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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 23 May 1972

Vol. 261 No. 1

Committee on Finance. - Vote 8: Public Works and Buildings (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That the Vote be referred back for reconsideration.
—(Deputy L'Estrange).

When I reported progress last week on this important Estimate I was stressing the need for development of our historic places and castles. I mentioned that the Parliamentary Secretary in his statement omitted any recognition of the historic castle of King John at Limerick. I did not have the time to impress on him the need for his Department to alert themselves to the need for the development of this historic building. We have been discussing a document for four or five years with regard to the development of this building. We had discussions with the Office of Public Works and with the Shannon Development Association and the members of the Limerick City and County Councils. I am a member of the committee and we put before the Minister and the Department the necessity for the development of historic buildings in that area.

I want to submit to the Parliamentary Secretary some figures which cannot be disputed. King John's Castle is of great historic significance. The building is under the guardianship of his office. It comprises five round towers joined by a high stone wall which remains in good repair on two sides of the courtyard and is broken down or missing entirely from the other sides. In January, 1966, we set up a committee to prepare plans for the improvement of King John's Castle. These repairs were to be carried out in stages, if necessary. The committee was to submit to the members of the city council an estimate for the various works. After having numerous discussions with interested parties, with the architectural section of the Office of Public Works and the engineering section of the Limerick City Corporation, we eventually agreed that this development should take place.

One factor which made us come to such a decision was that in the surrounding area we have Bunratty Castle, some ten miles from Limerick, and Knappogue Castle, some four miles further on. Bunratty Castle had 9,000 visitors in 1963 and 76,000 in 1969. They are completely booked out. There is no further accommodation there and people have to be turned away. This castle is not developed sufficiently to take larger numbers. If it were, I am sure this figure of 76,000 people coming on tours there would increase considerably. We estimated that a sum of £180,400 would put King John's Castle into sufficient repair to compare with what we have in Bunratty and in Knappogue Castle.

We also surveyed the capacity of the castle and we found that the seating accommodation would be in the region of 150 persons and, on the basis of two banquets a night from April to October, this gives a total capacity of 64,200 people. This is something that should bear heavily on the Office of Public Works. Tourist attraction is absolutely guaranteed. We have made a mathematical projection of what it would mean to the city generally and we estimated that an 80 per cent expenditure in the Limerick city area would amass £565,000 in one year. This must be recognised by the Office of Public Works.

Having gone into all those details, starting in 1966, for some unknown reason we have not got this venture off the ground at all. The castle is deteriorating more and more every day because some more or less derelict buildings, which were officers' quarters during the British occupation, have now been demolished by the Limerick Corporation and this leaves that whole end of the castle completely open for any kind of vandalism. This unfortunately is taking place. Large stones have been picked out of the wall, holes have been bored in it and weeds of all descriptions are growing from the walls on all sides. The castle is being allowed to decay.

I cannot understand why the Office of Public Works and the Parliamentary Secretary have not taken notice of the need for this development in the city of Limerick. It is no fault of ours. As members, first of all, of that committee of which I am a member and, secondly, as members of the Limerick City Council, we have been pressing and pressing since 1966 for this amenity to be developed but to no avail. I do not know when a start will be made. I want to know here and now. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give a clear indication why something has not been done by his Department. His predecessor, who is now the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, saw to it that Kilkenny Castle was developed. I had the pleasure on many occasions of visiting Kilkenny Castle, going right through it and seeing the developments that have taken place there. I have seen for myself the benefit it has brought to the city of Kilkenny. I cannot understand why the present Parliamentary Secretary has not followed in the footsteps of his predecessor and has not made one of the most historic castles in the country a place of attraction for the enormous numbers of tourists who happen to come within 12 or 14 miles of this castle, that is through Shannon Airport. I want to impress on him that something will have to be done urgently. This would benefit not just the city of Limerick but the nation as a whole.

There is another matter I want to raise and that is the conditions of employment that prevail in the Office of Public Works. There seems to be no permanency for a certain section of the employees. For some unknown reason it seems that people who have been employed for five, ten, 15 or 20 years are still only temporary employees, not eligible to benefit from superannuation, pensions or any other schemes that go with permanency of employment. I cannot understand it. Any man who has been in employment in a Government Department for four, five, ten or 15 years should, in justice, be employed on a permanent basis. There is a duty on the Parliamentary Secretary to see that that is done. It is not done at present and when he is replying I want to know the reason why.

I want to raise with the Parliamentary Secretary and the Office of Public Works the manner in which they have treated Garda barracks. After 15 or 20 years of agitation we have got, within the last 12 months, the consent of the Office of Public Works for the erection of a principal Garda station in William Street. It is a pity that we, who are members of a public authority, had not the right to go and inspect some of these buildings held by the Office of Public Works. If we had, our public health inspectors would have condemned them out of hand as being uninhabitable and indeed dangerous. That is the position which prevails with regard to the main station at Limerick but something has been done after 15 or 20 years agitation by us, the members of the Limerick City Council. I am glad that something has been done.

The majority of sub-stations throughout the country are little better than stables. Men have to content themselves with old, broken, wooden floors. There is no central heating. They get a limited supply of solid fuel which must last from some time in October until some time in late March or early April, whether the weather is fair or foul. They must stretch it as far as possible because they will get no more from the Office of Public Works. This is most unfair. Some of these men must sit there all day; others on night duty have to sleep on an old shake-down in the corner of the day-room which bears no relationship to what they would have in their homes. Much has to be done with regard to the standardisation of Garda barracks generally throughout the country.

