Committee on Finance. - Vote 26—Local Government.

Tairgím:

Go ndeonófar suim fhorlíontach nach mó ná £10 chun íoctha an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch sa 31ú láde Mhárta, 1970, le haghaidh tuarastail agus costais Oifig an Aire Rialtais Áitiúil, lena n-áirítear deontais d'Udaráis Áitiúla, deontais agus costais eile i ndáil le Tithíocht, agus scéileanna agus deontais ilghnéitheacha lena n-áirítear deaontas-i-gcabhair.

Sé an chéad rud ba mhaith liom a rá nánach bhfuil dabht ar bith ann ach go raibh dul chun cinn sásúil gnó na Roinne sa bhliain a chríochnuigh ar an 31ú Márta, 1969. Bhí an dul ar aghaidh sin go suntasach ó thaobh na tithíochta, ach is fíor a rá nach raibh aon ghné den rialtas áitúil nár thárla borradh agus fás faoi i gcaitheamh na bliana. Is cúis sásaimh dom gur lean an ghluaiseacht sin i rith na bliana airgeadais atá anois linn.

Is féidir linn caiteachas na Roinne a ghlacadh mar shlat tomhais. Feicimíd go bhfuil méadú glan de £766,140 i meastachán bhunaigh na Roinne don bhliain reathach i gcomparáid leis an tsoláthar a dheineadh don bhliain a chríochnuigh ar an 31ú Márta, 1969. B'é ba phríomh chúis leis an mhéadú sin ná £300,000 de deontais breise a h-íocfar le húdaráis áitiúla i rith na bliana as ucht na n-iasachtaí a fuair siad chun tithíocht a chur ar fáil. In a theannta sin freisin, díolfar £90,000 mar chabhair bhreise dóibh ar na muirir ar iasachtaí a ghlach siad le haghaidh scéimeanna uisce agus séarachais. Léiríonn na breisithe sin an chaoi in a bhfuil na h-údaráis áitiúla ag dul chun cinn leis na feidhmeanna tábhachtacha sin a chuireann go mór le leas an phobail. Cuideóidh breisithe eile go h-áirithe le caighdeán bheatha muintir na tuaithe a fheabhsú. Mar shompla, caithfear £35,000 breise mar deontais i gcóir scéimeanna uisce agus séarachais a chur ar fáil i dtuathliomatáistí.

Is rí-thábhachtach é inniu páirt na n-údarás áitiúil i saol eachanamaíochta na tíre. Ortha atá de dhualgas formhór na seirbhísí poiblí a sholáthar agus a choimeád in ord riachtanach d'fhorbairt tionscail agus trádála, is go mórmhór le forbairt na cuartaíochta. Tá na dualgaisí sin ag dul i méid agus in aimhréiteacht de shíor de réir riachtanaisí an phobail. Go háirithe anois, toisc na cúraimí a leagadh ortha faoin Acht Pleanáil agus Forbairt, tá gach údarás áitiúil pleanála mar chomhlacht forbartha in a limistéir féin agus tá baint fíor-dhlúth acu araoin le saol geilleagrach an náisiúin. Is ceart go dtuigfeadh 'chuile dhuine tábhacht an dualgais sin.

Cuireann an tAcht sin ar a gcumas forbairt a spreagadh sa tslí go dtagadh rath agus feabhas ar a gcuid limistéir ó thaobh na h-eacnamaíochta dhe, chomh maith le cúrsaí leasa sóisialta. Ní amháin go raghaidh sé sin chun leasa do na ceantair áitiúla amháin, ach go raghaidh an obair chun tairbhe don náisiún ar fad. Cé go bhfuil fadhbanna ag baint leis an scéal, tá toradh fónta le fáil ar obair na pleanála sin agus tá súil agam go leanfaidh na h-údaráis aítiúla leis an ghnó go dtí go mbeidh an obair curtha i gcrích acu.

Toisc na dualgaisí nua atá idir lámha ag na h-údaráis áitiúla faoin Acht, tá athrú gné agus treo tagaithe i gcóras bhunúsach riaracháin áitiúil na tíre. De bharr na h-athraithe sin caithfear an cheist seo a fhreagairt—an cheart an córas a leasú agus é a chur in airiúint don saol nua, ionnas go mbeidh ar chumas na n-údarás áitiúil a nua-dhualgaisí a chomhlíonadh go h-éifeachtach? Tá réamhfhiosrú ar an cheist seo déanta agam agus nuair a bheidh an scéal scrúdaithe ag an Rialtas foillseofar Páipéar Bán.

Agus, maidir le ceist na pleanála fós, rinne mé tagairt anuraidh do na staidéir phleanála a bhí curtha ar bhun do na limistéir Ghaeltachta faoi scáth An Foras Forbartha. Ceapadh comhairleoir pleanála chun stáidéar pleanála a ullmhú do Ghaeltacht Chonamara agus tá an t-Ionad Taighde in Eolaíocht Shóisialta in Ollscoil na Gaillimhe ag cabhrú leis ins an staidéar sin. Tá suirbhé eacnamaíochta agus sóisialta curtha ar fáil ag an Aonad don chomhairleoir agus tá súil le moltaí an chomhairleora go luath. D'ullmhaigh foireann An Foras Forbartha féin na staidéir ar na Gaeltachtaí eile agus beidh an tuarascáil ullaimh i gcionn tamaillín.

Ná samhlódh aoinne gur ceist teibhí é an fhadhb seo conus is fearr na limistéir Ghaeltachta a chaomhnú. Táim féin sásta gur féidir saothar fiúntach a dhéanamh faoin Acht Phleanála chun an cheist a réiteach. Ar an ábhar sin, ghríosaigh mé na h-údaráis áitiúla lena mbaineann an scéal aird speisialta a thabhairt in a gcuid clár pleanála agus forbartha do chothú leis na limistéar Gaeltachta. Mheabhraigh mé doibh gurb é atá ag teastáil ná forbairt oiriúnach a spreagadh ins na ceantair sin agus an bóthar a réiteach dó chomh fada agus is féidir é. Beidh mé ag súil le céim ar aghaidh amhlaidh i rith na bliana seo.

Labharfaidh mé ar ball ar síneacha eolais ar bóithre. Ba mhaith liom a lua go bhfuil sé socruithe gur trí Ghaeilge amháin a bheidh ainmneacha áiteanna sa Ghaeltacht ar na síneacha sin sa Ghaeltacht. Tá sé beartaithe na síneacha atá sa Ghaeltacht fé láthair d'athrú dá réir sin.

Anois, bhéarfaidh mé mioneolas don Teach i dtaobh na seirbhísí go bhfuilim-se freagarthach astu.

In presenting this Vote to the Dáil I propose briefly to take stock of what has been happening under the aegis of my Department and to tell the House of my aims and objectives for the future. As a major part of the expenditure administered by my Department relates to Housing I will deal first with that branch of activity.

The White Paper on Housing, which was issued in 1964, estimated, on the basis of the information then available, that the annual output of new houses would have to be raised from 7,831 in the preceding financial year to approximately 13,000 by 1970 in order to deal with dwellings then unfit and overcrowded and with the obsolescence of old dwellings and to allow for population growth. That target, which seemed ambitious at the time, has been reached ahead of schedule. In the year ended 31st March last 13,033 new dwellings were completed, bringing the total number built in the last nine financial years to more than 84,000, in addition to a further 135,000 grants approximately, paid for the reconstruction and improvement of existing houses.

This impressive constructional effort involved the expenditure of £360 million in capital and in housing subsidies. Of this the Government and local authorities provided from the Capital Budget and general taxation a sum of £235 million.

Progress is being maintained in the current financial year, when it is estimated that about £72 million will be spent on building, reconstructing and subsidising houses, compared with £64 million, approximately, in 1968-69. The most heartening feature is that it has been possible to sustain a raising trend of output with one minor interruption, since 1961-62.

Of the £72 million, approximately, which is being spent on housing this year, about £33 million is being provided by the Government through the Capital Budget. A further sum, totalling more than £13 million, comes from central taxation and rates. The balance is provided by building societies, assurance companies, private savings and other sources.

I want to emphasise in this context a point I have stressed on a number of occasions that housing cannot be divorced from economic realities. The economy must be able to sustain the necessary expenditure on housing. This it cannot do unless adequate amounts are made available to encourage the expansion of industrial and agricultural production. The rapid growth in our economy has enabled the contribution from taxation and from the Capital Budget towards housing to be trebled in the last ten years to the present record figures.

Price increases have, of course, absorbed part of the increased expenditure. Nevertheless, the figures I have given—despite allegations to the contrary—show a real and substantial rise in investment in housing in this country. An increase of this magnitude —or indeed any increase—would be out of the question if the need for investment in productive activity were ignored, as is advocated by people who pose as being interested in a more speedy provision of houses for every person requiring one.

I would not, however, like anyone to think that I am completely satisfied with progress in housing. I am as conscious as anyone of the continuing need to maintain the programme of building to eliminate our legacy of overcrowded and unfit housing. It was for this reason that I arranged for the publication last June of the White Paper, Housing in the Seventies, which sets out the basic facts of the problem and the Government's intentions for the future programme, in terms of output, capital and amenities required.

Basically, the aim is to achieve as great a flow as possible of finance towards the provision of houses; to ensure that this capital is used to finance as great a number of houses as possible; and to ensure also, by greater efficiency in design, management and production methods, that maximum economies in cost are achieved.

Apart from the rising trend in housing output throughout the country, to which the White Paper draws attention. I would like to mention particularly the progress being made in the Dublin area. The housing situation in this area has come in for a great deal of critical comment over the past year —too much of it well-published rather than well-informed. I want to put on record, therefore, the fact that, despite the real difficulties involved, the number of dwellings provided in the Dublin area has been increasing steadily. The number of new houses and flats completed in 1968-69 was 5,707—a greater number than in any previous year.

In the national housing programme the reconstruction and improvement of dwellings has always constituted an important part. During the past nine financial years, some 84,000 houses have been reconstructed with the aid of State grants and a further 51,000 have had water or sewerage facilities (or both) installed, with similar assistance. In the year ended 31st March, 1969, the number of dwellings reconstructed or improved totally 9,678: the number improved by the addition of water and sewerage facilities was 9,424—more than six times the corresponding number at the beginning of the decade.

The White Paper published last June proposed a rise in housing output, even above the present high level, to meet an estimated need for about 15,000 to 17,000 new dwellings a year by the mid-1970s. The estimates are based on projections of populations increases and of growth in the economy together with an analysis of the present national housing stock. The cost in the mid-1970s of providing these new dwellings and of maintaining the present level of reconstruction and improvement of existing houses would be about £92.5 million yearly at 1968 prices compared with an expenditure of approximately £64 million on corresponding work in 1968-69. In the light of these striking financial implications, the White Paper sets out measures designed to meet the objective of securing the higher rate of output needed, within the limit of the available resources. Thses measures include:

a recasting of the private housing grant system so as to encourage the building of more smaller type houses;

the payment of a new subsidy to local authorities providing houses, in association with the National Building Agency, for key workers coming into an area for new or expanding industries;

a review of the tax arrangements for building societies to ensure that advances by the societies are confined largely to the construction of small-or medium-sized houses;

the organisation of the demand for houses, by the encouragement of co-operative groups and by the utilisation on a wider scale of the services of the National Building Agency;

steps to ensure the provision of adequate serviced land for building;

encouragement of more standardisation and dimensional co-ordination in the building industry;

holding of a competition, in association with the interests principally concerned, for the design of houses on a modular basis;

the introduction of a uniform set of building regulations for the whole country;

the continuance of the technical assistance grants scheme introduced in May, 1968.

Of the 13,033 new dwellings completed in 1968-69, local authorities provided 4,613 and 7,519 private houses were built with the aid of grants from my Department. This figure of grant houses was higher than the total completed in any previous year. About 450 further houses were completed either directly by, or with the aid of grants from, other State agencies. The remainder of the new dwellings were provided without State assistance or by the conversion of existing larger houses. A total of 9,523 new house grants were allocated by my Department in 1968-69 (excluding grants for 317 tenant-purchase houses provided by local authorities). This also was a record.

Trends in the allocation and payments of new house grants since the 1st April last show that the rate of production of new private dwellings has increased. In the nine months ended 31st December last, 5,820 new house grants were paid, compared with 5,111 for the corresponding period in 1968. Allocations were 7,576 compared with 7,275 in the same period in 1968.

System-built and prefabricated houses are gradually becoming a normal feature of private housing operations. Some years ago the question of these new forms of building was considered by my Department and standards which would be accepted for grant purposes were determined. New types and systems are from time to time submitted for my approval and to date 17 different house types have been accepted as qualifying for grants and five other types are at present under consideration. Apart from nontraditional house types, new building materials and components continue to be submitted by manufacturers for approval for use in grant-aided houses. I welcome any innovations which make for economy and efficiency in housing developments.

The provision of high-rise flats also promises to make a significant contribution in the future to our stock of new dwellings. I intend to recast the grant system for such flat dwellings on the basis of floor area measurement, as for the normal types of new houses.

The special high rates of grants available to assist small farmers and certain other deserving classes to house themselves continue to generate a steady demand. The Government decided recently that the condition which restricts the grants to houses provided in rural areas should be waived in the case of farmers. This decision was made on the grounds that it is unreasonable to discourage a farmer from building his new house in a village or other urban area where full services and amenities may be readily available. In 1968-69, 772 houses, representing about 10 per cent of all grant-aided houses, were built with the aid of these special grants and the indications are that completions this year will be of the same general order.

The philanthropic work of religious orders and other bodies in providing suitable accommodation for elderly persons has also been effectively encouraged by the housing grants made available for the purpose. Since the inception of the scheme in 1962 grants have been allocated for nearly 800 units. Every effort is made to encourage suitable organisations to participate in the work and I would welcome the co-operation of Deputies generally in bringing the grants scheme to the notice of appropriate parties. Consideration could well be given to organising the provision of housing for elderly people on a parish or community basis.

A high proportion of the national housing stock is comparatively old and, consequently, reconstruction work on existing property plays an important part in the Government's campaign to provide every family with a suitable home. In the last financial year 8,753 houses were reconstructed with the aid of grants paid by my Department. Allocations of grants in the first nine months of 1969-70 totalled 8,206 and completions in that period were 5,705. These grants encourage people to make their houses fit by undertaking necessary works of repair and improvement. They also encourage the division of uneconomically large premises into two or more separate dwellings, thereby supplementing the programme of new house building.

Taking into account the 925 houses reconstructed with the assistance of grants paid by Roinn na Gaeltachta, the Land Commission and Bord Fáilte, we find that the total of new houses erected and of houses reconstructed to the same standard as new houses in 1968-69 was 21,305. This total does not include "essential repairs" grants, to which I shall refer later. It is the figure that should be borne in mind in assessing the housing progress made in that financial year, since the renewal of the life of an old house is very nearly equivalent to its replacement by a new one.

The significant progress in the reconstruction of old houses is gradually invalidating the statistics relating to the age of the existing housing stock. This prudent conservation of existing houses is part of our housing effort and should not be ignored when making international comparisons.

An important feature in the general system of reconstruction grants is that which assists the carrying out of essential repairs to improve the habitational standard and to prolong the life of certain old and unfit houses in rural areas. I am satisfied that this scheme has assisted greatly in alleviating serious housing and social problems in rural areas. The replacement of the old dwellings concerned by new houses would have been uneconomic as they were generally located in isolated areas in which it would be difficult to re-let new houses on vacancy.

Since the inception of the scheme in 1962, a total of 4,175 "essential repair" grants have been paid. Current activity shows a decline on last year's figures. Allocations in the period from April to December, 1969. were 976. This compares with 1,389 in the first nine months of 1968-69. It appears that a major part of the special problems which these grants were designed to meet has now been brought under control and that a tailing off of activity in this sector can be expected in the future.

As regards future developments in relation to private housing, I hope to introduce a Bill shortly to implement the legislative proposals in the White Paper, Housing in the Seventies. The main provisions of the Bill will relate to the recasting of the present system of housing grants. In future, a grant for a new dwelling will be paid on the basis of floor area, rather than on the number of rooms in the dwelling. The Bill will also provide for an increase of up to £50 in the State grant for most smaller houses. Local authorities may pay an additional amount of up to £50 to persons eligible for supplementary grants. The intention underlying these changes is to encourage builders to concentrate more on providing reasonably sized homes for persons with modest means rather than on larger and more costly dwellings.

For some time past I have been considering whether it is right to continue giving State grants to assist in the erection of luxury-type houses. In present circumstances, where there is difficulty in matching the supply of capital to the demand, and where it is imperative to secure the greatest possible number of houses from the capital which is available, the Government have accepted my recommendation that grants should not be paid for new houses with a floor area exceeding 116 sq. meters (that is 1,249 sq feet). As from a date which I will announce shortly, houses with a floor area in excess of this maximum will not qualify for grants or for the associated rate remission under the Housing Acts. It is my intention also to make a maximum price order under section 35 of the 1966 Housing Act, which will limit grants to houses, approved after the same date, which cost not more than £6,000.

To ensure that these changes do not penalise anyone who genuinely needs a larger house, the provision of houses, designed specifically for extension at a later date, is being encouraged by my Department. Prototypes of such houses have, in fact, been built by the National Building Agency in Ashbourne, County Meath. The design competition, which I announced in the White Paper, will include conditions aimed at encouraging designs for similarly "expandable" houses. The necessary changes will be made in housing legislation to enable grants to be made available for this type of extension.

Tax concessions can also play an important part in encouraging the provision of moderately priced houses. Grant-aided houses qualify for a remission of rates, graduated over a nine-year period. Under the Finance Act, 1969, they are entitled also to a complete exemption from stamp duty. As grants will, in future, be paid only for houses not exceeding 116 sq. metres in floor area, which are priced at not more than £6,000, the rates remission and stamp duty concessions will obviously make the building of modest homes a more attractive proposition for both builders and purchasers.

The recasting of the grants system, the fixing of maximum prices for grant housing and the rates remission and exemption from stamp duty of grant-aided houses are just a few of the many steps which the Government are taking to achieve its main housing objective, namely, to encourage the provision of modest houses on terms which people can afford.

I would like to remark on a feature of housing in this country in which I would be glad to see a change—that is the lack of participation by industrial firms in efforts to house their workers. There have, of course, been commendable exceptions. Some firms have provided houses for their workers and for others living in the neighbourhood. Others have helped local housing authorities in various ways. Many banks and assurance companies provide special terms to help their staff achieve home ownership.

