Wednesday, 2 June 1993
Seanad Éireann Debate
That Seanad Éireann notes the Government's achievements under the Programme for Government in responding effectively to housing needs through the expansion of the local authority housing programme; full implementation of the social housing plan measures; increased funding to the voluntary housing sector to supplement local authority effort and to deal with marginal groups; and further notes the commitment of additional resources to the remedial work scheme to improve local authority tenants' living conditions.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Stagg, to the House. As a fellow Kildare man, I appreciate his work and his enthusiasm for the job, particularly in relation to housing. The need for housing has been clearly indicated throughout the country and the enthusiasm in the matter which the Minister of State has shown will be warmly welcomed.
I welcome the motion because it allows the House an opportunity to convey to Government its approval and support for measures which have been taken in the housing area. It also gives Senators an opportunity to support and encourage the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Stagg, to implement the housing measures set out in the Programme for a Partnership Government. The Programme states:
We will speed up the implementation of the Plan for Social Housing published in February 1991, making a much more substantial provision for new local authority housing, as well as deploying a wide range of other housing options.
The aim of all our policies will be to reduce the pressure of waiting lists to the greatest extent possible over the life of the Government, to give  renewed hope to those families in need of housing.
While canvassing during the last general election, I was disturbed to see the number of families who were living in dreadful conditions. People were living in caravans and in flats and houses which were overcrowded. Governments should not allow this situation to continue. I am delighted the present Government is atempting to eliminate the despair which many Senators saw throughout Ireland, as well as in my constituency of Kildare.
Many people regard Government efforts to build 3,500 local authority houses this year as a humane gesture. The Government would like to ensure that those who have suffered in the past will now benefit. The Programme for a Partnership Government has already had an excellent start in 1993.
In 1993 for the first time in many years new local authority housing has been provided for in every local authority area which is a record for any Government. I compliment the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Smith, for the energy and enthusiasm which he has shown in the implementation of the programme. Since his appointment, he has written to every county manager to ensure that they are aware of the aims for housing. Red tape has often restricted efforts to increase the number of houses built. Therefore, I hope the work which the Minister initiated will be implemented in rural and urban areas.
If the housing programme is implemented, jobs will be created and that will reduce the unemployment figure. Two jobs will be created for every house built. As a result trades such as carpentry, will benefit. In Athy, County Kildare, the Tegral factory manufactures slates generating employment in that area. Tegral and the foundry in Athy will benefit from house starts. We must ensure that housing becomes a top priority so that employment may be created.
Unsightly areas in towns will be improved as a result of a directive given  to local authorities to build new houses in such areas. It is important that the planners assess these areas to see if urban housing can be developed there. It is also important that a directive has been given to develop small urban areas for housing, rather than the large green field estates which have caused trouble in the past. It is vital that we work upon an area where the development is of a small nature, be it 20 or 24 houses but no more. That is vital in helping communities to develop and for neighbourliness to become an important factor once more. This should be developed and the respective authorities, be they county councils or urban councils, must see it as one of their priorities.
The Programme for a Partnership Government attaches a high priority to social housing needs. The expansion of the building programme is complemented by the various schemes for social housing. The shared ownership scheme has been well received and in my short time as a Senator I have seen numerous cases of people wanting to be involved in the shared ownership scheme to ensure they have their own house. I am informed by the Department that under this scheme 500 individuals or families took up occupation of their houses in 1992. It is practical scheme which helps people who are not able to afford full ownership of a house immediately, enabling them to buy a half share now and the remainder at a later stage.
In addition to shared ownership the other schemes in the plan have an important part to play in meeting housing needs. The scheme of improvement works, mortgage allowances, the provision of subsidised housing sites and the rent subsidy scheme all have the potential to make an increased contribution to the housing requirements of many households. They are well thought out schemes which cater variously for local authority tenants, tenant purchasers and applicants for local authority houses. These schemes enable the most appropriate response to be made to the circumstances of individial households.
Besides the local authority housing  programme and the plan for social housing, the Programme for a Partnership Government gives a high priority to the carrying out of remedial works, especially in inner city flat complexes. We are all aware of the need for such remedial work. The flats and housing estates in many urban areas badly need an injection of hope to dispel the despair which exists at present due to the condition of the dwellings. I hope that remedial works will be one of the priorities of the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, and his Department. We have seen social hardship in many such areas. There is a lack of pride caused by the conditions the residents live in, giving rise to many of the social problems which development in these areas.
The Minister of State is also to be commended for his efforts on behalf of the elderly and the disabled. I welcome his recent announcement of increases in the cash limits affecting disabled persons' grants and grants for essential repairs to older houses in rural areas. This is a measure to improve society and is one of the Labour Party's inputs to the Government partnership. The implementation of policy has been most important in the political career of the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg. The social factor is important to him and to the Labour Party, and it indicates that we care, particularly for the people most in need. I greatly appreciate the effort and time being put in to ensure that the old, the disabled and people in rural areas will be looked after. When people grow old they must be cared for. The Labour Party as a partner in Government will ensure that will happen.
Since the implementation of the Housing Act, 1988, greater assistance has been available to voluntary and co-operative housing organisations who provide accommodation for disadvantaged groups, such as the elderly and the disabled. The Government has also given greater encouragement to people to own their own houses. In the budget the first-time buyer's grant was increased to £3,000. This, allied to the reduction in mortgage rates, has ensured that houses  are no longer too costly and can be within the reach of people in the PAYE sector. I hope that we will see an increase in house ownership in 1993 and over the lifetime of the Government.
I welcome the recent references by the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Michael Smith, and the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, regarding the imminent introduction of a new tenant purchase scheme. This will enable people to experience the pride of owning one's own house. In the past this was seen as a development of society. If one looks at a housing estate where tenant purchasers have their own houses one sees the pride in the area. The whole estate benefits.
Such estates are an indication that tenant purchase schemes were successful in the past and I welcome the reintroduction of such a scheme in the not too distant future. I hope the local authorities and all others involved will ensure that it is carried out with a minimum of fuss. One of the things that can kill a scheme like this is a lengthy application process. I hope there will be a minimum amount of administrative fuss involved in the new tenant purchase scheme. That is vital in ensuring its success.
I would like to outline some of the effects of the new housing plan in my constituency. In County Kildare 120 new starts have been authorised, which is a six-fold increase on 1992. There is also a shared ownership scheme, a rent subsidy scheme and a home refurbishment scheme. I appreciate the efforts and the ability of the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, and I wish him and the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Michael Smith, every success in ensuring that not alone will we see 3,500 housing starts in 1993 but that this process will continue for the duration of this Government, so that the despair which I saw during the general election campaign will be greatly reduced at the end of its term of office.
Ms Gallagher: I second this motion with pleasure and I support the sentiments expressed by Senator Wall. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, on his commitment to the housing  programme. He has gone beyond the Programme for a Partnership Government. This is remarkable in such a short time.