The Parliamentary Secretary has devoted all his resources to the development of offices for his Department in the city of Dublin. The Office of Public Works have offices throughout the country and I see no reason why major sections of this Department should not be located throughout the country. Very many matters could be dealt with locally rather than referring them to the head office in Dublin. This would eliminate the delays that occure and the unnecessary expense that is involved in referring everything to Dublin.

I should like to stress the necessity for the development of the canal system throughout the country. Most of our tourists come here because they like the relaxed atmosphere, and because they can travel in comfort, unlike the very crowded centres on the continent. Tourists come because we have a perfect waterway; the Shannon with its lakes and its scenic surroundings is a tremendous attraction. On the upper Shannon from Limerick city there are landing places to accommodate the people who travel on the waterway in their yachts and houseboats. Many of these people would prefer to use the canals rather than transport their boats overland but, unfortunately, the canal system has been allowed to fall into disrepair.

It would be a simple operation to clear the canals; in fact, the canals from Limerick city to Killaloe could be cleared quite easily. There is no dredging to be done, it is only a matter of clearing up the weeds. Perhaps in some cases the old canal gates would need some renovation because formerly the canals were hand-worked. That could prove an attraction in itself; in the mechanical, jet age in which we live tourists would prefer to see the canal gates operated manually. It would not take much money to have the canal system developed in order to attract people from Dublin and elsewhere who want to enjoy peaceful holidays on the Shannon.

I should like to refer to the manner in which furniture and other equipment is purchased by the Office of Public Works. A combined purchasing list is issued by the Government and, unless there are exceptional circumstances, all purchases must be made from this list. We know that some of the items purchased from this list have proved to be completely inferior in quality. Members of this House know that in the restaurant here the legs are falling from some of the chairs and we know that the desks and seats in schools are of inferior quality.

On the combined purchasing list certain firms are mentioned and prices are stipulated. It is well that we should consider the price aspect but we should also consider the quality of the goods supplied. If we approach the problem on a price basis only we must forget about quality. I should much prefer to buy the better article even though it may be more expensive; there is a saying that the dear article is the cheap article in the end. The Office of Public Works might consider this aspect when they are purchasing for the various institutions throughout the State.

I should like to congratulate the Department on the attitude they have displayed regarding the rehabilitation of handicapped children. I am a member of a committee who deal with handicapped children in Limerick city and I know what it is to try to rehabilitate disabled people. After a hard tussle we arranged for the appointment of a blind physiotherapist in the Regional Hospital in Limerick. I can say that the results this person has obtained have been astounding when one compares them with the other physiotherapists throughout the city. We have employed blind people as telephonists and we have tried to bring them into workshops where they have been given an opportunity to carry out work which suits them.

Other Departments should follow the example of the Office of Public Works with regard to rehabilitation of handicapped people. There is no point in constructing institutions and schools for the rehabilitation of these people and then saying: "So far and no further." We want to see these people rehabilitated and able to take their place in the community; we want to see them treated as equals and not as inferiors, as has been the practice heretofore. While I have been critical of the Office of Public Works on many points, I want to congratulate them on the initiative they have shown in this matter.

Much has been said about community schools and many objections have been voiced. I should prefer to wait for another occasion to discuss this matter. I have my own views on this and I shall express them in no uncertain terms.

The question of the Kennedy Memorial has been discussed with greater emphasis within the last couple of months. At a time when emotions ran very high in the country it was decided to erect this massive building. Experts were sent all over Europe and to America and special people from each Department were sent around with public representatives to find out exactly what would be a suitable memorial to the late President Kennedy. However, we must get our priorities right and see that first things come first. This project can certainly be left for another day. There are more urgent things needed, too numerous to mention, to which this money could be devoted. I would appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to have another look at this matter and ask himself whether it is in the national interest that we should go ahead with this project at present.

In conclusion, I would hope that what has been promised in this report, particularly in regard to the development of a harbour at Kilkee and a white strand in West Clare, will be implemented speedily. The resorts in West Clare have become more and more boat-conscious and we have not the facilities for these house boats, motor boats, speed boats and so on. I have been through the Scandinavian countries and I have seen there thousands and thousands of boats of every size and description tied up in each fjord, because people want to get off the roads and to get into places where tensions can be relaxed and where the scenic beauties and amenities of a particular area can be enjoyed. The Board of Works should apply themselves along these lines and if people are given the boating facilities they want it will be to our benefit when the tourist season is over.

I want to tell the Parliamentary Secretary that I have found him most co-operative in regard to any suggestions or matters with which I have asked him to deal. I hope he will take note of what I have said and that he will take my remarks in the spirit in which they are made—that is, of wantting to be helpful in suggesting that people coming here will get whatever facilities they want. They want civility, which they get; they want homeliness, which they get; but they also want that little extra which could very easily be provided by the Office of Public Works.

