Last evening I confined my remarks generally to the situation in the Dublin area. I am sure Deputies will accept that in doing so, I did not wish in any way to suggest that everything was satisfactory in other cities or towns and in the rural areas throughout the country, from the point of view of housing. I have no doubt that Deputies who are aware of the immediate problems in the constituencies they represent will take this opportunity to deal with those problems on this Estimate.
I referred yesterday to the type of dwellings and I should like to go back to that point because it appears to me that on this ground, too, there has been very little research. It is true to some extent that newer materials were used in these dwellings in one or two cases. In the Ballymun project, a system of industrialised building was introduced. There has been some benefit from its introduction and from the point of view of the construction process, there has been more rapid production of dwellings. Even so, there were a few major faults, possibly due to the fact that we took over a system operating in a different country, a system of construction the suitability of which we could not measure.
We found that even though flats and houses — flats in particular — could be erected rapidly in France, between the original designers, the National Building Agency and the technical advisers, some glaring mistakes were made from the point of view of the flats. The final aim of any building is to provide suitable accommodation for family life. Either that is the aim or it is purely a question of putting up buildings, and fitting families arbitrarily within the confines of so many walls, and letting the families adjust themselves.
As I say, there were faults. In the tower block, it was found that one-sixth of the flats had kitchens with no direct access to air or light, and in the case of the houses, it was found that serious mistakes had been made also. These houses were meant for reasonably large families and it was found that the kitchenettes were completely inadequate in size. Whatever else local representatives should have to do, they should not be put in the situation of having to point out faults in design. A number of the faults were corrected. Some have not yet been corrected and possibly never can be corrected because the houses are up.
Having regard to this fact, the design of the local authority dwellings in the city and throughout the country, and the design of the SDA houses, it appears that little progress is being made. It is true that the designs submitted by private architects and local authority architects, especially the latter, go to the Department for investigation. We have had a number of commissions set up in recent years. We have had experts studying the traffic problems; we have had experts studying the water problems; we have had experts studying this problem and that problem; but the problems of human family living do not appear to have received any real attention, having regard to the dwellings that continue to be constructed with substantial aid from public money.
It is time a survey was made — and a survey at the grassroots. With due respect to the Minister, Members of the House, and the architects who draw lines on paper and who take courses to achieve the ability to do so, they are not always the best judges of the type of accommodation required by families. I sympathise with the technical people when they are offered an area with a maximum of 1,000 square feet and told to produce five family dwellings with three bedrooms, two living rooms and a kitchenette. They start in on their drawing but they are handicapped by the size of the area on which they are operating.
Has any attempt been made to find out from the people who are basically concerned with this matter, the housewives, whether the type of dwelling they are living in is suitable, and as convenient as possible for themselves and their families? The person most qualified to express an opinion as to the suitability of the type of dwelling being erected is the person who, by the nature of things, spends most time in the dwelling in rearing and feeding a family.
On a previous occasion I had to complain about the type of kitchenette provided in the houses in Ballvmun. The type plan that, to my mind, speaking purely from observation, appeared most suitable was type C. That was dropped. Type A. which was adopted, provided for a kitchenette that had doors at oblique corners, with the result that a woman who had to spend a great deal of time in that kitchenette was exposed in cold or wet weather to continuous draught. I would ask the Minister if he would consider having a survey carried out in order to ascertain from the people living in these dwellings as to whether or not they consider that the dwellings at present being constructed are of a type that meet their family needs.
The Minister has responsibility other than for housing. The question of roads comes within his jurisdiction. At this time of the year motorists who have to drive anywhere through the country, but particularly through the towns and cities, are faced all the time with serious danger arising from the reflection of lights from the black, wet surface. In any street with a black tarmacadam finish, whether it is raining or after rain, the road is wet and the reflection of the lights overhead and the lights of cars calls for a very high degree of alertness on the part of motorists. It places the pedestrian in increasing danger. I do not know whether there is any answer to this problem or not. It is a problem that occurs in other countries. I do not know whether any research has been made to secure a remedy for this problem. The position is not so bad on some country roads where material other than black in colour is used. These roads are much more restful, glare and reflection are reduced.