The National Building Agency does much on behalf of individual firms to get houses built. There is, however, notwithstanding these notable exceptions, perhaps some lack of consciousness on the part of some large firms and organisations, including, I may say, the trade unions, of the steps they can take to help persons to help themselves.

The recent co-operative effort by the Vocational Teachers' Organisation is a move in the right direction and deserves every encouragement and the most flattering form of compliment— imitation. The organisation has set up public utility societies in 24 counties, has assisted members in raising loans and getting grants and has directly arranged and guaranteed bridging finance. On a more direct basis it has bought or is acquiring sites for houses in a number of important centres and is arranging to draw on the special expertise of vocational teachers in order to get houses produced for members as economically as possible. This is the type of co-operative housing effort which section 12 of the Housing Act, 1966, was designed to encourage and to provide practical assistance for. I hope to see the organisation's lead being followed by many more commercial and co-operative bodies in the future.

I turn now from housing work undertaken by private enterprise to a consideration of the work of local housing authorities. First, let me comment briefly on progress and prospects with the housing operations of the authorities.

The level of local authority housing under construction during 1968-69 was the highest for many years. The number of houses and flats completed was 4,613, which compared with slightly more than 4,000 in each of the previous two years. The number of dwellings being built at 31st March last was 5,839, including 1,024 in special projects at Ballymun, Cork and Limerick under the control of the National Building Agency. More than 22,600 local authority dwellings (excluding "package deal" houses) were then at tender or in planning. At 31st December, 1969, the total number of dwellings in progress (excluding "package deal" houses) was 6,727 and 20,893 additional dwellings were then at tender or in planning. These impressive figures are the result of a steady and substantial expansion in the local authority housing programme since the early months of 1967 when the number of houses at tender or in planning was 12,251.

In all, 3,915 new dwellings were commenced in 1968-69 (including 557 in special National Building Agency projects). This compares with 2,411 commenced in 1966-67. Commencements since 1st April last have been at a substantially higher level. In the first nine months of the present financial year 4,164 dwellings have been started, including 1,563 in special National Building Agency projects. Almost £9.5 million worth of tenders for normal local authority schemes was approved in 1968-69 as compared with £5.7 million in 1966-67. The number of dwellings in planning has been maintained also at a very high level and 17,038 dwellings were in course of planning at the 31st December, 1969.

The 1969 White Paper gives a general review of the position in regard to the assessment of housing needs over the country as a whole. As regards local authority housing, it seems inevitable that housing needs and demand will continue to press resources to the limit. The amount of capital it is possible to make available is the overriding factor which will determine the volume of building over the next few years. Naturally, the extent of the capital allocation for local authority housing must be determined by the Government in the light of the overall national requirements and the urgent claims of other essential services, particularly those which ensure the capacity of the economy to supply capital for all these purposes. Nevertheless, the urgent priority which the Government continues to give to local authority housing can be measured by the fact that well over half of all public capital made available for housing in 1968-69 was allocated for dwellings constructed by local authorities. A correspondingly high proportion of available capital has been assigned to local authority housing in the current financial year.

Apart from the capital thus provided, a total subvention from central taxation and rates for local authority housing of approximately £7.8 million was made in 1968-69. The public purse, therefore, met nearly £24 million of the bill for local authority housing in that year.

Under the Capital Budget a sum of £16.2 million was originally allocated for local authority housing in the current financial year. The unpredictably high level of the wages settlement in the building industry last autumn made a serious impact on the number of houses which could be built with this allocation. I am glad, therefore, to announce that the Government have agreed to provide an additional allocation of £1.15 million to ease the difficulties.

In this situation, the need for economies in housing costs is obvious. Wage rates and materials costs have risen to a level at which they are causing serious capital difficulties. To put it bluntly, the level of increases in building costs, so far as local authority housing is concerned, exceeds any possible percentage increase which the Government could hope to provide out of the capital likely to be available to them this year. We are, therefore, in a situation where the number of dwelling units which can be completed from available resources must fall unless it is possible to find practical economies to close the gap between the rate of increase of building costs and the increment of additional resources which the economy can support for local authority housing.

I can assure the House that, so far as I am concerned, I have been taking effective measures to see that all reasonable savings in building and other costs are availed of. On the local authority side, these include a scrutiny of the design and planning of individual schemes, detailed recommendations to housing authorities on appropriate economies, the maintenance of current standards—unless improved standards can be achieved through the introduction of cheaper, but acceptable, materials and forms of construction—reviews of densities of developments, exploration of suitable new methods of construction, rationalisation of components and building materials, the evolution of standard house plans and the provision of low-cost emergency or demountable dwellings, mobile homes and other types of housing units with a shorter life than traditional dwellings.

I am also looking into such matters as the effect on building costs of the requirements on contractors to provide guarantee bonds and also the effect on housing costs of local regulations, building bye-laws and so on.

As an earnest of my intention to do everything possible to keep down building costs, I am prepared to consider proposals from housing authorities to develop new schemes at densities higher than those normally recommended. This concession will apply to schemes where the proposed densities are related to the total environment and are offset by the availability of better than average amenities.

Deputies will, no doubt, be interested in learning how local authority housing programmes have been progressing in some of the more important areas.

I referred earlier to the commendable rate of house-building generally in the Dublin area. In the city, the corporation continue to press ahead with their programme. On 31st December last, in their weekly tenancy programme, they had 1,932 houses or flats under construction or about to start. They were preparing schemes for 1,696 dwellings and had acquired, or were acquiring, sites for 5,530 dwellings. At the same time they were also catering for persons of moderate income anxious to house themselves. Towards this end they had 1,198 tenant purchase and "package deal" houses in progress or ready to be started. They were preparing schemes for 2,182 dwellings and acquiring sites for another 4,000. Their total programme at that date, therefore, comprised 19,538 houses or sites. It is a measure of the priority which the Government attaches to the solution of the housing problems in Dublin that, in spite of other urgent demands on public capital, the corporation's capital expenditure on housing amounted to practically £10 million in the year 1968-69.

All of the 3,021 dwellings in the original four year contract for the Ballymun project were completed within the contract period, notwithstanding the setbacks of the early stages. In July, 1968, two further blocks of flats totalling 192 dwellings were added to the scheme to infill available sites; design changes also enabled the contractors to add 52 one-roomed flats within existing structures. The total number of dwellings was thus increased to 3,265, of which 3,222 were structurally complete at 31st March, 1969. The entire 3,265 dwellings have now been completed and handed over to Dublin Corporation. Management of the estate is, of course, the responsibility of the corporation. The final cost of the scheme has been agreed and the preparation of the final account is now proceeding. I am assured that the cost figures will represent an impressive achievement and that they will compare more than favourably with the contract target price.

Incidental works outside the scope of the agency's contract are proceeding. Communal television reception has been provided, the shopping and community centres are going ahead by arrangement between the corporation and the development company, a major primary school is in operation, a comprehensive school for the area is being planned, the conversion of the main road to a dual carriageway has been designed, and the construction of a major intersection with pedestrian underpasses is nearing completion. An active association of residents has been established and I understand that the corporation's arrangements for estate management are currently being extended.

These development are proceeding simultaneously and, while problems crop up from time to time which tend to attract disproportionate publicity, the fact is that in four years an impressive contribution has been made to the Dublin housing pool-more than 10,000 people have been housed in Ballymun. This is an achievement of which the several interests concerned can be justly proud. This contribution is, of course, additional to Dublin Corporation's maximum output under its normal housing procedures and has resulted in reducing the housing problem in Dublin to manageable proportions.

Some time ago I informed the Dáil of the steps which were being taken by the appropriate authorities here as a consequence of new risks in high-rise buildings which were revealed by the disaster caused by a gas explosion in a block of flats at Ronan Point in London. The position has been under examination in depth by my Department's technical advisers, working in association with officers and consultants of Dublin Corporation and the National Building Agency. In the course of these investigations constant liaison was maintained with current investigations being conducted by British and European authorities. I have now received final authoritative advice in regard to the possibility of damage occurring in the Ballymun flats for a similar reason and on a scale corresponding to the Ronan Point disaster. I am glad to be able to inform the House that the reports which I have received from the team of specialist investigators assure me that such a risk is so remote as to be insignificant and can, in any event, be obviated by relatively minor modifications to the existing ventilation systems. Steps are in train to have these modifications effected immediately.

The special housing project of some 1,800 dwellings being carried out in Cork city by the National Building Agency to supplement the programme of the local authority, is now well under way. The first batch of dwellings were handed over to the corporation at the end of last March. The dwellings are being provided to a new system, based on concrete cross-walls with specially designed floors and spandrills. Work was started on the project on 30th May, 1968, and it is due for completion in three years from the date of the contract, subject to such extension of time as the contractor may be entitled to, as a result of causes outside his control.

Certain difficulties were, in fact, experienced at the outset of the contract and other difficulties arose in the planning of the scheme which had to be built on three different sites—a feature which, from the building viewpoint, presented unusual difficulties. Although progress with development work and the erection of cross-walls has generally been good, the number of houses completed to date is lower than was envisaged under the original contract programme. The agency was not satisfied with the rate of progress up to mid-1969 and special steps were taken to get the contractors to strengthen their management team and their work force on the project. I understand that the agency is hopeful that progress with the completion of dwellings will soon be brought to a satisfactory level. About 700 completions are projected for the current financial year. So far, 324 dwellings have been handed over to the corporation and a further 102 dwellings have been finished but are not yet handed over.

There has been some criticism of the National Building Agency by Cork Corporation because the rate of completion of dwellings in the early part of the scheme was slower than anticipated. In this connection I would like to point out to the Dáil that this project will provide in Cork, over three years or so, a total of more than 1,800 dwellings to supplement the corporation's own programme. Temporary difficulties regarding the hand-over of specified numbers of houses at a particular time should not be allowed to cloud this fact. My intervention in connection with this major project will result in the inflow into Cork over the contract period of millions of pounds of capital investment which otherwise would not have gone to that city. The project will also enable the corporation to meet the additional housing demands engendered by the rapid industrial and other forms of development in the Cork area, which otherwise they would have no hope of meeting.

Work is very well advanced on the special project being carried out by the agency on behalf of Limerick Corporation. Out of a total of 601 dwellings, 266 houses have already been handed over to the corporation and the construction of the remaining houses is going ahead rapidly. On the basis of the progress already achieved the scheme should be completed by the scheduled date in mid-1971 and it should make a real contribution to the solution of the pressing housing problems of Limerick city.

Before passing from the construction aspects of local authority housing work, I would like to comment on a feature which affects the progress and the cost of that work. I have in mind in this regard the price and availability of sites. The general problem of the rising cost of building land, which has been marked in some areas, is a cause of considerable concern. I have been giving careful thought to this problem with a view to finding some means whereby speculation in scarce, serviced land would be discouraged and the increase in the value of land, attributable to the provision of services and the designation of land for development by planning authorities to meet the needs of the community, would be recouped to the benefit of the community and not be turned to private profit. The problem is a very complex and difficult one and there is no easy way of dealing with it. It might appear that the obvious solution would be to bring all building land into public ownership, but this would entail the most serious constitutional, legal, financial and administrative problems and must be ruled out as a practical proposition. Other measures to deal with the problem are being studied.

As an interim measure, local authorities have been encouraged to make wider use of their powers to acquire land to meet the needs of their areas and, in particular, to make good any deficiency in suitable and reasonably-priced sites for housing and other necessary and desirable forms of development. One of the keys to the long-term solution of high land prices is to ensure the availability of so much servced land that it will lose scarcity value and the price will fall to, or remain at, normal market value.

I am pleased to inform the Dáil that, in general, major housing authorities have acquired large tracts of land which should be sufficient to meet their requirements for some years to come and are pushing ahead with further land acquisition proposals within available capital resources. At the 31st December, 1969, local authorities had a total of 50,432 sites available for housing schemes in progress, in planning, or in contemplation.

For the third year in succession, a special capital allocation of £1 million has been made to Dublin Corporation for their special programme of land acquisition and development. Reports submitted to me by the Dublin housing authorities show that, between the city and county and Dún Laoghaire borough, they had acquired at the 31st March, 1969, or were in process of acquiring, a reserve of sites for nearly 30,000 private and local authority dwellings. A number of sites have already been made available to private builders and steps are in train to release more sites in the coming months.

Cork Corporation also made welcome progress with the forward acquisition of land and now have almost 600 acres available. The corporation have initiated action with a view to acquiring a further 400 acres.

My predecessor and I have been for many years impressing on local authorities the need to acquire a sufficient reserve of land to meet future housing needs including needs engendered by increasing urbanisation and increasing industrialisation. Many local authorities have, I am glad to say, taken that advice but there are some which have not been as active as they should be and are now penalised by having to pay increased prices for land.

The State provides the capital needed for local authority housing. It also pays subsidy to help bring the cost of that housing within the reach of people who could not afford to meet the full economic cost. The amount provided for this purpose in my Department's Estimate for 1969-70 is £4.1 million. Loan charges this year on other forms of State assistance given in the past for local authority housing will total £400,000. Assistance by local authorities, raised in their rates, will amount to £4.3 million. The total subvention from central and local taxation towards the rents of local authority dwellings will, therefore, amount to approximately £8.8 million in the current financial year.

In March last, with the agreement of the Minister for Finance, I increased the subsidisable limits of cost for local authority dwellings by amounts ranging from £100, in the case of an unserviced rural cottage, to £500 for a flat dwelling in a building of more than six storeys. The new limits apply to housing schemes commenced, or for which loans were sanctioned, after 31st December, 1968, and for which rent proposals are approved on or after 1st April last. The extension of the limits is equivalent, at current interest rates, to an increased subsidy of up to about £2 a week for a serviced house, £3 10s a week for a dwelling unit in a flat-block of six or more storeys, and £3 a week for other flat dwellings.

The higher rate of subsidy resulting from this concession should encourage and facilitate local authorities in their work of providing housing for persons unable to meet the full cost involved. When the additional subsidy paid by the local authority is taken into account the extent to which the Government and local authorities are helping people to pay for their housing will readily be seen. In fact, these subsidies from central taxation and rates amounted in 1968-69 to approximately £2 million more than the total amount received in rents and annuities.

I may add that my general policy on subsidies for housing is—within the level of financial resources—to apply them to the limits necessary to get people decently housed. This often means subsidies as high as £250 annually for a house (or perhaps twice this for a central city flat) to maintain rents at a level of between 2/6d and 10/- a week for tenants with low incomes. On the other hand, I would not like to see subsidies going to those well able to manage without them. For these reasons, their payment is conditional on the adoption by local authorities of rents which vary with income. This renting system ensures that subsidies are directed mainly to assist people who need them most. At the same time, the differential rents payable by better-off tenants reflect their greater ability to pay. Those who call for the "abolition" of the differential rent system and favour the charging of fixed rents are, in fact, arguing that old age pensioners, widows and other persons on low incomes should only qualify for the same subsidies, and thus pay the same rents, as those who are fortunate enough to be earning good incomes. This clearly would be unjust.

Another cogent reason why differential rents are now so essential is that if we did not use this system, subsidies would, if the current rate of building were maintained, amount to £45 million or more annually before they started to fall as the loans used to finance the building of the houses were paid off. The result of this burden would only be to delay to an intolerable degree the provision of homes for those who need them. In this sense, those who argue against income-related rents are arguing against the building of houses for many people who so badly need them.

Before passing from the subject of housing subsidies I should mention the proposal announced in the White Paper—Housing in the Seventies—to pay subsidy at the higher rate of up to two-thirds of the loan charges for dwellings provided by a local authority, in association with the National Building Agency, for key workers coming into an area for new or expanding industry. Local authorities which are conscious of their role as development corporations will realise the importance of this concession as a means of catering for the housing needs of migrant workers whose skills may provide an essential contribution towards the industrial development of their areas.

Tenants of local authority dwellings have the option of buying new private houses with the aid of loans from local authorities of up to 99 per cent of the market value of the new houses. This concession applies even where the tenant's income exceeds the normal limit of £1,200 a year. In addition, many tenants are being given the option of buying their houses under the terms of sale schemes made by local authorities under section 90 of the Housing Act, 1966. At the end of last December, 42 sale schemes comprising 39,253 local authority houses have been approved by me. The response to Dublin Corporation's sale scheme has been particularly heartening, despite the scepticism expressed in certain quarters when that scheme was made. At 31st December, 8,497 tenants have expressed an interest in the scheme and 4,484 had agreed to purchase or had actually purchased their houses. The remaining applications are being processed as quickly as possible.

These sale schemes enable tenants to buy their houses on the basis of market or replacement value, less discounts related to continuous tenancy periods of up to 45 per cent from the values of houses in non-built-up areas or 30 per cent in the case of houses in built-up areas. The discounts, together with the income tax reliefs on the interest element in purchase price repayments, should make purchase attractive to many tenants.

While the sale schemes have attractions from the viewpoint of the tenants and of the local authorities concerned, I feel it right to remind the authorities that their primary housing objective must always be the provision of decent accommodation for persons who still lack it. Sales could dissipate an authority's stock of low-cost housing, thus making it difficult for them to achieve their first objective. At the same time, it is desirable to encourage home-ownership which, apart from the social aspect, may bring some reduction in the maintenance burden of local authorities. To reconcile the apparently contradictory objectives of maintaining a stock of low-cost housing for renting and encouraging home-ownership, I have required authorities to use a large part of the capital they get from sales for making house-purchase loans and grants, for the construction of further houses to replace those sold, for the acquisition of land, or for other housing purposes.

Besides their basic responsibilities relating to the housing of persons who need proper accommodation but cannot themselves provide it, local authorities have been making an extremely valuable contribution to private housing operations. Their schemes of house-purchase loans and supplementary grants have, in particular, assisted many persons in the lower middle-in-come categories to house themselves.

Let me quote some figures which will indicate the importance of these house-purchase loan schemes. In 1968-69, a total of £22,266,000 was advanced on mortgages to persons buying their own homes. Of this, the biggest portion was provided by building societies who lent £9,653,000. Assurance companies lent £5,991,000 and local authorities made up the balance of £6,622,000. The finance for these loans by local authorities is one of the major constituents of Government capital expenditure on housing.

The number of loans approved under the local authorities' schemes increased from 3,207 in 1967-68 (valued at £6.7 million) to 4,100 in 1968-69 (valued at £9.5 million). The value of loans approved in 1968-69 was the highest in any year. In the first nine months of the current year, this rising trend was continued. In the light of these trends the Government have increased the amount available under the schemes from £6.7 million in 1968-69 to a total of £9.5 million approximately in the current year.

