Wednesday, 8 May 1991
Seanad Éireann Debate
“notes the record of achievement of the Minister for the Environment in the various policy areas for which he is responsible, and calls on the Minister to continue the development and implementation of relevant policies and programmes, particularly in relation to the environment, road development, social housing, water and sanitary services and local Government reform generally.”
The motion does not excite me though I will be voting for it. It does not excite me because I prefer motions that say something, that contain arguments reasons relating to specific issues. Given some of the things that have happened over the period of office of this present Minister in one specific area, the only way one can vigorously and actively represent one's disapproval of Government policy in a couple of areas is by voting for the motion. I begin by acknowledging — and I say this in fairness to the Minister — some of the positive things that have been done in an area in which I have an interest  which is homelessness. Unlike his predecessors in office this Minister introduced legislation which made some provision for dealing with homelessness. It was inadequate legislation and some of the problems that I warned the Minister about have developed. The lack of flexibility on the part of local authorities in using the powers given them, which he was warned about at the time, has resulted in the non-expenditure of funds allocated under section 10 of the Housing Act, 1989, on two consecutive years at least.
Many of us warned the Minister that he was relying excessively on agencies that had shown no goodwill in the past to show a degree of creativity and imagination in the future. They have not done so but that Act contains a number of specific things that are most welcome and for which this Minister deserves to be complimented. He is assured a place in the future for his repeal of an offensive section of the Vagrancy Act of which others apparently could not see the significance.
If the rest of his record were reasonable that would be enough to give me grounds for voting against this motion. The trouble is that the good work done in aiding voluntary organisations in persuading, coercing, kicking and dragging local authorities into identifying their responsibilities in a number of areas has, unfortunately, all been buried under the appalling housing record he has presided over. I have no desire, a Chathaoirligh, to see the homeless provided for at the expense of the slightly better off, nor to see money transferred from local authority housing programmes to be spread in impressive but, in terms of what should be the housing budget, tiny sums of money around the country. That is the problem I have with this Minister, which is why I cannot vote confidence in him.
It is not my habit, if at all possible, to abstain on motions and therefore I will be voting for the motion because the collapse of local authority housing provision over this Minister's period of office has been a disgrace. It is building up  enormous social problems for the future. It will put a strain on those very voluntary organisations that the Housing Act, of which he is in many ways justifiably proud, was set up to help. Those organisations will be left with the consequences of his failure to provide significant and substantial numbers of local authority housing and low cost housing generally.
On the issue of local authority housing, we all know that the bottom has gone out of that area of development. The numbers of houses being built are miniscule relative to expanding needs; housing lists are shooting up at frightful rates and if significant and dramatic funding is not made available to provide low cost State housing we will have again a housing crisis of the scale of the late 1960s. The escape route of emigration, which may have protected the Minister, his Department and local authorities from the full pressures of housing demand, is now effectively closed. Emigrants are returning and whether they are poor, rich, unemployed or otherwise, they are going to need accommodation. This Government and Minister have failed completely, categorically and absolutely to make such provision for them. It is regrettable because it must be known to the Minister and to the Government that this is a short term policy. The good thing about cutbacks in housing is that they do not strike immediately and when they do, it is at those who are least likely to complain and who may be persuaded or coerced to remain in silence and await their turn in an ever-expanding queue. A decision taken in 1987 to cut back on local authority housing dramatically and sustained for a number of years does not produce enormous immediate effects.
It takes years for the queues to build up, for the stories of human misery to accumulate together with the various organs of public opinion. When you are basking in the glow of the approval of the Establishment for what has been described by at least one major business organisation as the most stringent cutbacks in public expenditure undertaken in the OECD since the Second World War, when you are in a Government who  regard that as a good thing, then cutbacks in housing in the medium-term seem like an easy option. They do not immediately produce a huge public outcry but, as sure as night follows day, the Minister and the Government, on the issue of local authority housing, have sown the seeds of a multitude of human problems this country will live with for the next 30 years. There will be problems of family breakdown, juvenile crime, educational non-attainment and so on.
It was from Fianna Fáil people, including my own father, that I picked up the belief that housing was the fundamental bedrock of social change and to give people a decent house was the best thing you could do to help them escape from the cycle of poverty. It was from Fianna Fáil that I learned the worth of public housing. Fianna Fáil had a good record in the area of public housing so it is sad and shameful that they should be the party to decimate the public housing programme as they have done over the past five years. It would be impossible for me to vote confidence in a Minister who has not only betrayed the poor and those in need of local authority housing but who has betrayed one of the basic values for which his own party stood.
Anybody who reads the history of the 1920s and 1930s cannot be but aware of the dramatic change that took place in this country when Fianna Fáil decided to build large numbers of local authority housing. I have seen families living in squalor and misery acquire dignity and pride because they were given a decent house. In the past four years that record has been turned on its head and we will pay the price for that for the next 20 years. It is tragic that money made available to fund all the good things in areas of extreme need like homelessness has effectively been taken out of the pockets of the poor. It is a redistribution among the poor, with most of the undistributed part going back into State coffers to pay for tax cuts for the rich that this Government and their predecessor have been so good at providing.
This Minister has other fundamental policies that are in need of reappraisal.  He and his Department seem to have an obsession with roads that defies description at the expense of public transport and they ignore the European experience. As more roads are built into a city centre more cars will use the roads; demand cannot be met. The only way to reduce traffic flow is to restrict use of private cars and expand public transport. The Government programme for development submitted to the EC is slanted in the direction of private transport and, for ideological reasons, hopelessly lopsided against public transport.
The Minister lacks a proper environmental philosophy — not in the areas his Minister of State has dealt with so well in this House over the past number of weeks — but in the area of transport, resulting in the demolition of our cities to build bigger roads and car parks, providing more and more space for more and more people to do damage. The collapse of social housing which was the bedrock of social justice in this country and the development of a policy which will cause the collapse of cities as places to be lived in, counter balance the good work this Minister has done in a number of specific areas and make it necessary for me to support the motion.
Mr. O'Keeffe: I would like to share my time with Senator McGowan. This Fine Gael motion is facetious and opportunistic and coming before the local elections it will be seen eventually as a reflection on Fine Gael rather than on the Minister. Like a dying breed, they have one last kick and will lash out at anything in the hope of latching onto something, particularly when they are devoid of any constructive policy in the area of the environment. Is it not comical to listen to Fine Gael calling for the restoration of home improvement grants? How short a memory they have. Let us examine their performance.