The Minister has responsibility in regard to the question of speed limits. With some reluctance, special speed limits have been introduced on the dual carriageway at Naas. Do we not think it is time to tackle this problem of speed, not merely on that carriageway but on every main road? Is there any justification for not having a speed limit on the main road to Cork, apart from the portion at Naas? Is there any justification for not having a speed limit on roads on which there are junctions?
The total time gained in travelling at a very high speed from Dublin to Cork may amount to 15 to 20 minutes or half an hour. What does one do with that half hour? How often does a motorist driving at that speed expose himself or his passengers or other road users to very serious risk? It is not necessary to mention the distance in which a car travelling at 50 to 60 miles an hour can be pulled up. There are graphs available on that subject which I am sure are in the possession of the Minister. Firms manufacturing or assembling cars include in their advertisements as a desirable feature the speed at which the car can travel. One car may have a capacity of 80 miles an hour and the car beside it, which has a capacity of 85 or 90 miles an hour can be sold more readily. Capacity is used as a selling point in the case of ordinary saloon cars.
It has been proved conclusively, and unfortunately as a result of tragedy, that high speed, even on a dual carriageway, is most dangerous. In this country there are no motorways. Even on the motorways of Britain it has been found necessary to impose a speed limit. On the motorways on the Continent and in the United States of America speed limits are in operation. Although we have no motorways, we have a road problem comparable with that in other countries but we do not impose a speed limit and the toll of death and injury is increasing. It is quite true to say that the imposition of a speed limit does not necessarily eliminate the carnage on the road but there have been beneficial results where a speed limit has been imposed.
After all, the total length of the country from the extreme north to the extreme south is only 300 miles and from east to west it is only 150 miles, possibly a bit more if one includes Achill. Is it necessary that a bus travelling from Dublin to Galway should do the journey in two hours? I cannot think of a single instance in which travelling at that speed is justified in a country the size of ours, whatever justification there may be for high speed travelling on a continent that is 3,000 miles across. In a small country like ours, in thinking about speed, surely we should first of all think in terms of the needs that exist. A great deal of money is being spent, possibly justifiably, on main roads, but the expenditure can be justified only if those roads are constructed with the object of carrying traffic more easily and more safely. There is no value in spending thousands upon thousands on main roads to carry a greater density of traffic more easily if, at the same time, those roads are not constructed in such a manner as to enable them to carry that traffic more safely. Sad to relate, the reverse seems to be the case.
There is another problem, a problem that exists mainly in cities and built-up areas. I refer to the tardy installation of traffic lights, either automatic or pedestrian controlled. We know this is a function of the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, but there appears to be a peculiar lack of liaison between the Department of Local Government, the local authorities who carry out building programmes, and the Garda Síochána. Large estates to be occupied by thousands of families are built. The plans initially are submitted to the Department by the local authorities and approved. Work goes ahead. Road patterns are laid out. The houses are built. Two or three years afterwards representations are made to us and we have to address questions to the Minister pointing out the need for having traffic lights or pedestrian controlled lights at certain points.
I understand there is a body called Foras Forbartha which is supposed to have some standing in the Department of Local Government. I understand, too, that the Garda Síochána are supposed to be able to make projections with regard to both vehicular traffic and pedestrian traffic. Why is it necessary then to have to wait until estates are built to make representations for the installation of traffic lights, pedestrian controlled or otherwise? There is a function called a traffic study.
Let me give a few illustrations now of what happens. For the last few years, in my constituency, between the Black Banks at Raheny and Sutton Cross there has been housing development on the left hand side of the road. There has been very substantial development on Kilbarrack road, with a road coming out on to the main Dublin-Howth road. There has been development further on on the Wates Estate. There is development at Sutton Park; there are some hundreds of dwellings there. Children in these areas coming out to get a bus to travel into town have to cross the main road. Any authority with anything to do with this development should have been aware that there would be a problem here of children crossing a main road. Children who alight from a bus at the side next to the sea have to cross the road. From Sutton Cross all the way to Black Banks there is not a single traffic island or any pedestrian controlled traffic light.