Mr. O'Donnell

There are just a few points in the Parliamentary Secretary's speech on which I would like to comment. I believe that the field in which the Board of Works has the greatest responsibility is that of arterial drainage. Here I want to condemn in the strongest possible manner the new tactics that have been adopted by the Board of Works in recent months of postponing commencement of some major arterial drainage schemes. The value of arterial drainage is so obvious that it is very difficult to find justification for the introduction of new costdevelopment techniques, which is a new development by the Board of Works in relation to arterial drainage.

The Parliamentary Secretary has said that the Board of Works have decided that before any further major arterial drainage schemes will be carried out a cost-benefit study should be done to ascertain whether or not the money to be spent in draining this river was justifiable. Of all the stupid or ridiculous schemes that have ever been introduced by a Department of State this beats all. Surely if land which is subjected to flooding is drained, the productivity of that land will be improved. One does not need any cost-benefit study to understand the economics of drainage.

One of the pilot areas selected for this cost-benefit study idea is the Maigue catchment area in County Limerick. This river and its tributaries flows through some of the best land of this country, the Golden Vale, probably the finest agricultural region not only in Ireland but in Western Europe. Thousands of acres of this land are subjected to flooding year after year and thereby rendered unproductive. There are many areas where the application of cost-benefit techniques are desirable but surely they should not be necessary in the case of arterial drainage. Have we not had long years of experience of the land project under which hundreds of thousands of acres were reclaimed, and surely the Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Institute and other agricultural expert bodies are well aware of the agricultural return from arterial drainage?

I am highly suspicious that this idea of cost-benefit studies in relation to arterial drainage is just an excuse to cover up the situation in which the Government have not got the money or are not prepared to make the money available to carry out arterial drainage schemes.

Let us look at the Maigue. The drainage scheme prepared for that catchment area has been the subject of High Court and Supreme Court proceedings and as a result of the Supreme Court decision an amended scheme had to be prepared. The machinery, the equipment, the manpower were available in County Limerick immediately following the completion of work on the Deale. We were given to understand that the amended scheme was ready and that work would be commenced a year ago. Now the Parliamentary Secretary has come to the House and announced that work on the Maigue scheme cannot be proceeded with until he has seen the result of the cost-benefit study which he expects to have this year. Because of that, provision for the Maigue could not be included in this Estimate.

I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary a number of questions on this and I hope he will answer them when he comes to reply. What has happened to all the equipment, the machinery that was lying in County Limerick following the completion of the Deale scheme and which was being kept in Limerick for work on the Maigue? Has it been removed to another area—are those machines being used in other parts of the country?

This question of arterial drainage is of singular importance now in the light of our entry to the EEC, when it is vitally important that our farmers should make the optimum use of their lands so that they can increase their agricultural exports, particularly the volume of their food exports, in order to benefit from the enlarged markets, when emphasis will be on efficiency and productivity. I submit there is urgent need for a greatly accelerated programme of arterial drainage and that the amount of £878,000 which is being provided for it in this Estimate is ridiculously small when one considers the amount of work that has to be done on major drainage schemes yet to be tackled. It is absolutely ridiculous that a small sum of a little more than a quarter of a million pounds is all the Government can provide for this urgent necessary work.

I object strongly to major arterial drainage schemes being postponed and I object to the Government insisting on cost-benefit studies designed only to produce results which every practical farmer in the country already knows.

There is no mention in the Parliamentary Secretary's introductory speech of another major catchment area which has been the subject of considerable agitation and about which deputations have been received by the present Parliamentary Secretary and his predecessor. I refer to the Mulcaire catchment area covering part of counties Limerick and North Tipperary. Beyond the statement that before any major schemes would be embarked on a cost-benefit study will have to be carried out, there is no mention in the Parliamentary Secretary's opening speech about that scheme. When he is replying I want him to say whether the Agricultural Institute long ago carried out studies here, in England and elsewhere into the economics of drainage.

There is no information in the Parliamentary Secretary's speech as to the real reasons for these cost-benefit studies or what the lines of investigation will be or what information the Board of Works are looking for through these studies which is not already available from studies by the Agricultural Institute and the Department of Agriculture. Unless the Parliamentary Secretary can put forward very convincing reasons for initiating these cost-benefit analyses in relation to arterial drainage I must regrettably say I can look upon this as only a stalling tactic to cover up the lack of money available for arterial drainage.

There is no doubt that the intention of the Parliamentary Secretary to leave over work on the Maigue catchment scheme will be greatly resented by the farmers of County Limerick who for years have been agitating for this work and who time after time have been disappointed and have had their hopes dashed. It is reasonable now to assume that there is not an earthly hope of work being commenced on the Maigue for at least two years.

There are hundreds of thousands of acres in this country which, because they are subject to continuous flooding, are almost totally unproductive. That is another reason why arterial drainage should be taken entirely out of the hands of the Board of Works. It is much more relevant to the Departments of Agriculture and Fisheries and Lands and I hope that the reorganisation recommended in the Devlin Report will be implemented.

There are a number of different subheadings here relating to the moneys allocated for different activities. I am particularly glad to note that there appears to be a considerable stepping up in the provision of much-needed new facilities for the Garda Síochána. As Deputy Coughlan pointed out, the situation in Limerick city was absolutely deplorable. The Garda head-quarters were housed in a very old building and the Garda force were trying to operate a modern, efficient policing service in a building which was antiquated and totally unsuited to the needs of a modern police force.