As a student I worked with Focus Point, an organisation which caters for the homeless in Dublin. I can see the need for equality in housing. We have a high standard of housing, but one often visits houses which lack basic facilities. Housing is a basic right and I am glad the Department of the Environment is tackling this problem.
Despite budgetary constraints we have seen the commencement of 3,500 housing starts this year. It is evidence of the Department's commitment in that regard. These figures compare well to those of last year. Some 1,000 housing starts were authorised in 1992 and only 800 were commenced. Great progress has been made under the Programme for a Partnership Government, particularly under the Minister of State's guidance.
I do not wish to repeat Senator Wall's comprehensive remarks. However, it should be emphasised that the type of work created by these housing projects is labour-intensive. It is estimated that approximately 4,000 jobs will be created, 2,000 directly in the building industry and 2,000 in related industries, including the manufacture and supply of roof tiles, mirrors, carpets, etc. I have calculated that 15 or 16 related industries will benefit.
I note that the housing programme has regard for environmental issues. In Dublin city in-fill sites will be used. Areas which have degenerated will be rehabilitated and green areas will remain free from interference. I welcome this provision.
Grants have been made available to disabled persons and to voluntary organisations. In my area, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has received money to build flats for the elderly in Cavan town. It is something which has not previously happened and it is cost effective. The shared ownership scheme provides people with a means whereby they may own their own home. Given our historical experience of the landlord system, it is  important that we own our homes. I am glad that the Government seeks to facilitate people who wish to do so. From a practical point of view, this scheme works well in my area.
It pleases me to receive letters from the Department of the Environment announcing the initiation of remedial works in a number of areas. I refer to Eoghan Roe Terrace in Cavan town, where repair work was badly needed. Recently we received a letter saying that work is going out to tender and I thank the Minister of State.
The Minister of State's work has been wide-ranging and comprehensive, not only in the area of public housing. Those wishing to purchase houses have also been facilitated. I refer to the first-time buyer's grant which has been increased to £3,000 and the stamp duty exemption on new houses. It relieves those on low incomes of initial expenditure and it enables people to obtain a reasonable mortgage.
I welcome the plans to complete the charter of tenants rights. As a tenant during my student years, I was aware that I did not have many rights. We must ensure that tenants are given certain basic rights and information.
The Programme for a Partnership Government contains a section dealing with the needs of the homeless and that issue has been addressed by the provision of grants. In Castleblayney, County Monaghan, a voluntary group is building flats for the homeless.
The Minister of State has impressed upon the elected members and officials of local authorities the importance this Government places on the successful completion of the housing measures contained in the Programme for a Partnership Government. I am advised that he will carry out a review of the progress of each local authority and the prospects for achieving the authorised number of starts for 1993. Each local authority must respond in a positive way to these measures.
Given the Minister of State's commitment to the housing programme, we will at last see a reduction in waiting lists.  People continue to live in poor conditions but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Stagg): I welcome the opportunity to address this House for the first time. The motion refers to the Government's achievements in responding effectively to housing needs across a wide range of areas, including the local authority and voluntary housing programmes, the plan for social housing and the remedial works scheme in order to improve the living conditions of local authority tenants.
The additional resources which the Government has provided for housing across a wide range of initiatives is a remarkable achievement. The Government has, for example, committed sufficient resources to increase the number of local authority housing starts from the authorised 1,000 in 1992 to the authorised 3,500 this year. This is a considerable achievement, but it is just the beginning. We now must ensure that the 3,500 starts are achieved in 1993.
I am continually impressing upon local authorities that if they fail to commence the authorised number of starts this year, they will not be allowed carry them forward to 1994. Some local authorities were carrying forward up to 50 per cent of the authorised number of starts from one year to the next. This year they must build or lose the authorisations.
I now turn to the overall context in which housing policy will be framed over the next four years and, I hope, into the next century. The Programme for a Partnership Government sets out the high priority that will be afforded to housing and the Government's commitment to increase the level of response to social housing needs. The programme commits the Government to reducing the pressure  on local authority waiting lists by speeding up the implementation of the various aspects of the social housing plan and making substantial provision for new local authority housing.
The social housing plan recognises the need for a range of responses to tackle appropriately the wide range of housing needs and to give low income households, for the first time, a range of housing choices. The measures in the plan were designed to encourage and assist people, as individuals or working together in groups, to help themselves. Some of these measures have been successful. Over 2,000 applicants have been approved in principle under the shared ownership scheme. In the first three months of this year 700 applicants were received for the shared ownership scheme, a scheme which only two years ago was novel to this country.
The social housing plan is a radical departure in Irish social housing. As the motion acknowledges, much has been achieved under the plan, but we must ensure that the various schemes operate to their full potential in halting and reversing the numbers on the waiting list. The measures contained in the plan are being reviewed to ensure that they make the maximum contribution to meeting social housing needs.
As I have indicated, both parties to the Programme for a Partnership Government, recognising the serious housing need situation, agreed to jump the local authority housing programme from an authorised 1,000 new starts to 3,500 in this year. This represents an unprecedented expansion of a large construction progrmme in one year and is a major challenge to local authorities, to me and my Department. One of the Government's achievements in the housing area this year is that every county council, borough corporation and district council in the country received an allocation of new starts. I hope every local authority will achieve their allocated numbers of starts, and if it is necessary for starts to be reallocated between authorities to ensure that overall targets are achieved, I will not hesitate to do so.
 Preliminary indications for the March 1993 assessment of needs suggest that the number of households on the waiting list has risen significantly since the March 1991 assessment. In March 1991, 23,400 households were approved for inclusion on local authority waiting lists. I am on record as saying that the numbers on the waiting lists may well now be of the order of 30,000 households and the returns to date support this view. However, I am concerned that returns are still outstanding from a number of local authorities. My Department is now endeavouring to ensure that this vital information for the planning of the overall social household programme is obtained from each local authority without further delay. The Programme for a Partnership Government clearly recognises that our total response to social housing needs comprises both the traditional local authority housing programme and the range of measures in the plan for social housing. Taking account of output from all sources, the housing needs of up to 7,000 households will be catered for in 1993. By 1994, when the measures announced in the programme are fully on stream, I hope we will meet the needs of over 9,000 families per year.
In the massive three and a half-fold expansion this year of the local authority housing programme, we must take care to avoid the mistakes associated with crash programmes in the past. We have seen the great social and economic costs of the low cost housing projects in the early 1970s. Last week, I visited the north side of Cork city, where many millions have now to be spent under the Remedial Works Programme to remedy the experiments with low pitched roofs, prefabricated wall panels and poor insulation standards. The standard of local authority housing we are now providing is greatly improved compared to that, but a high standard of individual dwelling does not necessarily guarantee that the overall estate will be an acceptable or desirable place to live, or to raise a family. We all know of estates of high quality and well finished local authority  housing, but factors such as scale, location and remoteness of the estate from other vital community supports can all combine to produce a problem estate.