The average gross price of new houses financed under the schemes in the quarter ended 31st December last was £4,024. During the quarter, about 59 per cent of borrowers under the schemes had annual incomes of less than £1,050. It is clear from these figures that the local authority loan schemes fulfil a very useful purpose by providing the necessary mortgage finance for persons of modest means who wish to house themselves by building small houses. At present, about 55 housing authorities operate loan schemes. As many of these authorities operate on a very small scale, the White Paper contains proposals to concentrate loan operations in a smaller number of authorities. These proposals will take effect from 1st April next.

In view of the importance of building societies as a source of capital for housing, responsibility for certain matters in connection with them was transferred to my Department in March last. If the societies are to attract investments they must be allowed the same freedom of action as other bodies in the savings market and, in this regard, I am glad to say that in the quarter ended 31st December, 1969, there was a sharp upturn in the net rate of investment with the societies—from £1,192,000 in the quarter ended 31st December, 1968, to £2,144,000 in the corresponding period of 1969.

At the same time, the societies enjoy certain arrangements in regard to income tax on dividends payable by them which make investment with them attractive. The public have a right to expect that these concessions will be used in the interests of the community. It was for this reason that I announced in June last that the Government propose to review the present taxation arrangements with a view to favouring societies who invest their funds in the way most likely to help our housing programme—that is, to benefit those societies who invest not less than 90 per cent of their total advances for all purposes in house-purchase loans not exceeding in any case £6,000, or such other sum as the Minister for Local Government may fix from time to time. This review is in progress and it is intended that it will also deal with the associated question of the societies' interest structure.

Some time ago I mentioned changes which Dublin County Council were introducing in their supplementary grant scheme to make it less restrictive. These changes are now effective. The growth of expenditure on the grants in recent years has reflected not only a more liberal attitude on the part of local authorities generally in paying them, but also the great expansion of the private housing programme. Thus in Dublin city and county in 1963-64, the total expenditure on supplementary housing grants was £144,000. In 1968-69, it amounted to £256,500. In the same period, capital expenditure on these grants by local authorities as a whole increased from about £1.2 million to £1.9 million.

The level of efficiency in the building industry is an important factor in housing costs. Deputies will have noted that the Estimates for my Department for the current financial year contain provision for technical assistance grants for the industry. These grants are paid for attendance at training courses and for study visits abroad, designed to bring managerial, supervisory, technical and trade union personnel in the industry into closer contact with the most modern methods and techniques. The grants are also paid for the engagement by builders and contractors of persons to advise on matters directed to the improvement of efficiency in the industry.

Another step I have taken with the same general objective is to request An Foras Forbartha, working in conjunction with my Department, to prepare a timetable for the change over to dimensional co-ordination on a basis. This is being done by An Foras which is also working, again in conjunction with my Department, on a project for the standardisation of building components such as windows, doors, roofs, etc. An interim report has already been published about the rationalisation of the construction of windows and a report has been prepared dealing with roofs.

Over these projects lies the shadow of conversion to the use of metric dimensions in the industry. An Foras has had the assistance of an advisory committee representative of the industry in this matter. A draft programme for the change to metric was recommended by the committee and accepted by the Government. Under the programme, the change to metric should be fully effective for virtually all new projects by the end of 1972. Representatives of the professional and vocational bodies concerned have also assisted in the formulation of new national building regulations. A draft of the technical specifications of the proposed regulations is now complete and will be circulated generally as soon as possible to professional, vocational and other interests for comment. The concurrent introduction of the metric system, the new building regulations, dimensional co-ordination, reduction of unnecessary variety in building components, and rationalisation generally in the building industry will help to modernise building practice and so help the industry to meet the growing demand on it arising from our economic and social progress.

An Foras has now, with the assistance of technical assistance grants available from my Department and in co-operation with the Federation of Builders, established a programme of construction management courses at various centres throughout the country. I have been impressed by the extent to which these courses are being availed of by builders. To date, some 475 senior managers and supervisors in firms of all sizes have attended the courses with the aid of grants. Improvements in management methods is one of the most effective ways in which we can reduce building costs. Other housing studies being carried out by An Foras include low-cost housing designs and studies directed to improve tendering and costing methods in the industry.

A sum of £1.2 million is being provided this year as State contributions to loan charges incurred by local authorities on sanitary services works. This is an increase of £94,694 over the subsidy paid in 1968-69. In addition, a sum of £140,000 is included to recoup supplementary grants paid by county councils for water supply installations to farmers who would have been eligible for the scheme of domestic grants formerly operated by the Department of Agriculture.

During 1967-68, sanitary authorities carried out at my request comprehensive reviews of the water and sewerage schemes which they had in planning with a view to identifying the most urgent schemes or sections of schemes. The main priorities were given to schemes designed to cater for new industry or new housing and to schemes which were urgently needed to improve existing deficient supplies. These reviews established that major water and sewerage schemes to the value of approximately £20 million were then urgently needed. Since 1st April, 1968, I released for commencement £9.6 million worth of these schemes. The planning of the remaining schemes is proceeding.

As planning is completed, these and other urgent schemes arising will be released for commencement in the light of the capital available from time to time and having regard to the needs of other sectors, such as housing. In addition, some £500,000 worth of small urgent schemes were also released since 1st April, 1968. Work on many of these schemes is now well advanced and, in a number of cases, has been completed. It was estimated that as at the 31st December, 1969, these projects, together with schemes which were released for commencement in earlier years, represented a pool of work in progress exceeding £10 million in value.

In the Dublin area, in particular, a number of sewerage schemes were undertaken at my request to ensure that a good supply of serviced land would be available at the earliest possible time to meet the short-term needs of house builders. Work is now in hands on all the schemes, which comprise the short-term programme for Dublin, and has, in fact, been completed in five of these cases. I hope to see work proceeding quickly on the other schemes during the coming months.

The planning of the longer term programme, which will ensure an ample supply of serviced land in the Dublin area, is progressing reasonably satisfactorily. In particular, I am glad to say that two of the main sections of the Dodder Valley drainage scheme are now virtually completed, a third section has gone to tender, a fourth is ready to go to tender and a fifth is at an advanced stage of planning. These sections constitute the main line of a sewer which, when completed, and with its spurs, will serve some 9,000 acres. As regards the spurs, construction work is almost completed in two cases and is about to commence on a third. The planning of a further spur is well advanced.

I was glad to note that the Dublin Corporation's investigations into the problem of providing proper drainage in the south and west areas of the city and the adjoining areas of the county have produced a solution under which the Grand Canal need not be interfered with even temporarily. The proposal that the drains should be in a tunnel under the roadway rather than that the canal should be closed temporarily to permit the laying of the drains in its bed has been generally welcomed.

I may say that my technical advisers were at all times in close touch with the progress of the investigations. I was, therefore, able to agree without delay to the corporation's proposal that the sewer should be in tunnel. I may emphasise once again that it was, in any event, never the Government's intention that the canal should be closed other than temporarily in connection with the drainage scheme.

The priority lists which have been drawn up by the sanitary authorities should ensure that the water and sewerage programmes will proceed in an orderly manner and that the capital available will be used to best advantage. It is not, however, the intention to regard these priority lists as in any way rigid. Steps are taken to ensure that lists are kept up-to-date and new urgent works which have emerged since the date of the first review are being incorporated in the lists. This procedure will be a continuing one.

The majority of the schemes in priority lists are needed primarily to provide adequate sanitary services for built-up areas. Particular attention is being given to the improvement of water and sewerage services in the areas which are experiencing rapid industrial growth such as Cork, Waterford, Galway, Dundalk and Droichead Nua.

A number of these urgent water supply schemes will have their sources in rural areas and can also be used to supply group schemes. Group schemes can generally provide piped water at least as quickly as, and at a more economical cost than, regional schemes. Indeed, in the past, regional schemes have tended to take over work which was proper to the group sector. Apart altogether from the immediate financial considerations, it was necessary, therefore, to review the regional schemes programme so as to ensure that it was kept within its proper limits in the interest of the general economy.

A great deal of valuable work is being done at individual level, through the assistance of grants provided by my Department, to extend the benefits of piped water and sewerage services to many rural areas. The improvement of rural homes by the installation of these facilities continues to be a significant part of our housing grants policy. I am pleased, accordingly, to record a continuing expansion of work under this grants scheme.

Present indications are that, in the present financial year, up to 12,000 grants will be allocated as compared with 10,392 in 1968-69. About 9,000 grants should be paid this year. The continuous promotion of group water supply schemes has been contributing significantly to this growth rate. Last year 2,389 grants were paid in respect of houses included in group schemes and this figure was exceeded in the first nine months of the current year. As at 31st December last, 104 schemes catering for 4,841 houses had been completed and there were 964 proposals in other stages of preparation.

Group water supply schemes, which depend on local co-operation and initiative are, of their nature, slow in coming to fruition. Such delays as do occur are largely unavoidable. Detailed investigation, planning and organisation are essential if a scheme is to be brought to a successful conclusion. This may not always be fully appreciated by the participants who, naturally, are mainly concerned with obtaining an adequate supply of good water as soon as possible.

This lack of general awareness of the time-consuming work which must be done before a scheme is implemented may lead to a certain feeling of frustration on the part of the local group promoting a scheme but it must be remembered that all the necessary steps must be taken by my Department to ensure that, in the participants' own interests, the water supply provided will be adequate and the best available. Various problems of a technical nature, such as the establishment of the adequacy of the proposed source of supply, measures to deal with rock outcrops in the path of the water mains, and so on, can raise difficulties which must be surmounted before the scheme progresses.

In relation to group schemes, close liaison is maintained by my Department with local authority officials and I am glad to say that in very many cases these officials have been of great assistance to the local groups by providing source-gauging equipment and by carrying out the necessary continuous-yield test of bore holes. I have every hope that this spirit of co-operation will continue.

I realise that if group schemes are to make the fullest impact on the rural water supply problem, a highly efficient departmental organisation at both the technical and administrative level is necessary. Towards this end I am arranging to strengthen the existing field staff by recruiting more inspectors. This will ensure that every area will be staffed to deal with any proposals for a group scheme which may arise. I should also mention that my Department has standardised procedures and documentation for processing group water proposals and that every assistance is given to promoters who approach us. A standard specification for all the works required on a group scheme is supplied free of charge to promoters and assistance and advice are freely available from my Department at all times, both before, and during, the implementation of a group scheme.

Recently special arrangements were made with Roinn na Gaeltachta in relation to group water schemes undertaken in Gaeltacht areas. As a result, participants in such schemes will receive enhanced grants of up to 85 per cent of the cost of installing the piped water in each house, subject to a maximum grant of £180 per house. This additional assistance should, I feel, give an impetus in these areas to group schemes as heretofore many of them could not have been undertaken economically due to the remoteness of the areas and the difficulties of the terrain. Arrangements have also been made with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries whereby that Department will give assistance towards the cost of headworks in high-cost group water schemes serving predominantly agricultural participants.

Before passing from this subject I should like to pay tribute to the persistent and painstaking work done by the promoters and committees of group schemes. These are the people without whose unfailing support the whole basis of community development in the sphere of water supplies would never progress.

Directly associated with the question of water supplies is the problem of controlling, and preventing as far as practicable, the pollution of rivers, lakes and other sources. This problem has assumed tremendous topicality— largely because of the exceptionally dry summer and autumn in 1969. While we are at present in the fortunate position that—taking the country as a whole—no serious or widespread pollution is occurring, it is a fact that localised problems are on the increase. Problems arising out of the increased use of pesticides in agriculture, "factory farming", silage effluents, et cetera, are emerging. Furthermore, it is inevitable that growth and developments in the industrial, agricultural, housing and other fields as the economy expands, must create new and serious problems in regard to the disposal of industrial, agricultural and domestic wastes.

I have, therefore, considered it prudent to take the initial steps which will ensure that the position will not be allowed to get out of hand. With this end in view I asked An Foras Forbartha to set up a water resources centre as a new division within their organisation. This division is now operative and will, in due course, be concerned to identify areas where serious water pollution is occurring or where there is a danger that it might occur to a significant extent. It will then be possible for the appropriate authorities to initiate necessary remedial measures or to take action to prevent the degree of pollution rising to an objectionable level.

It is only right to stress that sanitary authorities generally are already aware of the risks of water pollution and a number of the major authorities—in Cork, Dublin, Galway and Waterford, for example—have comprehensive drainage schemes in planning which should reduce water pollution in these areas to an acceptable level. Furthermore, the Department's annual sanitary services programme provides for a significant number of sewerage schemes designed to high modern standard, the implementation of which will reduce the danger of pollution in the area concerned.

The general level of air pollution in this country is not considered dangerous; nevertheless, I considered that it would be desirable to supplement the existing limited controls by measures designed to ensure that the more immediately objectionable types of pollution would be kept in check. For that reason I had draft regulations prepared which will place restrictions on the heavier smoke emissions and extend the nuisance provisions of the sanitary services code to nuisance caused by emissions of smoke, dust, grit or gas.

Interested parties were invited to submit their views on the draft. The response was most helpful and the views and advice received are now being considered. When this examination has been completed I intend to make formal regulations without delay.

As regards fire brigade services, I have had under consideration for some time the need to improve the standard of training in a number of the part-time brigades and to standardise training within the service generally at a proper level of efficiency. Towards this end I have had a film made which illustrates a number of the basic fire brigade drills. Further films on the same lines will be made, as necessary. I hope that these will be widely used throughout the service and that they will go a long way towards standardising procedures and drills.

In addition, I have arranged for the holding of a number of courses for sub-officers and station officers of the part-time brigades and three such courses have already been successfully completed. I am sure that these courses will improve the general standard of performance of the officers attending them and that they will enable suitable officers to be selected for further training as fire brigade instructors. In this way, it is hoped to create a pool of competent instructors who will be fully equipped to train, under the supervision of their chief fire officers, the local fire brigades in all aspects of modern fire fighting.

A number of proposals for the construction of swimming pools were approved by me over the past two years and I have already allocated the necessary capital towards pools at Dublin city, two pools, Ballinaslce, Carlow, Ennis, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Tuam. I have also firm capital commitments in respect of pools at Mallow and Naas and tentative commitments in respect of pools at Enniscorthy, Galway and at Williamstown, Dún Laoghaire. Pools at Townsend Street, Dublin, and in Ennis have been completed and are in use. In several other cases, work is nearing completion. I hope that the remaining approved pools will be built quickly so that many children will be able to learn to swim in safety. When sufficient progress has been made with the building of the pools already approved, I hope to release some further ones for commencement. It must be emphasised, however, that for the present the swimming pool programme has to be limited having regard to the heavy demands on available capital for other essential services such as housing and sanitary services.

My views on the question of camping sites for itinerants are, by now, well known. However, I will take this opportunity of emphasising them again. It is the Government's policy that itinerants should be absorbed into the settled community. As this must, unavoidably, be a gradual process, the first logical step must be the provision by local authorities of serviced camping sites.

In providing these sites, local authorities are concerned not merely with the construction of a certain amount of hard standing for caravans and the necessary sanitary facilities. Properly designed and located sites represent the answer to a much more fundamental need. They provide a base where voluntary workers and official agencies may guide itinerants in the ways of settled living and help them to get jobs. But, above all, the permanent camping site gives the children of itinerants the chance to go to school regularly. I could not over-emphasise the importance of this aspect. How can a Government Department or a voluntary committee make proper arrangements for the education of children of families who have no permanent place to stay? And without education we can never solve the problem.

Camp sites have now been provided, or are in course of development, by 16 different local authorities. The most striking examples so far are the two large Dublin Corporation sites—one on the south and one on the north side of the city—which, between them, provide accommodation for some 60 families. Other local authorities whose resources are more limited than the corporation's have also been commendably active in providing these anchorages for travelling people. I have, for example, been impressed by the action of Galway Corporation which faced up to initial hostility and secured public acceptance of four camp sites in different parts of the borough, accommodating a total of 18 families. Galway County Council have provided a model site at Loughrea, on which 8 families have been settled, and are now developing a site for 5 caravans outside Ballinasloe. Limerick County Council have accommodated 14 families at Rathkeale. Kerry County Council have provided 15 sites on which 19 families now live. Offaly and Tipperary NR County Councils have combined to develop a site at Shinrone. Dundalk Urban Council are going ahead with an attractively planned and well-serviced scheme for 22 families. While the scale of these operations may not seem striking, the spread of interest and activity around the country is especially satisfying. The county councils of Cavan, Cork, Donegal, Longford and Sligo are at present considering taking action to provide sites or other accommodation for itinerant families and I hope that they and those county councils who have not so far faced up to their responsibilities will now do so. Once a positive start has been made, there are grounds for hope that the problems will be solved without too much further delay.

The help of voluntary workers is a fundamental bridge between the settled community and the travelling people. The response of voluntary workers has been very heartening, but their work is difficult and cannot be fully effective until camping sites are provided. It is, to my mind, a grave dereliction of duty on the part of those local authorities which have not yet provided sites to cater for needs in their areas in spite of the generous financial assistance offered by my Department.

I would expect the elected representatives, whether at local or national level, to try to lead public opinion instead of bowing to traditional prejudices; I would expect them to give some positive thought to the deeper aspects of the matter, to reflect on the point that, as long as we continue to deny the children the education which is their due we, by this denial, condemn those children for ever to the itinerant way of life.

Some people may feel that the problem has been so long with us that it is insoluble. I am convinced, however, that through itinerancy, viewed in isolation, may appear to be an intractable problem, when considered in conjunction with other local government problems, it can be seen to be a relatively straightforward issue which, with a reasonable amount of effort and goodwill, could be solved in a short time. Certainly things should not be left to drift until next winter. By that time I hope that every county council and every large urban area where the problem exists will have done something worthwhile by way of housing or provision of sites to solve the problem.

As I have said again and again, immediate progress depends on the readiness of local authorities to provide camping sites. This, coupled with a modicum of Christian charity on the part of the local community will ensure that itinerant families will soon become full members of the community. They have a fundamental right to get this opportunity and I regard it as my job to see that they get it. I do not regard camping sites as an end in themselves since, at best, the accommodation provided must be less than normal standards of habitation. I visualise a continuous movement of families from such sites to full housing accommodation.

It is my desire that the provision of camping sites should eventually lead to the inclusion of every itinerant family on the normal housing priority lists of local authorities. This is no idle wish. So far, about 240 former itinerant families have become tenants of local authority houses. Camp sites will speed up this process. The generous subsidy of two-thirds of the annual loan charges which is available from my Department towards the cost of providing sites should be an effective inducement to local authorities who have not yet faced up to their responsibilities in this matter.

