I would like the Minister to clarify the position in my county as it was explained by our county manager yesterday morning. Our position is that because of the extraordinarily high borrowing by the Government from the commercial banks our treasurers have had to refuse extra overdrafts. Whereas we sought an overdraft in the first instance for the same amount as the highest figure we reached last year, which was £208,000, we were told that up to the 1st January we could enjoy an overdraft of £200,000 but that after that, for the coming quarter, we would have a total overdraft accommodation of £170,000. Our county manager informed us that in order to keep employment running in the county council, to keep existing schemes going, and in order to finance our whole operations, his estimate was that during the first quarter, from January to March, he would need overdraft accommodation of £240,000. We authorised him by simple resolution to seek that overdraft accommodation. The position now is that in order to run the county council, to proceed with work on the roads and to keep our permanent staff paid, we are sending our county manager back to our treasurers for £70,000 more than they gave him a few months ago, and in fact £70,000 more than they regard as the absolute maximum overdraft limit they can give us. We are facing this crisis in the middle of February with horror in anticipation of what can happen to this organisation which might break down and which might take years to recover its previous efficiency.
We have only to look around the county to see the complete cessation of private house building and to see half-built houses standing as monuments to this Government's bad planning. Formerly we were enabled, when the roof went on a house, to pay a man half of the loan and make further payments as the work proceeded. Now the separate overdraft accommodation which we used while waiting for the money to come from the Local Loans Fund has been refused and payments from the Local Loans Fund have been slowing up to such an extent that it seems impossible for any young man who wants to build a house and who has not got the Bank of England behind him to proceed on the basis that while the building is continuing, and while certificates are issued from the architect, the money will be forthcoming. These young people cannot face the prospect of building their houses. I have known instances where commercial banks helped one or two of them when relatives who had very big credit accounts went in and signed their names to say that during the progress of the building there would be a float there. The persons building the houses immediately had to sign an authority that all grants and loans from the county council or the Department would be paid into their account in that bank. That happened in one case out of 25.
The position in Louth is that housing, which was proceeding—certainly not as fast as we would like or fast as during the term of office of the last inter-Party Government — with some success has now stopped. I can bring anybody who wishes around my constituency and show them houses half built which cannot be proceeded with. How many builders are there at present who cannot pay the next Friday's wages to their men because they do not even know when there is going to be a further local issue from the Local Loans Fund? I can instance the case of a builder building a group of houses under the SDA Acts in Drogheda who, because of the slowing down of payments, was left in the position that he could not pay his men and had to remove them from that site to some other building where the proprietors were in a position to pay. I can tell of public-spirited men who have put up £1,000, £2,000 or £2,500 a piece to keep the pot boiling for the Government in the building of private houses. All this seems extraordinary when one considers that, at the same time, the Exchequer are still spending far more than was spent this day last year. I cannot see why this should be so except that the Government are guilty of bad planning.
May I now condemn absolutely the subterfuge being used by the Minister for Local Government to try to cover up the position I have outlined? He will issue sanction at present for certain building schemes but at the end of his letter there is a codicil in which he indicates that, while sanction is granted, permission to sign tender documents is withheld. In other words, you try to hold these unfortunate people and the unfortunate builders on a string by not giving them permission to sign the tender documents so that the delay is just the same.
The Government are not facing up to their responsibilities in this matter and, as Deputy Sweetman said, they are not telling the people. I can see the political advantage in what they are doing, in trying to drag this thing out and give the feeling there are better times around the corner. But this is not any good to the unfortunate builder and the unfortunate people caught up in this maelstrom. It is unfair. In other times, if you take 1953 as the base year, when the terms of trade were completely against us, when everything we sold was cheaper and everything we bought dearer, Deputy Sweetman had the courage to say: "There is what I have got and this is how I am going to share it out. Do your best to employ your people in whatever branch you operate." This was something courageous but unpolitic. It did not help the Party image and left the Opposition if they were unscrupulous enough, as they were, to pull down the building of solidity and belief in the economy which we sought to construct. This is the unfortunate comparison with today—the comparison of a group of thimble-riggers who are prepared to move the pea from one thimble to another and try to convince the people if they lift the thimble they will find the pea. That is the way the Government are dealing with the matter.
It is quite extraordinary that they get away with it so far as some people are concerned. I can show how Government supporters are facing up to this question of no money for housing. The vice-chairman of Ardee Town Commissioners made several speeches in which he said there would be no delay in building houses in Ardee. We got the housing report yesterday morning and found that 16 houses in Ardee had been awaiting sanction from the Minister since last June. Of course, there were those who remarked on the statement made by the vice-chairman of the Town Commissioners, but he said there had been a panic rumour that the 16 houses had been abandoned. The word "abandoned" was never used.
We have this pitiful situation whereby we have not got a Minister who will say "Look, there is what we are going to give you." To give the Taoiseach his due, he said in a general way that we were going to spend as much as last year and no more, but, when it came to saying how or where, his Ministers, his Deputies and his political hacks down the country sought to confuse the public mind and to give as little information as humanly possible. It is clear that, once you give somebody less than he hoped for, he will be dissatisfied and that it is better to string them along and not to tell them. But what about the people who may lose their jobs? I have outlined the situation in Louth whereby we do not know how we will be fixed next February or March. We know we have hard times ahead of us but we do not know exactly how bad or good our position will be. Is this not wrong? Can the revenue returns not be estimated for the months ahead? The Government should assess the situation and tell each local authority how they stand. They might lose a few votes, but votes are not everything. They may mean power. Men who seek power and nothing else rely on votes to get it. I sincerely believe the Government would be doing a better job for the country and proving themselves better statesmen than politicians if they would tell the people they have no money or are short of money and tell them exactly how they will apportion it during the rest of this financial year.