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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 8 Mar 1984

Vol. 348 No. 10

Estimates 1984. - Vote 28: Environment (Revised Estimate).

I move:

That a sum not exceeding £656,924,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1984, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for the Environment, including grants in lieu of rates on agricultural land and other grants to Local Authorities, grants and other expenses in connection with housing, and miscellaneous schemes, subsidies and grants including certain grants-in-aid.

I welcome this opportunity — my first one as the Minister concerned — to debate the areas of responsibility relating to the Vote of the Department of the Environment.

In addition to the present Estimate of almost £657 million, the Government are providing over £465 million for non-voted capital services in 1984. Apart from the subhead breakdown given in the Estimates volume, it may be helpful to Deputies if I indicate the main classifications of the overall expenditure to which the Vote relates.

1. Grants and recoupments to local authorities — £426,640,000, 62 per cent of the total; 2. subsidies to local authorities for loan charges for specific services — £195,529,000, 29 per cent of the total; 3. grants to voluntary, semi-state and international bodies — £6,724,000, 1 per cent; 4. direct departmental payments —£44,008,000, 6 per cent; 5. Departmental administration — £13,307,000, 2 per cent.

Local authorities make an important and indispensible contribution to national life in various areas of their traditional responsibilities, and the principal purpose of this Vote is to channel resources to them for these purposes. I will be speaking later in more detail about particular programmes. At this stage I want to make the general point that the Government rely heavily on local authorities, as all Governments have done, to give effect to important national policies and objectives in such key areas as housing, roads development, provision of services and infrastructure as well as in a variety of other areas such as planning, environmental protection and fire safety. Much of this tends to be taken for granted and, indeed, local authorities come in for their share of public criticism. Not all the criticism may be groundless, but it is only right to remind ourselves of the extent of Government and public dependence on local authorities for the delivery of services which are necessary supports for everyday living or which constitute essential infrastructure for development.

The scale of local authorities' responsibilities and their development over the years has led to a situation in which they have become very important centres of economic and social activity decentralised throughout the country. In 1983 local authorities were responsible for aggregate spending on current and capital purposes in the region of £1.4 billion and for employment in the region of 35,000 people. Again much of this tends to be taken for granted, but it needs to be stressed that the importance of local authority work relates not just to the provision of housing, the development of infrastructure and administration of services — fundamentally important though all of these are — but also to the benefits derived in all parts of the country from their expenditures and from the employment which they provide.

It is inevitable that the maintenance of services and of employment in the current economic difficulties presents special problems. I can say, even with the benefit of a brief spell in the Department, that I am fully aware of the serious financial difficulties which are facing local authorities. These difficulties relate in the first place to the general financial constraints to which public bodies are necessarily subject at present. The local authority problems are, however, compounded by particular circumstances. These circumstances include the decision to abolish rates on domestic premises in 1978 without introducing a viable and sustainable alternative system of local financing. This was followed by the withholding of rates on agricultural land on a considerable scale and the Supreme Court decision which has the effect of setting aside agricultural rates as at present operated. These developments have caused serious problems in local authority finances and we have to work our way through this, both in immediate terms and in terms of a longer term solution.

As an immediate response the Government put an additional £31.5 million into supporting the local authority rating situation in 1983 as a special measure. This additional provision is maintained for 1984 and a supplement of £2.27 million is added. State grants and subsidies to local authorities for 1984 will be up by 10.3 per cent or £52 million on 1983. Between voted provisions and borrowing authorisation, capital allocations also will be increased by £12.5 million in spite of the curtailments arising from the need to restore overall borrowing to more manageable proportions.

I believe that these provisions, combined with greater competitiveness in tendering for local authority contracts, will enable the authorities to maintain the level of employment and services at or close to existing levels in the short term, provided there is appropriate complementary action at local level. Councils must be willing to make reasonable use of the extended powers which they have been given to raise revenues locally, and they must be diligent in collecting funds due to them. I stress reasonable use; I have no wish to see local rates or charges raised to inordinate levels, but there has to be some correlation between the demand for local services and the readiness to finance them from local sources, and this reality has to be faced. The second requirement for local action is that the best possible return be secured for expenditure in terms of employment and output. This requires programmes at local authority level for eliminating waste and for promoting cost-effective procedures across the board — in administration; in the design and carrying out of works; in the area of standards; in the use of plant and machinery, and so on. I know that a lot of belt-tightening has already been done, but no local authority can afford to rest on this. I appeal to all to redouble their efforts to maintain services and employment within the constraints of the restricted budgets within which they have to operate. This is a considerable challenge, but I have no doubt that local authorities will respond to it positively and successfully by proceeding on the lines which I have outlined.

I mentioned the need, additional to immediate measures, to seek a more satisfactory system for local authority financing for the medium and longer terms. The situation has now been reached in which almost two-thirds of all local authority spending on current account is recouped from the Exchequer compared with less than 40 per cent in 1976. It is evident that from the Exchequer point of view, and given all the other demands which have to be accommodated, this trend cannot be allowed to continue. There is also the prospect that a local government system which fails to retain a substantial degree of financial independence is in danger also of losing drive and vitality. A basic review of local authority financing is therefore in hand as part of a general review of local government. We should have no illusions about the outcome of this in terms of the possibility of finding easy sources of additional local authority finance. There are no easy solutions, but it is essential that we devise a more stable system for local authority financing which will match their needs and support their independence as far as possible. It must also be a fair system in terms of the sharing of the financial burden as between central and local sources and as between the various sectors of society benefiting from the services provided by councils locally.

I have mentioned the question of reorganisation in the local government system. There has been considerable debate on this both in the Seanad and in this House that the Government are fully comdecision that the local elections should be deferred for a year to facilitate the reform work and the debate in this House is continuing. I will confine myself, therefore, on this occasion to assuring the House that the Government is fully committed to reforming the local government system and to improving it not only as regards financing but also in terms of organisation and operation generally. This is partly a question of updating institutions which have stood without major change for a long time while great changes have taken place in their functions and in the environment in which they have to work. There are, however, other major needs. We have to see what changes will help to make the system more responsive to public needs and more effective in the delivery of services. And we have to see how the democratic purpose which is at the heart of the system can be reinforced. There is, for example, an obvious need for closer local government representation in the rapidly developing areas to the west of Dublin. But large scale urban expansion has affected the delivery of services and the democratic representation in many other urban areas, and we have to examine their needs as well. I would like to see much closer working relations between local authorities and the community organisations which are an increasingly prominent feature in modern society.

I will be having discussions in the near future with local government interests regarding reorganisation, and it is my intention that comprehensive proposals for reform will be brought forward at the earliest possible date. I will now deal in more detail with the programmes for which my Department is responsible.

It is common knowledge that building and construction have suffered a significant decline in output and employment in recent years, and I am concerned to see that decline halted and growth resumed as soon as possible. Indeed, I am optimistic that we may see the beginning of renewed growth — the erosion of which was a primary factor in the drying up of private investment at the onset of the recession and contributed to the adverse effects on the building industry over the past three years. The restoration of confidence, therefore, can make a big contribution towards inducing more private investment in the coming year. I believe that the process of renewing confidence is now under way and that there is greater business confidence abroad today than was the case a year ago — both on the general economic outlook, because of this Government's determination to restore the balance of the country's finances, and on the Government's ability to map the road forward to renewed economic growth.

As the fall in activity during the recession occurred in the private sector of the industry, so too must growth come through increased private sector demand and private sector investment. Public capital investment in the industry grew at an exceptional rate right up to 1982 and was maintained at a very high level in 1983. In 1984, investment from public funds will still be high, and particularly so in the areas administered by my Department, namely housing, roads and sanitary services which between them account for about 60 per cent of all building industry output.

In the future there will have to be much greater emphasis on ensuring, in the first place, that capital will be spent on the most necessary and purposeful projects and, secondly, that it will be expended in the most beneficial and cost effective manner. We must get a greater return on the State's investment and aim to secure more output and more employment in the building industry.

Let us briefly look at some of the grounds for optimism for the future. Firstly there has been a very significant fall in the rate of inflation. We are also benefiting from reduced interest rates. The changes introduced in the budget by the Minister for Finance relating to the stock relief concession are of major significance for firms in the building industry. The evidence is that there will again be an adequate supply of funds from the building societies at interest rates which are the lowest for years. Additional funds are also being made available this year both for Housing Finance Agency operations and for SDA loans. The eligibility limits for SDA loans have also been raised as a further incentive. Road improvement grants are up by about 5 per cent and the capital provision for sanitary services will be maintained at the same level as the outturn for 1983. The capital allocation for local authority housing will be the highest ever. Overall housing output which accounts for over 40 per cent of total construction output is holding steady. I am confident that the total moneys available from all sources for housing for 1984 will maintain output at current high levels. In the budget we provided an additional £18.4 million of capital, £14 million of which was for services for which my Department is responsible — £8 million for roads and £6 million for housing. An extra £2 million was provided for the construction of a deepwater berth at Ringaskiddy, a further £2 million was made available for primary school buildings; £300,000 for Galway Airport and £100,000 for harbour improvements to enhance the response capability of the marine rescue services.

The major stimulus to increased activity in building and construction must come from a revival of the private sector, and this will come about in part as a consequence of the responsible, positive financial policies pursued by this Government. In brief the private sector now has a Government pursuing the policies, even though not necessarily always popular ones, in which it can have confidence. I have no doubt that it will respond accordingly.

