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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Feb 1969

Vol. 238 No. 12

Private Members' Business. - Land Prices: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Dáil Éireann welcomes the statements of the Minister for Local Government that land buying and high profits had put burdens on the home-seeker; that the private sector must not unduly exploit the social needs and that while reasonable returns to landowners are acceptable it is inequitable that house prices should be unnecessarily inflated through individuals making exorbitant and totally unearned profits from the community's investment; and calls upon the Government to take steps, if necessary, by the introduction of amending legislation to enable immediate effect to be given to the principles contained in these statements.
—(Deputy M. O'Leary.)

While nobody in the House will disagree with the broad statements in the motion, one must examine the arguments put forward in support of it. I listened here last night to Deputy O'Leary of the Labour Party talking about this issue, and he seemed to imply that the urban housing drive was held up because of the scarcity of land. The supply of land anywhere is limited, but even under existing legislation a worth-while local authority can take steps which will curb the activities of the speculators and, at the same time, give adequate but not exorbitant compensation to the bona fide owner of land, the man of good intention.

We who believe in free enterprise and free negotiation will uphold the principle that we should pay a just price for land or any other commodity. Of course, people are attracted to buy land in order to make quick money, but they do the same with other commodities as well. I am glad to say that the Dublin city manager has acted in such a manner that he has been able to build up a pool of land which will enable the Dublin Corporation and, indeed, the county council, to provide in an ordered way and at an accelerated rate dwellings for those people in the city and county who need them.

Deputy O'Leary seemed to think this scarcity of land was a great barrier to the progress of the housing drive. This is not so. I saw a communication from a person in Moscow about two years ago. The man who wrote it was not a critic of the regime, and I am not being critical of that regime, but he said: "They will never overtake the housing problem here." Do not forget that the Moscow equivalent of our city council has confiscated land, nationalised banks and regimented workers; yet they have a housing problem. In any living city there will be a housing problem, because nobody has yet invented instant housing. Until such time as somebody does invent instant housing the provision of housing will be a matter of toil, tears and sweat. When we face the housing problem in that light and realise the difficulties which are there, we shall get round to solving it.

Never before in the history of the country, or of the city, anyway, have we made such progress as under the present Minister and his immediate predecessor. Even today if we had another 500,000 acres of land we could not build one extra house because, in the words of the Dublin city manager, we are taking all the dwellings the building trade can give us at the moment.

Thank God, we are not short of money nor are we short of land, but I do agree with the mover of the motion that we must be vigilant in the matter of land and we must also be fair. Not so long ago a Labour member of Dublin Corporation had an article published in which he advocated the confiscating of land for building. He was probably playing to the gallery. We do not stand for the confiscation of land; we believe that adequate compensation should be paid for land. Nor do we believe in anybody making exorbitant profits on it. The point I am trying to make is that under existing legislation a local authority can acquire for itself all the land it needs for its housing drive. It is very easy for a local authority, if it requires land for housing or any other purposes, to apply a compulsory purchase order to that land. It is a democratic way of doing things. We cannot afford to let people live in hovels because somebody owns the land, but, at the same time there must be compensation for the person who owns the land. In their wisdom the Government have set up a procedure whereby a local authority can apply a compulsory purchase order to land which is required for housing. It goes to arbitration and in all cases the owners get fair compensation, and this is as it should be. If the Minister thinks they are not getting fair compensation he has the solution in his hands.

For every one of the many people who are on the housing waiting lists, whether it is in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford or Limerick, the problem is much the same. The price of land will influence the price of the housing, just the same as the price of labour, bricks, mortar or slates will influence it; they all enter into the price of the house. But the local authorities can again help. Dublin Corporation, of which I am a member, have given to young couples who want to provide their own houses, free fully-serviced sites which have cost the rate-paying public about £700. We have package deals with two of the large builders in the city, which will give us immediately about 2,000 houses.

When the former Minister, Deputy Blaney, wanted to get the Ballymun housing project under way, he was faced with all kinds of problems. He was faced with people saying the land could not be acquired, could not be drained and so on. But he pushed very hard, and this year will see the completion of the original Ballymun project. Now we are going to extend it, despite all the handicaps we had to overcome. We will have 3,000 families living there in very good conditions because the Minister at the time was not afraid to face difficulties and to use the powers which still exist to acquire the land to get this great project, one of the biggest single housing projects in Europe, under way.

When looking at this motion here I read into it a searching for an excuse as to why we are not building more houses. I am disappointed we are not building more dwellings, but the point is we have to find the people to build them. We are faced with the fact that neither land scarcity nor lack of finance is holding up house-building. The building trade is working to full capacity. If they were able to work at a higher capacity we could produce more houses. If we could produce 100,000 acres and £1 billion in the morning it would not give us one more dwelling than we are getting at the moment. At the same time, I share with the movers of the motion that little bit of uneasiness as to what might happen unless we are vigilant. On the other hand, you have got this guarantee against exploiters in the various Housing Acts and Local Government Acts, which prevents them acquiring some land, but you cannot control the price.