Considerable progress has been achieved by planning authorities in the making of development plans for their areas under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963. By the 30th October, 1969, draft plans had been prepared for all but one of the 173 planning areas and 154 of the plans had been finally adopted by the authorities concerned. I hope that work on the remaining plans will be completed shortly. In a few areas —notably Dublin city and county— considerations of the representations and objections received by the planning authorities in connection with the first draft plans led to decisions to revise the plans substantially and to publish completely new drafts.

The Dublin city second draft plan has been on display to the public in recent months. In view of the fact that 3,418 objections and representations have been received and that oral hearings have been sought in almost 1,700 cases, the planning authority have requested a further extension of time to the 31st December, 1970, for the making of their plan.

In County Dublin, where the planning authority are faced with many complex problems in relation to the future of the metropolitan area and the detailed planning of the nine scheduled towns in the county, progress unavoidably has been slower and it will be some time yet before a revised draft plan is ready.

Planning authorities deserve to be commended for the effective work they have done since the 1963 Act was brought into operation five years ago. It is a tribute to the diligent and painstaking work of the elected members and their staffs that for the very first time we are within sight of having comprehensive physical development plans covering the entire country. The importance of this achievement should not be under-estimated. The planning authorities, in discharging their plan-making duties under the Act, have been obliged to take a long hard look at their areas, to consider their strengths and their weaknesses, to identify the factors that have been stimulating growth in some areas and inhibiting it in others and to work out policies and programmes designed to enable their areas as a whole to improve and prosper.

The emphasis in the plans is on growth—on the encouragement and promotion of desirable development, including new opportunities for work and leisure and the improvement of the physical environment enjoyed by our people. At the same time, planning authorities generally have shown themselves conscious of the need to protect the priceless natural assets we enjoy and have committed themselves to their protection. In general, the development plans reflect a determination on the part of the planning authorities and of the communities they serve to play a much more positive role in the shaping of the future of their areas. This proof of local involvement is most welcome and I have no doubt that as time goes on the development plans will come to be recognised more and more as providing the basic framework for physical development of all kinds.

A most heartening feature of the exercise has been the widespread interest on the part of the general public— as well as various national and local organisations—in the formulation of planning policies and objectives. The very fact that particular proposals or suggested policies have given rise to disputes and controversy is, in itself, proof of the growing interest of the community in the planning process.

It is, perhaps, a bit early to attempt a comprehensive appraisal of the plans that have already been made. The plans vary considerably in scope and in content. Some authorities have produced detailed and carefully contrived policy statements and programmes of work which, if actively pursued and intelligently implemented, will have a considerable—and maybe a decisive— influence on the future development and expansion of their areas. Others have confined themselves to broad statements of policy which may prove to be too general in character to be of really practical value.

It was, of course, to be expected that there would be fairly wide variations as between one area and another and, within limits, this position must be accepted realistically as reflecting the needs, circumstances and ideas of the particular areas and authorities concerned. In time, however, some degree of co-ordination of policies in particular matters will almost certainly prove to be necessary.

It also seems likely that certain authorities who are responsible for the safeguarding of some of our most important areas of natural beauty or recreational utility may find that their policies for the protection of these areas from development of a discordant character or from development which would deprive the people as a whole of a natural amenity they are entitled to enjoy, may not be succeeding in their objectives and that more detailed policies are called for. More sophisticated policies can, of course, only be developed following detailed surveys and studies and it is essential that planning authorities having cleared the hurdle of the first plans, should not sit back complacently and ignore the need for a progressive and continuous review of policies and programmes.

Plans are for the people and for society whose needs cannot be static. Planning must be a continuous process if the needs of the people are to be met at the right time and in the right places. Towards this end a constant review of planning policies is vital. I accept that many authorities have been handicapped in preparing their plans by the shortage of qualified staff and it is my intention that my Department and An Foras Forbartha will provide all possible advice and assistance to the planning authorities generally in connection with the review, refinement and improvement of their development plans.

Interest is regional planning has quickened a good deal. Since the Buchanan Report was published there has been a lot of discussion on the subject. I should like to avail of this opportunity to explain the Government's approach to regional planning and development and to the question of growth centres.

According to the expert views we could hope to benefit from development centres in two ways mainly. One would be to improve industrialisation both in quantity and in quality. Projects would be attracted to this country which might not otherwise come here. There would be a faster progress towards full employment. The other main potential benefit is that centres could be used as a means of bringing about a more satisfactory regional distribution of population and employment. On this point the Government have never accepted that the fate of the regions, and particularly that of the less favoured regions, can be left to the free play of market forces.

It is clear from experience here, and from experience abroad, that those forces would tend to bring about greater and greater concentration broadly on the lines of established trends, and would lead to decline in some regions and rural areas. Despite the various measures which the Government have introduced to encourage development in the western areas, the disadvantages of market forces as they affect the location of development are evident at both ends of the development scale. There are the problems of congestion in Dublin and in other large towns, the high cost of building land in those places and the heavy demands for investment in infrastructure to accommodate their further expansion. By comparison growth in some of the regions has been relatively slow even in cases where there may be scope for accommodating expansion at comparatively low cost.

The Government intend to explore fully the possible use of regional planning measures that could be effective in correcting imbalances of this kind. It was for this purpose that the Buchanan study was arranged by An Foras Forbartha with the United Nations as an independent assessment of the scope for applying the development centre idea in this country. The consultants studied the economy and the trends in different parts of the country. They came to the conclusion that it would be necessary if full employment were to be achieved by 1986 to create something in the region of 30,000-40,000 jobs in manufacturing and mining, with a corresponding number in building and service employment, over and above the jobs likely to be created on established trends. They considered that if the extra jump towards full employment were to be made it would be necessary to work towards establishing fairly large industrial centres with strong attractions.

In considering a suitable pattern of growth centres the consultants were faced with the problem that the best course from the purely economic point of view would suggest a high degree of concentration whereas regional and social considerations would suggest that policy should be aimed at a reasonable degree of dispersal of new activity. As might be expected the consultants' solution is a compromise, not complete concentration, not complete dispersal. Having considered alternative extremes and various in-between courses reflecting different degrees of concentration and dispersal the consultants recommended, firstly, that there should be a special expansion programme for the Cork and Limerick areas as counters to Dublin and to improve the country's international capacity to attract industry and absorb migration. Secondly, they recommended that a special measure of expansion should be promoted in six regional centres to exploit regional potential. Thirdly, in areas remote from these centres the consultants envisaged that local growth centres would be designated and a concentrated effort made to develop commercial, administrative and industrial services in them for the surrounding areas.

The Government in the statement issued in May last indicated that while they accepted that growth centres might be useful in a regional programme they were concerned about the far-reaching implications of the consultants' recommendations. There would be the physical problems of rapid expansion in certain areas and the implications of such expansion for prospects in other areas. There would be the problems of financing the programme without abandoning existing programmes. There was the big question whether the new patterns of location and movement which would result would be the right ones for this country and whether equally good results could not be achieved with less population dislocation. The Government decided, therefore, that the consultants' recommendations should be examined as part of the current process of working out measures for general regional development which will be designed to ensure that the resources of every region are exploited to the greatest extent possible, and that the development of small towns and rural areas is encouraged in order to improve employment opportunities locally.

It was indicated in the Government's statement that the IDA would establish a unit in each region to promote industrial development and that the units would work in active co-operation with the regional co-ordinating groups. It was also indicated that the small industries programme of the IDA was being extended and that small industry would be a significant factor in providing employment in the smaller centres.

All of this is relevant to the Local Government Vote because some of the principal ingredients of any regional programme consist of infrastructure, viz., housing, roads, sanitary services, recreational provision and other community facilities. We cannot expect to establish a true balance in the future between population in the east and in the south and west, nor can we expect to attract development and population away from Dublin unless we build up really strong towns in other areas. This involves giving special attention to the infrastructure needs, and capitalising on the potential that exists in the regions and locally.

I must make it clear, however, that the Government do not see regional planning in terms of deciding on a few development centres. What has to be decided is the kind of balance which it is feasible to aim at between a fast rate of economic and social development overall and the provision of new employment opportunities when and where they are needed. It must then be decided what pattern of development ought to be promoted nationally, regionally and locally to progress towards this balance. Conclusions must be evaluated for financial and physical feasibility. It is because such proposals have not yet been fully evolved that the Government is not in a position to say whether or to what extent the recommendations in the Buchanan Report might be relevant in such a programme.

The Government have decided that regional groups of planning authorities and other bodies should be established to act as a co-ordinating focus in the regions. Work on the setting-up of such groups is proceeding in all areas. It will be the task of these groups to look at the regional problems in their area and at the opportunities that exist in such matters as advantageous locations, suitable sites, capacity of services, employment resources and community and amenity facilities. Each group has been asked to tackle immediately the preparation of a report on their region. This will include a survey of the considerations influencing development potential with emphasis on the physical and infrastructure consideration. These new groups will have an opportunity to play an important part in ensuring co-ordination in physical planning and between physical planning and industrial and tourist planning at the regional level. In general terms it will be their task to promote the welfare of the region in co-operation with the various bodies with responsibilities for aspects of development there. I have already indicated that the views of the groups will be taken into account in the further consideration of regional planning. A regional organisation on these lines has existed in the Limerick region for some two years and has shown itself to be a definite asset to the constituent bodies and to the region. I would appeal, therefore, to all planning authorities to contribute to and support the new groups and to participate in regional activity.

The initial operating costs of these co-ordinating groups will not be great but servicing arrangements will need to be made. I have undertaken to contribute in a small way to these expenses and provision for this is made in subhead N.

The principle of local development will be retained, and strengthened, in any regional programme. The trend towards urbanisation is likely to continue and small as well as large towns must prepare for it. In the future, as in the past, some places will do better than others, and deservedly so, because of the greater interest and activity of public and private bodies in the successful areas. However, all areas should aspire to improving their condition and should be alert to opportunities for doing so. It is quite clear that some industrialists prefer relatively remote locations despite all the advantages which are claimed for large centres. Many small towns have succeeded in attracting industrial projects. Areas with limited prospects of attracting industry are often compensated by good prospects of diversifying employment and increasing income through tourist activity. For no part of the country will development in its many aspects be ruled out. The type and degree of development will rightly depend a good deal on local initiative and interest. Local planning authorities have a great deal to contribute to the economic and social improvement of their areas. They are encouraged, by virtue of their functions under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, to regard themselves as development corporations using their plans, their resources, their status and their expertise to give a lead in local development and to encourage private development interests. Planning authorities are deeply involved in all significant development in their areas. Apart from their planning responsibility they have direct responsibility in such matters as housing and infrastructure facilities which are essential for expanding employment and population. Local authorities have been asked to adapt themselves to the need to become development minded in the interests of their area. This involves maintaining constant liaison with development interests with a view in particular to ensuring that physical planning and the local authority works programme are as effective as possible in supporting economic and social expansion at local level.

Let me turn briefly from the developmental aspects of physical planning and refer to the work of planning control administered by local authorities.

Perhaps, the outstanding features in a review of planning control during the two years ended 31st March, 1969, was the big increase in the number of proposals for development in each of the years 1967-68 and 1968-69 as compared with the year 1966-67.

Returns from planning authorities show they received 19,166 applications in 1966-67, which increased to 21,843 in 1967-68 and to 25,024 in 1968-69. A total of 23,676 applications were decided by the planning authorities in 1968-69 and of these 20,838 or over 88 per cent were allowed. In October, 1967, I wrote to all planning authorities recommending that they should endeavour to introduce a greater measure of flexibility in operating planning control. I suggested that they should adopt a less rigid line in dealing with development proposals and should try to operate in a way which would be more helpful to applicants. It will be appreciated that this involved a special effort by local officers who also had to cope with extra work in dealing with a greater number of applications. The fact that over 88 per cent of all applications decided in 1968-69 were allowed does not indicate that planning authorities generally are exercising their control powers in an unreasonable manner. Nevertheless, it is important that they should apply the suggestions I have made and I trust that they will continue their efforts to give full effect to my recommendations. I intend to follow up this matter with a further circular letter to planning authorities urging them to discuss proposals for development in appropriate cases with applicants for planning permission with a view to ironing out difficulties where possible. The planning authorities will be encouraged to try to indicate alternative locations for developments where this is possible and generally to try to arrive at a compromise solution with the applicant rather than reject the proposal. The aim should be to facilitate the public as far as possible and, at the same time, to make necessary planning restrictions more acceptable to persons affected.

In view of the rise in the number of applications it is not surprising that the number of appeals received by me reflected this increase and went up from 1,229 in 1966-67 to 1,586 in 1967-68 and 1,897 in 1968-69. Many of these appeals raise difficult and complex issues and are far from easy to decide. The continued rise in the number of appeals is reflected in the fact that 1,109 have been received in the six months ended 30th September, 1969, indicating an annual rate of well over 2,000.

Closely related to the planning activities of local authorities are the measures taken by them to clear derelict sites, to deal with dangerous quarries and other such places and to provide works of public amenity. Provision for grants to assist in these desirable operations was made in subhead G of the Vote.

Satisfactory progress has been maintained with the programme for the clearance of derelict sites. About 3,700 grants have been paid since the grants scheme for this purpose was instituted in 1960. While this figure is impressive, the problem needs to be tackled more selectively in many areas to get the best results.

Also associated with the planning and development work of my Department and of local authorities is part of the activities of An Foras Forbartha for which in the current year a grant in aid of £150,000 was provided. This represents an increase of £43,500 on the provision for the previous year. This grant in aid relates to the physical planning and the construction activities of An Foras. The road research activities of An Foras—to which I shall refer later—are financed by a grant from the Road Fund. The amount of that grant is £115,000 in the current financial year which represents an increase of £57,000 on the previous year.

Economic and social progress raises acute problems in all aspects of planning and developing our physical environment: planning the location of infrastructure to stimulate and support industrial and other economic activity; improving the environment of rural areas; planning the growth of our towns; improving the capacity and efficiency of the construction industry; reducing building costs, particularly in housing; adapting our roads system to cope efficiently and safely with greatly increased traffic; ensuring that our national heritage in landscape, areas of scientific value and distinguished buildings and other features are conserved amidst the inevitable growth of new buildings and works.

An Foras Forbartha was established as a national centre of environmental studies to concern itself with all these matters and is now, with generous United Nations assistance, contributing valuable studies and services in the fields of planning, building and roads. An Foras is pursuing a policy of providing special training facilities for its staff—to date 12 staff members have been released, in some cases for two years, for specialised study in Ireland, Britain and the United States. All these staff members have now returned and their contribution to our environmental planning will be increasingly felt.

In planning and development, the most important task An Foras has had in the past two years has been to assist the UN consultants, Buchanan & Partners, to prepare the overall national studies of regional development strategy, to which I have referred earlier. The major planning study currently in hands by An Foras is the preparation, under United Nations guidance, of planning recommendations for the growth of Cork city and the development of the county in a regional context. This is a key study of a major growth area, which will throw light on very important issues of pattern of settlement, location of industry and phasing of development which arise in all growth areas.

Priority has been given by An Foras to the preparation in consultation with the Departments and planning authorities concerned, of development recommendations for the Gaeltacht areas. Good progress has been made and results are expected soon.

A valuable study was carried out by An Foras on the planning of development in areas of fine landscape and in costal amenity areas subject to tourist pressure. A similar study on the entire coastline is now proceeding. Special attention in this study will also be given to Gaeltacht areas and to the special needs of the Irish language in these areas. The outcome of this study will, I hope, be timely measures to develop and, where necessary, conserve our coastline so that increased pressures will not destroy its uniqueness. Specialist advice and assistance were given to planning authorities in implementing the provisions of the Planning and Development Act for the conservation of nature. A nature and amenity conservation and development committee of An Foras have prepared a valuable review of the national heritage, which has been presented to both Houses of the Oireachtas and published for general consideration and comment. In planning education, An Foras is currently supporting, by scholarships, 14 students attending planning courses in Ireland and this is a very significant long-term contribution to improving our environmental planning as we are very short of trained planners.

I should like, in reviewing the work of An Foras, to pay a tribute to the board of directors under whose guidance and management, much valuable work has been accomplished. I am grateful also to many persons who, in individual or representative capacities, gave voluntarily of their time and expertise to the various advisory committees and working parties of An Foras.

I shall now deal with roads and traffic. A new system of accident reporting has been in operation since 1st January, 1968. This means that we cannot compare the total number of accidents in the last two years with those for earlier years because the new figures include accidents in which only superficial injuries or material damage occurred. However, we can make comparisons between 1968 and 1969. Provisional figures show that in 1969, 462 people were killed on our roads compared with 447 in 1968. The total number of persons injured fell from 9,716 to 9,476 however, and there was a similar small drop in material damage accidents—from 12,669 to 12,252.

Between 1965 and 1968 road deaths in this country increased by an average of 7 per cent each year. The provisional figures of deaths for 1969 indicate an increase of approximately 3 per cent over those for 1968. This represents a welcome reduction in the substantial annual rate of increase in road deaths which has been a feature of the past few years. We must, however, face the facts and accept that the toll on our roads is a national tragedy.

For my part I am prepared to do all in my power to deal with this, and I have shown myself ready to promote measures which were anything but popular with certain sections. My policy is to continue the attack on all fronts with all the resources I can make available, using propaganda, legislation and regulations, traffic management and road construction, and, of course, all the time making full use of the experience elsewhere and of our own research. But I must insist that, whatever measures are taken by authority, it still rests to a very large extent with individual road users to decide to behave in such a way as to reduce this crippling toll on our life and on our economy.

I propose now to tell the House of some of the things we have done and are doing to cope with the accident problem and at the same time offset the economic loss caused by traffic congestion and delays. We are not acting on our own in this, but in full co-operation with other agencies such as other Departments, the Garda, the local authorities and the Safety First Association of Ireland. I would like to pay a special tribute to the association for its continued efforts down through the years in the cause of road safety.

During 1968-69 my Department sustained its work in road safety education in conjunction with such agencies. Major operations included the launching, with the co-operation of the Minister for Education and the Irish National Teachers Organisation, of a scheme of road safety charts. These are being issued with the assistance of the local authorities to all primary schools to enable the teachers to give road safety instruction in the course of the normal school curriculum. The majority of the schools throughout the country have now received their supplies and distribution of the present series of charts will be completed shortly. A further series of charts dealing with other important aspects of road behaviour is in the course of preparation. The teacher, with his specialist skill, is in a most favourable position to instil into young minds the kinds of attitudes and values which are necessary if we are to have an improved standard of behaviour on the roads. It is my earnest hope that teachers generally will employ these charts as a useful teaching aid with which they can pursue the normal school curriculum, while at the same time introducing positive road safety instruction to the children.