Of course, I will not be confining myself merely to the year ahead in considering the welfare of the industry. I expect to have available to me very shortly the report on the industry which was commissioned by the Sectoral Development Committee a couple of years ago. I will be very concerned to have its recommendations examined with all speed, including necessary contact and exchange of views with the various representatives of trade unions, employers and professional bodies.

The Building Control Bill, 1984, was circulated on 9 February last and will no doubt be fully debated during its progress through the House. The purpose of the Bill is to provide a new statutory basis for the making of building regulations by extending the purposes for which they can be made to include energy conservation, the needs of the disabled, the efficient use of resources and the encouragement of good building practice. The Bill also provides for a more flexible system of control to administer the regulations.

Housing is one of the four major areas of social expenditure by the Government, ranking after social welfare, health and education. This year, provision has been made for expenditure, capital and current, by my Department on housing totalling over £550 million pounds — some 10 per cent higher than in 1983. This figure of £550 million does not include the further substantial cost to the Exchequer resulting from the various tax concessions applicable to the housing sector.

The vast and varied range of State support for housing is aimed at attaining the central objective of national housing policy, namely, that every household be able to obtain a suitable dwelling at a price or rent they can afford. With a growing population, Ireland will continue to require a high level of house construction over the years ahead. The main thrust of policy will therefore be to maximise new housing output, and, within the resources available, to promote the conservation and improvement of older houses in the existing stock. Results from the 1981 census confirm the continued improvement of housing conditions generally, whether measured in terms of the availability of the basic amenities, overcrowding, heating or the average age of the stock. However, despite this overall improvement in housing standards there are still too many in our community who are inadequately housed — as is evidenced by the 30,000 families on local authority waiting lists or, in the case of the homeless, not housed at all. For these, who are among the more deprived sections of society, we must continue to devote the maximum possible resources towards providing for their needs through the local authority housing programme. For those who can afford to house themselves in the private sector, we must continue to provide the appropriate level of incentive and assistance.

As I have said, Government expenditure on the housing programme is generally classified as being social in character. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that it is also in its own right an industry of prime economic significance. Housing now accounts for over 40 per cent of total building industry output and it has a relatively high employment content. Apart from the direct and indirect economic benefits which flow from investment in housing it should also be remembered that it gives rise to further induced effects on other sectors of the economy, and can therefore be an effective promoter of growth in the economy generally.

Even allowing for the fact that our rate of population growth demands a relatively high level of house construction by international standards, I think that the performance of the housing sector over the last three years of economic recession has been remarkably good. For example, in 1982 we built 7.7 houses per 1,000 inhabitants compared to 3.2 in the UK and an EEC average of 5.3. In 1983 total housing completions — public and private — were 26,138, just below the 1982 level. While it had been anticipated that the increased capital provision for local authority housing would increase activity in that programme, the resilience of the private side was something that might not have been expected in the prevailing economic conditions.

The record capital provision of £208 million for local authority housing in 1983 showed the Government's strong commitment to this programme. This commitment bore fruit not only in terms of the 6,190 houses that were completed in 1983 but also in terms of houses in progress and employment on the programme. Last year's completions were 500 up on 1982, houses in progress at the end of the year numbered 8,354 compared with 7,460 a year earlier, and average direct employment on the programme was 6,400 — or 500 extra jobs. A sum of £211 million has been provided in the capital budget to finance the local authority house building programme in 1984. I am confident that having regard to the good value currently being obtained in tenders for local authority housing contracts, this level of finance will be adequate to maintain the programme at the existing high levels without any decline in the high standard of the dwellings provided.

My Department are now working on the first stage of allocating this year's total annual provision between the various housing authorities to finance expenditure, and I will be notifying authorities of their initial allocations shortly. Each authority will, shortly, be requested to submit a claim for anticipated expenditure on new house starts in 1984.

The Government have put particular emphasis on the need to obtain the best return on public capital expenditure, and this must also apply to the local authority housing programme. My Department introduced during 1983 a series of measures intended to facilitate additional monitoring of the cost of the programme to pinpoint any instances of wasteful expenditure. The measures were twofold; firstly, steps were taken to ensure at the design stage of each housing scheme that the cost implications of each design decision are thoroughly assessed in order that the most cost effective solution be implemented.

Secondly, certain modifications in the existing procedures for monitoring and controlling expenditure on schemes during the course of construction were introduced with effect from 1 January 1984. With this two-pronged approach, I am confident that we can maximise the return on investment in the local authority housing programme in the years ahead, and that we shall see the first benefits of the new procedures during the course of 1984.

Apart from moneys provided for the construction of local authority houses through the public capital programme, this estimate provides a sum of over £154 million by way of a subsidy to meet in full the loan charges on capital spending on the programme. The increased subsidy provision for this year — up £30 million or 25 per cent on the 1983 expenditure of £124 million — is a reflection of the high level of capital expenditure on local authority housing over recent years and also a measure of the increasing cost to the State of providing decent housing for those who are unable to provide it for themselves.

I have already referred to the creditable performance of private enterprise housing which achieved almost 20,000 completions in 1983. During the past year, the decline in private housing completions that had occurred in 1982 eased off considerably. Furthermore, the usual advance indicators of future prospects began to show more favourable trends. For example, the level of new house loans approved by the building societies and of grants approved by the Department increased by 10 per cent and 13 per cent respectively. These trends, together with the more favourable economic outlook, give me grounds for optimism about the prospects for the private housing sector this year. I am confident that the downward slide that has been evident will be arrested and that perhaps completions will begin to grow again this year. I am glad to say that the provisional figures for all house completions in the month of January show a slight rise on the corresponding month last year.

This year's estimate provides the highest level of financial support ever for private housing. A sum of £11 million is earmarked for £1,000 grant payments and £20 million is being made available to meet demand under the mortgage subsidy scheme. Last year, new house grant approvals totalled 12,364 and mortgage subsidy approvals 11,793. At a time when there is unprecedented pressure to curtail public expenditure, it is a clear measure of the Government's commitment to the national housing programme that it has retained these levels of aids.

The continuance of a satisfactory flow of mortgage finance is of course, also crucial to the wellbeing of the private housing sector. I am glad to say that during 1983 a record total of about £560 million in mortgage finance was provided by lending agencies, both private and public, and I expect that about the same amount will be provided this year.

The building societies are continuing to contribute enormously to the supply of mortgage finance. In 1983, the societies paid out a sum in excess of £400 million on new and second-hand properties. This was the greatest amount ever advanced by the societies and was almost 40 per cent up on 1982. With loan approvals by societies also running at high levels and the inflow of funds holding up well, the outlook is good, and I expect that the societies will again provide in excess of £400 million in mortgage finance in 1984. This should fund about 17,000 loans for both new and existing houses. Also, it is encouraging that the building society mortgage interest rate, which stands generally at 11¾ per cent, is now at its lowest level for six years.

Mortgage finance from the banks and assurance companies declined further in 1983 and together they provided about £22 million, which was only about 4 per cent of total mortgage finance.

The Government are committed to providing a sufficient supply of mortgage finance from public sources to enable those on low and modest incomes, who would not otherwise be able to do so, to purchase homes of their own. They are fulfilling this commitment through the local authority and the Housing Finance Agency loan schemes for which a special additional sum of £6 million was made available in the budget — £3 million is being devoted to the local authority loans scheme bringing this year's capital allocation to £77.5 million which will fund about 5,700 loans. The other £3 million is being given to the Housing Finance Agency, bringing the agency's capital allocation to £63 million which will finance about 3,150 loans. The agency's actual expenditure last year was £55 million. The agency has successfully raised nearly £100 million for house purchase through the issue of index-linked bonds to financial institutions, pension funds, insurance companies, unit trusts, and so on. By so doing it has attracted substantial extra funds to the housing programme and brought house purchase within the reach of many families on modest incomes.

Up to the end of January the agency had paid almost 4,000 loans to a value of £76.5 million. As Deputies will be aware, I recently announced increases in the loan and income limits for local authority house purchase loans with effect from 1 February. The maximum ordinary loan which may be advanced has been increased from £14,000 to £16,000 and the maximum special category loan has been increased from £18,000 to £20,000. The income limit has gone up from £7,000 to £8,000. The new limits will be of particular benefit to housing in rural areas, where there is a much greater dependence on local authority loans.

I have so far been concentrating on the two main arms of the national housing programme since, between them, they are responsible for the vast bulk of house building activity. However, we must not forget the third arm of housing, namely, the voluntary housing movement. Compared to other countries, the scale of voluntary housing activities here has been small. However, where voluntary groups or organisations have undertaken the building of dwellings for the elderly or other special categories such as the handicapped or single parent families, they have been particularly successful both in terms of the costs and of the suitability of the accommodation provided. However, it has to be acknowledged that the earlier package of financial assistance available for voluntary housing projects has not worked satisfactorily.

Following a review of its operation in my Department and consultations with representatives of the voluntary housing movement, I was glad to be able to announce details of a new scheme of assistance for voluntary housing groups on 29 February. The new scheme will apply to accommodation provided for the elderly, the homeless and other special categories such as the handicapped, deserted wives, single parents and families on approved waiting lists. A housing authority will now be able to make loans to meet 80 per cent of the costs of an eligible project, subject to a maximum loan equivalent to £16,000 for each unit of accommodation provided, and the loan charges payable by the voluntary groups on foot of these loans will be recouped in full to local authorities by my Department. I expect this scheme, which is far better tailored to the requirements of the voluntary groups, to provide a considerable stimulus to voluntary housing, with resultant benefits to the elderly and other deprived groups for which they cater.