They provided £27 million for home improvement grants in 1986, yet the total cost of those grants in that year was in excess of £227 million. It took three budgets to pay for that recklessness and lack of budgetary responsibility.
Mr. O'Keeffe: Fine Gael have forgotten the innovative environmental action programme with which the Minister is trying to counter increasing damage to the natural environment. He has tackled the problem of air quality, he has set about eradicating the pollution of inland waters and has brought about a responsible attitude to agriculture. Industry and the environment are now beginning to co-operate, young and old are aware of the environment and there is an interest in recycling and disposal and particularly in the protection of the ozone layer. Through this programme the Minister has shown himself to be innovative, constructive, far-sighted and imbued with a caring attitude for the well-being of society.
I ask Members to note the following legislation: the Water Pollution Act, the Air Pollution Act, the Derelict Sites Act, the Local Government Planning and Development Bill and the upcoming Local Government Bill. These are the achievements of a Minister who is active, involved, reforming and committed to the portfolio given him by the Taoiseach.
We have heard a lot about roads and potholes in recent times but I would like to put a number of figures before the House this evening relating to discretionary road grants. For the period 1986, 1987 and 1988 the Government provided £89.8 million. In 1988, 1989 and 1991 they doubled that amount to £182.4 million. In 1986 the Coalition to which Fine Gael and the Labour Party belonged provided £23 million in discretionary grants. Compare that with what the Minister is providing in 1991, £68.13 million.
It is worth having a look at what is happening in local authorities. In many instances where the Minister and his Department are increasing the amount of grants for county roads we find that local authorities themselves are withdrawing funding they formerly put into that area. I will give two examples. In Cork out of our own resources in 1991 we will be ploughing in £11 million and  there is no great commotion coming from the Cork area. Last year the Minister made an allocation of £2.914 million to Longford. Out of their own resources in 1990 Longford put in £240,000. This year they will be putting in £200,000. Serious questions must be asked about certain local authorities on their commitment to their own county roads. I ask the Minister to take up this matter with some of these counties and I ask Senators, particularly on the Fine Gael and Labour benches who are members of these local authorities, to take up the matter with their county managers to see what is their level of commitment.
In the 1970s the State grant element for county and regional roads was 20 per cent; this year it is 56 per cent. Surely this must be seen as one-way traffic with Big Daddy providing more and more while many local authorities are walking away from their responsibilities by not providing extra funding out of their own resources.
I would like to use the occasion to pose a question to the Minister. In view of the increased funding from the Minister's Department for roads, in general, is he satisfied with the cost effectiveness of local authorities? Is he getting good value for money? What criteria have been set to get good value for money? Has he any qualms that road surfacing costs are prohibitive as at present constituted?
There is another area where the Opposition are vocal. It is very easy for people like Senator Ryan who are Independent to look for more spending; they have no responsibility for finding the money. Talk is easy but action is not cheap. The Opposition, while they are vocal, are advocating policies that are 20 years old with regard to local authority housing. They have no regard whatever for the changing patterns in housing needs.
Statistics from local authorities indicate that one person applicants make up 30 per cent of the total demand; families with one child, 31 per cent; a married person with one child, 13 per cent; and a married person with two or more children, 25 per cent. Therefore, the Minister is sensible to tackle this housing  problem using a range of options. He has succeeded in doing this through the social housing action programme. The Opposition are naturally going to belittle that programme yet voluntary bodies and the local authority officials are loud in their praise of it because when its provisions are put fully in place it is going to be extremely successful from a number of viewpoints. It will give an opportunity to people who cannot otherwise own their own home to share ownership with the local authority. It is increasing a range of loans and contains innovative and welcome ideas.
How do those who say we should build more local authority houses propose to pay for them? Are they suggesting that this Government impose extra taxation? Are they suggesting that we revert to the old syndrome of, “borrow now and pay tomorrow”? We have seen and experienced the cost of that type of policy since 1987. This Government are correct not to pursue that course again.
The Minister has been most responsible seeing that it costs £80 million this year to maintain, manage and repair existing local authority houses and £200 million to service loans for building of local authority houses while rents from local authority houses amount to something like £40 million plus. Where was innovation more evident than when the Minister introduced the building societies legislation which converted building societies into modern financial units? Where are the queues for mortgages? They are not a fact of life anymore. Has anyone mentioned that the tenant purchase scheme was brought in by this Minister?
Mr. O'Keeffe: Has anybody adverted to the fact that 30,000 people purchased their own local authority houses which gave a sense of pride to these people? The Minister's performance in this portfolio has been excellent and Fine Gael in putting down this motion are demonstrating the ineptitude that pervades that party at the present time. On this  side of the House we welcome the opportunity to pay due regard to the achievements of this Minister in his portfolio.
Mr. McGowan: The motion has a hollow ring to it. Those of us supporting the Minister see it as a natural development on the part of Fine Gael who are totally frustrated in their efforts to mount any credible opposition. This Minister for the Environment is a formidable character and a good target. He is identified as one of the workhorses in the Fianna Fail Government. He is able to handle the Opposition and is doing a marvellous job. The motion puts me in mind of a Sinn Fein councillor who spent 25 years drawing the dole in England. He is now back in Donegal and is telling us how to sort the country out——
Mr. McGowan: ——he has proposals costing £100 million for everything and a new programme on approach to Government. He has a simplistic answer to all of the problems. We usually ask him where he was for the past 25 years. It is time he got his feet back on the ground. We have a housing problem in Donegal which we created ourselves because we did not build houses. We had a county manager, who, when our housing engineer planned for 36 houses built 12, when we did not have financial problems. He created other problems. The Minister for the Environment has recognised this and has given us the second highest allocation in the country. He has put more money into Killybegs for water schemes this year than the Fine Gael Party did in all their years in office.
The Minister for the Environment has given us three times the national allocation for county roads, yet he is lambasted from every quarter and on every current affairs programme on RTE. Everybody who can get up on a soap box is lambasting him. My county is getting a block grant of £6 million this year while in 1987 it got £1.2 million. I find the Minister approachable; you can  discuss and criticise and have a very practical down-to-earth discussion with him. He is one of the best and strongest Ministers for the Environment we have had. Others are entitled not to like him but we do.
