commended it to the Seanad. I now wish to make some personal observations on the housing situation generally and what further measures could be taken to improve it.

I have already initiated special investigations into the different types of system-building and the various kinds of prefabricated construction to see if there is some method whereby we could build houses at a lesser cost. There is a demand for houses that it is essential we meet and, consequently, if cheaper methods of construction are available we will be in a position to build more houses.

I have already referred to the price of land. This is a matter that requires investigation. I am aware of the speculation that has gone on in the buying and selling of land for building which has been serviced by the local authority and, consequently, has increased substantially in value. Large profits were made by persons who made no contribution whatever to the services which brought about the increase in the valuation. There is room for tightening-up here and I want to mention to the House that I consider it is worthy of investigation.

I am conscious that in the past number of years there has been a very rapid increase in the output in the construction industry but that, unfortunately, in the bigger towns and cities, where the main housing demands exist, much of this has been in office block accommodation. The Local Government Temporary Reduction of Valuation [1030] Bill, 1970 will phase out the remission to people who build office blocks and should help the situation. The withdrawing of that concession may encourage people to invest their money in the construction of flats for renting. I hope to study this and to see what I can do to encourage private investors to invest more money in the construction of flats rather than office blocks. In some countries where planning permission is granted there is an obligation on a developer, where he is constructing industrial-type buildings, to build dwellings also. People should think more about this point. There is great need to provide jobs in this country. Anybody with any practical experience knows that jobs and housing go hand in hand. Building the factory without building the homes for the people who work in it is only doing half the job. There must be some co-operation between the people establishing the large industrial concerns and the house builders. The factory builders must be obliged to make some contribution towards the provision of dwellings as well.

I am keen to ensure that adequate recreational amenities are provided where large housing schemes are erected. I intend to examine whether it would be feasible to include, in permissions for large housing schemes, a condition which would make it obligatory on the developers to include proper recreational facilities. I would go as far as to ask them to build a swimming pool with each large scheme of houses. There are also many other amenities which are essential and which are often left out. We know the difficulties which this creates. The State is making a great contribution to housing but I believe that a greater part can be played by the private sector of the community than it is playing at the moment. I have in mind the building societies and insurance companies which are at the moment investing in the building of houses. We could introduce some incentive to encourage people to invest more money with the building societies. I am examining how we could give more incentives to the building societies themselves to ensure that all the money which was invested with them would [1031] go into the building of houses. These things can be done by tax incentives and in other ways. I thank the House for the reception which they gave the Bill.

The Committee Stage will be taken tomorrow. I know there are some amendments which have been put down, some of which I have not seen yet. What I have heard in the debate has been very interesting for me, being new in this position. Senators made [1032] useful contributions and I feel I can look forward to continuing co-operation from all Senators in the House. Collectively we can make a substantial contribution towards improving the housing situation in the country. We can work together to improve the standard of living for all our people.

Question put and agreed to.

The Seanad adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 24th July, 1970.


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