It is not enough to expand the Local Authority Housing Programme. We must, in addition, work consistently to integrate as far as possible, local authority, voluntary and private housing and to integrate all housing with existing community facilities and supports. The Programme for a Partnership Government specifically states that, in the expansion of the local authority housing programme, there will be a special emphasis on in-fill housing developments and on avoiding the building of new large green field estates on green field sites. Even our small rural towns and villages can experience the phenomenon of growth at the edges and decay in the centre. The expanded programme presents local authorities with a great opportunity to reintegrate local authority housing back into the hearts of our towns and villages and at the same time, to tackle the problem of decaying and under-utilised land and sites, which are sadly a feature of many of our towns and villages. New local authority housing can, and should, also play a vital role in the maintenance of smaller rural communities and assist the viability of local shops and schools. Our housing should also reflect the changes in society and therefore, the make up of our needs list. A variety of housing should therefore, be provided to reflect the various needs of families on the waiting lists of local authorities.
The terms of a new tenant purchase scheme will be circulated to local authorities in the next fortnight. The scheme will differ from previous ones in a number of key ways. First, the scheme will not involve a closing date. The arrangements for the scheme have been designed to ensure that the option of tenant purchase will be available to tenants on a continuing basis. Tenants should be informed that there will be no need to rush in an application and they may, in their own time, decide when they are able to undertake home ownership. The basis of financing the new scheme will be  designed to ensure that the proceeds of the sales of dwellings to tenants are immediately available to local authorities for reinvestment in their housing programme and will not, as in the past, accrue as a flow of income over a period of up to thirty years. A conscious effort has, therefore, been made to strike a fair balance between the interests of existing tenants wishing to own their own homes, and the needs of those on the waiting lists currently waiting for decent housing.
Disabled persons and essential repairs grants have been referred to and they play an important role in improving the housing conditions of key disadvantaged groups in Irish society. The levels of these grants are set by reference to the level of recoupment available from my Department to local authorities. I am pleased, therefore, to approve significant increases in the level of recoupment by my Department of local authority expenditure under these schemes. The maximum recoupment under the disabled person's grant has been increased from £2,500 to £4,000, for works commenced after March 1, 1993. On the essential repairs scheme, which is available in county council areas, the maximum recoupment is being increased from £600 to £900, with effect from the same date. The Department's recoupment, in any case, is set at 50 per cent of the grant expenditure by the local authority, subject to the limits I have referred to. Local authorities will, therefore, increase their maximum grants to at least £8,000, in the case of disabled persons' grants, and at least £1,800, in the case of the essential repairs grant. The significant improvements in the terms of disabled persons' and essential repairs grants represent another positive achievement in the housing area and should be widely welcomed as such.
Since the voluntary housing capital assistance scheme was first introduced in 1984, voluntary housing organisations have been extremely active in meeting special category housing needs, such as those of the elderly and more recently, the homeless. There was however, a need to harness the voluntary housing effort  to meet the more general housing needs represented on local authority waiting lists. The rental subsidy scheme was specifically introduced to assist and encourage the voluntary sector to provide for the needs of family-type households. I am glad to say the level of activity under this scheme is extremely encouraging and many of these schemes have now been successfully provided in cooperation with local authorities throughout the country. At present, seven rental subsidy scheme projects, involving 133 dwellings, are in progress, and a further 36 projects involving over 680 dwellings are planned. Between both schemes, I expect voluntary housing organisations to provide some 700 additional dwellings in 1993, which by any standard is a significant and welcome addition to our response to social housing needs.
There is an extraordinary gap between the widespread welcome for the improvements works in lieu scheme and the clear lack of progress in getting projects under way in many local authorities. It makes sense to me if someone's existing accommodation can be made suitable to their needs at less cost than providing them with a local authority house, that we should try to adapt and improve their existing accommodation. Last year's Housing Act provided for a relatively simple charging order arrangement, which makes it easier for local authorities to deal with cases under this scheme. Although there has been some increase in activity recently, progress to date under this scheme must still be regarded as disappointing. I am taking account of suggestions made by local authorities, in the context of the review of the measures in the plan, with a view to securing greater levels of activity under this scheme.
The sale of sites scheme is an important element in the overall thrust of the measures in the plan. Indeed, the provision of housing sites on favourable terms by local authorities can help to bring other measures into action, such as the Rental Subsidy Scheme or share ownership housing. Local authorities should re-examine the scope for greater  use of this scheme in their own areas and if suitable land is not already in the ownership of the local authorities, they should consider acquiring some for the purpose of this scheme. I will be having regard to how local authorities operate this and the other schemes in the plan for social housing when the time comes to make the 1994 allocations for new starts.
Despite considerable progress over recent years on upgrading substandard local authority dwellings, many tenants are still living in unacceptable housing conditions. Since the introduction of the remedial work scheme in 1984, almost £100 million has been allocated by my Department for the modernisation and upgrading of older substandard local authority housing and the more recently provided low cost housing of the 1960s and 1970s. The experience of these estates and the costs involved, both social and economic, remain an object lesson for us on the need to ensure that any major expansion of local authority house building is carried out to high standards and within a properly planned framework. The 1993 provision for remedial works is, in fact, the highest ever at £17.2 million.
Apart from the remedial works scheme, the Government are conscious of the need to directly target those local authority dwellings which, though structurally sound, lack bathroom facilities and the Programme for a Partnership Government emphasises the need for greater progress in this area. Again the Programme for a Partnership Government emphasised the need for greater progress in this area and resources for it have been increased in 1993 to £2.5 million.
Since coming to office I have made, and will continue to make, major efforts to bring about real and lasting improvements in the area of local authority housing management and maintenance. The present situation is unsatisfactory and local authorities must develop new systems of management and maintenance and provide better value for the £80 million spent each year on these services. I  want to make it very clear that I am opposed to the privatisation of local services, including the management and maintenance of local authority housing but I am determined that services must be organised in such a way that the management systems employed do not account for the lion's share of the finances available. The management systems now in place are not effective, are wasteful of the resources available and must be replaced by cost effective systems that give value for money and a better service to the tenants who provide most of the finance for the services in the first place.
I am also aware of certain restrictive practices operated by trade union members that have developed over the years and these also have to end. In a recent meeting with the local authorities craft group of unions, I was very pleased by the positive attitude of the representatives and their willingness to meet the challenge of the required changes. It must be clearly stated however that if all restrictive practices were to end immediately no great change would occur unless efficient management systems were put in place at the same time. Management and unions therefore need to act together to ensure effective change is put in place and thereby eliminate the otherwise inevitability of private contract work.