Mr. J. Ryan: While I would have liked the motion from Fine Gael to have been stronger, having read the Government amendment I can only describe it as bizarre and those people who are going to vote for it tonight are not living in the real world. Even county councils with a majority of Fianna Fail members would agree with me. Our local authority system is bankrupt, completely and entirely. I listened to Senator O'Keeffe who is a very adept Corkman, and like all good Corkmen he was able to put the words together and compare Cork to Longford. That is a wonderful comparison when one considers the population of Cork city and Cork county and the small county of Longford. The Senator is trying to make a case that the Minister is doing a good job for Cork when the Cork people are doing a good job for themselves.
Mr. J. Ryan: I read a headline in a paper on 20 April over an article written by Geraldine Collins, “Flynn in a £120 Million Drive to Fill our Potholes.” There might not be potholes in Cork but I can assure the House that there are potholes in north Tipperary. If a Minister or member of the Government party in this House tells me that the influence in this article does not relate to additional finance to fill the potholes I will tell them that I did not come down in the last shower. That was the biggest con job ever pulled on the Irish Independent, Saturday, 20 April, an influence that in addition to the normal road allocation for 1991 £120 million was to be allocated for a pothole programme, a blitzkrieg it was called.
 I have had two meetings with the county council in North Tipperary since the Minister's statement, as indicated by Geraldine Collins. The manager and the county engineer must have been in conclave with the Minister at that meeting because they have adopted a vow of silence. We cannot get any indication whatever from them. I asked the county engineer about this additional funding at the last meeting and all I got was sign language. I asked the manager and he said he was sorry he could not answer. There is no additional funding whatever. That was misnomer and a misleading and mischevious article to fool the people.
Senator O'Keeffe said that we are talking before the local elections. I have been taking part in local elections for a long time and I can remember what was said in 1985. Certain promises were made to the electorate at that time and they were forgotton about two months after the local elections when Fianna Fail swamped the country with broken promises. I will not mention them because anyone here with a conscience knows what I am talking about. I do not need to spell it out.
This amendment emphasises the record of achievement in the environment. There is one particular aspect of the environment about which I am concerned. County Tipperary is adjacent to one of the finest tourist areas in Ireland, the Shannon, and in 1987 the Pollution Act was passed on to the Statute Book but that is as far as it went as far as the people in north Tipperary are concerned. Pollution officers were appointed. However, in the last four years no additional money was allocated in the rates support grants to ensure that an effort would be made, which we would all appreciate, to resolve the pollution problem. There was no genuine back-up of funds by the Minister or his Department to ensure that the people put in place would be able to carry out their duties as efficiently as possible. We all know there are pollution problems but the money was not there to ensure that pollution officers could work to the full extent needed.
 One Senator referred to the amount of moneys allocated for road development. A great deal of money was allocated but as far as I am aware it is only the city of Dublin and its environs that benefited. The further down the country one goes, the less money is allocated. Cork, Limerick, Dublin and Galway and the rest of Ireland have to make do with very small allocations. We had a meeting on Monday last and the manager was not in a position to indicate what our financial position would be beyond the end of June. There are fears that there will be lay-offs and that services will be cut. I am giving the facts as a local authority member. As far as I am concerned our country roads system is on the verge of collapse and no matter what part of my constituency I travel in, it is the same story. This may not be something we want to talk about but it will be an issue in the local elections and Senator O'Keeffe will not be able to avoid it. I would not wish the Senator to fall into any of the potholes.
I want now to deal briefly — it has been dealt with already — with the housing record of this Minister. I knew him before he was Minister, I served in the House with him. He was always a gentleman and I regarded him as a rural Deputy who knew the needs of the people. However, the last four years have seen the worst housing performance in the history of this State. At present there are approximately 22,000 housing applicants throughout the country and it is admitted that the maximum we will be commencing in local authority programmes this year will be 1,000. Maybe that is another misquote. In 1986, under the Coalition Government, 7,500 houses were built. Some people only remember those figures that suit them, but that is one figure that sticks in my mind. This year some 1,000 houses will be built.
Senator O'Keeffe placed emphasis on social housing. With all due respects to the Senator, in my humble opinion this new concept of social housing for 1991 is the biggest con job that was every pulled on the unfortunate people who are waiting for houses. It is expected that this  year 7,500 starts will commence through the social housing scheme. What about the thousands of people awaiting rehousing? Senator O'Keeffe admitted that there was need for additional housing but where will we get the money? That is a big change in the Fianna Fáil Party that I have known for 30 years because during my years in the county council, housing was always one of the top priorities. He also referred to the few mortgages being taken out. One has to go to a building society or a bank now before a county council will entertain one for a loan, so there can be a third refusal. Let us not talk about mortgages. That is not what we are talking about.
Mr. J. Ryan: I know there is no queue. I can give figures from my own constituency and the town of Nenagh. Thirteen houses are in the process of being built at the moment and there are over 120 qualified applicants. In the county council in north Tipperary there are nearly 200 qualified applicants and between the houses being started this year and those in planning there will be about 40. How can anyone stand up here and tell me that we have not got a housing crisis? Who can say that this Government have not put one of the greatest social problems, local authority housing, on the back burner? We are no longer concerned about housing the people who need it and as a result in my own town, what was never known in the history of Nenagh Urban District Council, there is illegal squatting. People are breaking into houses in an effort to get possession of them and we have to get court orders costing thousands of pounds to have them removed. Surely that is an indication of a housing crisis.
This is the most bizarre amendment that I have ever come across. The Senator is in cloud-cuckoo-land if he thinks that there have been achievements in the areas of housing and roads. I can assure Senator O'Keeffe that, from now until 27 June in Cork and in north Tipperary we  will hear all about the potholes and about the housing situation. We will wait and see what the people say then.
I can only express amazement at the audacity and the carelessness of the Fine Gael Senators who have put down this motion. Had they checked the record of my period as Minister with that for the 1983-87 period, they would not be here tonight attempting to prove the impossible.
