I look upon the Department of Public Health as one of the most important Departments of the State. As a member of the local bodies in Cork City, I want to say that we have experienced great disappointment at the slowness of the Department in coming to decisions on matters which affect the city and the county. We often wonder whether the Minister is in contact at all with the administration of his Department in view of the delays that take place in getting decisions on many matters of importance. Deputy Cosgrave referred rather lightly to the question of the hospitalisation of Cork City. If one wanted to criticise simply for the purpose of criticising, then I say the citizens of Cork have good reason to be critical of the way in which the Department of Local Government has treated the question of the hospitalisation of their city during the past six or seven years. It is hard to believe that any Department of State could have been so shortsighted as this Department has been or, to put it more bluntly, so inefficient. In Cork City we have had hospitals under way since 1932, 1933 and 1934. There is not the remotest sign of any of them being built for the next six or seven years. When one has to deal with these matters week after week, one is forced to ask whether the Minister is in touch at all with matters appertaining to his Department. I am a member of several public bodies: the public assistance board, the corporation, mental hospital committee, and the sanatorium. I have seen in the latter place an X-ray machine, value for £1,000, laid up in a room for over 12 months because we could not get a decision from the Department as to what should be done with the contractor responsible for putting it in a working condition. We had contracts being carried out, money held up and appeals made to the Department for decisions on this, that and the other. We had men losing their patience and giving up all hope of anything effective being done by this Department.
Six or seven years ago plans were prepared for a maternity hospital, and when the site was almost acquired we got word that the place was going to be condemned. It was condemned and a new site was mentioned. We were asked to inspect it. The committee was appointed to do so with the engineer and the doctor of the maternity hospital. They gave a certain report, pending the receipt of the engineers' report. The next thing we found was that there were several people interested in getting the site sold. The site was sold for £6,000, and payment was sanctioned by the Department of Local Government despite the fact that we had no report from the engineers. Twelve months or so after the site had been acquired we had a report from the engineers saying that it would cost anything up to £25,000 to prepare it and sink foundations. It would cost that before a brick was laid to build the hospital. That happened about three years ago, and we have not heard a word since. We see no immediate chance of getting the hospital in spite of the fact that we have paid £1,185 for the preparation of plans for the hospital on another site. When we were asked by the Department we agreed that a prize should be offered and a competition got going for plans for the hospital. We waited for months and months before we got the competition going. Without exaggeration it must be 18 months ago since we did that. We have not yet heard a word about the plans, who is going to get the prize or anything else.
About three years ago, as a result of consultation between engineers sent down by the Department and the local engineers, a site was acquired for a fever hospital. When, however, it had been paid for, we got word from the Department's engineers that the place was unsuitable and that we should look for another site. We paid £3,500 for that site; now it is condemned and is on the corporation's hands. We were then told to look for another site, which we did. The site was purchased without the consent of the corporation at the rate of £175 per acre. After acquiring the site and having the sewerage plans under way, we have discovered that we cannot build a hospital there until we first build a new reservoir. I submit to the Minister that if that were done by an ordinary member of the corporation rather than by what are known as experts we would have huge placards all over the place telling us about the muddling by the Cork Corporation. The same thing applies to the Regional Hospital. We had the plans prepared six or seven years ago, if not more, for a site for the new Regional Hospital, and after the plans had been prepared and the site decided on we had a communication from the Department saying that the site was not suitable and should be scrapped. The engineer who prepared the plans had been paid £2,500 for preparing them. A further site was acquired, and we were told that the hospital would cost, roughly. £300,000, and the architects' fees £15,000. A letter came from the Department telling us that the plans and specifications should be submitted for competition. As one member of that board, I voted for submitting the plans for competition, and it was decided, by one vote, that the whole thing should be given to a specific engineer.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Department had said the plans should be submitted for competition, the Department agreed that it should be given to the engineer who was mentioned. He happened to be an employee of the board. From our experience of dealing with the Department we feel—personally I feel very strongly—that the Minister has not that touch with those things which it is desirable for a Minister to have. If he took into consideration the views of the people locally, rather than those of the engineers and the experts in the Department, I think we would not be in the unfortunate position we are in to-day, as far as Cork City is concerned, on the question of hospitalisation.