I sincerely hope that there will be no delay in providing a proper Garda headquarters in Limerick city. Indeed, what has been said about the Garda headquarters in Limerick can also be said about many of the Garda barracks throughout the country. Some of them are in a very poor condition and I hope that the expectations which have been aroused by the Parliamentary Secretary's speech will be realised, and that additional moneys will be voted for the modernisation of the existing Garda barracks in many areas, for the provision of new buildings, and so forth.

The Parliamentary Secretary dealt at length with another important range of activities which are the responsibility of the Office of Public Works: national monuments, inland waterways and Shannon navigation. There is no doubt that these developments are very desirable and can have a very big bearing on the tourist industry. We have had the example of the outstanding success of the castles projects in the mid-western region. There is considerable scope for a similar type of development in other regions.

I fully endorse what Deputy Coughlan said about King John's Castle in Limerick city. The position is serious in that the condition of the building is deteriorating very rapidly. Unless a decision is taken very soon to go ahead with the work, it is doubtful whether it will be possible, or economic, or feasible, to develop this large building along the lines of Bunratty Castle and other castles. A good deal of messing has gone on, and a good deal of passing of the buck from one authority to another. The time has now come when a decision must be taken to proceed with the work.

There is no doubt that the development of King John's Castle as a tourist attraction would be a tremendous asset not merely to the Limerick region but also to the entire mid-western region. It would be unfortunate if the condition of this castle were to deteriorate to the stage where reconstruction and development work was not possible. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, as far as he can do so, to see to it personally that whatever snags are being encountered are ironed out as quickly as possible. There is a very strong desire on the part of all the tourist interests in the region to have the work of converting King John's Castle into a modern tourist attraction proceeded with.

The work of the Office of Public Works on the maintenance of monuments and other historic landmarks is very desirable and praiseworthy. I am glad to note that, despite the fact that there were delays due to unforeseen difficulties in getting the necessary plaques to identify the various monuments, the work of erecting these plaques is now being proceeded with. Many of these monuments are of great historical and archaeological interest. They are of considerable interest to the vast majority of tourists. Time and again there have been complaints from visitors who are interested in historical and archaeological matters that some interesting monuments or ruins carried no plaque to identify them.

This type of development is all very urgent, particularly in the light of the difficulties being encountered in the tourist industry at present. It is vitally important that visitors should not only be provided with accommodation and transport but also that every effort should be made to ensure that their special interests are catered for. A considerable number of tourists from Britain and North America are of Irish descent, or Irish extraction, and they have a very keen interest in the history of Ireland. Anything that can be done to make their visit more interesting, or to provide them with more information on the history of Ireland, is a desirable development. I heartily endorse the work being done by the Office of Public Works in the preservation of our antiquities and monuments, the development of our castles, the sign posting of places, and the erection of plaques. This work will play a very large part in the development of the tourist industry.

The same can be said about our canals and inland waterways. One of the most outstanding developments in tourism in recent years was the vast increase in the number of tourists who came here, hired a boat on the Shannon and spent a very enjoyable holiday. It is vitally important that the question of navigation should be borne in mind. There is considerable scope for the development of our inland waterways from the point of view of navigation, thereby attracting more tourists.

The Parliamentary Secretary also referred to the work being carried out in the provision of schools. I note that the Chair has ruled out of order a discussion on schools because they are the responsibility of the Department of Education. The Office of Public Works are what is called the executing agent. I presume I am correct in that interpretation. I do not want to infringe on the rules of the House.

The Office of public Works are the agent for the various Departments. They have not got responsibility for them.

Mr. O'Donnell

These matters can be discussed on the Estimates for the relevant Departments.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will deal at greater length than he has dealt with it in his introductory speech with what was my main criticism of his Department, that is, the new policy in relation to arterial drainage and particularly the introduction of cost-benefit techniques.

I have stated on previous occasions that this is probably the most interesting Estimate to come before the House because of the great variety of items covered by it and I would suggest again that the Parliamentary Secretary consider changing the name of his Department because nobody ever calls it by its right name of Office of Public Works. They simply refer to it as the Board of Works. This year's Estimate covers a vast range of topics and subjects, with which I agree. However, there is one exception. I note with dismay the proposal to place a glass screen between the Public Gallery and the House. I do not know what the reason for this is, nor do I know what useful purpose is to be served, but I do know that in no other European Parliament are the public separated from the members by a glass case. One might take a line from Tennessee Williams and call it the glass menagerie.

The Deputy will appreciate, as was pointed out to a previous Deputy, that the Office of Public Works is not responsible. This is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges to deal with and the Deputy ought to refer it to them.

I appreciate that. I want to support the Parliamentary Secretary in his request that this must be done and hope the Committee mentioned will consider the matter. I merely want to say that I regard it as a retrograde step. We got rid of the old wire grille and we all welcomed it, but to erect a glass barrier between the public and the Members is absurd, wrong and should not be done. If it is meant as a kind of protection, although we scarcely need protection, it would be scarcely adequate for that purpose. Last week in another European Parliament, at Strasbourg, I saw demonstrators throwing piles of protest documents into the auditorium and it was over in ten minutes when a fellow was thrown out and that was all there was to it. Our people are able to conduct themselves as well as any Europeans and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to have this decision reviewed if at all possible.