Motorists, unfortunately, when they get behind the wheel of a car shed a great deal of their humanity. That includes many of us here in this House. One of the diseases we motorists appear to suffer from is an anxiety not to be held up by traffic lights and to keep on the tail of the car in front, irrespective of who is approaching from either side. Now this should be known to the authorities concerned, but no traffic lights are erected until someone is killed. A human life is taken and at that stage it is decided that some protection must be given by the erection of traffic lights of some kind. I do not know whether there have been any fatalities as yet on this stretch of road and I certainly hope that there will be none before some protection is afforded to pedestrian users of the road. It is almost a two-mile stretch without any protection of any kind for pedestrians.
The responsibilities of the Minister are many and varied. Not so very long ago the Minister indicated to the local authority that he is prepared to approve of the temporary closing of the Grand Canal to permit the local authority to provide a main sewer and a surface water drain in the body of the canal. Many people are becoming increasingly concerned about the situation. A member of the Minister's own Party declared on Telefís Éireann last week-end that he was satisfied that the expression "temporary closing" had no meaning and that he was satisfied that once it was closed the canal would remain closed.
There are a number of factors that should be taken into account. One of two major problems is in regard to access to the river Shannon through the canal. This is disturbing the minds of many people who feel that the canal could be used for greater recreational facilities, a feeling which is growing since the decision was taken across the water to clean up many canals that had been disused. The present use of the canal for this purpose is minimal, to say the least. Whether the closing of the canal between Ringsend and the Seventh Lock, temporarily or otherwise, would interfere with that depends on whether the craft could be transported from Ringsend to the Seventh Lock without undue cost or inconvenience. This is an important aspect of the problem because we should always be careful to avoid throwing away amenities which now exist but which could not be replaced once they have been materially interfered with.
The second important aspect, from the point of view of Dublin residents, is the continuation of that body of water courses in a city like ours. Many cities in the world would feel that they had a valuable amenity if they had not only a river running through the city but a stretch of water like the canal which could be cleaned up and made attractive. It provides a reasonably quiet backwater for the enjoyment of the citizens. Of course, these things are not considered so important to people who are mainly interested in the construction of concrete jungles of supermarkets and office blocks. However, Dublin is an old city and we should try to preserve what is valuable in it and keep what has a tremendous amenity value. I am not now suggesting that all the houses of alleged Georgian beauty must be preserved because of some questionable artistic merit. Many of them have artistic merit and many of them should be preserved, but we should try to have a balanced judgment in the matter.
For instance, a couple of years ago a number of public-spirited people, including some prominent architects, some of them associated with the Department of Local Government, appeared on Telefís Éireann in a programme dealing with the need to preserve Georgian Dublin. They took one unfortunate example to justify their case. They showed a slide of Gardiner Street and pointed to it as a beautiful example of Georgian structures, rising up five storeys, and they said that the local authority had ruined it by erecting a modern block of flats in the middle. If anybody walks up Gardiner Street and looks at the reconditioned dwellings and thinks that they are beautiful merely because of their lines not alone would he want to return to an art school but possibly to primary school. There never was anything beautiful in Gardiner Street. The houses there were rotten for years and people were compelled to toil up to the top of those high dwellings to live in attics while others had to live in the basements. They were completely unsuitable for modern living. The serious mistake which was made, and which was not rectified, was that they reconditioned them on the same basic structure as had existed previously. Consequently of all the dwellings provided for human habitation in the last 40 years the worst examples are those reconditioned dwellings in Gardiner Street, Summerhill and Seán MacDermott Street. They are structurally sound but that is all that can be said for them. They may have been all right at one time when the people living in them had handsome incomes and lived on the drawing-room and parlour-room floors, while their footmen and maids and butlers lived in the attics.