When one considers the amount of money spent on architects' fees and legal expenses, I think it is appalling that any Department of State should allow such muddling. Another matter we have to complain about is that when a hospital is costing £200,000 or £300,000 we have the architects adding another couple of thousands to that. Of course the reason is that the architect is paid 5 per cent. on the total, and it is in his own interests to make the total as large as possible. Locally, we have cut out very large sums in those estimates, but the Department is more inclined to agree with the experts, as it calls them, such as the architects and engineers. Recently, in connection with the building of a cottage hospital in Youghal, we discovered after the whole thing was fixed that a lodge costing £1,300 had to be built. We stated that we would not agree to a lodge costing more than £480 or £500 but, notwithstanding that, a lodge costing over £1,300 had to be passed. I should like to say to the Minister that I think he should deal with this question of architects and engineers who are absolutely dominating the situation with regard to hospitals. What we want in this country are not palatial hospitals. We want plain, efficient hospitals, not the costly things which those engineers are putting up in the country, and which cost an enormous amount of money to maintain.
I understand that in his opening remarks last night—I was not able to be here—the Minister stated that public health had improved and that malnutrition was greatly reduced. I also gathered from the papers this morning that he said certain infectious diseases were reduced. I think that was contradicted in a later statement by the Minister, when he said that the infant mortality rate was exceedingly high. I would like to say to the Minister that I am afraid the health of the country has not improved, but is rather on the wrong side all the time. As far as malnutrition is concerned I am perfectly certain that it is increasing. I have condemned some of the medical officers because they are not specific enough in determining the condition of health of the people with whom they are in contact. I saw the latest report from our medical officer of schools in Cork in which he said that over 11 per cent. of the children attending school are suffering from malnutrition. If one were to consider the condition of the children under five who have not yet reached school, what must be the state of malnutrition?
I notice that some of the medical officers who talked about malnutrition some few years ago have very definitely cut it out of their reports for the past few years. If there was malnutrition in certain areas two or three years ago, am I to be told that it is not more marked to-day, with the increased cost of living and with the same purchasing power in the hands of those trying to exist? In order to bear out what I am saying I should like to refer to a report from one of the home assistance officers which came before us at our meeting last Monday. This report deals with three little so-called villages about five miles from the City of Cork, Little Island, Riverstown and Glanmire. The home assistance superintendent reported that there were 35 cases which had to be put on home assistance owing to the Employment Period Order. It goes on to say that on 22/3/41 there were 35 cases, which included 94 persons, and the amount which the 94 persons received from home assistance was £15 7s. per week. Now that amounts to 3/3 per person per week, or 5½d. per day, or 1½d. per meal per day, without making any provision for rent, fire, clothing, or school books for the little children, not to mention all the other things which would be needed in the household.
Does the Minister seriously suggest that those 94 persons are properly fed and clothed on that sum? Mind you, those people have no other income, and there were a number who were not helped by home assistance although they were put off unemployment assistance by the Employment Period Order. I would like to ask the Minister to read the report of the Cork City Medical Officer of Health last year. He will see there the amount of income of a number of families in 900 houses where we have differential rents obtaining. That income has not been ascertained by any outside body, but by the man appointed by the City Manager to determine the amount of the rent. I want seriously to suggest to the Minister that he should take notice of those figures, and not try to believe that things are as good as he would like them to be, but rather to see them as they really are.
The position is very serious from the point of view of poverty in Cork City and suburbs. We heard a good deal to-day about tea rationing and the arrangement of the ration at an ounce of tea for each person. That means that many people may not be able to get tea and, unfortunately, the poor depend upon it very largely. The only substitute the poor can have is milk and there are many of them who cannot buy milk on their present incomes. Take, as an example, an old age pensioner with 10/-, or a widow and an orphan with the average weekly amount that is allowed them, or a widow with a non-contributory pension of 7/6. How can they manage to exist? Some widows are living in rooms or in very small houses for which the rent is 3/- or 3/6. I have received letters from priests telling me how those poor creatures have to pay 3/6 out of their pensions for rent. I often wonder how those people exist. I should like the Minister to visualise their difficulties. I suggest that home assistance, old age pensions and widows' and orphans' pensions should be increased to meet the present abnormal conditions.
Reference was made here to-day to the desirability of communal feeding of the poor in our cities and towns and the provision of communal kitchens. I am opposed to communal kitchens. I believe in feeding the people in their own homes and, if we are to start feeding the sparse population we have in a purely agricultural country through the medium of communal kitchens, then it is time for us to ask ourselves do we deserve to be here as representatives of the people. It is unfair to ask the people to get their food from communal kitchens. I know there is some talk of it at the moment. I am not trying to make little of anybody's efforts to help the poor, but I am very keen on maintaining the status of the family and I want to see the poor being fed in their own homes and given the means to buy what they want so that they can cook and eat it in their own homes. I am opposed to communal kitchens and community feeding. It is the duty of any Government that describes itself as a Christian Government to enable the people to get the bare necessaries of life. I did not see any reference to that aspect of things in the Minister's statement.