I have had the honour of serving as Minister for the Environment for over four years. I am entitled to claim that each of those years has been marked by the launch of new programmes and initiatives, a legislative record second to none, concrete achievements and progress in traditional fields of endeavour, the development of new policies and services, continuous refinement and improvement of existing programmes and measures and firm leadership both in my Department and of the local government system generally. The Fine Gael Party in this House, by putting down this motion, have given me and my colleagues in the House an opportunity to have some of these achievements written into the record of the House, and I am grateful to them for that. It may have seemed to Fine Gael to be a good tactical move, in advance of the local elections, to set up a debate which would enable them to criticise me — and through me the Government of which I am a member — under a variety of headings. They obviously believe the old maxim that if one throws enough mud some of it is bound to stick. However, I am going to resist the temptation to engage in mud-slinging, enjoyable as that pastime can be. I am not, for example, going to waste time describing the sorry state in which I found the local government system, its finances and its services, when I took over from a Fine Gael Minister four years ago. The  total indebtedness of the local authorities at that time, which were near bankruptcy, was in excess of £80 million. I am sure Senators on that side of the House will be pleased to know that that debt has been brought under control and, in fact, the indebtedness has now been reduced to below £50 million.
Instead, I want to concentrate on the positive developments for which I and my colleagues can claim credit, and on the further developments that are in prospect. Due to the limited time available, I will not, of course, be able to go through all the areas for which I have responsibility and in which there have been significant advances since 1987. However, even a short selection will be enough to show that the motion put down by the Fine Gael Senators totally lacks substance.
I will deal with housing matters first. Senators will recall the Fine Gael dominated Government of the mid-eighties which attempted to introduce legislation to deal with the problem of homelessness. They introduced a Bill in 1985 and almost two years later left office with the Bill still not enacted. So much for their concern for the homeless. In little over a year of taking office, I saw to it that the Housing Act, 1988, was on the Statute Book. This major piece of legislation revised and updated every aspect of the statutory basis for the local authority housing programme, provided extensive new powers to housing authorities to meet the needs of homeless persons, and went far beyond what was proposed in the 1985 Bill by effectively decriminalising homelessness. On top of this, I made additional resources available to voluntary organisations and to local authorities to secure proper accommodation for the homeless. At least the other Senator Ryan was prepared to accept my very good record in dealing with that matter.
The only concrete suggestion from the Fine Gael side to deal with housing problems has been to advocate the reintroduction of a grants scheme of the kind they inflicted on the country in 1985. The situation I found in regard to public  expenditure commitments under this scheme, on becoming Minister for the Environment, was truly appalling.
Grants approved totalled almost £230 million, with applications still coming in at a rate that was adding £5 million a month to this staggering figure. This alarming legacy of public debt resulted from a crude attempt to buy survival by the then Fine Gael led Government; to court short term popularity they introduced a hastily conceived open-ended grants scheme under which expenditure could neither be predicted nor controlled. They gave large handouts of taxpayers' money to individuals, regardless of their means and in respect of often inessential or cosmetic works. This scheme pre-empted resources which could have been put to far better use in other parts of the housing sector.
I am still paying the bills for this extraordinary episode. It has cost the Exchequer some £200 million to date. How can anyone in these circumstances advocate the reintroduction of grants on a similar widespread basis? But that is what Fine Gael Senators seem to want. When they complain about the inadequacy of funds for other schemes, they should remember the irresponsible legacy of commitments which they left behind four years ago and which are still being paid off. Fine Gael in this debate show no understanding of or responsibility for, the state of the public finances.
On 14 February last, I launched the plan for social housing. The plan is the most comprehensive response to social housing needs ever presented by a Government in this country. The policies laid out in the plan will provide a more diverse and better targeted response to the housing needs of those households unable to secure adequate housing from their own resources.
The role of the local authorities is being greatly expanded and enhanced and a range of new options to meet housing needs are being made available to them. Those new powers will enable local authority housing schemes of the future to be smaller in scale and more sensitive both to the needs of the tenants and to the  needs of the areas in which they are to be provided. Few would seriously advocate the building of large new local authority estates for single parents yet these represent one of the largest categories of need on the waiting list.
The plan offers real hope of decent housing to meet needs such as those that have become more complex and more difficult to resolve satisfactorily. The plan will develop the complementary roles of the local authority and voluntary housing sectors and will, in future years, be recognised as a major landmark in social thinking in this country. The great regret is that some Opposition speakers in the House cannot or will not accept real progress in social housing when they see it. They simply do not understand the new thinking that pervades social housing throughout the whole of Europe and which is being brought forward here in the most imaginative and futuristic plan ever conceived and brought to the House. They simply do not understand it and I would recommend that it should be prescribed reading for every one of them from now until the elections on 27 June.
I was taken aback at Senator Naughten's attack on the provision of funding to voluntary housing organisations. Shame on Senator Naughten. This is not surprising, given the level of funding by the Coalition Government in the eighties, which he supported. I have increased funding in this area to £11.5 million in 1991, compared to £1.9 million in 1986. That is a real recognition of the role that voluntary housing can play and will play in this country. They have recognised the usefulness of this social housing plan; they have commended me on giving them a budget line for the first time ever for voluntary housing.
Among the specific initiatives in the plan for social housing are proposals to deal with some long-standing problems which previous governments were unwilling to tackle. I am providing £2 million in 1991 for the provision of bathrooms in local authority houses which lack them. This has been demanded for 25 years but no Government were willing to identify that one particular area that needed  special treatment but it is being done and it is being started this year by me. I am going to make the concept of shared ownership a reality. This has been frequently mentioned and often promised in the last decade but I am the first Minister to succeed in coming up with a viable scheme. The rights of private tenants are being safeguarded with new requirements in relation to rent books, standards and notices to quit. This is another item that was promised and suggested for many years but nobody had either the courage or the capacity to do it until I came along. All of this, and all of the other housing measures I have not had time to mention, add up, I suggest, to a credible and effective response to social housing needs. At the same time it is my intention to continue with the programme of local authority house building for those who cannot or never will be in a position to provide housing for themselves.
A number of Senators commented on the state of our road network. This gives me an opportunity to restate the Government's determination that Ireland should have a road network appropriate to the needs of a modern economy and to put on the record evidence that we intend to deliver on that. The clearest indication to our commitment to the development and maintenance of the road infrastructure is the enormous sums of money which we have provided for this purpose. Total State expenditure on road maintenance and improvement has risen from £166 million in 1986 to £234 million in 1991.