Some years ago there were speculators who used to buy land in the next field to a Dublin Corporation housing scheme. They got drainage at very low prices. The fact that Dublin Corporation had built there increased the price of their land, but since that time we have taken steps to curb the activities of those gentlemen. Some of them have got their fingers burnt. In Dublin Corporation we stand for fair compensation for land. We will ensure this and there should be no such thing as confiscation of land.

It is not very easy to acquire land for housing, particularly in the older parts of an area where there is house clearance. There are people who claim rights over many years and who hold up the acquisition of that land. In Sarah Place, Islandbridge, we were faced not alone with landlords but with disruptive elements who sought to prevent Dublin Corporation taking over this area. This was a place which the British Army built to house their horses. The disruptive elements came along and threw themselves on the ground outside those houses to prevent the corporation taking them over. Despite all this the corporation went ahead and the flats are now under construction on that site. We decry the fact that there are unscrupulous landlords who hold on to land and impede the housing programme, but there are those disruptive people who are quite vicious and who deprive people of housing as much as they can.

I am glad to say that in the city council all Parties are determined to overcome all obstacles to the housing problem. In conclusion, I should like to say that land scarcity, although it is a factor is not the overriding one in the housing shortage in the city. We will make every endeavour to acquire as much land as we can and to complete our housing programme as soon as we can.

(Cavan): In so far as the subject matter of this motion affects the price of houses and makes it more difficult for married couples to house themselves at a reasonable cost, we regard the motion as very important. There is no doubt but that the provision of building sites affects in a very material way the cost of building. It even decides, in certain cases, whether a person seeking a house can build one or not. It certainly decides where the person is going to build a house.

The Minister for Local Government is quoted here as stating that land buying and high profits have put burdens on the home seeker, that the private sector must not unduly exploit the social needs and that, while reasonable returns to landowners are acceptable, it is inequitable that house prices should unnecessarily be inflated through individuals making exorbitant and totally unearned profits from the community's investment. Those words are attributed to the Minister for Local Government and I believe he made that statement. I also believe he made it a considerable time ago. I should like to know what he has done to implement those sentiments since.

My own opinion is that the racket in the speculation of land went on up to ten years ago and that any steps or any talk on the part of the Minister for Local Government is now ten years too late. The problem here, of course, is not just land. It is a particular type of land; it is serviced land. A person cannot build a house on any plot of land. That land must have water and sewerage facilities laid on and that is where the racket has been going on in the past. Everybody knows in and around the City of Dublin certain well informed, perhaps improperly informed, speculators anticipated the servicing of land, got in on the ground floor and made fantastic fortunes. That cannot be denied. It is well known it happened in and around this city.

In so far as the Fine Gael Party are concerned, we believe in private ownership and we believe in private enterprise. At the same time, we believe an essential commodity like building land should be available to those who want to build houses, but that fair, reasonable compensation should be paid for it. I had better clarify what I mean by fair, reasonable compensation. I mean the agricultural value of the land plus what I will describe as a reasonable location profit. I leave out reasonable location value.

Deputy Moore has spoken and he seemed to confine his remarks almost entirely to the needs of the public housing authority. I believe that those needs are very important and must be met but, by and large, I believe that there is adequate machinery at the disposal of housing authorities to acquire land and to compensate the owners for it if they go about it in the right way and if the machinery of the Planning Act is operated in a fair way. The local authority have compulsory acquisition powers and the arbitration fixes a reasonable price. If the local authorities acquire land before it is serviced, as I think they should, there is no danger of an unreasonable price being charged but the section that, to my mind, needs protection is the private sector.

These are the people in the modest income group who want to build their own houses and who are very often held up to ransom in more ways than one. Either they cannot get a site because it is not serviced or they are compelled to deal with one or two builders who have acquired the building land in the locality and they must deal with those builders at the builder's prices. That is what is wrong.

A lot of this abuse could be eliminated if enough land in and around cities and, indeed, in and around towns of modest size, was properly serviced by the local authorities under the direction of the Minister for Local Government. If there was an adequate amount of land serviced, the prices would not be so high. I would also go a long way with the proposition that housing authorities or local authorities should buy by voluntary agreement or, if necessary, acquire suitable building land adjacent to towns before it is serviced, that they should then service it and that they, in turn, should make these sites available to prospective purchasers or builders at a reasonable price. That is not an unreasonable proposition.