Another important development in housing policy took place last year with the setting up of the Rent Tribunal. The tribunal, which to date has heard nearly 100 cases, has the responsibility for fixing the rent and other terms of tenancy of dwellings which were formerly controlled under the Rent Restrictions Acts. The establishment of the Rent Tribunal was an important commitment in our Programme for Government in providing a new framework in which disputes between landlords and tenants can be determined without recourse to the courts. The estimate makes available £400,000 for the operation of the Rent Tribunal in 1984.

Over the past two years when house prices were falling in real terms it had become increasingly obvious that the circumstances under which the price control mechanism of the certificate of reasonable value system was introduced had changed radically and that the system was no longer serving an adequate purpose in terms of benefit to purchasers to offset disadvantages to builders. For these reasons, the Government decided to suspend the system and remove the requirement that a CRV or equivalent certificate be obtained for new house grants and loans, mortgage subsidy and exemption from stamp duty. The CRV system will, however, continue to be used for tax relief on new private rental dwellings under sections 23 and 24 of the Finance Act, 1981, as amended. I should stress that the controls are being suspended and not abolished. If it is found that house prices are once again rising out of line with genuine building costs, then consideration will be given to reintroucing the CRV or some other means of control.

I have already informed the House, during the debate on the Housing Bill, 1983, that I was undertaking a review of the provisions of Part III of the Housing Act, 1966 which governs the provision and management of local authority houses. In this review, particular attention is being given to the need for a better legislative framework within which the problem of homelessness and other forms of acute housing need can be effectively tackled. The new legislation being formulated will be incorporated in a miscellaneous Housing Bill which I intend to present to the Dáil later in the year.

The provision of reasonable accommodation for travelling people can be viewed as a special sub-programme within the housing area. Much has been achieved in this area over the past 20 years, but the work which remains to be done is still very substantial indeed. The report of the Travelling People Review Group was presented last May. A task force consisting of six Ministers of State, under the chairmanship of the Minister of State at my Department, has been considering the recommendations and how they might be implemented. This task force is in the process of finalising its report to the Government. Pending consideration of the whole issue by the Government, I do not propose to use this occasion to set out possible new policy initiatives or, indeed, to go over existing policy and programmes in detail. There are, however, a few points which I should like to place on record.

As things stand, my role in relation to the settlement of travelling families is to encourage and assist local authorities to meet their obligations towards this deprived section of our people and to provide the necessary finance to enable local authorities to implement their settlement proposals. A sum of £1.25 million of non-voted capital is being provided in 1984 to finance special schemes to accommodate travelling families, compared with an expenditure of almost £750,000 last year. I should point out, of course, that most travelling families are accommodated in standard housing which is financed as part of local authorities' normal housing programmes. Capital expenditure on special accommodation schemes, whether group housing or serviced sites, is subsidised in full by the State and provision for an expenditure of £1.734 million is made in the Vote for this purpose and to meet 90 per cent of the cost of social workers employed to assist in the settlement programme.

The full figures for the 1983 annual count of travelling families which was carried out by local authorities last November have not yet been made available to me. However, provisional figures indicate a reduction of about 100 in the total number of families on the roadside, including some reduction in the Dublin area. This is a welcome development although the number of families on the roadside is still far too high by any standards. The only solution is an accelerated programme to provide the necessary accommodation for these families, whether in normal housing, special group housing or on halting sites. When the full census results are available, and the policy aspects have been reviewed by the Government, I can assure the House that an appropriate programme of this kind will be mounted.

There has been much publicity in the media recently about the difficult situation in the Dublin area. While there is no denying the seriousness of this problem, it should be remembered that the local authorities concerned have accommodated over 400 families in houses, chalets and halting sites. My Minister of State met the Dublin city and county manager recently to discuss the situation and was fully briefed on the local authorities' progress to date in accommodating families and on their proposals for the future. The county council will be returning to their consideration of the issue at the end of March and I am hopeful that they will be able to authorise the commencement of work on a significant number of additional serviced sites and special group housing schemes. My Minister of State and I will continue to monitor developments in the Dublin area very closely.

Roads are by far our most important means of inland transport, conveying as they do over 90 per cent of all travel. Vehicle numbers now stand at three times their 1960 level and they are expected to double by the end of the century. The proper administration of the road system involves two broad elements: a programme of construction, maintenance and improvement to preserve and improve road condition and capacity, and sensible traffic management measures and controls to allow the safe and efficient use of our roads. Action on both fronts is being developed to a satisfactory degree.

Of the total Vote provision of £123.5 million, an increase of 5 per cent compared with 1983, £98 million will be spent on road improvement works — £6 million more than last year. Priority is being given to the improvement of the national routes and selected major works on other important routes. The benefits flowing from this rolling programme of major road investment include improved communications between the major population centres, easier access to the principal ports and harbours, improved travelling times on the major inter-urban routes and less traffic congestion in the larger cities and towns.

Major projects being continued this year include further work on the Cork-Mallow road; Redmond Bridge in Waterford; the ring road in Kilkenny; the Bandon Line road and bridges in Cork; the new Corrib Bridge and approaches in Galway; by-passes of Leighlinbridge, Midleton, Navan and Athlone; and in the Dublin area, by-passes of Swords, Palmerstown-Ballydowd and Cabinteely. Schemes due to commence in 1984 include stage 2 of the Santry by-pass; the Wexford by-pass; works from Dunkettle towards Carrigtwohill in County Cork and at Slieverue in County Kilkenny. These major works will be supplemented by a programme of improvements on other roads in the national road network as well as essential works on a number of other important major roads.

The accelerated rate of State investment in road works in recent years has allowed substantial progress to be made in implementing the Road Development Plan for the 1980's. A major review of the plan has now been completed in my Department and it will be considered by the Government over the next few months in the context of the preparation of the medium-term plan for the economy.

As well as providing for major capital investment in road construction and improvement, we must also preserve the investment of previous decades by an adequate programme of road maintenance. The Vote provision for road maintenance this year is £25.5 million and I am satisfied that it will permit a reasonable standard of maintenance on the national and other major routes. The block grant is at the same level as last year and the same conditions will apply.

A provision of £2.15 million is being made for the local improvement scheme in 1984. The scheme is being confined to farm road projects eligible for EEC aid in the western counties. This rationalisation of the local improvement scheme is consistent with the general aim of getting value for money and making the best use of our limited resources in the present difficult economic situation. The scheme will absorb the maximum EEC aid of £800,000.

Turning to the other aspect of roads administration, that of safety and the efficient management of road traffic, the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill, 1983, has already passed Second Stage in the Dáil. It proposes to increase and update the level of penalties for a wide range of road traffic offences provided for under the Road Traffic Acts, 1961 to 1978. The road traffic offences covered range from dangerous, drunk and uninsured driving, to non-wearing of seat belts and parking violations.

In the area of road safety, some encouragement can be taken from the fact that since 1978 road fatalities have shown a downward trend, from 628 in that year to an estimated 523 in 1983, while the number of reported injuries has dropped from 9,313 to an estimated 7,515. This downturn trend reflects partly at least the efforts of the several public bodies concerned with improving road safety. An important feature of the ongoing roads programmes of local authorities has been the elimination of accident blackspots. Garda enforcement and the activities of the National Road Safety Association have also, I believe, contributed significantly to reducing accidents. The annual analysis by An Foras Forbartha of accident trends suggests that in recent years Garda enforcement of the drink driving laws in particular as well as the associated publicity campaigns by the National Road Safety Association have made a real impact. An Foras estimate that the operation of the drink driving provisions of the 1978 Road Traffic Act has resulted in 20 per cent fewer fatal accidents in the critical 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. period than might have occurred otherwise. In furtherance of the Government commitment last October in their announcement on the Motor Insurance Inquiry, I am reviewing the present legal limit of 100 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood with a view to its possible reduction.

Notwithstanding recent encouraging accident trends, there remains considerable scope for improvement in road safety. A greater level of individual awareness by the public could bring about a dramatic reduction, particularly in fatal and serious injury accidents, in a relatively short period. One example would be the greater use of safety belts by car drivers and passengers. It is worth repeating that the scientific evidence indicating the effectiveness of safety belts when properly worn in reducing the severity of injuries is incontrovertible. It is estimated that in this country as many as 50 lives could be saved every year if safety belt wearing rates went up to 90 per cent.

The development of a vehicle testing scheme for commercial vehicles has been an important contribution to road safety. This scheme was introduced to give effect to the terms of an EEC directive and became fully operational on 1 January 1983. Some 90 testing stations — generally private garages — have been appointed by local authorities throughout the country and are now testing over 3,000 vehicles each month. As a result a substantial improvement in vehicle maintenance standards is expected which, in turn, should result in a decrease in defect-related accidents, a reduction in the incidence of costly breakdowns and an increase in the life of vehicles. Better maintained vehicles will also consume less imported petroleum products.

The administration of the vehicle testing scheme is now being reviewed in light of the experience of it so far. We need some further experience of this scheme before we can consider the feasibility of a scheme for testing private cars.