I am glad to see running right through the Estimate provision for better office accommodation for staffs because when one walks into any building in the city, one sees staff working in offices which are inadequate, which are old and in some cases almost decrepit. Today we hear much criticism of office buildings, but the fact that civil servants spend approximately one-third of their days in an office must surely make us aware of the great need to provide proper working conditions. I often wonder if the Corporation of Dublin were to pursue the legislation governing conditions in offices, would there be in some cases grounds for taking legal action with a view to providing proper accommodation; but we now see that not alone in Dublin, but in Drogheda, Letterkenny, Waterford, Athlone, Mullingar—not to mention Brussels, and I am sure that the Brussels building will be new and the staffs there will have adequate accommodation—we are to have new offices. If we are to go by European standards, let us make sure that our staffs at home have the same adequate standards as we would expect to find in a modern building in Brussels.

Once again there is mention in the Estimate of the memorial hall to the late President Kennedy, and while one may read announcements in the papers as to the future, and indeed a possible starting date, that the design has been accepted, it is now nine years since the tragic death of the President, and while I appreciate the efforts made to provide a hall on the site at Ballsbridge and knowing the difficulties which lay in the way, may I suggest that on the Ballsbridge site at least we put a plaque or some kind of token monument of commemoration to indicate our intent to provide this fitting memorial? It may be said that it is not the best site, but it was selected and quite an amount of money spent in purchasing buildings, and I am glad that because of this operation, Dublin Corporation took over some of the buildings bought and converted them into housing accommodation for 14 family units and should any change of heart take place as regards the ultimate site, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will bear in mind the fact that this site is an excellent site, close to the city and has very historic links, and that before any new decision is made, the whole matter will be thrashed out in the House, if possible, so that we can decide on where the hall will be. While saying that, I would be very much against any encroachment on any public park by any kind of building because with the population of this city rising to the million mark, it is absolutely essential to preserve every green space we have. If we do not do this, posterity will curse us for our lack of imagination in not providing sufficient open air amenities for the citizens.

On this point, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would also consider a big change, a new departure, in the provision of parks in this city. At the moment his Department controls two parks, Phoenix Park and St. Stephen's Green. Both of these are a credit to his Department. They are well kept and they are being improved all the time, and I know that he is very much aware of the need to provide greater facilities in St. Stephen's Green. Here we have this beautiful park, a great playground for children, but there are not ample amenities to occupy the children there. Some time ago I approached the Parliamentary Secretary on this matter and conveyed to him the protests of people, living in the densely populated areas surrounding St. Stephen's Green, regarding the lack of facilities for their children. More playgrounds should be provided in the Green and a number of rangers should be given the job of supervising these areas so that parents could rest assured that their children were playing in safety. With the exception of the rangers, adults should be barred from entering the areas designated as children's playgrounds. I know that there is a shortage of space but, undoubtedly, it would not be beyond the competence of landscape artists in the Office of Public Works to devise the necessary amenities. The Green should be a haven for children. The provision of recreational facilities for them there would have the effect also of reducing the stresses and strains that are imposed on parents who, at present, are reluctant to allow their children to play there. If there are not sufficient rangers available to act as supervisors of children's playgrounds, perhaps more rangers could be appointed.

The Phoenix Park is one of the great amenities that we have and we must ensure that not an inch of that parkland will be devoted to anything but parkland. This park is the pride of Dubliners and of Irish people generally but it must be guarded jealously against any development. The facilities there for athletics and other sports are not bad but I would like to see more space being provided for this purpose. I suggest that the architects in the Office of Public Works survey the park with a view to providing these extra facilities. One can walk through parts of the Phoenix Park and find one's self in an 18th-century environment. That is very nice but the population of this city is increasing to such an extent that the facilities for games in the park are not adequate and in some cases football clubs cannot guarantee their members that they will have a match every week because of the demands on the available facilities. There is a responsibility on us to provide recreational facilities for our young boys and girls. It is my belief that if we could encourage our young people to engage to a greater degree in sporting activities, we would not have the amount of juvenile delinquency that we have now. It is a case of mens sana in corpore sano.

I am sure that this House would willingly vote the necessary moneys for the provision of extra sporting facilities in any of our parks. The population of the Greater Dublin area is almost 800,000 now but in eight years time the figure is likely to be 1,000,000. Therefore, it is easy to realise how great will be the demands in the future for recreational facilities. Let us hope that in the Estimate next year sufficient money will be devoted to ensuring that every park under the control of the Office of Public Works will be not only a park in the real sense of that word but will also be a recreational centre. Of course, all of this would pose a problem for the Office of Public Works but perhaps they, in conjunction with Dublin Corporation, Dublin County Council and with Dún Laoghaire Borough Corporation, will ensure that in not only the centre city area but in the suburban areas also there will be adequate parks at the disposal of all our people. Young people 20 years from now will not think kindly of us if they find that instead of having a beautiful city with open spaces and recreational facilities they have a kind of concrete jungle where children are forced to play on the streets.

The gardens in the Phoenix Park and in St. Stephen's Green are well kept and when the flowers are in bloom, these areas are beautiful. Fortunately there is not too much destruction of flowers possibly because the flowers are in abundance and are not railed in. If railed in they present a challenge to certain types of youth who tear down the shrubs and trample on the flowers. The Department of Education has the duty of providing schools and the Department should circularise these schools asking them to bring home to their pupils the need to safeguard and protect our public parks, which are really the property of the people themselves; if it were pointed out to the children that they were destroying their own property there would be a very different approach. That kind of education would result in a vast improvement in the care of public property.