I find that the person who has the most difficulty in getting a site is the private individual who wants to build his house. The simple reason for this is, as I say, the fact of the land not being serviced. I know that it will be said by the Parliamentary Secretary that local authorities have been notified and authorised to buy land in anticipation of their housing requirements and even to lease it out but I find that these small local authorities do not get the necessary financial assistance from the Department of Local Government or from the Department of Finance. It is a fact that if a local authority acts on that advice and buys the land——

(Cavan): Yes, I have had such experience. As I was saying, if a small local authority buy a few acres of land and come back to the Department of Local Government to obtain sanction for a loan they will be told that they cannot get a loan from the Local Loans Fund until such time as the building has actually been started. If a person buys land in anticipation of his housing needs he will have to finance the purchase himself on a short-term loan from the bank or some such place at a high rate of interest and at a quick repayment rate which means that the cost of the loan is pretty high.

The Parliamentary Secretary seems to disagree with that but I think that that is so. I understand that it is only possible to get Local Loan Fund accommodation after the building has been started. I believe this to be a major problem around every small town in Ireland and I can speak of that from personal experience.

The money or the sites?

(Cavan): The lack of sites. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the private sector, those in the modest income group—the white-collar workers and so on — who are willing and anxious to buy their own houses if they are given proper facilities and, indeed, if I had my way I should be inclined to go further in subsidising interest for them because it would be money well spent. It would encourage people who are living in local authority houses to buy their own houses; it would relieve local authorities of the cost of repairing houses and, generally, it would lead to a quicker solution of the housing problem.

When I mention the private sector I do not mean the wealthy private sector who build palatial houses in the £10,000 to £12,000 class. I mean those people who are buying houses at between £3,000 and £4,000 and buying them at a pinch.

The purchasers?

(Cavan): It is about the purchasers I am talking. I am talking about the man of modest means who buys a house in which he himself will live. The Parliamentary Secretary is well aware that were it not for the sacrifices made by these people, the housing situation in this country, bad and all as it is, would be infinitely worse; it would be unthinkable.

As I have said, this is a major problem in and around the city of Dublin. This problem is created, first of all, because land is not serviced and because some people seem to be inspired when land will be serviced and they buy it up and charge excessive prices for it. That practice should be stopped and I would go a long way with anybody who says that if a local authority want to acquire that land— Deputy Moore spoke about confiscation; one does not accuse the Land Commission of confiscating land and one does not accuse local authorities of confiscating land; one only confiscates land when one takes it from people and does not give them a fair return for it—let it be a housing body or a board, they should be given power to purchase land at a reasonable price and if they cannot get it at a reasonable price and it is needed for housing, to acquire it at reasonable prices, service it and sell it to those genuinely requiring land to provide them with houses. That is a reasonable proposition. The Labour Party put down this motion. I do not think Deputy O'Leary suggested any tangible solution. He deplored racketeering but he did not provide any solution.

Local authorities have the solution in their hands. They can purchase land if it is dealt fairly with by the Department.

(Cavan): They can purchase for their own needs but they cannot avail of the Local Loans Fund. Another thing which I think has led to unjust profits for lands in and around the city of Dublin is the operation of the Planning Act and the system of planning appeals. If a person knows that he has sufficient influence to get planning authority he can buy land and then make a fantastic profit on it. If the Fine Gael suggestion for handling planning appeals under an independent board had been accepted that is one part of the racket which would have been removed. The Minister for Local Government has, somewhere on this Order Paper, a measure to amend the planning machinery and the planning appeals but he has not yet circulated the Bill. It is like a number of other Bills that have gone on the Order Paper and have not even got a First Reading. Some of them had a First Reading but we have not seen them. There is the Local Government (Planning and Development) Bill, 1969. The Second Stage is fixed. The Bill has not been circulated. I wonder is it really an acceptance of the Planning Appeals Bill which I put down and which the Government refused to accept and which I put down for a second time? It has not come up.

I believe that if there was a proper system of planning appeals and an adequate amount of land serviced much of the abuse could be avoided and eliminated. Furthermore, if that does not eliminate the abuses I am quite agreeable to proper machinery being in existence. Deputy Tully says such machinery is in existence. Certainly, if it is in existence it is like the machinery that has broken down through the maintenance strike and is not in operation. If it is not in operation it should be put into operation to provide land for the private sector. So far as rural Ireland is concerned I do not mind providing land in job lots for 100, 50 or 60 houses. I would even provide land for smaller numbers of houses. If a person wanted a site to build his own house it should be available to him at a reasonable price.

I am sorry that Deputy Moore has had to leave because he said one or two things with which I join issue. He made an allegation to the effect that a member of the Labour group of the Corporation of Dublin had advocated the confiscation of land. To be clear as to what those words mean, I would take it that he meant that if somebody had land and if a particular member of the corporation wanted this land it could be taken from him and no compensation whatever paid. I take leave to doubt whether any member of the corporation made that statement. I feel that Deputy Moore has been put under a misapprehension or he is doing something I am loath to believe he would do, which is to misrepresent the facts. I believe other members of the Party are quite capable of misrepresentation of facts but I do not think Deputy Moore would do so.