Much has been achieved in the relatively short time since the Government took office. The housing prospects of many thousands of families have been transformed. Much remains to be done and I give this House an assurance of my unstinting dedication to improving housing conditions throughout the country over the next four years. Social housing needs will be comprehensibly analysed by my Department on the basis of results of the March assessment carried out by local authorities. The measures in the plan are being reviewed to make them more effective having regard to the many helpful and positive suggestions made by public representatives, local authorities, voluntary organisations and other interests. The local authority housing programme is being expanded dramatically. Extra resources have been  provided for the voluntary housing sector for remedial work and for the bathroom sub-programme. I am pleased therefore to commend this motion to the House.
Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome the Minister to the House on his first visit and I wish him well in his area of responsibility. This is a very important motion encompassing the local authority housing programme and various other matters which affect people applying for a house for the first time, seeking a transfer from the house they are in or seeking basic repairs to an older and run-down house. The Minister's initial announcement of an increased allocation for house starts this year is to be welcomed. The Minister would be the first to admit he is starting from a low base but it is a step in the right direction. I appreciate the present Minister is only several months in office and that while some criticisms may be levelled at his Department he cannot be held personally responsible for all shortcomings. I hope he will consider some of my suggestions in relation to future progress.
There is no doubt that housing starts had reached a critically low level and while 3,500 start-ups is welcome it must be considered in the context of current housing needs. I am aware of the situation pertaining to housing in Dublin Corporation, Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire Corporation areas and how the housing lists there have escalated. The Dún Laoghaire Corporation housing committee April-May report shows the number of applicants for housing rose from 602 to 625 between February and March which emphasises the difficulties. There are 625 people on the list in Dún Laoghaire and there is a total combined allocation of house starts for the Dublin area for this year of 500 for Dublin Corporation, 110 for the Dún Laoghaire area, 75 for Dublin-Fingal and 85 for Dublin South. Those statistics demonstrate the difficulties of trying to tackle the problem. There are many people seeking housing and we have to deal with the problem as best we can. I appreciate we have to be realistic and I  am fully aware that funds are in short supply.
The Minister must maintain this momentum for house starts over the coming years. He made a pertinent point that houses should not be built just to fulfil the requirement; we must ensure the required infrastructure and facilities are provided. We must give priority to well designed schemes that will rehabilitate run-down areas, reduce dereliction and achieve a good mix of house types and sizes.
In older areas around Dublin city and county there is a good blend of established local authority areas and adjoining private housing. We lost our way in recent years when we were concerned with increasing the number of houses only. Standards dropped and the fact that people need shops, community centres, churches and other facilities was forgotten. I ask the Minister to avoid the pitfall of simply striving to have a target number of houses built. We must aim at a target but with a more critical approach to area development.
The Minister mentioned in his statement that at times local authorities have been slow to make progress after receiving a housing allocation. Part of the problem in Dún Laoghaire Corporation and Dublin County Council is that schemes have been submitted to the Minister's Department over the years but approval took a long time. Most of these schemes were submitted before the present Minister took office but perhaps he could tell the officials in the Department to try in future to get back to the authorities either with an answer or with further queries within a reasonable period. Sanction may not be possible but at least projects will not be held up for lack of sufficient information.
There are a couple of examples in Dún Laoghaire. There is an urban renewal scheme in Mountwood and the housing officer's report two months ago stated that his proposal was sent to the Department for initial comment in February 1988. A pilot scheme for one block, which was submitted by the consultant architect and presented to the members  at the January 1990 meeting, was forwarded to the Department for approval in February 1990. Three years have elapsed and something seems to be delaying matters.
Perhaps there was not much money available, but the danger is that money has been allocated but the Department has not been responding positively. The proposals for the Fitzgerald Park project were sent to the Department for initial comment in March 1989. I would ask the Minister of State to ensure that local authorities who submit schemes receive a positive response, as far as possible. I appreciate that there are various schemes coming in from all parts of the country, that many aspects must be taken into account and that it is not just a rubber stamp process, but I think the Minister of State must have an in-depth look at progress in his Department.
I welcome the tenant purchase scheme and I hope that it will be launched in the next couple of weeks. It is better to avoid delays and red tape, and make the scheme as simple as possible. I am glad that there is not a closing date because I have experience of people who considered purchasing and were delayed along the way.
The other proposal which I welcome is the scheme to improve local authority estates. In some areas there is old housing stock which needs refurbishment and renovation, and other places need smaller repairs. Particular attention should be paid to the houses of older tenants.
While we cannot support the motion in full, we wish the Minister of State well. I ask him to take into account what I have said about getting things done, ensuring that people get a better deal in the future and that we get a greater return for the money we are spending.
Mr. Finneran: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, to the Seanad and congratulate him on his appointment. He is obviously very determined and has very straightforward views on matters pertinent to housing. I must also compliment  you, a Chathaoirligh, because you seem to be better at sums than Senator O'Toole. I would have thought that given the profession which he represents, sums would be a very high priority for him but obviously they are not.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. I was impressed by the social housing measures which were put on the Statute Book. It was important that these measures corresponded with new social structures. I understand that in Dublin and in the larger cities, the type of application being received for rehousing had changed dramatically. It was imperative that new structures were brought in to accommodate such applications.
We have one of the highest rates of private home ownership in Europe, which is something of which we should be proud. It would be fair to say that the standard of housing around the country is very high. For the most part, people go to great lengths to keep their homes in good condition, which should be admired.
I welcome the new tenant purchase scheme proposed by the Minister of State and the Department. In recent times numerous resolutions have been passed at local authority level requesting such a measure. I am not in favour of schemes which are aimed at moving local authority tenants from the area in which they have been living. That can break up the structure of an area and develop a ghetto mentality. We had such a scheme in the past and I do not think it is in our best interests.
I hope that in the future a large part of local authority schemes will be in private ownership, giving a blend of private and public. People will become conscious of the fact that it is their property and their responsibility to maintain it. I welcome the fact that the scheme will not have a closing date. People may not be in a position to buy their property now, but they may be able to do so in a year or two and that opportunity should be available to them.
In recent times, the question of disabled persons grants and essential repair grants has come up for debate at local  authority level and I welcome the increase. In my local authority we do not confine the amount to £1,000, £1,600 or £2,000; we often spend up to £3,000, which must be paid out of our own resources. We have developed that tradition over the year and it is very important. It saves the Government money in that if we did not maintain an elderly person's house the responsibility for housing them would fall to the Department. I favour reasonable flexibility in any scheme where spending £1,000 or £2,000 may save the Department up to £20,000. County managers and housing officers in some counties are very conscious of what can be done. I would like these people to be given as much leeway as possible to implement such schemes to the benefit of everybody.