In theIrish Press this morning I read that the Minister commented on the little advantage that is being taken by local authorities of opportunities in relation to building and he mentioned Cork as one place that has not many houses in course of construction. That is altogether due to the price we are paying for money. We have 216 houses under way and we are paying 5¼ per cent. for the money to enable us to build these 216 houses. Taking the acquisition of the land, the development of the site and the building of the houses, we cannot get them erected at less than £500 per house. The interest we have to pay on the money, 5¼ per cent., means a weekly rent of 10/4. That must be paid by the workers for interest alone before anything else is added and we cannot continue to build houses while we have to pay so much for the borrowed money.
We require something like 4,000 houses in Cork. We have sufficient land and the real problem is to get people to pay the rent for the houses we have already erected. We have houses at a rent of 10/- to 12/- per week. There are unemployed people in some of those houses and, because of their circumstances, they cannot meet the rent and the only alternative is to evict them and put them elsewhere. It is little use the Minister commenting on public bodies not doing sufficient in the way of house construction when we have to pay so much as 5¼ per cent. for the money. We have great difficulty in getting people to pay rent. They have not sufficient to buy themselves milk or even two meals a day. How are we to get rent from people whose incomes are not equal to it? In such conditions there is no use in the Minister telling us we are not taking advantage of the housing drive.
As one who has some knowledge of public boards in Cork and who has some experience of engineers and architects, I think the time has arrived when the Minister will have to make some arrangement as to the salaries and pensions that are to be paid to engineers and architects. I have in mind the case of one man who is about to retire. His part-time salary is £750 a year and he is also being paid fees for other work. If his pension was to be calculated in accordance with the regulations of the Department, he would be getting far in excess of what his salary is from the public body by whom he is engaged. I have been informed that we would be bound to pay that man much more in the form of a pension than he is getting from the board by whom he is employed as a part-time officer. It is time for some definite arrangement in regard to the calculation of pensions in cases of that kind.
I am not objecting to placing a man in a position of security at the end of his days; I do not object to a reasonable pension, but I do object to any individual dictating to the members of a board who have to listen at another time to men who try to exist on 6/- or 7/- a week in the form of home assistance. Public boards frequently have to deal with men who have eight or nine in family and who are expected to live on 14/- or 15/- a week. Then, because there is a Departmental regulation and there are certain legal rights defined in the Department, an individual can get more by way of pension than he ever earned from the board as a part-time official. That position should be rectified at the earliest possible moment. I understand it can only be done by legislation.
Tea cannot be got for the poor and the only substitute is milk. I do not mind in what way the farmer is paid, but I am standing four-square behind the farmer's demand to get an economic price for his milk. If the farmer is charging 1/- or 1/4 for the milk, I am not one bit disturbed, because I believe those engaged in farming work never got proper recognition in this country. I say that deliberately. The farmer and the farm labourer are the people who now count in this country, and it is strange that the people upon whom we are relying so much to save us from starvation are the only people who have had least recognition in this country. While the only substitute for tea is milk, by subsidy or otherwise we must let the poor and their children have at least a sufficient supply. We have a milk board operating within and outside Cork City. Their price for milk at the moment is something like 1/4, and if they are not able to dispose of that milk amongst the citizens at that price, it is sent to the University College Dairy where it is taken at a price of something like 9d. per gallon. I believe that milk should be made available to the poor, and the difference between the 9d. paid by the college and the cost of distributing it to the poor of the city should be provided by subsidy.
I suggest that the Minister should consider that point in the immediate future because I know—and I can prove it by figures—that there are hundreds and hundreds of children in Cork City and suburbs who do not get even half a cup of milk per day. It is a sad thing that we should have that position when we have milk produced within a radius of eight or nine miles of the city and sold to creameries at about 7d. per gallon for manufacture into butter, on which there is a subsidy of 3d. a lb. in order to land it in the English market. That subsidy should be given to the farmers, so as to enable them to get an economic price and to enable the poor to have sufficient milk. I hope the Minister will consider the points I have made with regard to hospitalisation and the need for his taking a hand himself in order to see that decisions are arrived at and conveyed promptly to the local authorities who are doing the best they can for their areas.