I am not referring to my esteemed colleague on the council at all. We feel there should be fair compensation for land acquired by the local authority. Much of the discussion on this matter seems to me to avoid the point which the movers of the motion are driving at. So far as I can recollect, this motion was put down almost two years ago. It was put down shortly after the arrival of the present incumbent in the Custom House and shortly after a public statement made by him and made, I believe, with a purpose, that people who owned land and held out for extraordinarily high prices were acting in an anti-social fashion and that the local authorities should purchase land and build up reserves of land for future use.

The Minister was putting the blame for high prices on landowners. He was putting the blame upon people who were large farmers or something approaching farmers. That is not where the responsibility for the high prices of serviced land lies. The people responsible for the high cost of land in and around Dublin are the speculative builders. These people have been competing with each other and have driven the price of land up to such an extent that it is like handfuls of gold now in certain areas around the city with the result that some can build estates where they advertise in the evening papers gracious living at £7,000 and £8,000 per house.

In my opinion the Minister was dissembling on that occasion and it was an effort on his part to conceal where the real problem lies in regard to the high price of land. It was caused by the activities of these entrepreneurs, these middlemen, who have been acquiring land at extraordinarily high prices. In one instance £27,000 was paid for an acre of land on Rochestown Avenue. That land was for building development. It was previously used for some horticultural or agricultural purpose. The high cost of land inevitably shows itself in the high price of houses because the speculative builder is not worried by the price of the land. All he has to do is to pay for the land and he has no worry at all. There is a vast sellers' market with people on their knees for housing and he can get what price he likes to charge from these unfortunate people so he passes along the cost, the exorbitant and robbing cost of land, to the eventual purchaser who is such a person as has been referred to by Deputy Fitzpatrick. This class mainly consists of young people about to get married or who are recently married, people who have made every sacrifice they possibly could in order to save—who have done without entertainments, without cigarettes, without pictures, who have saved every available halfpenny in order to amass the deposit to put down on a house, very often a substandard quality house in so far as building is concerned, in order to put down the deposit on a home of their own.

They are the real victims, and very worthy people they are for having made the effort, but they are being exploited, have been exploited. Indeed, what has gone on in this connection and what is going on is there for all to see.

Dublin Corporation decided they would provide houses for purchase and it is in the process of this that houses are being built by the corporation in the Tallaght district. Houses have already been provided on the other side of the city, at Artane. Dublin Corporation have found it economically possible to offer these houses to prospective purchasers for a deposit of £150. What is the position in relation to the deposit demanded by the speculative builder, the merchant who is responsible for the high price of land? As a rule, the deposit is something in the region of £500 to £700. Dublin Corporation can do it at £150. The repayments that have to be made by these young couples, the house purchasers, when they move in usually range, in the speculative type house, in the neighbourhood of £5, £6 and £7 a week for the ordinary five-roomed house. The corporation can provide that kind of house, or perhaps, something better, at approximately four guineas a week, including a sum for rates. Does this not show clearly that there is profiteering on a vast scale in this industry?

Fine Gael are at one with the Government, naturally. Why would they not be? They are the two conservative Parties and why would they not be together in this? They say: "We must not interfere, we cannot interfere with free competition. We cannot interfere with profits. We express a pious hope that there should not be undue profits". However, when asked to do something concrete to make it possible for people to live, to make it possible for people to purchase houses within their income limits, this is waved to one side and all kinds of arguments are found to avoid doing it.

Deputy Moore said—I could hardly believe my ears when I heard him say it—that never was such progress made in housing as under the administration of the present and the previous Ministers for Local Government. This is a ridiculous statement. I shall begin with the previous Minister. Deputy Moore, perhaps, was not in the House at the time but I recall asking literally dozens of questions as to the prolonged and agonising delays at Ballymun in the provision of flats there. It went on for years and years before we saw a single dwelling. It went on interminably until we, the people of the city —I myself was in close contact day in day out with the housing situation in Dublin—had despaired of ever seeing any results at Ballymun. How could that be termed progress by anybody?

As far as the present Minister is concerned, his record is said by Deputy Moore to be greater than that of his predecessor. The present Minister was not in the House, neither was Deputy Dowling, and I do not see anybody present in the Chamber who was in the House, when 30,000 dwellings were needed in the city of Dublin—not 10,000, not 5,000 or any of these now argued about figures, but 30,000—and when 23,000 houses were built in a period of nine to ten years it was under the much-abused first inter-Party administration.