The production of road safety literature, films and television material continues and once again I wish to express my thanks to cinema managements and Radio Telefís Éireann for their co-operation. The winter of 1968 saw the introduction of standard time into this country. While providing valuable extra daylight at the peak evening traffic period, it has meant longer periods of darkness during the winter mornings. A study by An Foras Forbartha indicates that the beneficial effects of the extra daylight in the evening at least offset the extra hazard in the early morning, but there can be little doubt that special problems were created for school children in the morning.

To minimise the effects of the early morning hazard to school children the Safety First Association distributed very large quantities of reflectorised armbands to primary school children for the last two winters. Steps were also taken by me to issue timely warnings and advice to parents and drivers during the danger period. I am satisfied that these measures and the general publicity over the issue of standard time helped in no small way to reduce the effect of the dark mornings. I have also drawn the attention of road authorities to the need for adequate public lighting during the morning hours of darkness.

Because chiefly of administrative difficulties, many municipal authorities have not proceeded with the appointment of school wardens. I considered the question for some time in consultation with the Ministers for Education and Justice. I was impressed by a scheme used in other countries whereby more senior pupils operate as school wardens for the other students in the school. I am happy to say that Carlow Urban Council agreed to try out a pilot scheme in Carlow. The pilot scheme is based on the system used in Denmark which has been tried and tested over many years. The scheme is now in operation at the Christian Brothers' primary school in Carlow with senior boys from the school acting as wardens in teams of six. The boys were specially trained by the Gardaí but the development of the pilot scheme involved the closest co-operation of several interests—the urban council, the parents, the school authorities, the gardaí, the local road safety committee and of course the boys themselves.

The pilot scheme serves more than road safety. It is useful training in civics for all the students. Furthermore the scheme has shown the depth of community spirit available in this country. The people of Carlow have given a lead by demonstrating what can be achieved when different groups in the community join forces to transform theory into a practical scheme and I should like to take this opportunity of extending my congratulations to all concerned.

It is my hope that after a sufficient trial period this scheme will extend to other towns.

The year 1968 saw a substantial addition to our traffic legislation. The Road Traffic Act, 1968 became law on 16th July, 1968, and 59 of the 66 sections of the Act are now in operation. The most recent provisions which I have brought into effect are those dealing with drinking and driving. The new law on this subject, which became effective on 3rd November, 1969, creates an offence of driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a motor vehicle while the level of alcohol in the blood exceeds 125 milligrammes and makes provision for breath, blood and urine tests. Unfortunately for reasons already well-known, the operation of these provisions has received a temporary check.

While some provisions of the 1968 Act, particularly those relating to the roadworthiness of vehicles, have been formally brought into operation they will not be effective until the relevant regulations under them are made. Some of these regulations will be quite complex in character and their drafting will involve consultation with various bodies. Before making any of these regulations I will announce my provisional decisions for the observations of the public.

Meanwhile, existing regulations relating to vehicles, made under the Road Traffic Act, 1961, are being reviewed by an informal committee under the aegis of my Department. This is necessary because of developments in the automotive industry and international agreements. The committee includes representatives of the various interests concerned. Of necessity their work will be prolonged, but they will submit interim reports when appropriate and in any event I shall not hesitate, if the necessity arises, to make amending regulations on a particular pressing subject, consulting the committee to the fullest extent possible.

For instance in July, 1969, I made regulations requiring tractors to be fitted with safety frames when used in a public place. This catches the great majority of agricultural tractors. From 1st September, 1970, the regulations will apply to tractors newly registered on or after that date. They will not apply to tractors registered before then until 1st September, 1977. The standard prescribed for the safety frame is that agreed to by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

I have recently published proposals for regulations making it obligatory to mark the rears and sides of large vehicles with reflecting and fluorescent materials, and making it obligatory to fit safety belts in the front seats of certain passengers and light goods vehicles. I have invited comments from the public on the proposals. The comments to date are being considered in my Department. I might mention that a study by An Foras Forbartha deduces that the proposed regulations on safety belts should effect a significant reduction in the quantum of personal injury resulting from road accidents.

The regulations relating to the operation of small public service vehicles have been amended by me so as to define more clearly the distinction between public hire vehicles—or taxis— and private hire vehicles—or hackneys. Arising from discussions with representatives of taxi interests, I set up a small committee to assemble the facts relating to the operation of taxis and hackneys. After this committee reports. I hope to be in a better position to consider what changes, if any, are justified in the law governing the control of small public service vehicles.

The driving test has now been in operation since March, 1964, and up to the end of December, 1969, approximately 177,500 driving tests had been carried out and 95,481 or approximately 54 per cent of these had resulted in failure for the applicants. Looking at these figures from the positive angle, they show that there are now on our roads 82,000 drivers who have passed the test. This is not, of course, a guarantee that these drivers will continue to drive safely at all times but it does mean that they have shown on test that they know the rules of the road and are capable of driving safely. The proportion of such drivers will increase progressively and this must tend to improve the standard of driving on our roads.

At this point I want to comment on one aspect of the driving test scheme which has caused considerable inconvenience to applicants, that is the substantial delays which have occurred for some time past in arranging tests. These delays were caused by an acute shortage of testing staff.

I am glad to be in a position to say that we have recruited a good complement of additional testers who have now been trained and are carrying out tests. As a result and despite an increasing demand for tests, the period between application and test is being whittled down towards a reasonable level.

The comprehensive revision of local speed limits on a county by county basis has been completed and revised regulations for all counties have now been introduced. The overall policy has been to apply speed limits which are as far as possible uniform in application, are likely to be observed by the majority of drivers. and which at the same time will have regard to the safety of all road users. Before these regulations were introduced, full account was taken of the views of the local authorities, the Garda Síochána and local representations. Further reviews of speed limits will be undertaken from time to time in consultation with the local authorities and the Garda Síochána.

While the Road Traffic Bill was before the Dáil, I asked An Foras to commence a study on the subject of a general speed limit. In the light of their report I made regulations with effect from 1st April, 1969, imposing a general speed limit of 60 miles per hour. In taking my decision I was moved by the substantial increase in road fatalities and the fact that the report showed that on the sections of roads with high average design speed —despite the overall low accident rate on these sections—the percentage of injury accidents which is fatal is considerably higher than on other sections. I felt it my duty to take any reasonable decision which offered the prospect of reducing the toll of death on the roads and to take it as quickly as possible. As was to be expected, there were those who did not agree with my decision. In particular I heard the motoring organisations and, while there was some merit in certain of the arguments they advanced, I concluded that on balance the public interest justified the trial of a general speed limit.

It was highly desirable to secure reasonable experience of the working of the general speed limit before the introduction of the blood-alcohol test if we were to seek to assess on its own the value of the speed limit as an accident counter-measure. This was another factor in favour of introducing the limit as early as possible. I arranged that An Foras Forbartha would keep the question of the limit under review. I understand that their report will be furnished shortly. It takes time to abstract from the overall accident figures those relating to the roads on which the general speed limit applies. This is necessary if the effect of the limit on accidents is to be properly assessed. I intend to review the operation of the limit in the light of the report from An Foras.

Very recently I announced that it has been decided to equip the national routes with a more up-to-date system of informative signs, that is, those indicating directions and destinations. An Foras Forbartha has been asked to recommend suitable designs and it is envisaged that the replacement of the existing signs will be effected over a period, route by route. The new signs will show distances in kilometres, and —except where the Irish version of the place name is reasonably close to the English and can be used on its own— place-names will be in Irish and English, the national language being given equal prominence with English.

Other traffic management measures are primarily the responsibility of the Garda and the local authorities. My functions are largely of a consenting and enabling nature. In the year ended 31st March, 1969, I gave my consent to 24 sets of local traffic or parking bye-laws or rules. In the same period I gave approval to the provision of 14 car parks with the aid of grants. A number of sets of traffic light signals and pedestrian-operated lights were similarly provided.

Recently in reply to a Parliamentary Question I dealt at some length with the problem of traffic congestion in Dublin. I indicated that the authority chiefly concerned was Dublin Corporation, that it would not be possible to provide all the facilities required by all the private motorists who would like to drive into the central city area and park there at will, that the present congestion can be best abated by commuting motorists changing over to public transport, that action will have to be conducted on a number of time-levels—traffic management for the present problem—and this includes parking restrictions—certain road works in the near future and most extensive measures in the long-term. I mentioned the kinds of thing being done and considered by the corporation.

Other cities and towns are facing scaled-down versions of Dublin's problems and their long-term solutions will appear in their development plans. While a number of these have undertaken detailed traffic surveys, I issued a circular letter urging that all local authorities should consider the benefits which would accrue to their areas in the short term by the extension of simple traffic management measures. The letter outlined the objectives that should be sought and the principal measures which could be applied. I have invited the local authorities to inform me of the action they propose to take on consideration of the circular. I have, of course, assured urban road authorities that they may proceed with their long-term planning of their street system on the understanding that such funds as can progressively be made available for urban road improvements will be applied to the implementation of these street plans and indeed where appropriate I have indicated my acceptance in principle of long-term traffic plans on this basis. But the funds available will not be unlimited. Full use will have to be made of traffic management and the maximum use of public transport which conditions in any particular locality warrant.

Similarly, in relation to rural roads, we have to accept that the funds available for road building are not unlimited. We know that the results of traffic accident studies carried out by An Foras Forbartha indicate that there is a close correlation between the capacity of a road—in relation to traffic on it—and its accident record. In other words, a very effective way of reducing road accidents is to build better roads. But, while we are aware of this, we are also aware of the real limitation on the moneys available for road building. What we have sought to do is therefore to concentrate expenditure as far as is reasonably possible on works which will make the greatest impact on accidents. Local authorities have been requested, when carrying out their annual road programmes, to deal on an interim basis with black spots on roads unlikely to receive overall improvement for some time. The standard aimed at in improvement works is such as, while being as economical as possible, will give the best results in terms of safety. Finally, more funds have been devoted to roads whose capacity to carry their traffic is seriously, indeed dangerously, deficient.

In July, 1969, I announced some important decisions in road administration. One related to the reclassification of the road network made following studies conducted with the co-operation of the engineering organisations of the road authorities. Briefly, I have decided (a) that the rural road network shall be reclassified into "systems" to be described as national, regional and county, (b) that the national system shall be subdivided into national primary and national secondary and (c) on the roads to be designated as national primary and national secondary. Road authorities have been informed of these decisions. A further study is now in progress with a view to designating the routes which will form the regional and county systems. Consultation with the road authorities continues. The comprehensive reclassification of the road network in urban areas—including the cities—is a further complex problem involving consideration of the various traffic studies undertaken and their implications in the context of development plans.

Another major decision arises from consideration of two studies carried out by An Foras Forbartha with the assistance of a United Nations consultant. In effect the reports recommended that the arterial—now the national primary —roads programme should be administered by a central authority. The Government have decided that responsibility for the national routes should be transferred to my Department so that a national programme for these routes can be designed and executed on a uniform basis. Legislation will be prepared to effect the transfer of responsibility and the necessary administrative and financial arrangements will take time to effect. In the meantime, the statutory responsibility for the routes will continue to rest with the local road authorities. Here I should make it clear that the Government's decision in no way reflects on the value of the work carried out by the local authorities, to date. On the contrary, I am availing of this opportunity to express my deep appreciation of the work carried out by these staffs on the improvement and maintenance of our road network. These authorities will continue to be fully responsible for the remainder of the road network after the establishment of the national road authority and their services will be required as agents in respect of work on the national routes.

I have recently made regulations which effect two changes in regard to motor vehicle number plates. The first change is to permit licensing authorities to issue identification marks in which the number will precede the letters instead of following them as at present. This course has been made necessary by the fact that some licensing authorities—notably Dublin —will shortly have exhausted all the marks available to them under the present system.

The second change is to permit, at the option of the owner, the use of reflective number plates. Where this type of plate is used the front plate must have black letters and numbers on a white surface while the back plate must have black letters and numbers on a red surface. The following considerations led to the choice of red.

The lighting colour code for vehicles provides generally for showing white to the front, yellow/amber to the sides and red to the rear. Proposals recently published provide for the marking of heavy vehicles with reflecting material —amber/yellow to the sides, red to the rear. It would be desirable to adhere to this colour scheme for the reflective number plates. Experiments conducted here and abroad indicated that black numerals on a red background read satisfactorily.

The proposal to use red was discussed with representatives of number plate manufacturers and of the motor trade and no objections were raised. Later the proposal was published and comments were invited from interested parties. There was no significant objection to the choice of red. Accordingly the regulations were made on that basis.

In the course of my statement on roads and traffic, I have referred to An Foras Forbartha a few times. The institute operates in very close relationship with my Department and the road authorities. While they for their part assist the institute, it feeds back an increasing volume of information to them. An important development in its road work during the last two years was the establishment as from 1st January, 1968, of the traffic accident records bureau where all traffic accidents reported by the gardaí are recorded and analysed. The data available in this bureau will enable accident-prone stretches of road to be speedily indentified and improved and will throw light on the contributory factors in road accidents. This bureau is, as far as is known, unique internationally in its coverage and depth and I trust that it will help greatly in our efforts to reduce road accidents.

Allied with the accident analysis is a national traffic counting system established with the aid of my Department and the road authorities whereby traffic is measured systematically and processed centrally for all major roads. This information is essential for planning and improvement of our road system to cope safely with the demands being made upon it. Amongst the reports received from An Foras was one dealing with public street lighting. I was concerned at evidence indicating that bad street lighting had been a significant factor in our accident rate. In any event, it was clear that our programme of street lighting improvement was going to be very costly. Accordingly, I asked for an examination of the need for an improved standard of street lighting and the most economical means of carrying out the recommended improvements. I have received this report which I am considering.

The local improvements scheme was introduced on 1st April, 1968. Progress during 1968-69, the first year of operation of the scheme, was disappointingly slow and most counties did not use their full allocation. I am glad to say that the reports received to date indicate much better progress this year. I would like to remind Deputies that it is a feature of this scheme that the county councils have been entrusted with full freedom in the detailed administration of the grants, subject to compliance with the general rules laid down by my Department, and that it is contrary to the policy of the Department to interfere with a council's discretion in this matter.

In the present financial year the total revenue expenditure of local authorities—excluding vocational education committees, committees of agriculture and harbour authorities—is estimated at £131.11 million, an increase of more than £14 million on the estimated expenditure for 1968-69. This expenditure is financed from three main sources of revenue—State grants, rates and miscellaneous receipts such as rents for local authority houses, purchase annuities, et cetera.

A striking feature of local finance has been the extent to which the proportion of the total revenue expenditure of local authorities met by local rates has fallen. In 1938-39, rates accounted for 52.3 per cent of that expenditure. By 1956-57 the total receipts met from rates as a proportion of local revenue expenditure had fallen to 39.7 per cent and for the current year the percentage is estimated at 33.3 per cent. This trend is due in the main to the increase in State grants over the same period. In 1938-39, State grants to local authorities amounted to 39.2 per cent of local revenue expenditure; in 1956-57 they amounted to 42.6 per cent and in respect of the current year, the figure is estimated to be around 50 per cent.

The efforts of local authorities to meet the constant demands for improvements and expansion in services they provide and which are vital to the well-being of the community, and to provide for the proper maintenance of these services, are, of course, reflected in increases in the expenditure of local authorities. The massive scale of State subvention of local funds—a total of approximately £65.92 million in the current year—provides a very significant measure of protection for ratepayers from the full effects of these increases in cost. Nevertheless there is a clear need to isolate and find solutions to the problems of local finance and taxation which the development of local services presents.

A substantial measure of progress has already been made in the investigations which are a necessary preliminary to any worthwhile and long-term overhaul of the present system. The inter-departmental committee to which these investigations have been entrusted have furnished three reports, which the Government have made available for public discussions and comment. Work on the preparation of a further report, which will deal with State grants to local authorities including the operation of the agricultural grant and certain aspects of differential rating is well advanced but must be deferred pending completion of a review of the structure of local government which is being carried out in my Department. As already announced by me it is the intention that when my review of the structure of local government has been considered by the Government a White Paper setting out the proposals on the matter will be published.

Local authorities are extensive purchasers of a wide range of commodities and the central contracting system operated under the Local Authorities (Combined Purchasing) Act, 1939 continues to play a big part in local authorities' activities. Their purchases from official contractors under this system in the 12-month period ended 30th June, 1968, totalled approximately £6.04 million as against £5.58 million and £5.4 million in the preceding periods.

This combined purchasing system has been of considerable benefit to local authorities and it has also been of help to Irish industries. At the same time, the framework of the scheme has undergone very little change during all that period. Accordingly, I have set up a working party which is currently engaged on a review of the system, with the object of ensuring that local authority purchasing arrangements may continue to be fully in keeping with the demands of the time.

Capital expenditure by local authorities in the year 1968-69 is estimated to amount to £32.786 million compared with an estimated expenditure of £28.238 million in the preceding year. Expenditure in the present year is expected to show a substantial rise. The bulk of this capital expenditure requirement comes from the Local Loans Fund. The total net indebtedness of local authorities at 31st March, 1969, was estimated to be £251.22 million, compared with £230.54 million on 31st March, 1968. These figures of indebtedness do not, of course, represent a deadweight burden on local funds. To a considerable degree the repayments involved are subsidised by the State —as in the case of loans raised for housing, water supply and sewerage schemes—or are met by annuities payable in respect of loans advanced by local authorities for the purchase of private houses.

I move:

That the Estimate be referred back for reconsideration.

We have heard a very long speech from the Minister in which he covered many facets of local government. I only wish that I were allowed to read a speech in the same way as the Minister has when dealing with such a large field. It would appear to me that somehow or other we are in a transition phase in regard to local government. This is an aspect on which the Minister touched, but not very deeply.

We have in this country 49 urban district councils, I think 27 county councils, four county boroughs and seven boroughs. Altogether we have 87 local authorities. There are great disparities as between these local authorities as regards population, area and valuation. There is an example of one extreme in Dublin City with a population of 569,000, a valuation of £3.58 million, where the produce of a penny in the £ is £13,000. At the other end of the scale there is my own town of Cashel, administered by one of the smallest urban bodies, which has a population of 2,685, a valuation of £6,154 and where the produce of a penny in the £ is only £24. There are similar disparities in county councils. For instance, there is Dublin County Council where the produce of a penny is £3,305, and there is Longford where a penny brings in much less. Of all our urban bodies, there are only five or six where a penny in the £ yields more than £100. In 50 of them, or roughly more than half, it brings in less than £50.