Since 1987 a total of £970.17 million has been provided in State road grants, over £300 million more than the amount provided in the five years before 1987. Within this total, discretionary grants for county and regional roads have been increased from £23 million in 1986 to £68 million in 1991, almost a threefold increase.
Having regard to the enormous financial mess the 1983 to 1987 Government left behing, including the bills of over £200 million for the housing grant  schemes I referred to earlier, how can Opposition Senators suggest I have not been successful in obtaining substantial funds from Government? The figures speak for themselves. The Government's response in the aftermath of the near-bankrupt state in which we found the State's finances can only be regarded as truly magnificent. I will put on record now the exact position in so far as discretionary grants in county councils are concerned.
In 1989 block grants given by the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition amounted to £15.4 million; The western package brought in £2.6 million and a county roads strengthening — that magnificent effort on behalf of the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition at the time — amounted to £5 million for the whole country, leaving a grand total of £23 million for that work in 1986. In 1987 and 1988, my first two years was increased to £15.4 million, the western package to £3 million and county roads strengthening was increased from £5 million to £15 million, leaving a grand total of £33.4 million. In 1989 the sum was increased in total to £47.4 million in 1990 to £66.88 and in 1991 to £68.13 million. Let the record show the figures.
Last December I launched the operational programme on peripherality, the most important transport investment programme in the history of this State. Road investment under the period of the programme will amount to £615 million, of which £416 million will be recouped from the EC. When road expenditure under the programme is added to the non-programme expenditure, almost £1,000 million will be spent on roads in the five years 1989 to 1993. Twenty nine major improvement projects are scheduled for completion and 28 for commencement during the period of the programme.
Let us talk about the non-national roads. Primary responsibility for funding works on non-national roads have always rested with the individual local authorities concerned. Traditionally, work on those roads was financed from local resources with limited support from State  grants. Local authorities continue to provide local resources to help maintain those county roads. They provided almost £50 million this year. That is good, although I have to say Senator O'Keeffe is right, some counties do much better than others. Some counties can traditionally provide £3 million per year for the improvement of their county roads, others find that they cannot manage £300,000. It is up to the Minister to top up these resources and provide the money that I have already mentioned and spelled out in some detail.
Arising from concern about the deterioration of the network of county roads, the Government at my initiative provided significantly enhanced levels of road grants in the last few years to supplement local authority expenditure. For the first time ever here, at my suggestion, the Government agreed in 1988 that they would commit themselves to £150 million over a three year planned programme. That had never happened before, it was dealt with year by year often the money coming to the local authorities half-way through the year. Now they get it in advance of their estimates and they can plan their business. I insisted on a threeyear programme, £150 million of discretionary grants to the county councils for the upkeep of their roads. That was in addition to their own resources imput. This has been more than fulfilled. It was no idle promise. In fact, total grants over the three years will amount to £182.4 million.
That is some indication, which even I recognised, that £150 million was not adequate to do the job despite the fact that the year before I took office the total sum was £23 million. That is all the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government going out of office thought of the road network. If there is any shortfall in the maintenance programme, if there is any shortfall in so far as the reconstruction of the roads are concerned, it is because of the legacy of poor management, mismanagement and neglect by my predecessors in office.
The conditions governing expenditure of the grants were also changed at my  discretion in 1989 to give more discretion to county councils and to allow more funds to be spent on surface restoration. That was never allowable by any other Government until I came along. I gave the discretion and I will maintain that discretion by incorporating it into statute in the new local government reform Bill that will be coming before you next week, le cunamh De. That will make it absolutely clear that local authority members will decide where and how to spend the discretionary money that I have given them in such great abundance over the past couple of years.
A number of Senators referred to a “pothole blitz”. Let us settle this now. There have been suggestions that the 1991 discretionary grants will be spent before the local elections, leaving no money for essential maintenance for the rest of the year. I am disappointed that Senators would trot out that line at this time. Let us have a look at the facts. On 12 April last I met the city and county engineers. When I asked for urgent action with regard to potholes caused by the couple of inclement winters which we had, and the severe frost that breaks up the roads — Senators know that these roads were laid down some 30 or 40 years ago for different weights and different types of usage than that which they are now committed to — the response I got was one that I was expecting, very positive and emphatic. Whether this remedial action can be termed a “blitz” is a question people will have to answer for themselves.
As regards funding, the 1991 road grant allocations were notified on 6 March. Returns to my Department up to the end of April show that some £9 million of the £68 million allocated in discretionary grants for regional and county roads had been expended. This is not surprising, having regard to recently improved weather conditions. It leaves almost £60 million in grants for the remainder of the year. When added to the sum of nearly £50 million contributed from local resources, this should ensure that sufficient moneys will be available for remedial work throughout the year.  Even the casual observer, any kind of fair commentator, would have to be impressed at the level of finance which I have provided and I have arrangements in hand to achieve better value for the money by an agreement with the county and city engineers. I am not saying that we are getting full value for the £120 million that Senator Ryan talked about but I am saying that it is a considerable sum to be expending on the maintenance and construction of our county roads network. It is far in advance of anything that was contemplated just a few short years ago before I took office.
We will move to another item. This is a different item but one that is of considerable importance to me, the matter of urban renewal. The Government's drive to promote urban renewal in cities and towns throughout the country has been particularly successful in recent years. Our economic policies have created the right climate for private sector investment. The designated areas scheme for urban renewal which I have highlighted since I came to office, has increased the opportunities for investment and resulted in much worthwhile development in parts of our urban areas which had been derelict and has lain dormant for years. Nothing was done in that regard until I took office.
In 1988 I extended the urban renewal scheme to nine provincial centres, Athlone, Castlebar, Dundalk, Kilkenny, Letterkenny, Sligo, Tralee, Tullamore and Wexford. The results in these areas to date have been most encouraging. A total of £120 million worth of development is either completed, in progress, or in planning. In 1988 I also designated an area of some 120 acres in Tallaght, a move which was directly responsible for promoting the development of the new Tallaght town centre as well as giving rise to other proposals in Tallaght valued at  £10.4 million. That involved hundreds of new jobs being created both in that area and in the other designated areas where the developments are taking place.
With the success of the scheme in these areas, I extended it to a further eight provincial centres in May last year, as well as designating additional areas in the five county borough. Already in these areas, just one year after designation, private sector development valued at some £37.4 million has been generated between projects completed, in progress and in planning.