We had the good fortune to have in the Custom House a man now long gone to his reward who was dedicated to two things, the solution of the housing problem and total opposition to the Custom House and all its works and pomps. He was a man who went into the Custom House, who took his seat in the Minister's chair and who was the Minister. We have not had many such people. As time goes on my observation has been that they become creatures of the machine. The result is that the public suffer because the innate conservatism of the machine results in the slowing down of activity and brings things to a halt.

Does anybody remember the inglorious administration of Deputy Smith as Minister for Local Government when, if you talked about housing, you were sneered at? Let me say that the present Dublin Corporation, elected nearly two years ago, came into an inheritance of years of accumulated backlog which had not been attended to but which, we were told, was the result of credit squeezes and things like that. The point is that the present corporation, the minute they came in, had to face a situation of bottleneck in housing, had to grapple with that bottleneck, and they have made some progress in all directions. At least they have got a movement under way towards the provision of houses.

Deputy Moore also spoke of a growing city, a living city and said that a growing city, a living city will never solve its housing problem. I do not believe that. I think it is the height of nonsense. It will never solve it at the rate we have been going up to now because there has not been any coherent long-term housing plan as there should have been. The provision of local authority housing in this country heretofore has been based on an examination from time to time of the situation as it existed on a particular day. Then, there has been a long drawn out effort to meet the situation that existed on that day, ending with the provision of houses, perhaps, two or three years after that day and when the problem has multiplied itself. What we need in the matter of housing is planning of such a kind as will meet future demand. A living city needs, in order to get a solution, not just to meet the current demand but to meet the future demand. We should always be building houses even though there may not be people in dire and urgent distress. We hope to see that day and if Dublin Corporation has its way that day will not be long distant. We should plan housing not only to meet any apparent housing problem but in order to meet the needs of the new generations, of the people who will be getting married in the future and the new families who will be coming into existence. This is where governments and local authorities have fallen down. Their approach has been limited. The question needs to be re-examined and dealt with in the most energetic fashion.

There was and there is a racket in house building. The members of the Labour Party who put down this motion were concerned about that racket in so far as land prices are a factor in the price that must eventually be paid by the only people who pay anything, the working people. Whether they work by their hand or by their brain, it is they who have to foot the bill for everything in this country in the heel of the hunt. The Labour Party are concerned about this racket of land as handled by the speculative builder.

Let us not be blinded by the suggestions made by the Minister that this was something solely attributable to the anti-social landowners as such. They were in the thing, too, but the speculative builder was the archcriminal in driving up the price of land and, therefore, the price of houses and in putting his hand deep into the pocket of the eventual house purchaser.

How are these principles going to be put into effect? Is it sufficient that a motion should be passed in the Dáil and nothing further done about it? I do not think it is. Why should we not control the price of land? Why should we not say that some tribunal shall be set up which would determine the price of land, some authority which would say that £20,000 per acre will not be paid for land? Surely it is time that we had sufficient social courage to do that? Legislation should be introduced but I doubt that it will be introduced by this Minister. I doubt that it will be introduced between now and the general election. I am certain that we will not see it from this Minister after the general election because he will not then be a Minister.

It is as well for us to air our views, I suppose, and we seem to be doing no more than that at this juncture in relation to the housing situation. In the City Hall in Dublin there is a fine statue of, I think, Dargan, underneath which are the words: "Property has its responsibilities as well as its rights." Of course, that is a Victorian concept because right up to our own day property has been the paramount consideration in the minds of certain persons and people only secondary. Property is the primary and most important influence in life to many people in this Dáil also. They may talk about people and about the nation and so on but they do not really mean it. Many of them have no appreciation of the problems that face the ordinary people, particularly in this matter of housing.

I am not really surprised that there has been agitation of the kind we have seen in regard to housing because, inevitably, people who are deprived of a home feel utterly frustrated. The recent agitation, of course, was used for political purposes by people who have little or no interest whatever in the actual problem but I am not surprised that there has been agitation, the seeds of which are always there where houses are in short supply. We have seen the same malaise not only in this country but throughout the world. People are at last coming to accept that a fundamental need in life is to have somewhere to live.

The Labour Party have been saying that since James Connolly proposed the formation of the Labour Party in 1911, seconded by James Larkin. We have been saying that year in and year out. While others were indulging in luxurious and poetic dreams, the Labour Party were devoting their attentions and energies to the solution of the housing problem. When other people were at each other's throats for things which are now seen not to have mattered one little bit, the Labour Party were concerned about the number of houses that would be provided, not about what phrases would be inserted here or there as to the number of houses that would be provided by the State and the number of people who were in need of houses and when the slums could be abolished, and so on. The Labour Party always have been conscious of this problem which others are only now discovering.