One of the most heartening items in the Estimate is the restoration of Scoil Éanna and I would like to pay a personal tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary for the very deep interest he has taken in this project. It was in Scoil Éanna Pearse dreamed his dreams. Had he lived I am sure this school would now be regarded as one of the best schools in these islands. I am glad that playing pitches are being provided. This school was in a rural setting but it is now becoming rapidly urbanised but we should not deplore this because it simply means that our people are being better housed. I do not think anyone would begrudge one penny of the money spent on Scoil Éanna. In time, I hope it will be opened to the public. The recreational facilities are to be commended. Pearse loved children and, if he were alive, nothing would make him happier than to see children romping and playing in the grounds around this school.

Restoration work is being carried out on the Royal Hospital and on Holy Cross Abbey. When the Museum takes over the Royal Hospital it will, of course, be open to the public. Some years ago it looked as if this building might have to be pulled down; thanks to the wisdom of the Office of Public Works and the expertise of the craftsmen now available this building is being preserved. There are some who would pull it down because of its association with a former regime. We should do as the Indians have done, put plaques up on these public buildings saying we admire the beauty of the architecture—we deplore that for which those who built it stood— and we are therefore preserving it. If a building is worth restoring, then it should be restored.

With regard to Garda barracks, new barracks have been provided but more new barracks are needed. The barracks in Irishtown, Dublin, should certainly be pulled down. It is a rather forbidding building and it looks sadly in need of reconstruction and renovation. So forbidding is it that it gives a wrong image of the Garda. A modern barracks should be erected in Irishtown, a barracks designed for the prevention of crime rather than the detection of it. Incidentally, the record in Irishtown is excellent; it is one of the most law-abiding areas in the city. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to review his priorities and pull down this old barracks in Irishtown. Tone in his diary talks of holidays he spent in Irishtown. I am sure that barracks was in existence then.

It is not often that urban Deputies speak about arterial drainage. I do not propose to go deeply into the subject, but I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that he should take over the rivers in the city of Dublin in the same way as he has taken over the Grand Canal. There are 28 rivers altogether, some of which are underground. In the case of the Liffey different local authorities are involved. In the city it is the Dublin Corporation and the Port and Docks Board; then you have Dublin County Council, Kildare County Council and Wicklow County Council. Would it not be much better if the Office of Public Works were to be responsible for these rivers so that one scheme could be carried to completion? The Liffey surely needs some kind of treatment. They could start at the estuary and go right to the source. There would be no overlapping of effort. You would not have difficulty and diffidence in making a decision. At present if Dublin Corporation decide to clean the river and beautify it, Dublin County Council may not be in a position to do it just then, or Kildare County Council may not be ready to move, even though they may have the best will in the world to do this job. If the Board of Works took over the whole matter there could be one decision to clean the Liffey from estuary to source.

The Office of Public Works may say the local authorities would escape the cost but this need not be so. If there are four miles of the Liffey in the city area and, say, three miles in the county and so on it would be easy to charge the appropriate authorities so much per mile as their contribution to the total cost. With the huge population of Dublin we must preserve the waterways. We have some lovely rivers in the city : the Liffey could be quite nice. We must impress on the corporation and the Port and Docks Board the need to at least clean the river. Some day a start will be made but even to do it from Heuston Bridge to Butt Bridge or to where the Liffey joins the Dodder would involve the Port and Docks Board as well as Dublin Corporation.

Also, if the corporation and the county councils and the port authority were to undertake the work they might all feel they should buy heavy equipment or, at least, hire it. This costs money and there would be overlapping of effort and of spending while the Office of Public Works, which has quite an amount of equipment, could begin by using its dredger down the estuary and then putting a smaller dredger further up the Liffey or the Dodder or the Camac or the Tolka. In the case of the Tolka on the north of the city they would have a very flat run, unlike the Dodder or the Liffey which are self-cleansing to some degree. Dublin County Council, which has most of the Dodder in its area must stop at the boundary. I suggest the Parliamentary Secretary should consider taking over the city rivers. I do not mean the navigable part of the Liffey, which is a matter for the Port and Docks Board but that part from Butt Bridge upwards. This would save the community money and a better job would be done. You could ensure the job would be done and the cost would be worked out afterwards. It need not fall on the Department of Finance. The bodies I mentioned would, I am sure, be glad to play their part and pay their part in having the rivers cleaned.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary give some indication of when the Grand Canal Scheme will begin? When will the canal be taken over and when will the scheme to beautify it begin? When will Dublin Corporation begin to lay the sewer beside the canal? The canal is another amenity and now that the Government have taken responsibility for it I should like to know when the formal transfer of ownership from CIE to the Commissioners will take place and when will they begin to clean and beautify it.

The most important part of the Estimate deals with the provision of primary schools and, while progress is being made, one always feels a little impatient at the rate of progress. This time I do not propose to offer any criticism of the provision made in the Estimate because it contains provision for specal schools for the handicapped. Many of us have advocated such schools for years. Thanks mostly to religious orders and lay charitable organisations, such as the Central Remedial Clinic or St. Michael's House and others, great work is being done. The Office of Public Works deserves credit for progress in regard to the provision not only of primary schools but also special schools. The year ahead will show further progress. If the Department ever disappeared, as was prophesied in a certain report, it would be a great loss.