It is difficult to understand why local authorities which are so divergent as regards income should be asked to provide a uniform type of service. This is what we are asking them to do. As I have said, we seem to be in a stage of transition in regard to local administration and there has been a move towards regionalisation, in some spheres at least. There are county development teams which are now county-wide and universal. They consist of the county manager, the county engineer, the county secretary, the county development officer and the chairman of the county council. I do not know whether they have the statutory power of the Planning Act, but they are universal.

Again, the Department of Local Government has divided the country into nine regional physical planning areas. Buchanan recommended eight and these have been reconstituted. These bodies consist of boards and I do not know how much public representation there is on them. Some are vested with executive authority. Other regional development is shown in the health legislation passed recently and under which there will be eight health regions. Now we have a body which will deal with arterial roads pending the setting up of an independent road board.

These are all very large developments but they have been pursued here without any co-ordinating discussion in this House or outside it. Apart from that, there are certain peculiarities, even at local level, in administration. The Department of Local Government, for example, ordinarily is expected to function through local bodies, county councils, corporations and urban district councils, but it also functions directly to the public through the medium of grants, appeals, driving tests, water schemes. As well, the Department functions, indirectly or directly, through the Building Agency which may act as an agent or a subagent for the Department of Local Government in the matter of doing building work for local authorities.

From my point of view this type of administration looks loose. Why, for example, is it necessary for the Department to function directly in some matters and indirectly in others? Local authorities have many functions placed on them. During the years, it would be safe to say that in many cases local authorities have become the dumping ground for certain services and functions which Departments of State found too tiresome or uninteresting to carry on. The local improvement scheme was dumped on us from the Office of Public Works. That is one example. Certain functions of which we could well be rid, are placed on us by legislation.

It is equally true that there are other things which could perhaps be better done by local authorities than they are being done by the Department. We are expected to operate a civil defence scheme. Surely this should be a matter for the Department of Defence? It is wrong that ratepayers should be asked to put up the money necessary for a service like civil defence. If we want civil defence—I do not know whether we do or not; I do not know if we want a big army—surely it should be a matter for the Department of Defence and a matter for central Government financing? Ratepayers should not be called upon to provide the finance for civil defence. There is a Department of State dealing directly with army centres all over the country; yet local authorities are asked to put up the finance necessary to operate a civil defence organisation in each county.

The ratepayers are also asked to supply the money for vocational schools and agricultural committees. These things should be centrally financed. The Department of Education finances national schools and secondary schools. Why should the ratepayers be asked to finance vocational schools? That is a burden from which the local rates could well be relieved. Similarly, there are the agricultural committees and there is an advisory agricultural service in each county. I think that was introduced by Deputy James Dillon when he was Minister for Agriculture. Both bodies are doing an excellent job, but it is my contention that both bodies should be the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. I do not believe local rates should be asked to pay for these services.

The Minister would not have any responsibility for either agriculture or education.

The Minister was responsible for transferring the local improvements scheme on to the local authorities, even though we did not want it.

The Deputy may deal with that if he wishes.

The Minister functions as a unit of the Government and, therefore, the Government must bear some responsibility. Rates affect us very fundamentally and I think I am entitled to make the point that certain services laid upon local authorities have culminated in ever-increasing rates and, therefore, they should be taken from us.

The Chair is concerned only with what the Minister has responsibility for directly in his Department.

I shall not pursue that line of argument further. I have established the point that we have this loose type of administration under which local authorities are used as agents of Government Departments, compelled to finance services which should more properly be financed from central funds.

We have a system of local government which is 100 years old. Recently we had the report of the Devlin Commission, a commission which cost something like £150,000. From the point of view of local authorities the report is of no particular value. It deals with the Department of Local Government, but it does not deal with local government at local level. Presumably that was not included in the terms of reference. The report is of no help from the point of view of any review of the administrative structure of local authorities. We adopted the British system of local government, but the British have had two commissions examining into the system of local government. We have had none. They have also had several interdepartmental review bodies. We have done nothing here. We have never set up a commission to investigate whether the system could be improved and there was nothing in the Minister's speech to indicate any new thinking on that aspect. There was a reference to moving into a regionalised system. Some years ago it was suggested that local authorities should be given block grants instead of the present system of subvention. The block grants system has been in operation in Britain since 1929. We have not even thought it advisable, in 1970, to examine the system.

There are then the discrepancies between the various local authorities. In 1948 Britain introduced the Exchequer Equalisation Grant. No similar effort has been made here to help the less privileged and poorer local government bodies. In 1958 the system was modified in Britain. A general grant was introduced plus a rate deficiency grant. There are many ways in which our system could be improved but there is no indication in the Minister's speech that he intends to make any improvement. A complete overhaul of our rating system is long overdue. We pass ad hoc legislation now and again, adding a bit here and taking a bit off there, but there has been no real breakthrough as regards local administration.

We have had three inter-departmental committee reports mainly dealing with rates. The last one was specific and more to the point. Again, that is a rather piecemeal approach to the subject. A review of the financing of local government without at the same time making a comprehensive review of the structure of local government is a very inadequate approach and a report on those lines must be very limited. I do not blame the individuals who drafted that report. They did their best in the circumstances and their terms of reference did not ask them to suggest alternative arrangements.

Many of our urban bodies are unable to provide a service, especially in the fields of housing and sanitation, in any way comparable to that provided by the corporation or county councils. Many of our citizens would get a better service at a cheaper rate if they were de-urbanised. In about 50 of these councils a penny in the £ would produce from £50 down to as low as £22, that being the figure for Trim. Can one expect such an authority to produce a comprehensive service on the same lines as that provided by Dublin Corporation? In the town of Cashel, for years we had an appalling water supply. In my own house we had tar barrels off the road collecting water off the roof. In other parts of the town conditions were even worse. This is the way we had to live for years. There was a local supply from a reservoir; sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not. Sometimes there was no water and we were happy when the rain came and we were able to collect water for washing purposes.

There was no local source of water in Cashel and it would have been an expensive matter to finance a proper water supply. When I became a member of the county council it occurred to me that the only way it could be done was to have a joint scheme between Cashel and the county council. I proposed that in South Tipperary County Council and it culminated in the regional joint Galtee scheme in south Tipperary. Cashel alone would not have been able, from its own resources, to provide that essential service by virtue of its geographical situation, its low valuation and the low produce of a penny in the £.

Cashel is one of our tourist centres and in the suburbs of Cashel, crossing a man's yard, are the open sewers leaving Cashel. These open sewers can be inspected with a good pair of field glasses from the Rock of Cashel. So far Cashel has been unable to finance a proper sewerage system because the estimates given by our engineers would make the rates simply appalling. The produce of a penny is £4 and if a bill of £50,000 or £60,000 is submitted for a sewage treatment plan what can the local authority do? While the Minister will say: "I gave you such-and-such a percentage grant for this, that and the other thing", which is helpful in a large urban area where they can practically do it on their own, it is no use to a small urban area where there is very little money.

At our last council meeting in Clonmel I adopted the same procedure as before. A factory was built in Cashel just outside the urban boundary. That factory produces an added difficulty for us as regards sewage disposal and has put a burden on our sewerage system. At the last county council meeting the council agreed to come to the aid of the Cashel Urban District Council and provided 50 per cent of the cost of a sewerage system for Cashel. If these difficulties arise for Cashel they must also arise for other small urban bodies throughout the country.

There is a similar problem in regard to housing. I am not talking about grant housing for the middle income group where the people themselves can provide most of the money but housing for the poorer sections of the community who are unable to provide it for themselves. This type of building is beyond the resources of small local authorities.

In England with 45 counties and 79 boroughs, the Maud Report suggests there should be 55 unitary and three non-unitary bodies established to replace the 1,200 local authorities existing. This would be against a background of eight regional economic planning councils. In Northern Ireland it is being accepted that many authorities are too small. I understand that three authorities are being considered for major services and 20 authorities for other services. Similar thinking on our part would surely mean the disappearance of most of our 49 urban bodies and the grouping of our councils around our larger corporations. Therefore, if our smaller urban authorities are to be retained— and I should like to think they could be retained—we must endeavour to retain them by greater financial autonomy. It would be democratically sound if their financial resources could be related to some form of local taxation so as to preserve the maximum responsibility on the part of both the elected and the electorate.

If it is accepted that there should be no taxation without adequate representation then we must also accept that local representation should carry with it some form of local taxation. Indeed, the retention of our small urban local authorities, in whole or in part, depends on our allocating functions appropriate to the area in terms of population and to their financial and technical resources. One envisages the functions of a small urban body as those of a more personal nature, not involving any great expenditure. The requirement of small local authorities to provide services beyond their reasonable financial capacity must culminate in the provision of services based on need and not on means. I recognise that small bodies may be helped by subventions through various mechanisms, such as an equalisation fund, State grants on a graded or selected basis, or some form of rate deficiency grant, such as I mentioned as being in operation in Britain since 1954. Certainly, if the smaller urban bodies are to be expected to carry the full burden in the future, as in the past, some developments along these lines will eventually become necessary.

The present flat percentage system of grants does not meet the case where the more expensive services such as housing, water supplies and sanitation are concerned. If too great a functional burden is placed on these smaller authorities, the disparity in financial resources between them would not be so great provided the Exchequer is used as a supplementary ratepayer to raise the per capita expenditure of the smaller bodies by calculating a national average in the case of the more personal services.

The Minister mentioned regionalisation. If one examines the structure of the one statutory regional body in existence at present it is, I think, fair to say that, as units become larger, whether because of efficiency or economy, the limit of public control by representation diminishes and yields to officialdom. Local representation will gradually be eroded in the field of hospital administration and arterial roads. In the case of housing the formation of such bodies as the housing board, or even an extension of the activities of the National Building Agency, will diminish control by public representation. It is not inappropriate, therefore, to ask that these services be financed more from central funds than from local rating sources. So far as local representation is concerned, effectiveness in providing local services has been watered down and, as the central fund is now involved in them, it should pay a higher proportion of the cost of these services.

The Minister dealt with the financing of local authorities. He repeated the usual argument put up by successive Ministers that the Government are giving an increasing percentage from central funds each year and that the contribution from local authorities is diminishing. At present it is around the 50-50 basis. He estimated that local authorities would spend £131 million in the coming year. He said that £66 million of this will be provided by the Government and that the remaining £65 million will be provided by the local authorities. If one takes the corresponding figures for last year, on examining these figures, one finds that it was again on a 50-50 basis, £58 million being provided by the local authorities and £58 million being provided from central funds. It is roughly provided on the basis of one-half, one-sixth and one-third, one-half from the Government, one-third from the rates, and one-sixth local receipts from services given, such as hospital services. The Minister said that he subscribes half of the expenditure of the local authorities—I do not know what the figure is for this year—but out of the £58 million provided last year £17 million is agricultural rebate composed of the primary and secondary agricultural rebates and farm employment allowances. That £17 million is no use to local authorities; it is a handout to local farmers. I do not begrudge it to them, but I think it is wrong for the Minister to claim, as he does, that this £17 million is something that is given to local authorities to be used by them as local authority expenditure. It is merely a handout to the farmers and it makes the Government popular. No doubt, it is intended to make them popular. I do not blame them for trying to secure popularity, but we must keep the record straight and pull the Minister up when he starts telling everybody how generous he is.

There is a considerable degree of deception in his remarks. Each local county council collects a great deal of money and hands it over to the central funds. It is collected from motor taxation; this money forms the basis of the Road Fund. It was ordinarily considered a crime to raid the Road Fund. I do not see why the Government should say that this is a dispensation from central funds to local authorities. That is money we collect ourselves. They may take a bit of money from Dublin and give it to Mayo but this is money collected at local level from local people on the taxation of their cars, and it properly belongs to the local authorities. Yet this is claimed by the Minister as a Government aid to the local authorities.

Furthermore, in the 1966 Finance Bill there was a 25 per cent increase in taxes on mechanically-propelled vehicles. That 25 per cent increase does not go into the Road Fund at all. It is paid directly to the Exchequer. Consequently, on the last occasion when £12 million was collected from local taxation on cars, the Government handed out about £9 million to the local authorities and slipped £3 million into their pockets—I do not know which pocket—but it did not come back to the local authorities.

The Minister has been accused of raiding the Road Fund. It was an old catchcry in this House. He just smiles and says he is not raiding it, and he is not. Some Deputies get very wroth and think he is telling lies, but he is not. He is perfectly correct. He is not raiding the Road Fund, strictly speaking. He never lets the money into the Road Fund. When you take something from a person by never letting him get it into his pocket, or when you let him get it into his pocket first and then take it out, I do not know what the difference is. It is like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

It was only Cumann na nGaedheal who used to raid the Road Fund.

It is done now by legislation under the 1965 Finance Act and the Minister is quite happy——

When Deputy O'Donovan was the financial wizard.

——to raise the blood pressure of the Deputies on this side of the House by telling them the Road Fund is not being raided while they are quite convinced it is being raided.

It is legalised swindling.

It is done in a more sophisticated fashion. Apart from that, there are other large sources of income from the motoring public in every county. There are duties and taxes on motor cars and motor parts and motor fuel and finally there are the turnover tax and the wholesale tax—the wholesale tax is now equal to the turnover tax—on car and car parts as they are sold in the various shops up and down the country. All told, there is about £50 million accuring from the motoring public and pouring into the Exchequer. That is money which is being paid by local people in Tipperary, Limerick and so on.

I mention these points because I think the Minister has been getting away far too long with this fatuous argument that he is the fairy godfather or Father Christmas disbursing all this money to the local authorities when, in fact, it is really their own money and should never have left the county at all. The local authorities should be allowed to retain a higher proportion of the money which would come to them from motorists in their own areas.

The Minister set up this inter-departmental committee on the question of rates and they submitted a report and examined the various alternative rating systems. I am not one of those people who think you can suddenly get rid of the rates and get money magically from some other source. The rates have become too high a proportion of our national revenue to be easily replaced by something else. We all admit this is an unfair form of taxation. It is inequitable in so far as it is not based upon a person's capacity to pay. So far no one has had the courage to say it should be replaced by something else.

Certain suggestions were made in this report. They examined various alternatives to the present rating system. After all, our local rates are now approaching the £40 million mark. That is a sum of money which is not easily come by from some other source. The inter-departmental committee examined several alternatives either as substitutes or as aids to local taxation. They examined the question of a local turnover tax. They examined the question of an entertainment tax but, when you are speaking of £40 million, going around collecting a few shillings outside dancehalls for an entertainment tax does not sound very sensible.

They recommended some things which we had introduced here in legislation such as instalment collection of the rates and the exemption of certain classes, matters which we dealt with here a couple of weeks ago. They dealt with a system of collection which they called side value rating. This they did not recommend. It would be regarded possibly as nothing more than something on top of the rates. It would probably be regarded as something extra added on, as the wholesale tax is regarded vis-à-vis the turnover tax. They examined the question of a betterment tax and they examined the question of a local income tax.

A local income tax would have to be collected by Revenue and would be on an area allocation and it would be regarded as being inequitable and unjust to the poorer area. It would further increase the disparity in incomes between one area and another. They examined the question of a poll tax which, of course, is a very cruel form of taxation and they very properly rejected it. They even examined the question of a sweepstake but as we already have the Hospital Sweepstakes there is hardly room for another. Eventually they seemed to plump for some form of turnover tax, although I suppose if we go into Europe we will be calling it an added value tax. They suggested that this would be collected not by the 87 local authorities, because some of them would be too small to have the machinery to administer such a taxation system, but by 31 of the local authorities, in other words, the county councils and the county boroughs, and that they should be empowered to levy a tax of 50 per cent of the national turnover with the Revenue Commissioners acting as an agency basis.

In so far as that would be a broadly-based tax I think it is the only worthwhile suggestion which has been made so far as a method of relieving the rates. I have suggested that if the cost of the hospital services, arterial roads and houses were transferred largely to central taxation this would considerably reduce our rates. If the rates were also supplemented by allowing us to retain some percentage of the tax we collect on motor taxation and if we were allowed to get some percentage of a national taxation, I believe we could gradually proceed and I feel it should be done gradually to lower this present impost of £40 million taxation. I should like to hear the Minister's view on these matters. He has quietly and carefully said nothing whatever about financing. Apparently he is content to carry on in the same fashion and allow the rates to go on mounting. The only help we got was when the Minister for Health today said that as regards health charges no local authority would be asked to contribute more than 2s on the rates for health charges, that if charges were higher than that they would be met from central taxation. This is a positive approach to controlling this inequitable system of taxation which we term rates.

I have already mentioned that last year when our total expenditure was £116 million £58 million came from local sources and £58 million from central funds. However, of that £58 million £17 million was agricultural grant and £12.7 million was collected in motor taxation. Of that £12.7 million only £9.7 million was handed back to the local authorities for distribution on the roads. Our customs duties on imported vehicles for the same period was £7 million and taxation on road fuels was £37 million, a total of £44 million. If one adds turnover tax and wholesale tax on motor vehicles, motor fuel and accessories to that one gets quite a tidy figure secured from the motoring public and some percentage of that should be specially earmarked for local authorities and particularly for the roads.

The question of housing was dealt with by the Minister. I have listened to him for a number of years and his argument always follows the same line. He argues that the last inter-Party Government bedevilled the housing situation in so far as they used up all the resources that were available, they used up all the lovely planned sites that Fianna Fáil had left there to be built on and then they put their hands into the Exchequer and they took the huge amount of money that was there and they wasted all that and then they went out of power. The money was gone, all the sites were used and, of course, there was a lag period while Fianna Fáil reimbursed the economy and had to select and purchase new sites and they spent hours and days going round the country purchasing new sites. They then had to get the money to pay for them because the inter-Party Government had wasted it. He argues that there must be a three-year lag period between the beginning of a building scheme and its finalisation.

I do not know how he applies his three-year rule to the actual figures. I am now speaking of local authority housing and I am dealing with the Minister's argument which he made here on the last occasion and will probably make again because he always goes back to it. In 1955 the number of local authority houses built by the inter-Party Government was 5,267; in 1956 it was 4,011; in 1957 it was 4,784; in 1958 it was 3,467; in 1959—and here is the lag period coming into operation—it was 1,812; in 1960 it was 2,411; in 1961 it was 1,462; in 1962 it was 1,238; in 1963 it was 1,828 and so on. If, as the Minister says, three years are required to get building in motion what, in heaven's name, were they doing in 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1961? In 1961 1,462 houses were built, the lowest on record. That was four years after they had come back to power, ample time to buy new sites, to plan these new sites, to make their numerous visits to the Custom House, to get the necessary funds, to do all this tremendous spade work that is required before building a few houses. Of course, this three-year lag period is a very flexible figure. If there was an active Minister he would implement a crash programme and that three years could well become two or one and a half. With a Minister who does not want to build it might become four or five years as it did after 1957 when in 1961 the lowest number of local authority houses on record were built. The Minister has a rather facile tendency to give figures for which he claims, perhaps, more than he should claim. We must try to keep our minds clear when claims are made as to the number of houses being built. How are they built? Are they local authority houses for the less privileged section of our society or are they grant-aided houses? Are they houses for letting?