Since its inception the scheme has led to over £600 million worth of development. This is an addition to the Custom House Docks development in Dublin valued at some £400 million. Much private investment has been attracted here because of the economic situation that has been brought about by the rejuvenation of the economy by the Government and there are thousands of jobs involved in that. I did not hear much mention of that matter from the other side. These facts clearly show that the charge made by Senator Naughten — and it is well to put it on the record now — that the urban renewal plan for 1986 for designated areas has suffered severely because of the Minister for the Environment is clearly without foundation and is unsustainable. I wondered when reading the Senator's comments if he either lives in this city at any time during the year, and certainly if he lives in the country the rest of us inhabit.
Mr. Flynn: It is just as well I cannot deal specifically with each county in the context of the developments, progress, investments and opportunities I have created because I really would show up the Senator from Roscommon, a county that has been very well favoured by me in a whole range of activities.
Mr. Flynn: I cannot remember interrupting any of the Senators while they spoke. It has never been my practice and I will not start now. Certainly it would be an interesting exercise if I were to go through each county, but it would take too much of our time.
Let us have a few words about the environment. Promise and Performance was the title given to a series of papers on Irish environmental policies published in 1983. It concluded that, too often, policy seems to consist of throwing shapes, that, in effect, it was strong on promises but lacked performance. That situation has changed dramatically since I became Minister for the Environment.
I have often claimed to be the first Minister for the Environment who gave top priority to environmental issues and the Minister who ensured that the Department became a real Department of the Environment. That claim needs to be sustained and I am prepared to sustain it here this evening. Let me mention a few points to sustain that claim.
A comprehensive environmental action programme, the first by any Irish Government, was published by me in January 1990. This is a concerted and wide-ranging set of measures to conserve and enhance the quality of Ireland's environment. It has been widely welcomed not just here but even among my colleagues throughout Europe. Environmental legislation has been strengthened by a number of important new provisions — the Air Pollution Act 1987, the Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Act 1990, the Environment Impact Assessment Regulations, 1989 and it will be greatly expanded by the Environmental Protection Agency Bill which we are discussing right now. Dublin smog has been successfully tackled, as have fish kills. The fish kills we all talked so much about in 1987 have been substantially reduced by increased local authority enforcement and advice and grants provided for farmers.
The Irish Presidency of the European Communities was strongly supportive of  the environment. Its achievements included the first major declaration on the environment — the Dublin Declaration — by EC Heads of State and Government at an inaugural meeting between EC and central and eastern European Environment Ministers. That was initiated by me, the first time ever the political environmental leaders not just of the Community but the eastern European states at my invitation came here for the first face-to-face talks on environmental issues that will affect us all until the end of this century.
At home a new awareness and a new concern for environmental issues has been actively promoted. A major programme of investment in water and sewerage treatment services in the present decade has been set out in the environmental action programme. An investment of £1 billion will be involved; £300 million for improved public water supply schemes; £400 million for coastal sewerage treatment works and £230 million for inland sewerage treatment works. The figures I know are staggering because Senators opposite were never used to those kind of figures when they followed the leadership they followed up to 1986.
Significant advances are being made in every area of my Department during my term of office. We have increased housing output and launched the new plan for social housing. Fresh thinking, the kind of thinking that has been around for a long time in other civilised democracies was never attempted here until I put it on paper. All it requires is a bit of goodwill and a little promotion, and the money will be provided to enable it to work. We have prepared and published five year programmes for roads and sanitary services and we are implementing them vigorously. The money says it all in those areas.
We are pressing ahead with the environmental action programme. We are actively promoting urban renewal in our major cities, removing dereliction that had never been tackled until I became Minister. Provincial towns are also involved on a scale that was never thought about a few years ago. We have  revitalised the planning system by eliminating the compensation problems which bedevilled our system for over 20 years and by providing for environmental impact assessment.
Against this background of solid achievement it is sad to see Fine Gael squander the time of this House with a motion that is nakedly party political and designed only to score a few cheap political points at this time. Regrettably, I have to say, the motion is just another sad reflection, of the barren state of Fine Gael political thinking today and shows the paucity of political thinking within that unfortunate party today.
This House already has before it the Environmental Protection Agency Bill and we will be dealing with the Local Government Bill next week. In the past four years the House has seen the passage of the Air Pollution Act; the Urban Renewal Act; the Building Societies Act; the Local Government (Water Pollution) (Amendment) Act; the Planning Act; the Derelict Sites Act; the Building Control Act and the Housing Act of 1988 and in the coming months the House will be invited to debate the Roads Bill, which has already been presented, together with the major electoral Bill; a planning bill; a new housing bill; a waste bill and a road traffic bill, many of which are at an advanced stage of preparation in my Department. That I suggest is an impressive record by any standard. Dare I suggest also that the time of this House could more profitably be employed in making progress with the important legislation that is before it than in debating sterile motions like this which are no more than an effort to gain political advantage in the run-up to the local elections.
Mr. Kennedy: I would like to strongly support this motion, that Seanad Eireann has no confidence in the Minister for the Environment. I totally reject the bizarre, and indeed incredible amendment put down by the Government that Seanad  Éireann notes the record of achievement of the Minister for the Environment in the various policy areas for which he is responsible. I support this motion and I reject this amendment because of the total failure of the Minister, and indeed of the Government, to honour their commitment to properly fund local government services and to fully compensate local authorities throughout this country in respect of the abolition of domestic rates in 1978. I support the motion and reject the amendment because of the dismal failure of the Minister to deal effectively by way of a proper road fund allocation to deal with the potholed roads we have in every parish, town, city and, indeed, in every part of rural Ireland; Because this is the Minister and the Government whose long delayed local government Bill has raised such a chorus of disapproval, first, of the content of the Bill, many provisions of which display a cynical disregard for the democratic process and, second, the speed with which it is planned to put this Bill through both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Minister has just indicated that he hopes it will be before this House next week.
This is the Minister who has quite clearly lost the battle at the Cabinet table. I believe that the councillors throughout this country and the public at large have lost confidence in the Minister for the Environment to secure an adequate and proper funding for local authorities and for the many programmes he has just outlined but for which he has been unable to get funds. This is the Minister whose party in 1977 decided to abolish domestic rates and promised every citizen that local authorities would be fully reimbursed and compensated by way of Exchequer funding from the domestic rates support grant. This, as we all know, has not happened. This fact alone has strangled the independence and the funding capacities of local authorities.