The 1984 Public Capital Programme provision for sanitary services is £98.6 million. Non-voted loan capital accounts for £89.3 million of this amount and it will be utilised in the provision of water and sewerage schemes and contributions to private group water schemes by local authorities throughout the country. The balance of £9.3 million will be used for grants for private group water and sewerage schemes and for public water schemes designated for grant assistance under the Western Package of aid from the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund. Public water and sewerage systems have an important economic role in providing an adequate supply of serviced land for industry, housing, and so on. They also have roles in the maintenance of public health and in the protection of the aquatic environment. The average direct employment on construction of sanitary services schemes in 1984 is estimated at 1,930 compared to 1,900 in 1983. Additional indirect employment is generated with firms supplying materials and in the operation and maintenance of treatment works and distribution and collection systems.

The major public schemes being financed this year include Cork main drainage scheme; Blarney Road reservoir; Rathmichael water supply scheme, County Dublin; Improvements of Dublin water supply treatment works at Ballymore Eustace, Leixlip and Roundwood; Galway city west environs water scheme; Kilkenny main drainage scheme — Stage 2; Central Kerry water scheme (Killarney and Tralee); Listowel water scheme — Stage 2 (Ballybunion); Limerick city west water scheme; East Meath supply scheme and Castlebar water supply distribution scheme.

The major schemes which I have mentioned as being financed in the current year are just some of those schemes which have already been released. The capital provision for 1984, in addition to funding these and other schemes already under construction or at tender stage, will enable me to release further public schemes to a total value of the order of £40 million which will get to construction later this year and help to maintain the overall programme into 1985 at the high level it has now reached.

Aid continues to be paid under the Western Package of FEOGA to the public water supply schemes originally designated in 1981. I expect that the £3.3 million allocated for this purpose will be fully issued in 1984. The additional regional water supply schemes selected in 1983 were at Ballinamore, County Leitrim; Adrigole, County Cork; Castlemaine, County Kerry; and Mount Talbot, County Roscommon.

The subsidy to be paid by my Department in 1984 on loan charges incurred by local authorities on the approved cost of public water and sewerage schemes is estimated at over £36 million. This is an increase of about £6.6 million on the 1983 provision and reflects the continuing commitment to supporting sanitary authorities in financing the substantial annual loan charges generated by sanitary services investment.

The amount provided for grants for group water and sewerage schemes in 1984 is £6 million. Since the group scheme concept was developed in the late 1950s over 3,600 schemes have been completed and water piped to more than 112,000 houses and 84,000 farms. I expect that over 200 schemes will be completed this year. The scheme of FEOGA assistance for group schemes in the western region originally applied only to schemes started by the end of 1983. This programme has now been extended to cover schemes which start in the western region before 30 June 1985. The EEC recoups 50 per cent of the grants paid in these cases and this enables my Department to pay higher grants to eligible schemes in the region.

I now want to speak briefly about fire matters. The Government share the concern of all sections of the community to ensure the development of the fire service and the improvement of fire safety. That concern is clearly demonstrated by the increased financial provision contained in my Department's Estimates — a 25 per cent increase in capital and a 30 per cent increase in revenue expenditure — and by the recent establishment of the Fire Services Council.

The £7.5 million provision in the 1984 Public Capital Programme is 25 per cent more than last year's provision and three times the amount provided in 1981. This increase will finance the continuation of the expanded programme of fire station construction and of investment in fire fighting, communications, rescue and other emergency equipment. It is an indication of the level of activity that work is in progress on fire stations at 11 different locations. Work will commence this year at a further eight centres.

The Estimates of my Department include provision for a grant of £150,000 to the Fire Services Council which was established last June. In addition my Department are also providing staffing and accommodation for the council. This broadly-based council have been asked to take on a number of very important tasks, including the provision of central training courses and the preparation of a code of practice for fire safety in places of public assembly. They have been asked to carry out an urgent assessment of overall training needs including the need for a national training centre, a review of fire education needs for both the fire service and the architectural and engineering professions, and a review of the need for and the relative priority to be afforded to the preparation of guidelines and codes of practice dealing with fire fighting and fire safety. The council have made good progress in a short time particularly in the area of training. This year, they have a programme of 15 training courses which are being provided here, in the UK and in Denmark. This represents a substantial advance and will make a significant contribution to the development of the fire service.

I have encouraged the council to make speedy progress on the other areas of its work also and, in particular, I have asked that a draft code of practice for fire safety in places of public assembly should be prepared as soon as possible. A discussion document on this matter, which was prepared by my Department in consultation with the council, was widely circulated last August to interested persons and organisations. The document outlined the proposed approach to the preparation of fire safety regulations and associated code of practice for places of public assembly and gave an indication of the standards which it is proposed to adopt. The document was favourably received and comments on the proposals are being taken into account by the Fire Services Council in the preparation of the draft code of practice.

There is a provision of £1.46 million to provide a 50 per cent subsidy to fire authorities on loan charges for capital investment, which enables them to make progress on fire station projects and the purchase of equipment as well as releasing funds to help develop other aspects of the service.

A grant of £100,000, which is being matched by the Federation of Insurers, will enable the Fire Prevention Council to continue their very useful work on increasing awareness of fire dangers through publicity, advertising, leaflets and posters, conferences and seminars and a national Fire Safety Week, which last year for the first time incorporated a major national conference. This year the council is paying special attention to fire safety in hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, licensed premises, flats and small offices. I wish to thank the council for their valuable work and the Federation of Insurers for their continuing interest and support.

A sum of £15,000 for improving arrangements for mountain and cave rescue is provided for the first time this year. This provision is a well deserved recognition of the valuable public service being provided by the voluntary rescue groups. My Department chairs and provides the secretariat for the National Mountain Rescue Co-ordinating Committee which includes membership from and provides liaison between mountain and cave rescue organisations and public agencies.

Before leaving this topic, I want to pay tribute to the work of the fire service and to encourage everybody — proprietors, public authorities and the general public — to pay special attention to fire safety.

Development of various kinds can bring with it an increased risk of environmental degradation. Housing and industrial development can have a significant impact on landscape, countryside, water resources and air quality. So too can agricultural development with its new practices and intensified production methods. Population growth and increased urbanisation create their own demands on the environment. We need, therefore, to review our existing policies, programmes and legislation in all relevant areas so as to ensure that we can protect and improve the physical environment side by side with economic and social progress and with a view to ensuring that there will be a better quality of life for everybody now and in the future. This approach is fundamental to all of the activities of my Department.

The provision in the Vote for pollution control includes £16,000 for payment of a reduced level of State subsidy on the cost of transporting pig slurry from the Lough Sheelin area during 1984. There has been a major improvement in the water quality of the lake since the introduction of the transport scheme in 1980, clearly showing the direct relationship which had existed between the spreading of slurry when ground or weather conditions were unfavourable and the decline in water quality. State subsidy was provided as a purely temporary measure to ensure the success of the transport arrangements. These arrangements are now well established and from 1985 the full costs will be met by the pig producers. I welcome the commitment given by the Sheelin Farmers' Association in this regard and the undertaking to continue to remove the excess slurry, estimated at 16 million gallons a year, from the area. I hope that this responsible approach by the producers will secure even further improvements in water quality.

The recent water pollution problem in Ballyshannon highlights the need for greater care in the protection of our water resources generally. There is cause for concern at the deterioration in water quality which has taken place over the past ten years in a number of areas. The Water Pollution Advisory Council has submitted a comprehensive analysis of the situation with various recommendations for action. These are now being examined in my Department and it is my intention to plan a programme of restoration for all polluted waters as soon as possible.

Following a request from my Department, local authorities have been reviewing and updating their plans for dealing with emergencies of all kinds. These plans should contain procedures for ensuring that major pollution incidents can be dealt with effectively and I would urge local authorities to give special attention to this aspect, including the identification of potential pollution hazards. This should mean examining areas upstream of water abstraction points and visiting local farmers or industrialists to secure proper waste management practices. Very often pollution occurs through carelessness or ignorance and a continuing effort is needed to impress on those concerned the need for greater vigilance.

I am undertaking a special examination of the planning laws in relation to agricultural development with a view to tightening up on the exemption from the requirement to obtain planning permission which applies to certain development which has a major polluting potential. I also intend to circulate specific guidelines to local authorities on dealing with pollution incidents generally.

In the case of oil pollution, the Government have approved arrangements which are designed to ensure that we can launch an immediate and co-ordinated response to any major oil spillage which affects or threatens our shores. In such situations, the arrangements provide for overall control and direction of anti-pollution measures by a small operations group under the guidance of a senior technical officer of my Department. Local and harbour authorities will continue to deal with smaller incidents in accordance with their contingency plans. These authorities will, of course, also have an active role in responding to major spillages under the direction of the operations group.

The Estimate includes a provision of £400,000 which is intended to finance in part the development and construction of a central waste facility at Baldonnel to which limited quantities and types of toxic and dangerous wastes can be taken, bulked up and stored prior to their export to approved disposal facilities abroad. Planning of the facility is going ahead and full information about the proposals will be made available at the appropriate stage. However, I would like to take this opportunity to allay the fears of people living in the general area. No dumping of any kind is going to take place either at the proposed site or in its environs. International expertise has been engaged to advise on all aspects of the design and management of the facility. The highest attainable safety standards will be imposed and special training on the safety precautions to be observed will be given to the personnel operating the facility. The whole development will be subject to the normal planning control process and all concerned will have every opportunity to express their views.

