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.