The Minister spoke about the urban renewal programme as if he was the Minister who initiated it, as if he was the Minister who succeeded in passing the Urban Renewal Act of 1985. Of course, we all know it was John Boland who was  the Minister who initiated that innovative programme of urban renewal. The Minister talked about Limerick city and indicated that there was great success in some cities, but the rate support grant to Limerick city in 1991 is now only £2.2 million. I would like to put it on record, a Chathaoirligh, that this represents a shortfall of £5.6 million in the domestic rate support grants to Limerick Corporation. That means that whereas in 1978 the domestic rate support grant accounted for some 25 per cent of total income, now in 1991 it accounts for a mere 11 per cent of total income.
One of the major items impacting on the financial affairs of local authorities, especially in the larger cities and urban areas, is the cost of insurance, particularly public liability insurance. This is a matter which has received little or no attention from the Minister or indeed from his Department. In the case of public liability, the number of claims made against Limerick Corporation, a medium-sized county borough authority, is indeed alarming. A total of 130 claims were made against Limerick Corporation in 1990 and it is estimated by the city manager that the overall claim against the corporation in respect of that year would be in excess of £2 million. To put that statistic more strikingly, a public liability claim is received at the City Hall in Limerick every second working day. Of course, the vast majority of these claims arise because of insufficient moneys from Central Government in regard to the proper funding and maintenance of roads and footpaths.
The road building programme and the road maintenance programme would bear close examination. I know of no group of people who are so frustrated as the motorists because of the dreadful, potholed condition of our national, regional, urban and rural roads. I know of no country in Europe where more money is collected from the motorist than in Ireland. When one takes into consideration the amount of tax on petrol, the purchase price of a motor car, the amount of road tax and the level of insurance, there is no group in the whole  of Europe as heavily penalised as the Irish motorist. There is, I suggest, no group in the whole of Europe who have worse roads to travel, whether they be urban or county roads.
I did not hear the Minister make one single reference to urban roads, as if Limerick city, Cork city and all the urban areas did not exist. In regard to my own local authority, Limerick Corporation, the roads department of Limerick City Council and the Limerick City Council itself unanimously adopted the following resolution — it was supported not alone by Fine Gael, but by Fianna Fail, the Progressive Democrats, the Labour Party and the Independents——
That Limerick Corporation deplores the totally inadequate roads allocation received from the Department of the Environment and calls on the Minister for the Environment to make available an additional and supplementary allocation to enable the roads and footpaths to be maintained in a reasonable condition.
That resolution can be seen in the context of a comprehensive roads refurbishment programme which was submitted to the Department and the Minister in September 1987. That programme modestly envisaged an average annual expenditure of £1.5 million on the urban road programme, an average annual expenditure of £9 million on the footpath programme and an average annual expenditure of £6 million on the public lighting replacement programme.
What was the response of the Minister for the Environment? Limerick has been very badly neglected in spite of all innovation and effort and drive in the urban renewal area. We have been very badly treated. The level of grants in no way reflects the fact that Limerick city is the regional capital of the mid-west, as I am sure Senator Honan will agree. It is  indeed the transportation hub of the Dublin, Cork and Shannon carriageways.
We have been taken out of the priority for Structural Funds for the North Ring Road which, incidentally, met all the criteria set by the Minister and his Department. We received only £200,000, which is one-tenth of the £2 million required for this roadway and this £200,000 will only meet the costs of land acquisition and the archaeological work that must be done.
We have received a block grant. I would like the Minister and also the Leader of the House to listen to this. We have received a miserable block grant of £193,000 to meet the cost of the total maintenance and repair of footpaths in the city of Limerick. We are receiving not a single penny, no grant whatever, in regard to the national secondary roads such as the Dock Road in Limerick. Then, of course, there is the failure of this Minister to accelerate and to properly fund in the light of the Siney case in the High Court and in the Supreme Court, and in the light of the Coleman case against Dundalk Urban District Council, the refurbishment of houses in areas in Limerick such as Prospect, Kil-meedy and Sean Heuston Place which are without bathrooms, running hot water, and so on.
This was the Minister for the Environment, it is useful to remind Members of this House, who abolished the Metropolitan Streets Commission which was set up to revitalise the hearts of this city and that was done for petty, party political reasons. This was the Minister for the Environment who abolished the Dublin Transportation Authority which was set up to monitor and to regulate traffic in the city of Dublin, again done for petty, party reaspons.
I believe this motion that Seanad Eireann has no confidence in the Minister for the Environment represents an accurate assessment and presentation of what a very large section of the public throughout this country believe and, what the councillors of this country believe, including councillors in Senator McKenna's party. I have heard meetings  of the general council, the party councils and other statutory agencies deplore the fact that this Minister was never accessible to his own council, and deplore the fact that he had no interest in the development of local government.
It is for that reason that I note with total amazement and disbelief the amendment that has been put down by the Government. I believe that Seanad Eireann should refuse to endorse this record of failure by the Minister. It is not a record of achievement; it is a record of failure. Otherwise this Minister, who at times comes down from heaven to terra firma, will continue on this road. He will continue to provide this country with more potholed roads. I cannot believe that the major Government party are either serious or credible in putting down this motion. I hope all the Members of this House, for whom I have the greatest respect, will reject this amendment and will pass this motion.
Mr. E. Ryan: I would like to look at it from my own perspective on Dublin City Council. I was elected in 1985 to the city council when people were leaving the city centre after 20 years of a Fine Gael and Labour controlled city council. The city looked terrible. There were 160 acres of derelict sites in the city centre and people were living in almost Dickensian conditions in inner city flats. Since then we have had a Minister who has put hundreds of millions of pounds of private money into redeveloping Dublin's inner city. The city has been cleaned up, it looks better than it did since he came to office. Inner city flats are being refurbished and people have better living conditions.
Dublin's air has been cleaned up and people feel that it is much cleaner and healthier compared to the smog we had when the city council was controlled by Fine Gael and Labour for 20 years and when they did nothing about it. In regard to Dublin Bay, the Minister has allocated  money so that we can have proper sewerage treatment works. It is outrageous that a motion like this should be put down against a Minister who, as far as I am concerned and as far as Dublin is concerned has done a lot of work. Of course, we would love more money and we would love to do more work, but we understand that there must be restraint.