There have been in the Labour Party men who devoted their whole lives to finding a solution to this problem. One of them died the other day—James Larkin, Junior, a former Member of this House. Every day of his life was devoted to the problem of housing the working class, as was the case with his father before him who put the suit on every one of you and on every one of us and who gave us self-respect—those of us who come from the working class; I do not speak for anyone else—and who reared men up and taught them to stand erect.

We have been talking about the problem of housing for a long, long time and will continue to do so. To come back to the actual wording of the motion, the price of land is a matter that must and that would concern a responsible Government. I do not say that it would concern this Government because this Government do not enter very much into that category and will not live much longer because it is riven, as we know, by the ambitions of petty individuals just as much as the Unionist Party in the North of Ireland is riven, and it has its Paisleys and weak O'Neills.

But no Castros.

Or Rudi the Reds.

I do not know why these interruptions should be made by the Minister because he is the last one who should talk like that. I shall not follow him along that line. One knows what to expect from the renegade trade unionist on my right. You know what to expect from——

I am an honourable trade unionist.

Ask Deputy Tully about that one.

I know nothing about Deputy Dowling's trade union activities, thanks be to God.

You know what you said the last time.

However, I should not be misled into following others into the gutter. I will leave that your sole occupation because it is a mistake to try to share the environment of others and that is what I would be doing. I want to address myself constructively to this motion and to say to the Minister, although possibly I am wasting my time, that there is an unquestionable case for the establishment of legal machinery for the control of land prices and that his odd speech made here and there, made between referenda and elections, has no effect on the situation. The only thing that will effectively deal with it will be legislation. We are not just asking that, we are demanding that in the name of thousands of people who inevitably are going to be victimised by exorbitantly high house prices.

Finally, I would mention this fact, that as well as affecting the price of houses, the price of land acquired by Dublin Corporation of necessity also affects the level of rates paid by house occupiers throughout the city. The rates must be found by way of money which is borrowed and interest must be paid on that money; the money must be repaid and the only method which we, as a corporation, have so far discovered of raising money is by means of rates. Everybody knows the rates impost in Dublin city has reached alarming proportions; it is something that will be receiving the attention of corporation members within the next few days. Therefore, in view of all the facts the one obvious step for the Minister to take is to impose, by legal means, a rigid control of the price of land so that there will be removed from the scene this furtive and sinister figure called the speculator who, as I said before, is doing down in every way he can the unfortunate house purchaser in this city.

I need hardly say that since this motion really does little more than welcome my statements on this matter I do not intend to oppose it. The general thinking behind the motion, that speculation in scarce serviced land should be discouraged, is merely a reflection of what I myself have said on a number of occasions. This matter has been causing concern both to me and to the Government for some time past. I do admit that the type of approach suggested by the movers of the motion seems at first sight to be the obvious one and certainly it was something on those lines that immediately suggested itself to me. It appears to me that land normally has an agricultural use and agricultural land becomes building land because of the provision of services, such as water and sewerage mainly, by the community. These services are provided as a result of a substantial investment made by the whole community in order to make it possible for the people to be housed and to allow of industrial development.

The individual landowners whose land undergoes this transformation make no individual contribution to this transformation except in so far as they are members of the community as a whole; they make no exceptional contribution to the increase in value of the land and in many cases the speculators who make money out of the people's investment have not even contributed in this way. Therefore, it seemed to me to be obviously wrong that individuals, through no effort of their own, should make large fortunes from the investment made by the community for the purposes of making it possible to solve a social problem and particularly since the result of these unjustifiable and exorbitant profits is to make the solution of the social problem for which the investment was made, more difficult and even more expensive on the rest of the community. This appeared to me to be so obviously wrong that I admit to being a little disconcerted when I find that the obvious way of dealing with the problem is just not possible constitutionally.

However, the Government have been doing everything possible to relieve the situation. The motion before the House is couched in somewhat extravagant language but this cannot obscure the fact that there would not be any problem at all if the economic progress that has been achieved in recent years had not taken place. This progress has manifested itself in a marked and increased demand for more land for houses, for industrial, commercial and other forms of development in many areas, increased employment opportunities, the trend that is there towards more urbanisation, increased family formation, the rising demand for better living conditions, increasing car ownership. All these factors have contributed towards the increased pressure on the resources of land that are immediately available for development. In those circumstances it was really inevitable that the law of supply and demand should operate so as to force prices upwards.

The problem has been particularly acute in the Dublin area but it is not confined to that area. It is undeniable that speculation in land suitable for development, or likely to be designated suitable for development, by planning authorities, has taken place. This sort of activity is possible only when the resource which is being exploited is in short supply. It has to be recognised that the only real, long-term solution of the problem is to ensure the provision of so much serviced land that it will lose its scarcity value so that the price will be what would be considered a more normal market level. Within the limits of the resources available sanitary authorities are being pressed to go on with the planning and execution of schemes for the provision of water supplies and sewerage schemes in areas in which there is a demand for more land for residential, industrial and other development.