Our local authority housing, as in most countries, is financed from borrowing, and when the Minister talks about putting so much capital up for housing all he is doing is sanctioning the borrowing of that much capital from the Local Loans Fund. More than half of the burden of subsidising rents on local authority housing is borne by the rates and therefore the number of rented dwellings has declined vis-à-vis the number of private houses built. In the Republic, only one-third are provided by local authorities whereas in Northern Ireland two-thirds are provided. Recent figures from Northern Ireland suggest that during the past five years the Six Counties, with half our population, built a number of houses equal to ours and their percentage available for renting was three times ours.

Even in the field of grant-aided private housing, many urban bodies, particularly the smaller ones, have been unable to provide supplementary grants. This is recognised in the Minister's White Paper on Housing in which he states that he intends to compel larger bodies, such as county councils, to aid the smaller bodies and to share supplementary grants in respect of smaller urban bodies.

All this is reflected in the situation that we have during the past few years been building the smallest number of houses per thousand of the population, with the exception of Portugal and Turkey. It is for that reason that I have suggested that local housing subsidisation must be transferred to the central fund. I refer Deputies to the Department's own publication, Housing in the Seventies, page 52. It is an abstract from the OECD publication and it deals with the number of houses provided by different countries. In appendix 5, we find the number of houses per thousand of the population built in 1967: Austria 7, Denmark 9.2, Finland 7.9, France 8.5, Ireland 4.2, Italy 5.1, Netherlands 10.2, Norway 8.1, Portugal 4.7, Sweden 12.7, UK 7.6, West Germany 10.

In that list we occupy the lowest position. That was not an isolated year. It has been occurring repeatedly; it is the usual picture. In my county, South Tipperary, in 1965 we built 24 houses; in 1966, 44—a great year; 1967, 27; 1968, 28; 1969, 27; and there was one year when we built one house.

Very bad.

The house that Jack built.

These figures do not meet normal obsolescence and yet the Minister comes in with a battery of statistics to tell us not so much of how many houses he has built but how many he is going to build. In Dublin I understand there are 20,000 families on the approved waiting list.

Where did he get that figure?

Out of his head.

Out of Dublin Opinion.

And I understand there must be two children.

He made up the figure.

There are 24,000 dwellings at the present time with more than one family living in them. Does the Deputy contradict that? Seven thousand of them are in Dublin. There are 35,000 families living in overcrowded conditions.

It is a very thriving city with a growing population.

If it is thriving why do you not house its people?

It is only a dead city which has no housing problem.

In Cork ten years ago about one-third of the city's houses were more than 100 years old. I do not know what the position is today, and I do not know what the percentage is in Dublin.

A lot of the houses are falling down here.

That has been so within our own memory. I have given you the figures to show that internationally Ireland has the poorest record in Europe. The Government estimate that there is a loss of 12,000 houses per year through obsolescence and yet they claim that only 5,000 new homes for new families are needed in the Eighties. I submit that that figure is considerably too low. Will the Deputy contradict me if I say that, in 1966, 44 per cent of corporation houses were being sublet direct to relatives?

I do not know where the Deputy got his figures but I shall certainly deal with the matter when I make my contribution to the debate.

Another researcher has now gone to his tea.

I understand that a country person has to be a number of years here in Dublin before he is regarded as eligible for rehousing. How long must he be here?

We are a very exclusive city. The Deputy knows that.

It must be a very exclusive society. Will the Deputy tell me the difference in profit between erecting offices and skyscrapers and erecting houses? Will he dispute that the people are being pushed to the periphery of the city into housing while the more profitable centres are being utilised for building offices and such developments?

Eighty-four thousand houses in nine years is not a bad record.

What percentage of our GNP do we spend on housing?

4.1 per cent.

It happens to be the third lowest in Europe.

Britain is below us, even.

Deputy Hogan is looking at the graph in reverse.

I have not got it upside down.

The truth is often very painful.

Britain built their houses decades ago.

Their housing problem is a lot worse than ours.

I do not think so.

You do not know because you have not sufficient interest to find out.

I have given the figures for Northern Ireland and they are far superior, as far as one can judge figures, to what we are doing here. They are providing a very fundamental thing. A much higher percentage of their houses than obtains here consists of local authority houses. From a social welfare point of view, I think that is a desirability. After all, housing is a very expensive thing now. When a Minister gives out £275 for a grant-aided house and then puts it down in his statistics and says "I built that", that is going a bit far. If you look at figures in the report, you will notice that, increasingly, the percentage of local authority houses is becoming less and less and the percentage of grant-aided houses is becoming higher. I have no objection to the grant-aided houses at all.

It reflects an increased standard of living. Deputy Hogan is still living in Coalition times.

Not at all. It represents the Tory switch of Fianna Fáil, the switch to the Right.

The Deputy means the right switch.

It may be the right switch: I do not know. It is working so far. Whether or not it will continue to work, I could not say. The number of houses built here reveals the attitude of the Fianna Fáil Government to the tremendous problem of providing adequate housing for all of our people. What are we trying to do? We are trying to serve people. The people who have first call on us are those people who, of their own efforts, cannot provide any housing whatsoever for themselves. The Minister is moving away from them. The percentage of houses of that type is remaining static and, as representative of the total number of houses being provided, is falling.

That is entirely wrong.

It remains static for the simple reason that it enables the Minister to produce nicer figures if he lays emphasis on grant-aided houses. Local authority houses cost a couple of thousand pounds each. If the Minister can claim to have built a house by giving a miserable little grant that he was able to give away back in 1946— £275: it was increased a little lately— and build up his statistics in that fashion, he can claim so many houses built with Government aid and Government grant—all Government houses. Whether they are local authority houses or grant-aided houses is a matter we are not asked to probe too deeply.

The Deputy was told the position.

I am drawing the attention of the Minister to that particular question. I am also drawing to his attention the contrast that exists between what obtains here and what obtains in that other country of which he is so fond and which he calls the "Six Counties".

That is not another country. Deputy Hogan thinks it is. It is not.

Their percentage of local authority houses is higher than ours.

Would Deputy Hogan agree with their method of allocating houses up there?

I agree with Deputy Andrews in that respect. However, they are building the houses.

Does Deputy Hogan still call it another country?

The Minister is the great Partitionist now and he need not pretend he is anything else. I am sure the people on the far side of the House would not advocate one million Protestants among them, throwing them out of power. Fianna Fáil are doing nicely as they are: do not rock the boat.

I want to say a word or two about our water schemes.

The Deputy should not forget to ask me to give him a list of them now.

No, I shall not do that. I appreciate that the Minister is able to stand up there and talk for six hours without showing even a measure of fatigue. I think none of us in the House would even attempt it. Therefore, I am not provoking him in that respect.

As usual, of course, and as is to be expected from a member of a local authority, one always pretends one is not getting enough money. Deputy Treacy will bear me out that, in our constituency, we have been pioneers, I think, on the question of water supplies. We have spent a considerable amount of money on planning—something about £80,000. We had £2¼ million worth of work in the pipeline and we thought we could get it done. However, let me recall the financial stringencies in 1965 —"What happened to my March Budget?"—which prevented us from getting the necessary finances to complete these schemes.

On 11th August, 1965, we made application for a loan of £3,000 for Ardfinnan regional water scheme. On 15th June, 1965, we applied for £232 for Emly regional scheme.

Thousand? The Deputy left out the thousand. I would give £200 for it any time.

On the same day, 15th June, 1965, we made application for £407,000 for Dundrum regional scheme and in August the same year we made application for £178,000 for Clonmel regional scheme. That was £1 million. Since then we have got £200,000. At that time we asked if we could borrow money from outside. We were in a position to get £250,000 from the Royal Liver. The Minister would not agree to that. He cut us down but then he agreed to allow us to borrow £200,000 which we did. Later we went to the Royal Liver for more but we could not get it. We had to come back to the Minister and he made available to us £100,000 from the loans fund.

You did very well.

It has been disappointing to us, that we could not proceed with our regional water schemes but it is only fair to say that while we spent a considerable amount of money on them, £80,000, it would be wrong to say that was all waste of money. Some of it was wasted but a certain amount of engineering work was done which will be available to us later on for our group schemes. I am certain we will have to defer our ideas as regards our regional water schemes. We are now endeavouring to develop our group water schemes.

There is a lot to be said for group schemes. I have done my best locally to encourage the establishment of group schemes in my own area. The work which we have done in our regional schemes, the engineering, planning and laying down, can be utilised in providing us with the headworks and the basic source of arterial means from which group schemes can be taken. That is how we are proceeding at the present time. In the Dundrum regional scheme we are bringing a main pipe into Dundrum and from there we hope to develop group schemes from the reservoir and off the main. That is something to be recommended.

When money is scarce there is an opportunity of starting a group scheme immediately and in many cases the cost per household is lower than in a regional scheme. Admittedly, there has to be a local contribution and that is not inconsiderable but it is not excessive. Non-vested cottages get the service free and vested cottages are expected to pay £30. Small farmers of £15 valuation pay the same amount and the contribution is higher for those with higher valuations. For that £30 they get some extras. If the water is installed by the county council it is just brought as far as the gate or outside the house. Under the group scheme they are provided for that £30, if it is a vested cottage, with a sink, a gully-trap and a soak pit. If they had to call in a plumber to do this they would not have much out of the £30. Furthermore, we have arranged that there will be no water charges for the first three years.

I take it that water schemes all over the country are probably run in the way of a social service. I know that what we get from revenue does not cover the maintenance charges of our water schemes but it raises a difficulty in that 25 per cent of South Tipperary have got a piped water supply—I think that is pretty well an average figure— but the charges are met as a county at large charge. You have the difficulty there that 75 per cent of the people are paying for the other 25 per cent and this becomes a source of grievance and a source of friction. As I have said, this is a social welfare system in so far as the water charge is 1/- for 15,000 gallons or something like that. They do not pay for the maintenance, so by and large it is a social welfare service but when it is given to a limited percentage of the population the other percentage, be they two-thirds or more or less, have a sense of grievance that they are paying for something which they are not getting and that they are really subsidising the other fellow.

There is one point I would raise with the Minister and that is the question of local help as regards those group water schemes. In the county council we have a battery of engineers, officials, clerks, typists and so on but for our group schemes in South Tipperary we have just one man. He will now be handling a tremendous amount of work but as far as I know he has not got an office. He only has his private house and he works from there. When one considers the amount of work he will now be handling the Minister should look into this aspect of the matter and see if secretarial or some other help is necessary. He has mentioned he will appoint a number of extra inspectors. I do not know what he meant by that. I did not understand whether he meant extra engineers or just inspectors coming down from the Department but it looked to me as if our group schemes will fall into arrears unless extra help, secretarial or otherwise, is provided for our local engineers who are operating those schemes. The only help they get from the county council is a liaison service. I would draw the Minister's attention to that. Here one man is apparently asked to do an extraordinarily heavy amount of work but is inadequately helped.

Again, I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the impact of the rates on certain sections of the community. I am alluding now to the urban population. I put down a parliamentary question here and the Minister will, perhaps, look at his own report some time. I asked the Minister if he would give the annual return over the past decade of expenditure by local authorities to show (a) the percentage of expenditure borne by grants, rents and rates and other receipts in regard to county councils and (b) the percentage of expenditure borne by grants, rates and rents and other receipts in regard to other urban bodies. I wanted to see how the contribution from urban bodies to local authorities compared with county councils and the figures given are quite illuminating.

Beginning with 1960-61 in respect of county councils, grants as a percentage of expenditure amounted to 55 per cent. Forty-four per cent of local authority expenditure was in the form of rent and rates. In 1969-70, the percentage of Government grants had increased from 55 per cent to 61 per cent and the local contribution had decreased from 44 per cent to 36 per cent. In 1960-61, in the case of urban bodies, grants represented 24 per cent of expenditure while rent and rates amounted to 76 per cent. In other words, the urban bodies were paying three-quarters of their way. Passing from 1960-61 up to the present time, the percentage of grants from Government sources had fallen to 16 per cent and the rents and rates had risen from 76 per cent to 83 per cent.

These figures show the extraordinary burden which rates are now placing on urban communities. The Minister must be thanked for having prepared these figures for me. They do not include health service grants to the unified health authorities in the years 1961-62. Roughly, they give a pretty graphic picture of the impact of rates, showing that rates now place a very serious burden on the urban population. It has become serious over the past few years. It was never such a serious burden on the county councils, but it has eased on them.

As regards housing, for example, it will be noticed that up to 31st March, 1969, urban authorities collected £4.3 million on 103,000 houses in rent and rates. For the same financial year up to 31st March last county councils collected £85 million for 92,000 houses. In other words, the contribution made towards housing by the local people in the urban areas was £4.3 million while in the county councils the contribution was £.85 million.

I give these figures to the House because they bring out very forcibly where the shoe now pinches. It is not as it was in days gone by when one usually heard all the outcry about rates from the farmers. It would now seem that the situation has changed completely and the burden of rates would appear to press almost entirely on the urban population.

This is conservation year. I wish to say a few words on the question of pollution which is a problem of civilisation. It is a problem of the more advanced societies. It has been stated that there are 1,000 miles of rivers in Britain which have become highly polluted. One estimate given is that it will take £500 million to clear the rivers in Britain. We in this country must face the fact that we will find ourselves committed to considerable expenditure in the years ahead if we are to correct even the degree of pollution which already exists in this country. I presume that in America there is more advanced legislation for dealing with this problem. We seem to be bedevilled by the fact that the whole question of pollution appears to be nobody's business. Several Departments seem to have their fingers in the pie. In such a situation the job fails to become the responsibility of any particular body. Perhaps the Minister for Local Government has slightly more responsibility than others for this work. The Minister for Local Government should be given full responsibility for handling this important problem. Local authorities have responsibilities also.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries have also some responsibility in this matter of pollution. The fishery boards are interested in the problem. The Department of Industry and Commerce also feel that they should have a say in it. The Institute of Industrial Research and Standards have been busy investigating the matter. Several voluntary organisations throughout the country are discussing this problem and dealing with it. The Federation of Irish Industries have set up a policy committee on the subject. With all these bodies interested in pollution perhaps nothing will actually be done. The Minister for Local Government is considering the matter at the moment. He sponsored an international conference here a couple of years ago and they issued a publication on the matter. An Foras Forbartha have set up a section to investigate the problem and deal with it. I understand the Minister is contemplating bringing in legislation some time in the future. This is a serious matter also from the point of view of health, but, perhaps, it is still more important from the point of view of tourism and general amenities. In the Tolka, the Dodder, the Liffey, the Lee, Dublin Bay, the Barrow, the Blackwater and in a river in my own county between Tipperary and Chair, dead fish were discovered. These are seriously polluted rivers and the difficulty is that after a while they become dead and will not sustain any fish life. It will be a major problem for us to get these rivers into a clean state again. There is also the problem of pesticides and cases in which DDT has been found in fish are becoming increasingly frequent. A White Paper has been issued in England about this—the Minister has probably got it—and it has been found that DDT is being washed into our rivers and is becoming a problem.

Air pollution does not seem to have become such a problem here as it has in English cities. In Northern Ireland the Belfast Corporation are spending £100,000 a year to establish smoke-free zones. Water pollution presents, of course, the danger of typhoid, polio or gastro-enteritis, but as people quite frequently boil the water the problem in rural areas is not a very big one. I do not know what sewage treatment obtains in various towns in Ireland. As far as I know most of our towns empty their sewage into the nearest river; some of those towns that have installed sewerage schemes in recent times may have introduced some type of sewage treatment plant but in many of the older ones it is dumped into the nearest source which is the river.

I would draw the attention of the House to the recommendations made in a publication on water pollution here two years ago and presented to the Minister:

(1) There is at present a pollution problem and may be a more serious threat in the immediate future;

(2) There should be a central representative body for water pollution control responsible to one Minister;

(3) Water resources management should be integrated with the function of water pollution control in the central representative body;

(4) The present legislation is unsuitable.

In support of this the group gave the following reasons:

(a) the rigidity and consequent difficulty in enforcement of the statutes governing water pollution;

(b) the cumbersome procedures provided for in the existing law, and

(c) the fact that the scientific methods for the assessment and control of pollution have advanced far beyond the law.

(5) There is need for an immediate survey of water pollution even in advance of permanent legislation and the establishment of a permanent organisation to control and prevent pollution;

(6) More attention should be given to the operation and maintenance of many of the existing waste treatment facilities;

(7) There is need to make the public aware of the existing and potential water pollution problem.

These are the findings of a seminar held in 1967.

Will the Deputy please give the reference?

It is a publication by the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland on water pollution. In 1967 I do not think any of us were sufficiently alert to the magnitude of the problem. It is two years since we heard anything from the Minister on the matter; we did not have any local government talk from him last year. He escaped it.

You got enough the year before.

In 1968 the Minister said that water pollution was not a serious problem but I think he would hesitate to say that today as it certainly has become more of a problem in the intervening period.

On the question of swimming pools we are disappointed that the Minister is unable to provide money to continue with the provision of the pools. We have spent £373,000 on this to date, according to the Minister's figures, and there is a tentative £65,000 which might be spent later on 11 schemes. Unfortunately, this work is now suspended owing to lack of funds.

From a humanitarian point of view I must also express my disappointment that the Minister saw fit to suspend the Christmas relief grant scheme. One could argue it was not of monumental economic value but at least it brought a few pounds into houses at a time when, perhaps, the money was badly needed. This is a little scheme that has been going on for a number of years and which is looked forward to by many people. Perhaps the Minister is divorced from these things by not having to live in a small rural community but I would ask him to reconsider this scheme: he might find himself in a position next year to reintroduce it. I am not pretending that it is a scheme of great value either from a commercial or economic point of view but it brings considerable help at a time of the year when one believes one should help.

The Minister dealt with the question of the traffic problem in Dublin. More than once he has expressed his concern about this problem but, at the same time, I understand that when it was suggested that a multi-storey car park be built in Bride Street, he turned down a suggestion that he should make some contribution towards it saying that he had no money for that kind of work or something to that effect. I find it difficult to reconcile the Minister's concern for traffic congestion with his reluctance to provide the necessary help towards the provision of a much-needed car park in Bride Street. Maybe he had some special reasons for this and, if this is so, I should like him to deal with the matter in his reply.