There is a poor response to the new scheme for upgrading property. The interest rate on the loan for refurbishment is so low that it could almost be termed a grant. Through this scheme a house can be refurbished for £10,000, which is provided by the local council if it has sufficient funds. If additional funding is required the council can apply to the Department of the Environment. A house can be refurbished for up to £15,000. As a result the family has suitable housing in the area where they live and there is a saving for the Department and the taxpayer of up to £20,000. Such schemes are important and are flexibly structured. Perhaps the Minister would encourage wider participation in the scheme by the local authorities.
I support the shared ownership scheme, although many people oppose it on the grounds that there is only a limited opportunity for the occupier to own the house in the future. That aspect is not important. What is important is the fact that the person can take pride in having 50 per cent ownership of the property. The housing officers in local authorities should be told to promote this scheme among people on their housing lists.
Some county plans envisage moving people, where possible, from rural cottages into villages. That is not the best  interest of rural areas. People are being removed from areas where close relatives, such as parents or sons or daughters, live. In addition children may be removed from the local national school which may result, eventually, in the school losing a teacher or closing down. There are many disadvantages in such a policy.
I urge the Minister to emphasise a local authority officials that rural areas must not be denuded of their populations. Rural areas must be supported by providing cottages and other dwellings and by maintaining the structures and fabric of the community. We have a responsibility to those areas. There is no point in talking about regionalisation in the context of Europe if we do not practise it in our own country.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of this importnat motion. The Government's programme for housing is a good one and will result in great improvements. I hope the necessary funds will be available to implement the programme. As local representatives, we have responsibility for many matters but I have always considered it a priority that housing be provided by the local authorities for those who need it.
Dr. Henry: This debate is most important as there appears to be an impression that the housing problem in Ireland has been solved. I am glad that this Government has recognised and is attempting to solve the serious problems we have with regard to housing and the homeless.
I view the matter in the light of its impact on health. Many people who have attended my clinics over the years would not have been obliged to attend if they had lived in better housing conditions. Housing is an extremely important factor in public health. Housing does not simply mean providing adequate sanitation, shelter, lighting and heating; it also means providing properly organised and developed housing schemes. I am pleased that the Minister has a commitment to this.
The World Health Organisation describes health as a positive feeling of  physical and mental wellbeing. How can one have a positive feeling of good health if one lives in an area where one feels terrorised and insecure or where the condition of housing stock has deteriorated below what would be considered the norm? These problems impinge on the health of everyone and I am glad that problems which were getting out of control are now being tackled.
Enormous savings can be made by improving housing schemes and the condition of houses. One of the first lessons taught to junior doctors when discharging a patient from hospital is the importance of the patient's housing conditions. If they are good the child is allowed home with the parents; if they are bad the child is kept in hospital for another week. The same policy applies to adult patients. If the doctor is aware that patients, particularly elderly patients, are returning to an area where they feel vulnerable, the patients will be kept in hospital for a longer period. I cannot over-stress the fact that improvements in housing will be cost effective in numerous ways. This is also an important consideration when treating patients in an outpatient clinic in hospital. One cannot have people attending the hospital, receiving treatment and being sent home to appalling housing conditions. As a result people remain in hospital although they need not be there. The Minister could make that point to the Minister for Finance when he seeks funding for his housing proposals.
I wish to discuss housing schemes for the elderly. The elderly are often seen as a marginal group but this is the fastest growing group in this country. We should be very considerate of them as we would hope to be members of that group some day. Any proposed housing schemes must include the elderly; they cannot be left in isolation. We talk about the importance of the extended family for the young but it is possibly more important for the elderly. As many of the elderly are immobile, their health will deteriorate rapidly if they live where there is no contact with their family, friends and a small community. This is well known. It  also causes great expense if they have to be admitted to, for example, a nursing home ten years earlier than would be the case if they had the necessary support and care within their homes. Not only can admission to nursing homes have a terrible social impact on the elderly but it is also well known that when they do not have the mental stimulation of dealing with the ESB bill, the gas bill and the other annoyances of life their health rapidly deteriorates. It is desperately important to keep the elderly in their own homes. Housing for the elderly should be built within their own communities or in new areas where they will be in contact with their families and friends.
There are other matters of importance to the people who live in housing schemes — lighting, gardaí, bus and other services. Housing authority schemes do not stand on their own. We hear much talk about infrastructure and the Structural Funds. Perhaps the Minister could acquire some of those funds to pay for lighting and gardaí. Ramps to prevent joyriding in housing schemes would also be useful.
It is important that we build schemes that people want and not schemes we consider suitable. We should talk to the people who will live in those schemes and find out what they want. There is not enough customer consultation when housing schemes are set up. I have visited people in major housing schemes around Dublin who were desolate because they were sent to certain areas. I understood their feelings when I saw where they were living. Schemes were built near Lucan ten or 15 years ago and women had to walk miles to and from the shops, often carrying heavy shopping bags because no bus service was provided. There are schemes in this city which have what amount to motorways running through them. It is impossible to control joyriding on those roads. No private developer would such build roads through a housing estate. It is most important that the Minister consult with those who will live in the schemes he builds.
There are other small sectors of the community who also need to be convidia  sidered. I found the Mespil flats incident interesting. Many of those flats were occupied by single people, especially single women, who had retired from what seemed like very good jobs but they were not in a position to buy a home of their own. We should provide houses for such people. It is everybody's ambition to own their own home, particularly in this country where home ownership is so high. I would like to think we will take account of people who may be in special positions and try to accommodate them. Versatility is the most important aspect of all the Minister's schemes, and I recommend all he is doing and he should be given every penny he needs by the Government.
Mr. Farrell: I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach seo. I congratulate him on the good news — that the number of authorised housing starts has increased from 1,000 to 3,500, a significant increase, and it should be welcomed by all of us. The Minister said that administration was slow in some places. If councils were allocated a certain amount of money and told to make the best use of it, I believe it would cut out a lot of administration costs. A lot of the delay in administration occurs when the council is waiting for departmental sanction of a scheme. If the council were given more authority we could cut out a lot of unnecessary administration. Council engineers are as good as the engineers employed by the Department of the Environment.
I welcome the joint ownership scheme. This scheme is very good and it has been under-sold. Some solicitors say that if you sell a house through the joint ownership scheme, the local authority is very slow to grant the loan. I do not know if that is true, but I would like the Minister to look into it, because there is no reason a purchaser who gets a loan under the joint ownership scheme should wait longer than they would have to for an ordinary local authority loan. It is very important for people to know that one day they will own their own house.
The Minister's predecessor, now Commissioner  Flynn, started the last purchase scheme and encouraged people to buy their houses by selling them at a very reasonable rate. When people buy their own houses, they put their stamp on the house; the gardens are tended and the occupants become more environmentally friendly. It is easy to pick out the house that is rented because usually the garden is neglected. However, where the house has been bought, the garden is tended and the lawn is cut because the owner lives in that house. Every Irish man and woman would love to own their own home.