Over the past year, the authorities, at my request, have carried out comprehensive reviews of water and sewerage schemes prepared by them, with a view to identifying the most urgent schemes or sections of schemes. Most authorities have worked out priority programmes, the main priorities being given to schemes designed to ensure the provision of social and industrial development and to meet urgent needs for the improvement of existing services.

It has emerged, as Deputies know, from this review that major schemes to the value of £20 million are urgently needed. Almost £5 million worth of these schemes have been released in the current financial year for early commencement. The work of finalising the remaining schemes is proceeding and, as planning is completed, these schemes will be released for commencement in accordance with the resources available at the time. I have to emphasise that the allocation of resources for sanitary services work has to complete with all the other demands for capital on the public purse and there is no use in Deputies talking as if there were unlimited amounts of money available. The amount of capital which can be provided for these purposes every year must be related to the level of production in the country at the time. The most inadvisable thing a government could do would be to starve economic undertakings of the capital necessary for the further expansion that is needed to continue financing a programme such as this. The best that can be done at any time by any government is to ensure that the funds are allocated on a sensible priority basis so that the most pressing needs are met first.

Because of the situation that exists in Dublin particular attention has, in fact, already been given to the Dublin area. A number of sewerage schemes in the area have been approved over the past 12 months and these schemes were undertaken at my request in order to increase the supply of serviced land at the earliest possible time to meet the short-term needs of house builders. Work is now in progress on these schemes and the authorities are being pressed to have them completed at an early date. In the meantime, the planning and execution of the longer term programme, which will ensure an ample supply of serviced land in the Dublin area, are proceeding reasonably satisfactorily. In addition to the attention given and being given to the provision of sanitary services, a number of other steps have been taken to ameliorate the position. Local authorities are being constantly urged to acquire land for development in advance of need, particularly where services are to be provided, in order to ensure that, as far as practicable, the increase in the value of land attributable to the provision of these services accrues, as it should, to the community that provided the services.

All the major housing authorities have now acquired considerable areas of land. In many cases the land on hands should be sufficient to meet their needs for some years to come. Other authorities are pushing ahead with further acquisition proposals. A special capital allocation of £1 million was made available in 1967-68 and a similar amount was made available this year to meet an urgent programme of land acquisition in the Dublin area. The latest report from the Dublin authorities shows that, between city and county, they have acquired and are in the process of acquiring a pool of sites for approximately 12,000 private dwellings. Some of these sites have already been made available to private builders and it is expected that over 2,300 more sites may be ready for builders in Dublin city and county and Dún Laoghaire in the future.

In addition, as Deputies know or should know, I have introduced a special subsidy under the Housing Act of 1966 of £150 per site for private houses in order to encourage local authorities to acquire and develop land on a scale sufficiently large to bring with it the economies of size and the benefits of good overall design for the particular neighbourhood. Authorities are beginning to avail themselves of this subsidy to an increasing extent in order to meet the need for private housing sites at reasonable cost. Also, planning authorities have been empowered under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, to require developers to contribute towards the cost of provision of services such as water supply and sewerage. If this power is judiciously used it should ensure that at least part of the increased value of land attributable to the provision of services at the public expense should accrue to the community.

The Government have also decided that local authorities should be empowered to refuse permission for the use of public water and sewerage services for development and should be encouraged to levy a charge on the development of land in respect of any increase in the value of the land attributable to the provision of these services. These proposals should make it possible for local authorities to frustrate the activities of anti-social speculators in this vital commodity. It should assist them to inhibit excessively expensive developments and ensure that priority will be given to housing developments that are designed to solve the social problems for which these services were provided.

These various proposals have already begun to have their effect and they should have more effect in the future. I have raised this question initially of the effect that the cost of sites has on the ultimate cost of the house. I do not want to exaggerate it. It is not the major factor in the cost of the house, but certainly it is the least justifiable one and the one it is most desirable to tackle. I am satisfied that the way in which it is being tackled will be reasonably effective. If, as a result of these proposals, people who have been speculating, paying unjustifiably high prices for scarce building land in the hope of making profits without doing any work, burn their fingers when these factors begin to operate fully they have nobody but themselves to blame. I assure Deputies nobody on this side of the House will worry about them.

This motion has been availed of by speakers from the Labour Party benches to refer to their own proposals in regard to this matter. There is no time for me to go into these proposals in any detail. In any case, they are too nebulous and too badly thought out to be discussed in any detail, but we cannot complain in general of a lack of documentation by the Labour Party in regard to what they describe as their policy in this matter. The flood of fanciful literature under this heading has, I think, served a very useful purpose. It has shown the people the true nature of those who control the Party. It has shown the people the dangers that are involved in voting for the Party and it has also shown the unrealistic nature of their approach to all aspects of Government. A clear indication is provided for the general public that the disaster of the two Coalition Governments would be nothing to what would result if this type of madness were to influence Government policy in the future.