A non-voted capital provision is included in the Public Capital Programme to enable local authorities to press ahead with the provision of environmentally acceptable and properly managed landfill disposal sites. The severe shortage of such sites has in recent years posed difficulties for industrial development and, at a time when industrial jobs are very badly needed, the country just cannot afford to ignore this problem. My Department has asked local authorities to give top priority to locating and developing co-disposal sites capable of handling the ever-increasing volumes of industrial waste now arising. Together with the Geological Survey Office and the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards, it has compiled a manual on the selection, design and management of waste disposal sites and every effort has been made to bring home to local authorities the need to demonstrate their good intentions in this area if local opposition, based on experience of badly run tip-heads, is to be overcome. I am hopeful that local authorities will respond positively and constructively to the advice given to them.

Atmospheric pollution has in recent times been attracting a good deal of attention in the media and from environmentalists and others concerned as to the possible damage to human health and the environment. Two of the more significant atmospheric pollutants are smoke and sulphur dioxide and these are the subject of an EEC Directive adopted in 1980. It is against the limits set down in this directive that the Irish air pollution levels must be considered. In recent years levels of smoke and sulphur dioxide have generally been such as to meet the requirements of the directive even in the Dublin area. Indeed, in each of the years after the commencement of records the returns showed a gradual improvement in the quality of the air. This trend was reversed in the winter of 1981-1982 when a number of breaches of the limits were recorded in the Dublin area. These breaches were attributable in the main to meteorlogical factors and the particularly severe winter, but a significant factor in the deterioration was the movement towards greater use of solid fuels in the domestic sector. While the 1982-83 results represented a considerable improvement, the overall situation must be carefully monitored. This is an area where environmental policy and energy will have to be co-ordinated and I intend that the practical steps required to achieve this will be given more attention in the coming year.

On the international front, Ireland is a party to the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution which requires us to limit and, as far as possible, gradually to reduce emissions of polluting substances and to engage in research and the collection of data on the causes and levels of acidity in rainfall. Ireland participates fully in this exercise and monitoring carried out at the meteorlogical station in Valentia, the most westerly in Europe, forms part of the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme. Arrangements are also being considered, in conjunction with other Departments and interested agencies, to extend and improve the scope of monitoring arrangements under this programme.

The general question of acid rain is giving cause for serious concern in Scandinavia, Central Europe and North America. Insofar as Ireland is concerned, existing monitoring suggests that there has been a gradual, though irregular, increase in the acidity of rainfall due to increased atmospheric pollution from sources in this country and abroad. However, levels of acidity recorded here are still very satisfactory when compared with more industrialised countries and do not give cause for serious concern at present. The environmental damage caused by acid rain to lakes, forests, monuments, and buildings in other countries is well documented and I am determined, therefore, that we should do all that can be reasonably required of us to combat this phenomenon.

At an EEC Council of Environment Ministers meeting, which I attended on 1 March, agreement was reached on a directive on air emissions from industrial plants. The directive will require new procedures for the control of emissions from plants which could cause significant air pollution — for example, power stations and chemical plant. It proposes an authorisation or licensing system which would oblige new plant to use the best available technology, which does not entail excessive costs, for preventing or reducing emissions. It also proposes that existing plant would be brought within the controls on a phased basis, with best available technology being applied, taking into account the technical characteristics of the plant and the costs involved. Implementation of the terms of the directive will require the enactment of an entirely new legislative framework for the control of air pollution. Already, preliminary work on a new code has been carried out and I now intend that work on this should be pressed ahead as quickly as possible taking account of the provisions of the new directive and of our own national needs.

Some £2.5 million of the funds allocated to local authorities for environmental improvement works in 1983 remains to be spent this year. In addition, a sum of £4 million is being provided through the Labour Vote to enable local authorities to continue the special projects which were approved in 1983. I have allocated a grant of £1.6 million from my own Department's Vote to Dublin Corporation to assist them to carry on environment improvements while making arrangements to absorb certain temporary workers into other work areas of the corporation. This provision is a grant towards the labour costs arising in 1984 from the continued employment of workers who were taken on in a temporary capacity in 1979 and 1982 and who were retained in employment by the corporation since then. The grant is being made on the understanding that the corporation will continue the policy of absorbing the workers into other areas of the corporation's work force.

Deputies will be aware that £84 million has been provided in the Labour Vote this year for youth employment and training compared with an expenditure of £73.5 million approximately last year. It will continue to be open to local authorities to involve themselves in the other grant-aided youth employment and training schemes under the aegis of the Department of Labour, the Youth Employment Agency and AnCO. I understand that a number of authorities are already involved directly in some such schemes and I will shortly be outlining the relevant schemes to all local authorities.

The operation of the physical planning system must be made more effective in encouraging and supporting necessary development. In order to help to improve the quality of urban development plans, my Department issued guidelines on the preparation of these statutory plans in October last. A seminar on the guidelines organised by An Foras Forbartha was held last January as part of a series of seminars on the subject. I hope that the guidelines will be found helpful to local authorities in the preparation of urban plans so that these can become a more effective tool in aiding the necessary development and renewal of urban areas.

On the regional level, a worthwhile programme of regional strategy studies is under way under the aegis of the regional development organisations. A strategy for the midlands region was launched in October 1981 and the first review of this strategy study was completed in 1983. Similar strategic studies, covering a period of 20 years or so, have been completed for the North-East and Galway/Mayo regions. A strategic study of the eastern region is also being undertaken and is expected to be completed later this year. The availability of such studies creates an excellent framework for the co-ordination of the development plans and investment programmes of the local authorities and other development agencies in each region.

I am most anxious that there should be no avoidable delays in the planning appeals process in view of the impact which such delays can have on construction costs and on job creation. The upward trend in the number of appeals before An Bord Pleanála during 1982 and the early part of 1983 was a matter of much concern. I am pleased that considerable progress has been made since then in reducing the number of appeals on hands. This improvement was due, in part, to revised procedures adopted by the board and additional staff temporarily made available by my Department also helped. Moreover, there was a big fall in the intake of appeals in the latter part of 1983. If this trend continues we can anticipate further reductions in the number of appeals on hands in 1984. In this connection I should draw attention to the fact that the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1983, as well as providing for the reconstitution of the board, also made various changes in appeals law designed to speed up the processing of certain categories of appeals. These changes came into operation last October. A new board, selected in accordance with the statutory selection process provided for in 1983 Act, will take up office on 20 March next.

In March 1983 a system of planning fees was introduced. The system has worked quite well but, as with any new scheme, various anomalies have come to light as a result of experience in its day-to-day operation. At the end of 1983 a review of the system was initiated and, as a first step, it was decided to exempt from fees applications by voluntary organisations for community-type development and also to abolish the £10 fee payable to the local planning authorities by persons making submissions. A review of other aspects of the system is now well advanced. In the light of this I will be considering what might be done to deal with some anomalies which have come to light and to deal with aspects which might be regarded as a disincentive to development.

Three hundred thousand pounds has been provided in the Estimate to continue the Inner City Group's operations in 1984. In the past five years, a total of more than £2 million has been made available from the fund to aid various Dublin inner city projects in the economic, social, recreational and educational fields. I consider that the use of the money in this way has been very worth while, particularly as it lends a hand to many community groups and others who are interested in solving their problems mainly through their own efforts. I intend, however, to take a closer look at the group's role and structure to see whether it is the most effective way of proceeding with this very worth while work programme.

While the existing programmes of local authorities and other public agencies have already done much, and will do more to bring about the renewal of urban areas, other possibilities for promoting urban renewal and regeneration must be considered. This is a matter to which increased attention must be paid in the next few years.

However, I believe that it will be difficult to deal with many of the problems of urbanisation in an effective manner unless we can find a solution to the problem of the supply and cost of land for development. The Joint Committee on Building Land is at present considering possible legislative and other measures to deal with this question. The committee was originally required to report before 31 December 1983 but requested an extension of their reporting period to 31 March, 1984. I hope that the report and recommendations of the committee will provide a basis for an agreed approach to the building land problem.

In the meantime the whole area of compulsory purchase legislation is under active consideration in my Department with a view to deciding what action can be taken to speed up the process. There are, however, serious legal and constitutional considerations involved in this area and the Attorney General has been consulted in the matter. The question of compensation for land compulsorily acquired is, of course, also tied up with the general question of the supply and cost of building land, and the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Building Land will, therefore, have to be taken into account in dealing with compulsory purchase legislation.

A sum of £3,195,000 has been provided for An Foras Forbartha in 1984 to enable them to continue their research work in the fields of planning, construction, roads, water resources and environment matters. The work done by An Foras for various agencies, including my Department and local authorities, in promoting greater efficiency in investment in building and construction and in support of physical planning and protection of the environment is of considerable importance at present. The moneys provided will enable An Foras to proceed with this valuable work in 1984.

I realise that many Deputies will wish to participate in the discussions on this important Vote. I have therefore dealt only with the major and more important matters in order to conserve as much time as possible for Deputies who wish to speak. I will certainly be very interested and alert to what Deputies have to say. In so far as possible I will give Deputies whatever additional information they may require on any of the matters covered by this Vote. I am confident that the responsible policies being pursued by us as a Government are beginning to pay off and that in the coming year we can expect an upturn in the state of the economy. In the meantime, I am glad to have been able to make such substantial provisions for 1984 for such key areas as roads, housing, fire services and sanitary services. The fact that we can do this in difficult times is a reflection of the Government's commitment to the local government system and to the public services which it provides.