The Minister dealt also with the question of building societies and their mortgage rates and I shall await with interest whatever legislation he will introduce in this regard. I understand that he is to review the present arrangements regarding income tax and corporation profits tax in regard to building societies. I understand him to say that if a certain high percentage of their spending is devoted to the provision of housing of certain dimensions, he would be prepared to consider sympathetically giving some help to them, probably in the field of taxation. I would be glad if this could help in any way those people who have often had to go without things for themselves in order to provide the money to erect their own houses.

I appreciate that the building societies are under no statutory obligation to the Minister. They can adjust their mortgage rates without reference to the Minister. The raising of these rates can impose a great burden on people who might be in straitened circumstances. We would all be satisfied if the Minister's intervention would result in helping these people.

I should like to go back for a moment to the question of group water schemes. The present grant from the Minister for these schemes is £30 in the case of sanitary installation and £60 for water supply. In the case of a private individual the grant is £10 less. Whether it is a private or a group scheme, these grants are very low and I would ask the Minister to be a little more generous with regard to them. Otherwise, the problem of getting these schemes off the ground will be far greater. The raising of the grant would popularise these schemes.

In some areas people have had a water scheme brought to their door by the county council while in a neighbouring area people fail to understand why they should be asked to pay a sum of £60 or £100 when they know that Murphy down the road had the water brought to his door a year ago and had to pay nothing. One must overcome these difficulties at local level. Most of these people know what happens within a radius of ten miles and if two or three people change their minds there can be some difficulty in getting the group scheme off the ground.

One other point in relation to these particular schemes is the question of persons in vested or non-vested cottages. A person in a non-vested cottage gets the group water supply scheme free but a person in a vested cottage will be asked to pay £30, and a person is deemed to be living in a vested cottage if he merely has made application for vesting although he may have to wait for years before vesting repairs are carried out.

That seems a little unfair because some couple of years ago a situation arose with regard to people who had made application for vesting at the time of the introduction of the differential rent system which applied to all non-vested persons. In that case however a person was deemed not to have vested unless vesting repairs had been carried out. Therefore differential rents applied to him. If he happened to be in a higher income bracket he was in the position that he had applied for vesting but, through no fault of his own, the county council had not done his repairs even though he might have applied two or three years before that. His neighbour, perhaps, applied more recently and his vesting repairs were, perhaps, smaller and the county council might decide to do them and cover as many as they could. The neighbour then is vested and is buying out his house at, perhaps, 75 per cent of what he was paying annually whereas the first man is still deemed not to be vested and will be put on a differential rent and, if he happens to be in the appropriate income bracket, his rent will be raised.

Here there are two different concepts operating. In one case where the differential rent applies, the man who has not had his vesting repairs done, is regarded as not being vested but once his application is in, whether his repairs are done or not, if he applies for a water grant he is deemed to be vested. This seems to be a completely illogical approach—dealing with the same individual in two different ways. I particularly ask the Minister to consider raising the grants for group water schemes and also grants for private water schemes as the present figures of £20 for a sewerage scheme and £50 for a water supply and, under a group scheme, £30 and £60 respectively, are clearly inadequate.

My last remark is in the form of a question which I intended to put on the Order Paper. I want to ask the Minister does he or the Department intend to publish a White Paper on local government in the near future?

We have had a very long statement read to us by the Minister for Local Government. The brief contained 67 pages not counting what he said in Irish. Having listened very carefully to him I was deeply disappointed that he did not realise the seriousness of the housing situation. He dealt mainly with housing and it is disconcerting that the Minister could be so indifferent, so callous in regard to the widespread human misery which the scandal of housing involves at present.

The Minister made a long, ponderous, unimaginative speech and was utterly complacent. We in public authorities know only too well that in regard to housing the Minister is and has been treading on very dangerous ground for a long time. Bad as the situation is at present—and I appreciate how easy it is to juggle with figures especially in regard to Dublin Corporation which has been abolished for some time and where information for local authority members is not readily available—it has been aggravated tremendously by an acute credit squeeze in the Minister's Department. This has been amply manifested in recent decisions, the most notorious being the withdrawal of the unemployment relief grants at Christmas time which showed a complete disregard for the sufferings of the most underprivileged and weakest section of the community, the unemployed.

We know what a great boon these grants were in providing employment at Christmas time so that people could have the ordinary comforts of life during the Holy Season My party regarded that act as particularly callous on the part of the Minister. We appreciate it was done as a result of lack of money but it took a very indifferent, callous and bankrupt Minister to withdraw these essential grants which were of such benefit to unfortunate people at Christmas time. Apart from that, the grants were of inestimable value to local authorities in helping them to carry out essential work in providing various amenities that must now be provided out of the rates.

In respect of the credit squeeze which I allege is operating many devices are used apart from the withdrawal of essential moneys such as I have mentioned. The Minister's officials are applying many stalling devices to slow up progress with such amenities as housing, water and sewerage. There is fault-finding with plans to prevent schemes being implemented while the real reason is that money is not available. It would be more honourable to say this rather than have unnecessary shuttling of plans between the country and the Custom House because of minor fault-finding, in many instances, with the object of delaying implementation of many much-needed schemes. These delaying tactics have also been applied to housing.

This is to be greatly deplored because, by delaying the implementation of the housing programme, and progress has been slow enough, we are extending the long purgatorial wait of countless thousands who are living in truly appalling conditions. If necessary, I will quote the relevant statistics but I do not think it can be gainsaid that literally thousands of our people are living today in overcrowded, damp, dilapidated, rat-infested flats and hovels. Every local authority in the country has a long waiting list. The position in this capital city of Dublin is a scandal. All our cities and towns throughout the country have a housing problem.

There was no hope held out in the Minister's speech for those who have been waiting for years for a decent home. There was no gleam of hope for newly-weds. They are expected by tradition—mark you, I have been told this by an important official—to wait for a certain number of years until they have a certain number of children before their application for a home is seriously entertained. They are expected to endure this long purgatory of waiting for a decent home. That is the way in which we treat our newly-weds. They are compelled to live in garrets, three or four storeys up, dragging fuel, food, prams and everything else up long stairways and paying exorbitant rents for being compelled to do so. There are no adequate facilities from the point of view of water and sanitation. They are exploited by unscrupulous rackrenters who charge them £2, £3 and £4 a week for living under these desperate conditions.

There is no hope at all held out in the Minister's speech that there will be any acceleration of the housing drive to end these people's purgatory. Is it any wonder that, in these conditions, we have the lowest marriage rate in Europe, if not in the world? The first essential for young people entering into marriage is a home. But our young people are not permitted to have their names put on the waiting list unless they have a family of two or three children. We should do something effective to end the sorry condition in which our young newly-weds find themselves. I have mentioned the way in which they are exploited. I have mentioned the callousness with which public officials treat them, as if waiting indefinitely for a home is the proper thing to do.

It almost looks as if certain vested interests are planning the housing programme to suit themselves. There are vested interests in housing from the point of view of land speculators, property speculators and financiers. They do not want to see the housing problem solved. For them the problem represents lucre and gain. I plead for the thousands who are living in abject misery. We seem to forget that housing can determine people's attitude towards life. It is no wonder we have such a high incidence of juvenile delinquency. Housing and environment are very important in the rearing of children. Housing can mean happiness. Housing can mean better health. Housing has not been receiving the priority it should. That has been the position over a long number of years now. Instead of giving some real hope by providing the extra millions required, the Minister has been particularly conservative. Indeed he intimated a cut-back in respect of certain essential services and, in particular, in respect of housing.

I do not support the provision of grants for those who can build lavish homes, but it is an indication of the financial difficulty in which the Minister finds himself that he is informing us now that houses costing in excess of £6,000 will not receive grants from his Department. Presumably they will not receive grants from the local authority either. The people who can afford lavish homes in excess of £10,000, £15,000 or £20,000 do not require State assistance. Because of rising costs of labour and material and because of increased interest charges the houses which we would hope to build for £3,500 to £4,000 will run into the £6,000 bracket and will be caught in the net of the Minister's new proposal. Private builders catering for a certain category will find themselves involved and this proposal of the Minister's may have a very serious effect since private builders may be dissuaded from building this type of house. That, in turn, will affect the building industry and employment. The Minister indicated the cut-back but gave no indication of reliefs at the other end.

There are.

We will see about that. The Minister's complacency is not shared by the public at large. There is, thank God, a growing social awareness and a growing social conscience in regard to the scandal of housing, particularly in this city. There are housing action committees. Priests and people are banding themselves together and exposing the hideous reality. There is a growing awareness, a growing vigilance and a growing determination to expose the scandal. I congratulate the tenant associations and the action committees. So long as this scandal remains we must express our horror and our detestation of it here in this House and, if necessary, on the streets. It must not be allowed to go by default.

One of the Deputy's own party was beaten up by an action committee.

The matter is too urgent. The scandal must not be covered up and we make no apology for availing of every opportunity to ventilate our people's grievance. Whatever about the statistics the cold fact is the proportion of the gross national product we spend on housing is one of the lowest in Europe. Recent figures show that Sweden builds 13 houses per 1,000 of the population; Holland, 10; Denmark, 9; Austria, 7; and Ireland, 4.

It is an indication of the Minister's unwillingness to deal with this problem of the spiralling cost of land that there is contained in his speech a statement that he can do nothing about it. While colossal profits are made by speculators on the sale of land for house building thousands of our people suffer terrible distress. The land for house building ought to be taken over by the State and the local authorities assisted to take over such land. We are asking that there be an end to this exploitation by land and property speculators and the glorified moneylenders. It is our house purchasers and our tenants who will have to pay in their rents for what the exploiters are raking off from the astronomical price of land. It is an abandonment of responsibility by any Government Minister to allow this scandal to continue.

We are not calling for unbridled nationalisation of land, but in the public interest the Government should acquire the essential amount of land for the provision of housing, playing fields and, indeed, sites for industry. It is deplorable that the Government should stand by and see land, much of which has been serviced by way of water and sewerage at the expense of the local authority and the State, fall into the hands of speculators. The Minister indicates in his statement that it would be futile to interfere, that there are constitutional issues involved. However, he also refers to the need for local authorities to acquire a pool of land mainly for house building.

Only last night at a corporation meeting in Clonmel at which I was present the question arose of the acquisition of quite a number of tracts of land for housing, for playing fields for both the children and adults of the town, and also for the establishment of new industry. Our manager was unable to indicate to us where the money would come from for these schemes. Will the Minister give us the money to acquire these essential tracts of land? Money is the issue here. If the Minister will not take the appropriate legislative steps to assist us to acquire land then he has the responsibility of assisting us to acquire the money. If we put up a proposal to him next week or the week after to sanction a loan involving a considerable amount of money for the purchase of an additional amount of land in my town or the town next to it, will he give speedy sanction to such a proposal or will he allow the speculators to hold up to ransom the 160,000 people in this country who are in urgent need of re-housing?

It is not good enough that this matter of housing should be left to the private builder, to the local authority or the National Building Agency. There should be greater State involvement in order that we would initiate the crash programme which would enable us grapple effectively with the problem.

The 1960 survey in respect of housing indicated that there were 50,000 houses unfit for habitation and incapable of repair at reasonable cost. That figure of 50,000 houses does not include the cities of Dublin and Cork. A further fact is that there are 40,000 unfit houses which are capable of being repaired, again excluding Dublin and Cork. The survey indicated the rate of obsolesence in housing, that there were some 160,000 dwellings built over 100 years ago which would have to be replaced, having reached the end of their usefulness.

The average life of a house in this country is estimated at approximately 80 years. According to the 1961 census there were 63,000 houses in this country which were grossly overcrowded. We can juggle with figures any way we like but all of us know full well, especially those of us on the local authorities, how helpless we feel when people come to us in utter distress about the urgent need of a house. It is the long purgatory of waiting to which I object; it is the complacency and indifference to which I object; it is the exploitation of these people to which I object and it is the condoning by the Government of this exploitation in land, interest charges and rents to which I object.

The Government are to be greatly deplored for condoning the increases in interest charges on loans for what I would call old houses. The interest rates on these loans, secured many years ago, were increased without adequate consultation or explanation. The borrowers had understood that the interest rates were fixed and determined. It is intrinsically bad that old loans can, at the behest of the building societies, be increased in that fashion. Whether the interest rate had been fixed at 3½ per cent, 5½ per cent or 6 per cent the borrowers understood them to be fixed at a permanent rate. It must have come as a deep shock to them to find that the interest rates on the loans could be increased in this fashion. We regard it as unjust, if not immoral. There is no justification for the Government approving and condoning this nefarious practice. If the Minister can make a case for it, I shall be glad to hear him, but we know of no good reason why people who secured loans many years ago with fixed interest rates should have them increased at the whim or will of any speculator.

At the time I recall seeing the gentleman concerned trying to make a case on television for the increase in the interest charges. I have never listened to such rubbish in all my life, but I did sense that this man spoke with an air of confidence, an air of disdain, as if what he had done was a jait accompli irrespective of how the people felt about it—and, of course, he was right. A few days later I saw the same gentleman's photograph appear twice on the same page of a national newspaper in the company of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Haughey. In these circumstances what can one do? Here was a positive indication of a vested interest and the condoning of exploitation which is a national scandal.

One could spend a long time dealing with the many aspects of this housing problem but I want to emphasise the urgency and the importance of accepting the principle, or at least affording the local authorities an opportunity of implementing the principle, of the ownership of all building land which they require for essential purposes. I want to try and convince the Minister, in the few minutes I have left, of the great need for engaging on a crash programme in order to solve the housing scandal. I heard with a certain amount of enthusiasm—the only gleam of it I got from the Minister's brief—about the erection of prefabricated dwellings as a temporary device. There is a doubt about whether the wooden structure, the prefabricated structure or the industrial unit type of construction, would qualify for grant purposes. I ask the Minister to make clear, not only to Members of this House but to the whole country, precisely what type of prefabricated dwelling will qualify for a grant. It takes a long time to secure a grant because of the rigid conditions which are laid down by his Department.

I know there are certain categories of prefabricated dwellings which, to the consternation of the people who erected them, do not qualify for a grant. It is very saddening for people, embarking upon the construction of a house in the belief that they are going to get a grant towards its cost, to find, having involved themselves in the financial commitment, that the type of structure which they have erected does not qualify for a grant. This means that they lose the local authority grant as well as the State grant, which adds greatly to their financial predicament. It is urgent and important that the Government make clear to the builders of these dwellings, and to possible home seekers, which types of dwellings will qualify for a grant.

We would like to see 100 per cent loans available to borrowers at reduced interest rates. At the present it is both prohibitive and dissuasive for a person needing a house to have to embark on the project at a repayment rate of 9 per cent or possibly 10 per cent. That is nothing but usury and extortion. If we regard housing as being in the same category and having the same priority as health or education, there is a greater need for subsidisation. We know no better way of subsidising than by providing a reduced rate of interest. We should like to see special assistance being given to the building societies and especially to building co-operatives. We should like to see subsidised loan interest for borrowers in the low income bracket, persons who have to remain for long years on local authority housing lists. They could be helped considerably by low interest loans of this kind.

I have already mentioned the disturbing aspect of the increasing interest rate on old loans. We believe that when an economic interest rate is decided upon it should be fixed and unaltered and that in future a guarantee should be given by building agencies to borrowers that the interest rate will not be increased. I want to indicate to the House the shock, the dismay, the anxiety and the additional financial burden felt by people who secured loans for houses in the past because of the fact that, at any time, at the whim of these building society representatives, interest rates can be increased. It is not that they can be increased in a particular situation but can continue to be increased from time to time. The Government have a responsibility to step in here and prevent rather than condone this unfair practice. Above all, we want the Minister and the Government to accept the responsibility to re-house all those who need re-housing as a matter of urgency, at rents they can afford.

I shall deal with the matter of rents tomorrow morning. In the short time available to me now I want to mention one important part of the Minister's speech where he talked about the establishment of regional development organisations. As members of local authorities we have already given some consideration to these proposals.

Many of us felt that in some way these proposals were tied up with and were part of the Buchanan Report. The Minister has confirmed our opinion in this respect by his statement here this evening. The idea of the establishment of regional development organisations is an integral part of the Buchanan Report. Most of us in this House have expressed our horror and dismay at what would happen to our country if the Buchanan Report were implemented in its entirety. We know and the Minister knows it would mean the creation of a few growth centres mainly around the bigger cities, and the other towns which were not designated—and mark you no town in my constituency, no town in the County of Tipperary, one of the largest counties, was designated a growth centre—would become ghost towns, our villages would dwindle away and our countryside would be denuded of its population.

We are fearful of a gentleman sitting in a London office with an English-orientated view of economic and social affairs. We doubt very much that that type of man is well suited to deal with the social and economic affairs of our country. England is a vast industrial country which is highly populated, and our country which is so very largely underdeveloped and under-populated is, in the main, an agricultural country. To apply English views to us would be to the detriment of the people of Ireland. It might seem to be economically wise to adopt the Buchanan Report but many of us feel that it can and will have disastrous social consequences if implemented.

The Minister has not said clearly whether the Government are adopting the Buchanan Report. I will advert to his remarks in detail in the morning. I want the Government and the Minister to say clearly whether they are accepting the Buchanan Report or what parts of it they are accepting because what we are being asked to do now as local authorities in the establishment of development associations is an integral part of that report. It is not good enough to fob off this issue any longer. It has got to be faced.

What may be happening is that surreptitiously the Buchanan Report is being implemented and the Government are being two-faced about it. On the one hand they are saying: "We have made no decision on the Buchanan Report. We have not made up our minds yet." We know that there are large doses of Buchanan's ideas in the intention to establish regional development organisations. We must have a frank answer to this important question: how much of the Buchanan Report is being accepted and how much is being rejected? We, as public representatives, are not prepared to have a "quick one" put across us in a matter of this kind.

There is a great deal to be said for the establishment of regional development organisations. In the main this would have a co-ordinating effect. The co-ordination of regional plans is very desirable and we would support it. The collection and dissemination of information is very laudable. There is nothing at all wrong with the combination of a number of counties in a region, such as is proposed for the counties of Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny, Carlow and South Tipperary, for purposes of that kind.

It is significant that the extent of this south eastern region is identical with that of the area for the implementation of the health services. We now have an indication from the Minister that he will shortly be bringing forward legislation to make the administration of main roads the responsibility of a central authority. I prophesy that when it comes to regionalising the administration of the main roads, which is now being taken away from the local authorities, this region will again be the designated area.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 12th February, 1970.