This is one of the most interesting Estimates to come before the House. Had I been a civil servant instead of a politician I should have liked to work in the Office of Public Works because of the variety offered including school building, the provision of parks and playgrounds, conservation of architectural beauty and provision of special schools or primary schools. Every part of its activity is well worthwhile.

Without delaying the House further I merely want to put again to the Parliamentary Secretary the points I made about St. Stephen's Green particularly and the assumption of responsibility by the Office of Public Works for the provision of parks and open spaces, especially in the city, and also about taking responsibility for the care and improvement of the rivers. If this is done it will lead to better conditions and Deputies will not have to turn out to clean the river themselves.

When observing the many and varied activities of the Board of Works one marvels at its ability to do any one job reasonably well. The extent of its work in regard to arterial drainage, preservation of national monuments, erection and maintenance of primary schools and Garda barracks and the maintenance of the very many public buildings seems to me to constitute too great a burden of responsibility for any one body.

A case can be made for the diver-sification of the many activities of the Office of Public Works. Much of the work which they do might be carried out more effectively by the local authorities. Many other agencies might be directly involved in carrying out the work effectively and speedily in a more competent manner. It is not surprising that there are so many delays when so many tasks are placed on the shoulders of one Parliamentary Secretary. I will not elaborate on that. In many areas there are buildings, projects and monuments under the care of the Office of Public Works which should really be the responsibility of local authorities.

My primary purpose in intervening in this discussion is to refer once again to the importance and urgency of the arterial drainage of the River Suir. Many of my constituents will be disappointed to find that there is no reference in the Parliamentary Secretary's speech to the commencement of this work. We were led to believe that the drainage of the Suir would commence last year or this year. It is disappointing to find that we are again left in the position of not knowing precisely when this work will commence. I would be grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary if he would say what preparatory work has been carried out in respect of the drainage of the River Suir and when the work is likely to commence. Arterial drainage is a good gimmick at election time.

This is the position in South Tipperary. People have been led to believe that the preliminary work was being carried out and that a major scheme of arterial drainage was about to commence. The years 1970 and 1971 have passed and 1972 is passing. I presume this Estimate is for 1972-73. There is nothing in it which gives us hope that this important project will be carried through now. This drainage has been the subject of concern and agitation in my constituency. It has been the subject of representation from many public representatives. The Parliamentary Secretary's predecessor, Deputy Gibbons, received a highly representative deputation two years ago. The indications were that the work was about to commence then. Emphasis was laid on the need to eliminate the recurring flooding in County Tipperary.

A graphic description of the seriousness of the situation was given to the Office of Public Works. They were told of the flood-points and of the hardships and financial losses which occurred. On occasions the loss of human life has followed the recurring flooding. Thousands of acres of arable land in the Golden Vale of Tipperary, between Thurles and Carrick-on-Suir, are inundated with water annually. The lands turn sour and are difficult to clean. Communities are cut off. Herds of cattle and sheep are isolated and grave losses are incurred. The local authorities are either unable or unwilling to do anything effective to remedy the problem. The drainage of the River Suir and its tributaries is really urgent. We have reached the stage where the river is very choked. It has been neglected by the local authorities for years. The tributaries have been neglected. To walk along the banks of some of the tributaries one would imagine one was in the Amazon jungle. They are choked up, with hedges intertwining on both banks. Fishing and boating are impossible.

The blame for such neglect ought to be placed on those responsible. The Office of Public Works have accepted responsibility in this matter. They should be honest enough to tell us that they have not the financial resources to commence this work until the year X. In the meantime they should come to the assistance of the local authorities and do something as an interim measure to relieve the flooding. Instead of assisting the local authorities to carry out the preliminary work the Government have done the very opposite. They have abandoned the Local Authorities (Works) Act which empowered local authorities to carry out cleaning operations on rivers and streams in their areas. Christmas unemployment relief grants were also suspended. These grants were utilised for similar purposes. There is now no financial assistance available to local authorities for work of this kind. There is reluctance on the part of the local authority concerned to interfere in the hope, possibly the belief, that the Office of Public Works are about to commence the major scheme. The loss of arable land, the hardship caused to people, the financial loss involved, the loss of animal life and, on occasions, regrettably, the loss of human life caused by flooding cannot be tolerated. The work must commence. Most of the preliminary work has been carried out. I do not know what the shilly-shallying is about. It is a source of deep disappointment to me that there is no reference in the Parliamentary Secretary's speech to the drainage of what is one of the largest rivers in the country, the urgency of which has been known to the Office of Public Works.

The river Suir flows through the ridings of North and South Tipperary and a large portion of County Waterford. There are at least three county councils, two corporations and a number of urban councils concerned. Flooding is caused to many of the large towns along the river. Clonmel is subject to constant and recurring flooding. Carrick-on-Suir is subject to flooding. Cahir, Ardfinnan and other places suffer annually from overflowing of the river banks. The village of Ardfinnan has been isolated for days as a result of flooding caused by the Suir and its tributary, the Tar.