This is the Minister's first Estimate as Minister for the Environment and I wish him well. There is no doubt that an Estimate for £656.924 million is a vast one, one of the most important to be presented to the House each year. The amount is to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31 December 1984, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for the Environment, including grants in lieu of rates on agricultural land and other grants to local authorities, grants and other expenses in connection with housing, and miscellaneous schemes, subsidies and grants including certain grants-in-aid.

I will reiterate briefly what was said last week in relation to the postponement of the local elections, and it seems appropriate that the Estimate has come before us almost one week after the postponement motion came before the House. There is no doubt that local authorities are appalled and dismayed to find that there will be an increase of only 0.8 per cent in the grant in lieu of rates, agricultural and domestic. That puts a considerable extra strain on every local authority in the management of their affairs and the provision of services.

Many speakers on this side of the House have been commenting on the introduction of local charges vis-à-vis the postponement of the local elections. In my opinion the proposed reorganisation of local government is not the reason for the postponement of the elections. The Government are afraid to face the electorate this year and consequently the electors are being denied their democratic right to exercise the franchise. I have little doubt that the elections will be postponed next year as well.

In 1971 the then Minister, Deputy Molloy, published a White Paper for local government reform. That was the reason for the postponement of the local elections that year — the White Paper was being discussed. Is it not disappointing that we find ourselves in 1984 still without local government reform? There were many valid suggestions in that White Paper. At least in 1971 we had a White Paper to discuss. Now we have nothing to discuss at all.

Since 1971 many reforms have been suggested and many reports have gone to the Department, but out of all of them we have not got a Government decision. Even the Minister in his speech said it is time that local government reform was introduced as soon as possible. We Members of the House who are also local authority members have seen vast changes in the last ten years. I have been a member of Meath County Council since 1974. I have seen changes in local government but they did not give any teeth to local authorities. We cannot go on in this nebulous fashion with local authorities not knowing whether they will continue to exist. The transfer from central to local responsibility and the raising of finance for local authority affairs have political connotations. Many Members on this side who are members of local authorities feel that the 40 per cent increase this year above last year's grant which local authorities received leaves them under a great difficulty in financing their affairs and ensuring that the people have their just rights in the local services provided and many local authority members are distraught as a result. I am speaking from my own experience at a meeting of Meath County Council last Monday when deep divisions were obvious across the floor of the chamber. Meath County Council have a reputation for being rather dignified and we seldom have what might be considered hassle or any kind of vindictive debate. On that night for the first time in my ten years as a member of that county council I witnessed such a debate. Certain local charges were being introduced which some members felt were inoperable, inequitable and perhaps unconstitutional. For instance, a water charge may be acceptable and applicable in the sense that if one does not pay water rates then one's water supply can be cut off. However, the question of the legal implementation of a charge for refuse collection has caused considerable conflict. It is fine if you are using the refuse collection service and living in an urban area, but if you live in a rural area and dispose of your refuse by burning or burying it, it is difficult to see how such a charge can be applied legally and effectively. We will have to just wait and see.

The precedent has been created in local charges for this year and if the onus is on a local authority to raise their own revenue it is natural to expect that charges will increase in the ensuing years, as happened in the case of the turnover tax which started at 6d. in the £ and eventually transformed into VAT, and we know what VAT has done. It is bringing the country to a halt because of its severity. We hope that the re-organisation and reform being considered in the Department today will result in a definitive structure and organisation, a constructive way forward, if I may use that terminology, for the local government of tomorrow.

The Minister in his lengthy speech referred to the building industry. We on this side of the House find it very difficult to accept that the Government are committed and sincere in their attitude towards that industry. The 1983 budget and again this year's budget made no provision at all for the building industry. The leader of our party went on television last January to tell the people about the unemployment situation and that the number of unemployed was heading towards 225,000. Now in March, last week another 3,000 people were on the unemployment list. One wonders where we are going. Last January's budget did nothing for employment. In countless thousands of homes throughout the country unemployment is a reality causing misery and hardship and seriously lowering standards of living. There was nothing of any significance in this year's budget to improve the situation or offer any hope for the future. No plans or funds to create new jobs or save existing industries were put forward, only more money was provided to pay unemployment benefit to more people. The leader of our party went on to say then that if we in Fianna Fáil had brought in the budget this year it would have been a budget which saw unemployment as a major social evil and took positive steps to stop it rising by getting investment and economic activity into operation again. In particular we would have put between £100 million and £200 million extra capital into the building and construction industries to provide jobs immediately. This is where I take issue with the Minister and the Government. The neutral — as the media call it — budget presented by the Government this year, the milk and water budget, gave no hope to the people.

We must question the sincerity of the Government with regard to the building industry and the appalling unemployment numbers which are rising daily. Members of the House are attempting every day to raise issues of industries closing here and there. The building industry is the kernel of employment creation and the closure of the Youghal factory referred to this morning related, if not directly, certainly indirectly to that industry. The Youghal Carpet factory, with a subsidiary in my home town of Navan, faced difficulties because houses were not being built and, therefore, carpets are not being bought. Deputy Ahern this morning mentioned an industry in Mallow which is closing down. Our building industry is, if not on its belly, certainly on its knees. The budgets introduced this year and last year by the present Government——

On a point of order, am I listening to the correct debate? This is a budget debate.

It concerns the building industry.

I assure Deputy Doyle that the building industry is significantly mentioned in the Minister's speech and surely, if the Minister can mention it, I can also comment on the matter. A report, State Aid to boost Building, of last year, was circulated by a leading firm of Dublin stockbrokers who predicted that the Government would step in shortly with a rescue package to help the ailing construction sector. It also disputes the merits of the popular section 23 tax relief scheme, saying that it amounts to a direct subsidy. The report stated that building activity would have to get a Government injection because it had fallen already by an estimated 13 per cent in 1983 and the industry had been further weakened by a harsh budget — which was the budget of 1983, not 1984. The report continued that as they saw the situation, the most severe budget blow to the construction sector was the revision of the Public Capital Programme which reduced allocations, affecting the industry by a massive £75 million. It has not recovered since. It backs up this belief by pointing to the existing commitment in the Coalition agreement between the Minister's predecessor, the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, and the Taoiseach to inject £100 million into the construction industry.

The construction industry are still awaiting that £100 million, which was very much what the leader of this party was referring to when he spoke, subsequent to the 1984 budget, in relation to the capital injection needing an increase from £100 million to £200 million. If the £100 million had been put into the construction industry in 1983, it would not be in such dire straits at the moment that we have to talk about £200 million.

In that report it is said that one of the most widely voiced fears in the building sector at present is the threat to the successful section 23 tax incentive scheme whereby investors are given tax relief if they buy new apartments for letting. The construction industry are directly affected by that scheme, which will cease on 31 March of this year, if I am correct. Many representations have been made to the Minister for Finance by the construction industry not to abolish this section. What has been happening in Dublin, in particular, and in the urban areas over the last 12 months or two years is that while not many houses have been built, the real activity was in building apartments and flats. There was a certain incentive there for the purchaser. When this incentive disappears with the abolition of section 23 at the end of this month, heaven knows what will happen to our building industry — or what is left of it — in this city and country over the next 12 months.

Even at this late stage, I plead with the Minister, when next attending a Cabinet meeting, to raise this issue with his colleague, the Minister for Finance. We are running out of time. The report from which I quoted was already 12 months old in March of 1983 and the Government were then under considerable pressure not to abolish section 23. There was some hope of good news in the 1984 budget with relation to the building sector but nothing came of that. The situation must be reviewed before it is too late. The building sector is the only one in which there has been any real activity in the last couple of years and if section 23 is abolished further harm will be done, resulting in a massive increase in unemployment.

At home, as with our EEC partners, unemployment is the greatest issue. It is the greatest social evil and now, in 1984 — only 16 years from the year 2000 — along with our other nine partners in Europe, we have this common problem of rising unemployment. We have the fastest growing educated young population of all EEC members, while being one of the smallest of the EEC. The ranks of our unemployed are now being filled with an educated, articulate young work force whose parents have striven so hard to give them the opportunities in life which they themselves did not have.

The construction industry is one area where we could find the key to a solution of the problem. If we could generate confidence in that industry and get it off the ground, we could give the people some hope. They would not then be facing into the next century with no hope and nothing to live for. Unemployment is an affliction which must be arrested. Although there are some avenues in Europe through which we could do that, it must be done at home. We must have constructive policies particularly towards the building industry.

As a result of the paltry milk and water budget the Minister for Finance introduced, this Minister cannot give the financial injection to the building industry which it badly needs. I know the Government were in a difficult political decision. As a result of the Dublin North Central by-election prior to the last budget, they had to make many changes in the budget.

The by-election does not come into this debate.

I know that but, as a result of it, many changes were made in the budget.

The budget does not come into it either.

The building industry is a fundamental part of the environmental scene. If £100 million had been pumped into the industry when it should have been, the industry would not be in the dilemma it is in today. Whether we postpone section 23 of the Finance Act or give a capital injection to the building industry, we must get the industry going.