Mr. Hourigan: I would like to support the points made by Senator Kennedy and other Members of the House on these benches this evening and last week. It is very regrettable that the other side of the House are so adamant in their support of the Minister at a time when it is quite obvious that he has failed miserably not just on one front but in a variety of areas.
Roads are the most urgent issue of all. We have roads that were built many years ago for transport and vehicles that were totally different to the traffic now on those roads. Sight has been lost totally of the fact that there should be a massive injection of money put into these roads to bring them up to 1991 standards to accommodate the traffic they are carrying now.
As was said, and it is worth repeating, there are enormous sums of moneys being collected from the heavy transportation vehicles, such as lorries and vans, from motor cars and so on. There is no excuse for leaving these roads — and it would appear the Minister agrees they have been left — in the state in which they were originally built. It is a very serious matter when roads, built perhaps 80 or 90 years ago for traffic of that time, are just covered over and are not given a proper foundation to carry the transport of today. This situation needs urgent attention. The money is coming  in. People using those roads are paying heavily for them and there is a very serious danger due to potholes. Life and limb are at stake. People have been injured and killed as a result of severe potholes on minor roads. We must not lose sight of the fact that our major roads, which effectively have been financed from the EC, are in good repair and capable of carrying the vehicles using them. In parts of Clare, Kerry, Roscommon and elsewhere where there are important industries and developments, we have a network of roads that is deplorable.
Mr. Naughten: I listened with interest to the lecture we received from the Minister. In fact, one would even think he was questioning the authority of Members of this House to put down such a motion. I must say I was appalled at the Minister, a man who has served in the Oireachtas for many years, questioning any political group for putting down a motion which they know is correct, with which many Members on the far side of the House genuinely agree and which many councillors throughout the country know is true because, day in and day out, they  meet their constituents who are not housed, who have no proper roadways to their houses and many of whom are unemployed simply because this Minister has lost the battle at the Cabinet table to get sufficient funding for the programmes in his care.
Take, for example, the situation I have outlined. I noted the Minister in his reply picked a couple of points on which to reply. However, he did not answer the question with regard to the diabolical local authoritty housing situation. He managed to avoid that because his record on that is diabolical. After successive Ministers for the environment reduced the housing list and tried to get people into proper accommodation, this Minister has stood idly by. He has failed to get the funding and now the housing list is increasing again. The Minister presided over the abolition of the house improvement grant scheme. Need I point out to my colleagues here the tremendous improvements that were carried out throughout the country to our stock of housing, particularly our pre-1940 housing, under the scheme introduced by John Boland as Minister for the Environment.
Mr. Naughten: Many of the houses throughout this country were modernised, and the Minister knows that. It avoided the very heavy cost to the Exchequer of building alternative housing. Not alone that, it got people to spend their own money. It created jobs but many of the small contractors who carried out that work are now working in London and Birmingham. That is a fact of life. It is happening in the Minister's own county and throughout the west of Ireland. It is adding to the unemployment and to emigration.
The new scheme the Minister referred to is like something one would pull out of a hat. It would result in the local authority owning one half of the house and the building society the other; the individual will be paying a loan for one half of his  life to the building society and for the rest of his life, if he lives, to the local authority. He will never own his house. That will not wash, and the Minister knows it. The Minister will have to reexamine that scheme and introduce something more practical when it comes to legislation. There is no question about that.
We have the abolition of the SDA loans which again has had a devastating effect on many people trying to rehouse themselves throughout rural Ireland. When we come to the road structure, my colleagues here have pointed out the diabolical conditions of many of our country roads. Senator Ryan pointed out the newspaper headlines implying that there was another £124 million for our county road structure. What the Minister did was call in all the county engineers throughout the country, told them go out and spend that money, spend it before the local elections and do not worry about the rest of the year, try to get a situation where we take the county roads off the agenda for the local elections. We all know that the amount of money being made available for our county roads is totally insufficient. We all know our county roads are breaking up and are falling into disrepair. Unfortunately, again the Minister has sat idly by and allowed this situation to develop. That is one area in which we could create tremendous employment.
In regard to the social employment scheme, the Minister will agree with me that the county councils are the single greatest employer. What has the Minister done? He has allowed a situation to develop where these people are employed and could be doing very useful work but, unfortunately, he has not taken the initiative to have discussions with the unions, to get them to agree to allow the roads to be edged, clean up the water-tables, cut the bushes. That part of the work is not being done——
Mr. Naughten: With regard to the social employment scheme, the Minister sat idly by and has not drawn the different strands together to try to get that scheme up and running the way it should be. There are a number of other areas. Take, for example, the Local Government Bill. That Bill is before the Dáil this week and coming into the Seanad in two weeks' time, three weeks before the local elections. The Minister has been in office for the last four years and two months and has done nothing about bringing that Bill in to prepare the ground for the local elections.
Mr. Naughten: The Minister spoke about all the Bills he introduced and all the legislation he put through. Where was the funding coming from for those Bills? Unfortunately, there was no funding. The Abattoirs Bill is just one of the Bills which was introduced that springs to mind. No funding for it, not a shilling. As has been pointed out by Senator Kennedy, the Dublin Metropolitan Streets Commission and the Dublin Transport Authority, all of which were up and running, were abolished. As a result, Dublin and the country are all the poorer.
The Minister has failed at the Cabinet table to get sufficient money. Indeed, my colleagues on this side of the House and myself are not the only people who believe that. Minister, you know, I know and the Members over there know that you have lost that fight. You have failed to get sufficient funding to look after the requirements of your Department. It is common knowledge. Every councillor in Ireland realises that the Minister has failed. It is no secret that the Taoiseach himself wanted to transfer the Minister out of the Department of the Environment.
Fallon, Sean. Kiely, Dan.
Haughey, Seán F.
Honan, Tras. Mooney, Paschal.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Donovan, Denis A.
Ryan, Eoin David.
Hourigan, Richard V.
Ó Foighil, Pól.
Ross, Shane P.N.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”
The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Nil, 16.
Haughey, Seán F.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Donovan, Denis A.
Ryan, Eoin David.
Hourigan, Richard V.
|Ó Foighil, Pól.
Ross, Shane P.N.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Wright and Fitzgerald; Níl, Senators Cosgrave and O'Reilly.
 Question declared carried.
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