I welcome the fact that the Minister's new purchase scheme will be open, because, in some cases, by the time people have calculated how much it would cost them to buy their own home, and have decided to apply for a loan, they have missed the closing date. I would like to see a scheme where people could buy at any time.
Sligo County Council started a pilot scheme where people bought paint and painted their own houses and the council reduced the rent to help pay for the work done. It worked out very cheaply for both the council and the tenants and everybody was happy. We have many problems dealing with housing repairs. If the council let tenants make the repairs and reduced the rent to pay for the work, the time it takes to repair houses would be reduced and people would be encouraged to do some of the repairs themselves. We should encourage self-help. If you can get people to do something for themselves, they will work longer because they have an interest in what they are doing. The people working in the local authorities keep to the letter of the law. Each job takes a long time because the men have to go to the stores to get the materials they will need. They have to account for all the materials used and more time is spent keeping accounts than doing the job. However, if a contractor did the same job, he would buy the materials and get the men working on it. Local authorities spend too much time on keeping accounts. I know it has to be done, but the system is wrong. We should let  people do the job themselves for an agreed figure, or contract these jobs out.
I would not like local authorities to build low cost houses, as they have done in the past. Many members of county councils opposed that move at the time, but the engineers and architects said it was the answer. It was a rough and ready suggestion, anything to put a roof over people's heads and it proved very costly. Anyone with experience of building, as I had, knew those houses should never have been built. A house should be a thing of beauty and a joy forever. It should be well constructed. The low cost, rough and ready attitude is not the answer. In our county we give a grant of £1,500 under the local improvement scheme, which is very successful. This scheme keeps people in their homes by paying for new roofs, new doors and windows, etc., in fact it will do everything possible to ensure homes are habitable for as long as possible.
Planning authorities should be more flexible if a son or daughter wants to build a house on the home farm. Often they are told they cannot build because they are living in a high amenity area or it will need an entrance to a national primary route. If we want to keep the extended family together, we will have to relax these conditions. We should keep communities together because if people are moved into villages and housing estates, or if a school or a shop is closed, the fabric of rural life will be spoiled. People must be kept in the community. It is a healthier, more wholesome and a happier place for them to live. We should try our utmost to allow families who want to do so to build near the home farm.
I welcome everything the Minister of State said in his speech. I know housing is a major problem and with the Minister's progressive outlook, we will see an end to this problem in the near future. I also welcome the fact that someone who wants to buy a private house can do so now with the assistance of a council loan.
There are vested cottages lying derelict around the country which the councils cannot take back. Their owners are not  interested in them, but they are good stone structures which could be made into nice houses had local authorities power to buy them back. I would love those houses to be occupied by families again as they were in the past.
Mr. Sherlock: I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this important matter, because I have been, not just speaking but howling about housing in North Cork. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate him on his appointment.
If I were in the Minister of State's shoes I would be a worried man because there is — and the sooner the Government faces up to it the better — a serious national housing crisis. Senator Henry referred to the medical aspect of it; I will refer to the overcrowding which causes marriages to breakdown — I have seen this in my own area.
The Minister of State allocated £104.93 million for housing for this year, 1993. In 1984 the allocation was £206.9 million. How can the Government boast about providing £105 million in 1993? In the same year, 1984, there were 101 local authority houses built in the area of north Cork I represent — that is in the Mallow and Kanturk electoral areas alone. In 1993 there will be eight houses built there. There is a population of 73,000 people in north Cork — as many as in County Limerick.
The report for the end of April 1993, says ten schemes are with the Department. What of the devolved housing we were told about some years ago? These schemes consist of 47 houses the tenders for which have been accepted but which have gone back to and are still with the Department. There will only be eight houses finished in North Cork in 1993. There will be new starts, but those houses will come under the programme for 1994.
I emphasise again that overcrowding and insecurity of tenure is causing major problems for families and even family  breakdown. I am surprised and disappointed that the Minister of State has not — I thought it would be the first thing he would do — introduced a home improvments grant. The Minister of State referred to the grants for physically and mentally disabled people. I suggest if the Minister of State introduces a home improvement grant he will find that many people on the housing list, especially single parents, could build an extension on to their family homes providing adequate accommodation for themselves and enabling them to continue living with elderly relatives.
A home improvement grant is urgently needed because the special housing aid for the elderly scheme is not meeting their needs. It is meeting some of their needs in so far as windows and doors can be provided. Yet, some of those people who get aid can still see the stars in the wintertime through their roofs. The housing aid for the elderly scheme will not provide the finance needed by people to improve their homes. The social housing programme is not the great success in my area, at least, that it is purported to be in other areas.
On the question of the tenant purchase scheme the fact that 60 per cent of the proceeds are used for capital works must be changed and the Minister of State could do this. In 1993 £39 million of the capital allocation for housing will come from house purchases from local authorities. That should not be the case; the Minister of State should provide the capital from central funds and allow local authorities more flexibility.
I cannot understand why the Minister of State has not seen fit to increase the special grant to physically and mentally disabled persons to 100 per cent. The Minister of State spoke very well on this matter previously and on the homeless.
If someone who has no bathroom, toilet or shower goes to a local authority, and is assessed as in need on the basis of a medical report presented, they are then told they can only be given — by regulation — two thirds of the money required. That is the truth. If £6,000 is the overall cost only two thirds of that  can be provided. In many instances one has to go to the health board to make up the difference — the balance is taken from the special housing aid for the elderly which is a very small fund that has to be spread over a large number of cases. If the health board cannot make up the shortfall the work is not carried out.
We have 550 people in north Cork without piped water and there is no grant available to any of them to install piped water or to sink a pump. Of course, those in the agricultural community can get grants to sink pumps. Such grants have been provided when group schemes would have solved the problem had there been co-operation. Since 1986 the figure has altered only slightly; there are still around 550 people in north Cork — and that is only one division of Cork county — without piped water. Such a situation in this day and age is pathetic.
When the Department is allocating funds for physically or mentally disabled persons certified by the local or county medical officer, it is outrageous to give the same grant to the wealthiest person in townland or town as to the poorest person. I have seen it happen. Two weeks ago a person with a large farm received the two-thirds grant. The remaining one third was no problem to that person. It was, however, a problem to a woman crippled by arthritis who went to the health board for the grant. The difference was £2,000 and all she could get was £800. She had to say that she just could not do it. That is the pathetic picture that I have to paint for the Minister. I am not exaggerating.
On the question of travelling families the Department's attitude is to give a 100 per cent grant for whatever is proposed and then there is no financial loss to the local authority. It is going to take more than that. It is not right that people are being deprived and little children are going to school out of filthy caravans. We have experience of it at the moment in a couple of areas of north Cork and it is a disgrace. Something else will have to be done. The Minister says it is matter for the elected members. Relying on the elected members of the local authorities  will not solve the problem. I appeal to the Minister to be radical in his approach to the provision of housing, housing improvement grants and piped water for those that do not have it. If the Minister decides to put an income limit on those applying for the grants, nobody will say a word to him for that. We must make improvement in situations where people cannot afford to do it.