However, returning to the Grand Canal, it is essential to retain it in the general interests of the community. From time to time reference is made to a child being drowned in the canal. This is a tragedy for the family and the community. Perhaps the child would not have been exposed to that position if the authorities had provided children with the means to learn swimming at an early age. Not only have we the situation of children being drowned but we also have older children who try to save them also being drowned. There are precautions that can and should be taken, areas of danger that should be guarded, but children have been killed on the roads and I have yet to hear it suggested that the roads should be ploughed up because a fatality has occurred.
The alternative proposed for the canal, I think, would present a much greater risk for children in the area than the canal could ever be. The alternative proposed is the laying of a sewer in the canal and finally turning the canal into a six-lane highway. This is the point I want to make. The Minister's responsibility is to be clear and open with the House. Answering a question put down by Deputy Mullen the other day the Minister resorted to the old tactic of dealing purely with the words in the question and not dealing, as one would expect a responsible Minister to do, with the underlying question which could reasonably have been answered about the number of dwellings in South Dublin and whether or not it would be possible to construct dwellings in South Dublin unless the sewerage scheme went ahead. The reference was clearly to the south of the city and not to an area confined absolutely within the city boundaries. The Minister was aware of this but resorted to the old device of having the question put down again.
The Minister indicated that he was prepared to agree to the temporary closing of the canal. The traffic consultant for Dublin has submitted proposals which envisage a ring road incorporating the canal and going up through a tunnel under the Phoenix Park forming a complete ring. An essential part of that proposal is to have a six-lane highway on the canal. I, and I am sure, Deputies and the public would like to know whether this temporary closing means the same thing that was meant in the case of buildings erected at places like Crooksling that have been there for 30 years and temporary buildings in many parts of the country that go up and remain.
The problem of providing water and sewerage schemes for a city of this size and the surrounding area and any area in the country is obviously one to which the Department should have been giving attention. We presume that is the case. The problem of an area like Dublin city and its growth over the years is scarcely one that should have been left to 1963 or 1964 or 1965. It is a problem involving the increased discharge of sewage, the effluent from domestic dwellings and factories which is ever growing in volume. Has there been any investigation of alternative methods of treating such sewage? The system proposed is that which has operated for the past 100 years or more in Dublin. It is a system of discharging effluent both solid and liquid at a central point into treating beds and, after treatment, discharging the liquid that remains and taking out the solid and dumping it in the bay. A few years ago another sewerage system was completed in Dublin, the North Dublin Drainage Scheme, in which there is no treatment involved but solid and liquid sewage is pumped out under pressure to the nose of Howth. Has any research been made in regard to alternative methods? There are various ways of treating sewage effluent in Britain, on the continent, in the US and elsewhere. Has there been any attempt to see if any of these systems would prove more suitable to our needs from the point of view of preventing the constant build-up of pollution and also from the point of view of the economics involved?
I understand that a simple way in the case of Dublin, which is situated so that the land slopes into the river and out to the bay, would be to have the sewage put in pipes sloping down gradually and then discharging it at the river mouth without even the necessity of pumping. I do not know if any tests have been made as to whether there is a cumulative effect from the discharge of liquid effluent around Dublin beaches or whether tests have been made in regard to the effects of the discharge of liquid and solid effluent on North Dublin beaches. These things are important and should be investigated. We have had experts from outside coming in and telling us how to plan our cities and towns and how to deal with our traffic and surely it would be no harm to investigate these matters. As far as I know, no such investigation has taken place.
The local authority have approved the project on the basis that investigation may go ahead and subject to the Minister's communication to them that he would be prepared to agree to a temporary closing of the canal. There is this question of whether this word "temporary" means what it says or means the same as it meant in so many other situations, that once closed it will never be reopened.
The question of finance possibly enters into this matter. It might be possible, even if it were essential to continue the proposed system, to devise a method of discharging the sewage other than through the Grand Canal, but that would be dearer. I submit that if the Minister for Local Government, Industry and Commerce and Finance were a bit more active in preventing the exploitation of the community by individuals, the incurring of somewhat greater expenditure would not be too high a price to pay for the continuation of an amenity such as the Grand Canal.