As Members know I live in Navan. It was always regarded as the home of furniture. I have never seen such a recession in my home town since as a young boy in the middle fifties. I have seen chaps I went to school with and who were employed in the furniture industry drawing dole for the first time. This is also due to the recession in the building industry because every house and flat built needs a chair, a table, a carpet and so on. I find it demoralising that chaps in their middle and early forties who went to school with me have no jobs. The furniture industry is in recession because the construction industry is on its knees.

While it is necessary to balance the books the Government have a social obligation to provide jobs and give people back their dignity. Some members of Fine Gael do not seem to have this as much at heart as do members of the Labour Party. I have a lot of respect for the Minister for the Environment and I hope he can imprint on the minds of his colleagues the necessity to do something for the building industry. This is the key to arresting employment.

As regards housing and building societies, I reiterate the views of the leader of my party. I am concerned and many people share my concern about one of our major banks apparently negotiating with a view to a takeover of one of the building societies. This is a very undesirable development and one that must be watched closely by the Government. If that trend continues and bigger financial operators gradually take over the building societies, we will be heading towards a very dangerous position. We all know from every aspect of industrial and commercial life that monopolies can be dictatorial and are not the most desirable thing for a small country like ours. I express the same concern as our party leader did during the week in regard to this development.

I mentioned the recession in the fifties but it is only really since 1957 onwards that the construction industry came out of that recession. We are now in this recession. One of the reasons why the construcion industry got going in the late fifties was because of the progressive development of building societies here. They have played a fundamental part in the housing programme. While no finance agency is perfect, the building societies provided rates of interest which were favourable on most occasions over the last 25 years. Generally their rates were about 2 per cent less than those offered by the bigger commercial banks. It is only since 1976 that the major banks went into the home loan business and it is interesting to note that of the loans granted in 1976, 16 per cent were granted by the banks. The exact figure on 31 December 1983, which is the most up-to-date figure, has been reduced to approximately 5 per cent to 6 per cent.

We are all aware that constituents come to us seeking housing in some capacity, if not by the local authorities by trying to get a loan from the building societies or the banks. At present the banks are not granting house loans except under conditions which are very favourable to themselves. One wonders why the banks wish to take over a building society or societies if they have reduced the amount of loans for houses. If that continues and develops it would be a matter of concern as I understand the bank concerned under-lent £2 million last year. Surely, when so many people are looking for loans, they could have given a fillip to the economy and the construction industry instead of attempting to acquire a building society? I know the banks complain that they operate under stringencies which do not apply to building societies and other financial concerns. At the same time I understand that the building societies provided something like £4,000 million last year for home loans.

While looking through statistics this morning I discovered the interesting fact that home ownership in Ireland is about 76 per cent — one of the highest in Europe. While some of our European counterparts prefer to live in apartments the Irish people prefer to own their own homes and there is nothing undesirable about that.

I have been critical of the cartel set up by the banks here. Open competition in any part of commercial life is healthy but where cartels are set up and monopolies created, clearly it is the consumer who will pay. That means Seán Citizen in every town and village in Ireland and it is the function of Members of this House to ensure that Seán Citizen lives with dignity and decency and has the opportunity to raise his family in the best possible environment. I hope the Government keep a very close watch on this particular development and I know that the Minister, conscious of his social obligations, agrees with me regarding this matter.

The Minister referred to planning in his speech. In an island country it is right to have positive and good planning. We have one of the nicest islands in the world and if we could only get the Northern question solved it would be an even nicer place to live. It is important to have proper, orderly and constructive planning. However, many local authorities and indeed An Bord Pleanála can sometimes be very difficult to deal with; people in the building industry regard them as being hostile to planning. I would not go as far as that, I am sure their intentions are always good. However, if we are to make progress, we cannot have negative attitudes. I know many small builders who are looking for planning permission all over the country and who have difficulty in this area. This applies especially to Dublin, and Deputy Joe Doyle, who is a member of Dublin Corporation, is aware of this. I know the area to which Deputy Doyle referred yesterday and he may be right in objecting to a development in the Donnybrook area. Of course I am not familiar with Deputy Doyle's constituency and I am sure he is right to be concerned about development. At a time when the construction industry is experiencing difficulty there should be a certain amount of flexibility exercised by planning authorities and the board.

When my former constituency colleague, Deputy Tully, appointed the first Bord Pleanála he was criticised for appointing a layman to the board and I remember defending his decision. What is wrong with a layman's opinion? His point of view is needed in any discussion and the professionals may not always be correct. I am a little concerned at the number of professional people appointed to the new board because I see nothing wrong with having a layman with sound commonsense on any of these boards. If the principle of commonsense were applied more frequently in making decisions it would make life a lot more simple.

One comes across negative attitudes in local authorities and as a former member of a local authority the Minister will appreciate this point. The Department should request the planning people while carrying out the county development plans to exercise some flexibility where jobs are an issue. Many more jobs could be provided through the exercise of a little more flexibility.

Many small builders are experiencing difficulty due to delays in the granting of planning permission. The Minister should look into this area and ensure that planning decisions are given more swiftly.

There has been much criticism of the quality of our roads. They are now carrying a volume of traffic for which they were never intended. We are part of the European club and there are juggernauts traversing rural roads as well as national primary roads.

In November 1982 we in Fianna Fáil produced a plan, The Way Forward, which the electorate did not accept. The then Opposition produced nothing but were still elected. In that plan we put forward a policy for road structure and suggested the establishment of a national roads authority. Everyone who drives a car is aware of the extent of the problem.

Fifteen years ago the best roads in Ireland were in Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. During recent years, however, the counties surrounding the capital city have been taking a severe pounding from traffic. The roads in Meath are far from being the best in the country. At a meeting of the General Council of County Councils I spoke on a motion that the counties surrounding the capital should get a higher proportion of moneys than the counties which do not carry the same amount of traffic. Louth, Meath, Wicklow and Kildare carry enormous traffic from the north, west and south. The Minister should consider this matter although any suggestion regarding an extra allocation has fallen on deaf ears up to now.

In our plan we produced a policy framework for roads which stated as follows:

1. It is generally accepted that the roads network is deficient and needs to be improved to cope efficiently with the present and expected growth in the volume of road traffic. The Road Development Plan for the 80's, published in May 1979, indicated that significant amounts of resources (£685 million at 1978 prices) would be needed to build a national road system to a satisfactory level.

2. Investment in roads is designed to upgrade the primary road network and relieve growing congestion in urban areas. An improved network is important for economic efficiency, environmental protection and better road safety. The Government's objectives in implementing the roads programme can, therefore, be summarised as follows:

—provide an adequate inter-urban system for the major towns and easy access to ports and airports;

—eliminate traffic hold-ups by the provision of by-passes for towns on national routes;

—reduce urban congestion by providing new bridges, ring roads, and relief roads.

3. It will continue to be part of Government policy to encourage private sector investment in the roads programme where it can be shown that such private investment would result in the lowest possible cost. Private interests are already involved in the proposed Ringsend toll bridge and in joint operations with the local authorities in the provision of multi-storey car parks. The Government will continue to seek EEC funds to supplement Exchequer funding of the roads programme.

Then we dealt with policy measures. Paragraph 5 reads:

An investment programme in roads totalling many hundreds of millions of pounds clearly puts a premium on an effective and economical organisational structure to carry the necessary work through. The Government have recently established an inter-Departmental Working Group to consider and make recommendations on the organisation of inland transport as a whole, both central and local. The Working Group's examination will be relevant to the important objective of securing maximum value for money from the roads programme. The Group will be asked to consider the desirability of establishing a National Roads Authority.

Roads are a problem in Ireland because of the type of roads we have and the volume of traffic they carry. Massive investment in our roads is desirable and necessary. The Minister should consider setting up a national roads authority as suggested in the Fianna Fáil document The Way Forward. There is nothing wrong with stealing the political clothes of another political party. We did it in our time when we were on that side of the House. That is one of the dangers of releasing political policies too early before an election, as younger Deputies will find out in time. In the Minister's voluminous document this morning I did not notice anything about litter. Am I correct in saying that?

That would be covered under the heading of pollution.

While we have the litter legislation which we passed, we still have an enormous litter problem. Without public support we cannot solve this awful and embarrassing problem. When we travel to the Continent on our political duties we see that there is no litter problem in the towns and cities. This must be due to the civic spirit of the people. In many of our towns where they entered for the Tidy Towns Competition they have been successful in dealing with this problem. In towns where they were involved with Bord Fáilte in that competition they have instilled civil spirit into their people. If anybody drops a sweet paper or a cigarette package it is picked up immediately and put into a litter bin. In one town in my constituency the parish priest used to get into the pulpit every Sunday and instead of talking about scripture he talked about civic spirit. That did not do the people any harm. I always maintained civic spirit should be taught in the schools and there was no harm in teaching it from the pulpit. It was successful in that town and on one occasion they won the Tidy Towns Competition.

We also have the problem of bill posters and election posters. There should be general agreement between the political parties that there will be no electioneering posters posted anywhere. They do not get you one vote extra. They may be part of the razzmatazz during the election campaign but they are unsightly. Many of them are left hanging about for months. The Whips should get together and come to a decision.

There is also the cost.

It is undesirable to have these posters hanging about for months. There is also the question of the cost to the political parties. It would make sense for the political parties to get together and say: "To hell with these posters. Let us argue outside the church gates or on the radio or television, and let the people use their discretion." As I said, these posters are not worth a vote. They are unsightly and they cost the political parties a small fortune. I am sure the smaller parties and independent candidates who run against the bigger parties would not disagree with that.