Mr. Magner: Before I address some of the points Senator Sherlock made, I congratulate Leitrim and you, Chairman, on a magnificent victory. As I transgress the rules of the House you will probably be a little kinder to me than you normally would be
Mr. Magner: Housing is not an area where this Government could come under legitimate attack. It has been one of the great achievements of the Programme for a Partnership Government that the Government has begun to reverse the trend of cutting the capital programme which became evident over the last number of years. That was the easy way out. Governments could get away with it because the problem was downstream and the political fallout would not reach them if they ran fast enough. By the time the truth was known they were not around to deal with it. That has been happening down through the years.
This Government has decided to address the problem as we addressed it in the past. Mr. Tully, when Minister for Local Government, was one of those Ministers who prioritised housing. He got the backing of his Government and built a record number of houses in this State. More importantly, he built houses of  decent quality. Let us have no more Ballymuns and no more NBA fixes. He built houses in which people could actually live. I believe that under the direction of the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, standard and pace will be maintained. This is about getting the job done and there is no better Minister of State to keep this programme going. We were heading back into a situation where sons and daughters were getting married and becoming part of the extended family living in the one house. This is a situation which I thought we had moved away from in the late 1950s and 1960s. Suddenly, Mary is getting married and Johnny is moving in with the mother and this creates many social problems. The programme will alleviate that problem in a real way. I wish the programme well.
Too much of Irish politics is about opposition for opposition's sake. This is a good programme and the money has been provided. It should be welcomed on all sides because it will affect people in every constituency, including Senator Sherlock's constituency. It will provide houses for newly weds and for people in substandard accommodation and will also make extra provision for people who are living in hostel accommodation. Nobody liked the opening of an Army barracks to accommodate the homeless of Dublin but it was better than leaving them on the streets. It is not enough to talk about problems; one must respond and do something about them. The reality now is that sufficient money is being provided in traditional hostel accommodation to obviate the need for an emergency Army response. That response was attacked at the time. There was much sneering at the Taoiseach asking the Army to take charge of this emergency operation. The substantial number of people who used the accommodation were obviously grateful and they were not sneering. The people who were sneering went home to their comfortable beds. As Churchill used to say, it is a wonderful position from which to conduct a war.
At the end of this Government's term in office, there will not just be 3,500 more  houses. This is a rolling programme to last throughout the lifetime of the Government. If we do not solve the housing problem in Ireland, we will certainly go a long way towards alleviating housing needs. Shelter is the most basic need after food. I have every confidence that when the Minister leaves his Department, he will share the limelight with Jimmy Tully in the years to come.
Mrs. McGennis: I thank Senator Magner for sharing his time with me. In Ireland, most people wish to own their own home and that wish should be supported. For that reason I welcome the shared ownership scheme, the new tenant purchase scheme and increased grants for first-time buyers. It is the responsibility of the Government and the local authorities to provide for those people who cannot provide housing for themselves. I welcome the 300 per cent increase in the provision for local authority housing. This Government intends to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.
There was a huge housing problem in Dublin in the mid-1970s. The response of the Government of the day was a house building programme which moved large numbers of people from the inner city to the western suburbs. The programme satisfied their immediate need for shelter. In the mid-1980s the £5,000 surrender grant was introduced. The reality was that we depopulated the local authority housing estates of those who were working. In the early 1980s, there were housing estates in west county Dublin with 60 and 70 per cent unemployment. That is still the case. We solved an immediate crisis in housing needs but we created unprecedented social problems. For the first time ever, a task force on urban crime was set up in the Clondalkin area. This was a direct response to bad housing policy.
The local authority response to any housing problem is to build three-bedroomed, semi-detached or terraced houses on green field sites. That is not  the solution to the housing problem of which I have had experience since I was elected in 1985, and neither is it the solution to the problem of those on housing waiting lists. My experience in Dublin County Council is that the profile of people on housing waiting lists has completely changed even since the early 1970s.
Approximately 80 per cent of people on the waiting list in the area I represent are single parent applicants with one child. If we accepted the suggestions made by some Senators on the other side of the House, we would continue to build more and more three-bedroomed houses and put single parents in them. These are the kind of people who came to my clinics six months ago and all they wanted was a house. They now have a house which they cannot furnish or heat, and in which they feel completely isolated. Part of the plan for social housing provides for a £5,000 grant to build an extension to the family home. It has not been utilised and that poses a different problem. Mothers and fathers seem to be saying to their children, once they have their own children, that they are no longer part of that family, and the extended family seems to be disappearing completely.
There is a need for sheltered housing, and the co-op housing agencies are addressing that need. The Minister of State has responded favourably to any housing co-op that has applied for finance, and I hope he will continue to do so. There are no simple solutions to housing. If someone does not have a roof over their head, the automatic response seems to be that the local authority should provide one. The plan for social housing is a recognition of the need to increase the house building programme. I welcome the fact that this is being done. We also need to do other things, however.
I met the Minister recently and was severely critical of the fact that we have not got enough money to commence house starts, as they are called. The Minister very astutely brought to my attention the fact that the local authority which I represent was given authorisation for 91  house starts in 1992. I was criticising the Government for the fact that we had been given 300 house starts in 1993 and that it was not enough. He drew to my attention the fact that my local authority has built only two of those 91 houses. We have to accept some criticism ourselves.
Housing is a complex area, embracing all aspects of life. The plan for social housing recognises that we do not only have a responsibility to put bricks and mortar together but we also have a responsibility to build communities. I believe that is what the plan for social housing will accomplish.
Mr. Doyle: Senator Sherlock mentioned the amount of money that was allocated in the 1970s and early 1980s for house building. I remember it well because I was then chairman of Dublin Corporation's housing committee and 1,700 houses a year were being built.
Mr. Doyle: No. We were building houses both in the inner city and in the suburbs. At that time, people with large families were rehoused from flats into new houses in the inner city. The flats then went to a husband and wife with one child. No houses have been built over the last five or six years and the families in the flats have three or four children, or more in some cases. Recent figures from Dublin Corporation show that there is covercrowding in 3,000 flats in the inner city, and that 1,000 flat have serious overcrowding.
I have always argued that there should be an on-going programme for building local authority houses. The Lord Mayor's commission on housing recently rejected that proposition, but I support it. I am pleased that the Minister of State agrees  and that he is making money available this year for a house building programme. I do not expect a programme such as we had in the 1970s and 1980s but a number of houses should be built and added on to the housing stock each year to relieve overcrowding in flats.