But, in all the documentation that has been produced in regard to these proposals, there is one very obvious and fundamental omission: the proposals for constitutional amendments have not yet been published. I think it must be clear even to them that these policies cannot be implemented under the present Constitution, which specifies a different type of State and lays down principles which are not reconcilable with the proposals they are putting forward.

Could the Minister be more specific? We welcome his criticism.

I have pointed out that what appears to be the obvious solution to this problem of speculation in land is not constitutionally permissible. But the Labour Party, because of the fact that they are not faced with responsibility for dealing with this position and because they know that there is no prospect of their having to deal with it, are able to ignore all this. Now, before they can expect their policies for many different aspects of Government to be taken seriously, they must first of all put forward their proposals for the amendment of the Constitution to permit of all the things they suggest being done.

There is no clash between the Constitution and our policies.

They should tell the people whether or not they propose to present to the people a completely new Constitution or whether they intend to make specific amendments to the various Articles that would need to be amended before what they put forward could be put into operation.

The Minister should be more specific.

Here is one specific example.

What is suggested and the manner in which it is suggested it should be dealt with is not constitutionally permissible——

Tell us why?

——and, as far as I can see, the first five years at least of this Government that we are promised would be taken up with the making of constitutional amendments alone.

Our motion is based on the Minister's own speech. Is the Minister's speech anti-constitutional?

What is the Minister talking about then?

I am not talking about the motion.

Then what is the Minister talking about?

I am talking about the proposals put forward by the Labour Party as a solution to this problem and, as far as I am concerned, I think it is so obviously wrong that people should make these exorbitant profits out of the investment of the community that the immediate solution that presented itself to my mind was on the lines of what different Deputies have suggested here.

Stabilise land prices. There is no clash between that and the Constitution.

The suggestions the Labour Party have put forward are not constitutionally permissible.

To stabilise land prices is not constitutional? How can the Minister say anything so ridiculous as that?

The suggestions put forward by the Labour Party are not constitutionally permissible.

And the Minister has not yet told us why.

The only other matter I want to deal with is my colleague's, Deputy Dunne's, contention that no progress has been made in regard to the provision of houses under this Government. He referred in particular, strange as it may seem, to the Ballymun scheme. I thought Deputy Dunne and his colleagues were only too anxious now to forget all about the Ballymun scheme. I remember the flood of questions in which the Deputy referred to the initial delays in the Ballymun scheme. Deputy Dunne was ably assisted by his colleagues and there was high glee on the part of him and his colleagues at the prospect they thought they saw when it seemed to them the Ballymun scheme would not achieve its target and these 3,000 odd additional dwellings, additional to the maximum output of the Dublin Corporation, would not be provided within the specified time. As soon as it became apparent, however, that despite all the setbacks, despite the abnormal weather conditions and all the other delays, the target would be achieved, fewer and fewer questions were asked about that scheme. These dwellings in Ballymun were provided for the first time in this country by direct Government action, direct action by a Fianna Fáil Government, and they are additional to the maximum possible output of the Dublin Corporation. The present Fianna Fáil Government, as Deputy Moore stated, have an outstanding record in regard to the provision of houses and the Ballymun scheme is responsible for the improvement that is so apparent now in the housing situation in Dublin.

What kind of spectacles is the Minister wearing?

In addition to the full maximum programme of the Dublin Corporation, because of the new approach by the Government, these 3,200 odd extra dwellings were provided in Ballymun. In 1964 the Government published a White Paper on housing, a realistic projection——

Fianna Fáil are the Party of reality.

Yes, we are the Party of reality and it is because we are——

That we have a housing shortage.

——that we are able to continue to build houses. It is because we are the Party of reality that the building industry is proceeding at an ever-increasing level of activity and it is because we are the Party of reality that we are able to draw up a programme of 12,000 to 14,000 houses by 1970; that target has already been reached and it has been reached because, as Deputy O'Leary points out, we are the Party of reality. We appreciate that, in order to build houses and deal with the problem of housing, one must take into account the capacity of the economy to finance such an activity. It is because Fianna Fáil approached the matter in that realistic way that we have not had the disastrous collapse of the building industry that marked the efforts of the Coalition Government. The targets set out in the White Paper have been achieved and the time has come to prepare a new White Paper for the coming five years. That will be published shortly. An assessment will be made of the need for housing, the accumulated need and the prospective need, the capacity of the country to finance such a programme and the physical capacity of the building industry to execute it. New targets will be set.

Debate adjourned.