We have talked enough on this subject in this House. I have made many contributions on the subject on Estimates. We have raised many questions. Many deputations have met various Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries. I am entitled to a positive statement. I am pleased that the Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy Noel Lemass, has returned to the House. He has the duty of explaining why there is no mention of the arterial drainage of the Suir in the speech he made to the House and of indicating when this important work will commence. The people of Tipperary and Waterford expect a statement along those lines. It was anticipated that work would commence this year. It is a source of grievous disappointment to us to find that, once again, the matter has been shelved.

I notice that there is only a marginal increase in the provision for the erection and repair of primary schools— from £3,665,000 to £4 million. This is greatly to be deplored, particularly having regard to the fact that almost 1,000 primary schools have been closed in recent years. The children who were catered for in these schools have had to find accommodation in larger schools. There is a high incidence of overcrowding and hardship involved. It is difficult therefore to understand why there is not a substantial increase in the provision for the erection of new schools, the extension of existing schools and the repair and renovation of schools.

Many Deputies must be aware of the appalling conditions prevailing in rural schools. In many cases there is lack of adequate heating, ventilation and playing facilities. There is not adequate shelter provided for children during lunch breaks. Bicycle sheds are not provided. The amenities that should be provided are sadly absent. Proper arrangements are not made in respect of funding school authorities in respect of the provision of fuel and appliances. Invariably, it is the children who suffer.

It is heartening to learn that appreciable progress is being made in the provision of schools and other facilities for mentally and physically handicapped children. We support the Government in all they are doing to resolve the serious problem of the mentally and physically handicapped. We have all been gravely perturbed by the lack of proper institutional care for such children and by the fact that children are on a waiting list for a long number of years before proper accommodation is provided for them.

This, of course, is a matter for the Minister for Health. The Parliamentary Secretary has no responsibility in this matter.

I appreciate that but I refer to the matter because the Minister referred to the provision in the Estimate for mentally and physically handicapped and I thought I would express my support for all he is doing in that regard. It is a matter in which we are all deeply concerned. This provision is long overdue. Anything that the Parliamentary Secretary or the Office of Public Works can do to bring succour, aid and comfort to these people will have the support of this party.

Much good work is being done in the preservation of ancient monuments, castles, moats and places of historical and archaeological importance. We are greateful that these places are in the care of a body such as the Office of Public Works. We are sorry that more and more of these places are not taken in charge. When they are taken in charge the Board of Works seems to regard it as sufficient to put up a notice saying that the particular castle or monument is in their charge. However, little is done to supervise that monument or to maintain it. One has, in fact, to draw it to their attention that serious damage has been done before one can get them to repair or preserve the particular monument.

The Board of Works should be in a position to point out to local authorities places of historical importance which ought to be preserved in particular areas. In many areas there are monuments of importance which ought to be preserved but are let go into ruins. I refer particularly to battlements, old town walls, forts and castles to which the Board of Works are not addressing attention. I do not want to refer to any particular monument but every local authority, every county council and every corporation are to blame for not looking after particular buildings. The Board of Works should be in a position to intervene directly and to say that they will take steps to preserve the particular building or historical monument if the local authority fails to do so.

I mentioned the delay which elapses before the Board of Works act in a particular situation. I was obliged to write to the Parliamentary Secretary and his predecessor in respect of the standing stone at Longstone, Cullen, County Tipperary. This standing stone is of very great historical and archaeological importance. It blew down in a storm some years ago. When the matter was brought to my attention I brought it to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary. I have had a number of replies in respect of this matter but that stone has not yet been restored. Nothing has been done to repair or replace this stone. Last week I had a further letter from the Parliamentary Secretary stating:

This is an extremely important monument and, as stated in my letter of 29th January, 1971, a full investigation of the internal mound, involving extensive archaeological excavation by an experienced archaeologist is necessary before the repair and re-erection of the stone can be undertaken. I am advised by the Commissioners of Public Works that when the essential preliminary research of this type of monument has been completed arrangements will be made to have the site excavated. The excavation is not, however, scheduled to commence this season, but it is hoped to survey the site.

This is a simple matter. In my estimation it is a relatively small matter but it has taken years to get the Board of Works to take an active interest in restoring this monument. I have made very little progress in the past few years and I am not much encouraged by the Parliamentary Secretary's letter of the 18th May. I can only hope that by mentioning this matter in the House the Board of Works will tackle it speedily.

I am pleased to see that some worthwhile progress has been made in the erection of new Garda stations and in the repair and maintenance of others. The Board of Works are not dealing adequately with this problem because as well as providing accommodation in Garda barracks we have the problem of rehousing our gardaí. The repair and renovation of barracks is the responsibility of the Board of Works but a married garda must look after himself in respect of housing. He finds it difficult to get the local authority to house him and he must embark on building a house for himself. The Board of Works could do much in the provision of better barracks and better accommodation for our gardaí. They could actively assist in rehousing gardaí and their families.

I know there is liaison now between the Board of Works and the NBA in this matter. We would all like to see this develop. As I said earlier my prime purpose in speaking was to protest about the undue delay in the implementation of the arterial drainage of the River Suir. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us when this important work will commence. There has been too great a financial loss, a loss of arable land and a loss of life in certain areas to allow this situation to continue. I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary will find it appropriate to refer to the delay in commencing work on the arterial drainage of one of our largest rivers and which affects the constituents of South Tipperary.

Is the Deputy reporting progress?

No, Sir, I am concluding.

I wish to report progress.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.