I would also like to see more houses being built for senior citizens. Those dwellings are much appreciated by elderly people. A number of people now living in Mespil flats would like to obtain senior citizens' housing from the local authority and I do not think the fact that they already have accommodation should be held against them. The crucial issue is that they do not now have the means to pay for that accommodation.
The shared ownership scheme is a good one, and offers the solution to a number of housing problems. The Minister of State should ask his officials to remove some of the restrictions attached to it and encourage local authority officials to promote the scheme.
I agree with Senator Sherlock that local authorities should be allowed to hold onto some of the money they are obliged to give back to central Government when they sell houses. Local authorities should have that kind of funding for refurbishing their housing stock. There is a refurbishment programme in Dublin at present for some blocks of flats, but unfortunately there are many other blocks that require refurbished roofs, plumbing and windows. If the repairs were undertaken now the flats would not be such a liability in ten years' time when the work will cost three times as much under the general refurbishment programme. I would ask the Minister of State to make that kind of money available to local authorities to carry out a minor programme of necessary refurbishment. I hope that the ongoing housing programme both for senior citizens and in general will help to alleviate the housing problem in the city.
Mr. Cregan: I thank Senator Doyle for sharing his time with me. We met the Minister of State at Cork Corporation last Thursday and had a frank discussion. Cork Corporation has 1,300 applicants  for housing while only 125 houses are being built. Unlike other authorities, we will build as fast as we can, but I do not think the 125 houses will be finished this year. We must not give the impression that, because there are 3,500 housing starts this year, the problem is being solved. The Minister of State readily admitted that it will take time to solve, and certainly more than four years, unless he gets extra allocations from the Department of Finance.
I was disturbed by the Minister of State's figures for March 1991 showing 944 applicants on Cork Corporation's housing list. The figures I obtained from officials for the December 1990 period, showed 1,140 applicants, 324 of whom were on the waiting list. I am dumbfounded as to how the figure could be reduced to 944 in March 1991. The Minister of State told me that if our figures were up we would have received an increase for housing. It might not have been a marvellous increase, but at least we would have been building more homes. I would like to have that point clarified. The up to date, factual situation is that there are 1,300 applications on our housing list, involving an average of 3.5 people per application. There are 700 further applicants waiting to be assessed and since 90 per cent of applicants are approved on average, that will mean 600 to 650 more. That means we are talking about 2,000 applicants on Cork Corporation's housing list while we are building 125 houses. Irrespective of who is in Government, that is not good enough.
The Minister should consider the establishment of a housing authority. I do not believe in local authority housing. I believe in everyone being equal. I am opposed to building massive local authority estates in green fields.
I supported the £5,000 grant scheme. That scheme was, perhaps, too good, in that a very large number applied. That is the sort of scheme we should introduce, instead of providing accommodation for people who, with a little help, could obtain it for themselves.
The shared ownership scheme is excellent. People should be given the opportunity  to provide for themselves. Under no circumstances in the future can we put unmarried mothers into three-bedroomed accommodation, as has been done in my city. Mistakes have been made. Now two-bedroomed accommodation is built and if a family increases extensions can be built on top of a kitchen.
It cannot be said the problem will be solved by building 3,500 houses every year over the next four or five years. It is getting worse. Every week Cork Corporation has 25 applicants. That is 100 a month or 1,200 a year. I do not believe in building 1,200 houses. Something else must be done and ideas must be brought forward.
Private landlords should not be made richer, as is being done. The Minister cannot deny it. He admitted to me last Thursday private landlords are raising rent because local authorities cannot accommodate these people. Why should health boards hand out money? Local authorities should be given power to assist people to accommodate themselves. The position would be much better then but the Government is not prepared to do that.
Ms O'Sullivan: I am pleased to close this debate. It has been positive and constructive and has been supportive of the Minister, Deputy Stagg. All sides of the House have supported his housing plan for the next four years.
I would like to stress that it is a four year plan. It is not just a plan to build 3,500 houses this year. The Minister hopes to house 9,000 people each year for the next four years under the plan for social housing, the house building programme and other schemes such as shared ownership. That answers the concerns expressed by Senator Cregan in his contribution.
As the Minister said, 23,400 people were on the 1991 waiting list. The figure for 1993 is probably much higher. In my own local authority area in Limerick city the figures would have risen considerably. It is essential the problem be tackled and I congratulate the Minister  on the efficiency with which that is being done. He has cut through the red tape by making the contact between the Department of the Environment and the local authorities more immediate and direct. Letters need no longer be sent between the two bodies and problems arising can be ironed out quickly. That was obviously necessary. Many speakers referred to the numbers of housing starts authorised at various times but never completed. The bureaucracy had to be dealt with in order to approach the matter properly and build houses where they are needed.
Senator McGennis and others said the wrong kinds of houses had been built in the wrong places. I concur with that. The policy of the Minister and the Government is no longer to build large estates on green field sites. The approach now is to build infills, much smaller schemes in cities, towns and the country. These smaller schemes would add to the environment rather than building enormous housing estates in fields without any facilities and with many social problems. That mistake was made in the past. The majority of housing starts in Limerick will be two-bedroomed accommodation because that meets the requirements of those on the waiting list. Other speakers have said single parent families, smaller families, single people and elderly people outnumber larger families on the housing lists. We are building according to need.
I support what has been said about refurbishment. It is important these schemes be pursued. The Minister has seen the Watergate flat complex in my area which would have similar problems to the Dublin flats mentioned. A refurbishment scheme has begun there and it is to be hoped it will continue.
The Minister said £2.5 million was to be spent this year to put bathrooms in houses. This is a basic necessity. That scheme must go ahead and by the end of this four-year programme there should be no houses without bathrooms. The increased funding for that is certainly welcome.
The last building programme Senator Sherlock referred to was that in 1984. He  neglected to mention that Governments in the past few years did not involve the Labour Party. Since Labour joined Government there has been a large increase in the allocation to housing development.
Ms O'Sullivan: The influence of Labour in Government has put housing at the top of the agenda. The numbers the Senator mentioned of those houses that would finish this year would relate to housing starts for last year when we were not in Government. I would prefer if he referred to starts this year.
The Minister might look at the question of rural re-settlement. Jim Connolly, an inspired man who lives in Kilbaha, near Loop Head in West Clare, has started a scheme for people to move from urban areas to the countryside, occupy abandoned houses and place their children in small country schools. These families have financial difficulties. The Minister cannot solve the problems overnight  but he should look at it for future reference.
Ms O'Sullivan: At least 3,500 families this year and one hopes the same number or more in future years will owe much to the Minister, Deputy Stagg, in that they will have houses. I do not wish them to hang his head in their hallways but they should have a place in their hearts and their houses for this Minister who has put so much energy and commitment into tackling the major housing problems in Ireland. I am confident that in four years' time there will be a vast improvement.
|Belton, Louis J.
Cregan, Denis (Dino).
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Ross, Shane P.N.
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