There is no doubt whatsoever that speculators in land, whether they were people who had the land for a period or whether they got in on an inspired guess or with inspired anticipation, have been robbing this community right, left and centre for years, and have been robbing the ordinary members of the community for years. It is the ordinary members of the community on whom falls the burden of providing the sewerage and water services, planning development and everything else, who make this land, which was undrained, valuable. Public money has gone a great way towards making this land valuable, but there has been no effort whatsoever by any Minister for Local Government to protect the public. Consequently local authorities have been forced to pay £2,000 or £3,000 an acre for land which a few years ago was just a swamp. The sacrifices of the public have turned this land into a goldmine for a few individuals and a number of development companies. People who are anxious to establish their own homes, whether with the assistance of public money or the assistance of building societies and other such organisations have to pay through the nose for site fines and ground rents. They have already made their contribution as citizens through taxation and, if motorists, through taxation on petrol, road tax, and everything else. Why should they be permitted to be robbed?
One of the things that the individuals in this community who stand to gain by this type of operation object to very strongly is any suggestion that the land should be taken over in the name of the public. It is amazing how the divine right of the individual can be invoked when somebody sees a nice fat profit which he can make with no effort whatsoever on his own part, and when it is liable to be lost to him because of public action to protect the community. Then we hear the howls. Then we hear the pleas that people are entitled to engage in trade, to engage in the buying and selling of land for profit.
Literally thousands of people living on the perimeter of the city are paying far more than they should because of the failure of this Government and previous Governments to deal with this outrageous situation. Of course, local authorities, under planning legislation, can acquire land in advance of their requirements. At least they can in theory. Last year one local authority found themselves in the position that they were unable to conclude deals because they had not the money. The Minister for Local Government made an advance of £100,000 to help in the matter. However, if a number of land-owners who are affected by the efforts of the authorities to acquire land pressed for the money to which they would be entitled under the Act, it would be found in some cases that the deal would have fallen through and private speculators would have got a grip on the land.
It must be remembered that it is only in the last year that this was done in a small way, and it is only effective if the money is provided for the local authorities to acquire land. If the Minister for Finance were to accept a recommendation from the Minister that a penal tax should be imposed on anyone making profits from this type of speculation, it might very well close it down a little bit more quickly. It is one thing to have legitimate commercial operations; it is another thing to have commercial operations that are to the detriment of the community. It is time we in this country started to divorce one from the other and to apply a corrective.
I have endeavoured to deal with a number of points which I regard as of some importance to those I represent and on whose behalf I speak. I am aware of certain slight adjustments in the housing legislation of 1966. I am also aware of the small help that the Minister has announced, that loans will be advanced at the same rate of seven per cent. When Marie Antoinette was told the people were looking for bread, she said: "Let them eat cake". Certainly, when local authorities are looking for effective financial assistance, this is not even giving them the bit of brown that appears in the crust of dry bread.
I would like the Minister to clarify a matter of some concern at the moment. It is the question of the main drainage and the Grand Canal. I would like him to say whether a member of his Party was giving the Government's view when he said that in his opinion if the canal was closed temporarily it would never reopen. Every Dublin Deputy, even many who do not come from Dublin, would be concerned to see that no major obstacle would be left in the way of providing homes for the people in the city. If the only alternative is that proposed, with a clear and definite undertaking to restore the canal as an amenity, I do not think there would be too much disagreement. We know that in the population of more than half a million in Dublin there is not a high percentage of families who come from Dublin itself. Therefore, Deputies from outside the city have some understanding of the problems of the families who came to the city from their respective counties. They would not like to see the position continued whereby Irish families, no matter what part of the country they come from, are deprived of proper accommodation. The Minister should make a categorical statement on this matter and indicate whether any investigation has taken place in depth on this whole question of the methods of dealing with effluent, whether domestic or industrial. The Minister when replying may tell me about the wonderful progress——