The Deputy might show a good example during the European election campaign by not putting up any posters.

I will do that. If anybody puts up a poster for me during that campaign I will tell him not to vote for me. I will be contesting an election next June. Unfortunately my colleagues will not be contesting the local elections. I will be carrying the flag for this side of the House in Leinster with my colleague, Paddy Lawlor. If I have my way, there will be no posters with the agreement of the other political parties. If there is no agreement between the political parties we will have posters. The people would appreciate it and probably compliment us if we could get agreement on this.

I mentioned civic spirit. During the summer we will have picnickers in our resorts. The lack of civic spirit they show is appalling. We also have the problem of litter on our beaches. We have a very small coastline in County Meath. We have only seven miles of coastline and a small number of beaches, but Meath County Council have a big problem trying to keep them clean. I recall that last year many letters were sent to the local newspapers, and the county council, complaining about the litter on those beaches. I am aware that there are many refuse collection bins there and that the beaches were cleaned every morning but by evening time they were littered again. The people using the beaches do not bother to dispose of their litter properly. We must try to instil a civic spirit into our people.

Another matter that causes me great concern is the number of abandoned cars on our roads, in our villages and towns, and the number of car graveyards in urban housing estates. They are most unsightly. I do not think such littering is covered by legislation although I understand local authorities have a function in this regard. It is undesirable that such features should be so synonymous with our environment. The Minister, in co-operation with local authorities, should put more muscle into dealing with that problem. We also have a problem in regard to vandalism. In Dublin, and other big centres of population, for some reason that is hard to analyse many young people take joy out of acts of vandalism. We are all aware of the number of telephone kiosks that are destroyed in our towns and villages. There is little regard for the fact that people may need the public telephone service in an emergency. I accept that this is not the responsibility of the Minister, but something will have to be done about it. We will have to do something to make the legislation on litter more practicable.

In regard to pollution I am concerned about the problem that arises in regard to the pollution of the Irish Sea by the nuclear station at Windscale which is only across the water from our coastline. I am sure the Minister, who also represents a coastline constituency, is concerned about the effects of that station on our environment and the health of our people. We must monitor that position closely. I have no doubt that in the European election campaign that matter, and the question of nuclear disarmament, will be highlighted. The electorate are concerned about the effect they will have on our environment and on our people.

The Minister told the House that road safety has a high priority in his Department. I was pleased to hear him announce that there has been a reduction in the number of accidents on our roads in the last 12 months, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. The standard of driving here is appalling. I live 30 miles from Dublin city and I come across very bad driving on the road to the city daily. It is extraordinary the chances some drivers take such as passing out on bends or on the brow of a hill. In the course of the debate on the Bill dealing with road traffic which was introduced by the Minister recently I stressed the importance of drivers and front seat passengers, wearing safety belts. However, we must also cater for those who suffer from claustrophobia, and, consequently, are not able to wear a safety belt. Such people are frightened if they are confined by a safety belt and clearly they should not be compelled to wear them. I know of people who have been involved in car accidents in which the vehicle went on fire and because of that experience they would not wear a safety belt. They fear that they may be trapped in the event of an accident. I accept that in the majority of cases it is desirable that drivers and front seat passengers use safety belts but the gardaí must make allowances for those who for some reason or another are afraid to wear them. I suggest that the Minister, in co-operation with the Minister for Justice, should suggest to the gardaí that in such cases the head should rule and commonsense prevail.

I suggest to the Minister that the administrative work on environment improvement schemes could be reduced. Meath County Council were notified that they will receive £104,000 for environment improvement schemes this year and that will be divided between five areas. However, the schemes prepared for those areas will have to be sanctioned by the Department before work commences. Local authorities should be given more power in regard to those schemes. There is little point in allocating money to them and then insisting on the schemes being sanctioned before the work commences. I accept that this matter may be dealt with when the Government are dealing with the reform of local authorities, but such bureaucracy can be eliminated quite easily.

In east Meath, and parts of Dublin, the position in regard to domestic water supplies is critical. On many occasions last year there was no water available in areas from Dublin to Navan and back to the coast. It was mentioned on television and radio and no later than the other morning Meath County Council had again to give out a notice on the radio advising people in east Meath that there would be no water from noon one day to noon the next day.

I know the Department are trying to deal with the situation. They are aware of it. The problem largely arises because of the increase in the population and that increase in population is occurring in that part of the county closest to the metropolis. The planning people will not give planning permission because they ask, how can there be planning when there is no water? The population has risen in the last ten years from 71,000 to over 100,000. When I was on the benches over there I suggested we should have an overall metropolitan plan covering a radius within 50 miles of Dublin. This should have been done 20 years ago. The water should have been laid on and the cable system for the telephones and, following on that, let the population grow as has been the evolution in London and New York and practically every other city in the world. Here the city is spreading out and there is no proper infrastructure in relation to water, sewerage and telephones. In Clonee there is no public sewerage. That is only ten miles from where we are at the moment. It will be on stream hopefully when the work in the Phoenix Park is completed but these are all things that should have been dealt with long before now. One hopes we will learn from the mistakes made in the past and more wisdom will prevail in the future.

This Estimate covers a wide field. There is no doubt about that. I hope some of the points I have made will be listened to. We in Government on many occasions listened to points made by Opposition speakers. We found some quite useful and I would hope that some of the points I have made now would be considered favourably by the Minister to the ultimate benefit of the country and to the benefit of himself and his Department.

I welcome the Minister on his first appearance here as Minister for the Environment. This is the first opportunity he has had to introduce this Estimate which makes provision for roads, housing and sanitary services.

Deputy Fitzsimons questioned the Government sincerity in regard to the building industry. I am not one who would try to score political points and certainly not against a gentleman like Deputy Fitzsimons, but nevertheless I have a feeling that those on the Opposition benches are shedding crocodile tears for the building industry. Deputy Fitzsimons said no provision whatsoever was made in the budget for the building industry. Now the most important factor in the building industry is cement and the Minister in answer to representations from that industry substantially reduced value-added tax on cement. What stunned me in this House was when the Opposition actually voted against that reduction. It did not make sense.

In Dublin we have a "Keep Dublin Tidy" committee which has worked very well. Under the Litter Act a number of prosecutions have been taken and have been successful. Last Friday week we were successful in a prosecution in regard to abandoned cars. I shall confine my remarks now to three particular areas in which I am interested, namely, roads, housing and local authority finance. We are dependent on roads more than other developing countries as our principal means of transport. The main improvements required to make the road network, especially the national routes are of course in regard to social, economic and environmental needs. These have been set out in the road development plan for the 1980s published in May 1979. There has, however been a considerable shortfall in road funding since then. I appreciate the difficulties in public financing and I know that all items of public expenditure must be subjected to vigorous cost-benefit analysis. It is, however, my belief that all new roads will be given immediate and significant acknowledgement because road construction has its place in providing employment. There is little import content in the materials used in road surfacing as against those used in house building. All the projects for new roads have been identified in the road development plan and it is not only a matter of ensuring the finance is available to complete the projects.

The Minister outlined a number of these projects in the pipeline for 1984. Given the limitations on Exchequer Funding ways and means must be found to supplement the road programme for 1984 by tapping other financial resources. The Joint Programme for Government referred to the possibility of tapping private capital for urgent infrastructural works which could have an important spin-off effect in providing employment in the building industry. A good example of this can be seen in my own constituency where Dublin Corporation and the Ringsend Bridge Company, of which I am a member through the local authority, have under the Local Government Tolls Act of 1979 made arrangements under which private enterprise have combined with the local authority for the provision of a modern traffic facility. Work will shortly be completed on a bridge spanning the River Liffey from East Wall to Ringsend. It is on target. It is also within the confines of the estimate. The estimated cost was £8 million and, talking to the entrepreneurs this morning, I believe the bridge will be completed for a figure of £8.2 million. There is a moral in this for those of us who are on the Public Accounts Committee in seeing how many of the estimates for public expenditure are outside the target. Here we have private enterprise combined with the local authority getting what they wanted for the price originally estimated. In view of this I believe a greater effort should be made to attract the private investor into financing public roads.

Last year I suggested that a National Road Agency should be established. That is not very far away from what Deputy Fitzsimons had in mind. The agency could be partly funded by this State and partly by private enterprise. I understand this is what happens in Italy and Spain and we should give serious consideration to combined public and private enterprise funding.

The provision of local authority housing is one of the main functions of any local authority. Dublin Corporation Housing Committee, of which I am a member, has a proud record in regard to house building and great credit is due to successive Governments for financing this programme. I know from the Minister's statement today that greater provision will be made this year than was made in previous years. Last year 1,750 houses were completed in Dublin city, including 480 inner city houses. Since the inner city programme commenced in 1977, 1,440 houses have been completed in the inner city. This achievement will receive recognition not just in Dublin but in the capitals of other European countries as well. Some time ago when I was speaking to housing officials in Oslo they told me they were embarrassed when they compared our city development programme with theirs, bearing in mind the wealth of their country. We seem to be the only local authority who are developing the inner city.

Just as there is need to attract private capital for road building, equally it is necessary to attract private participation in public housing programmes. This can be best achieved under the joint housing venture scheme where a local authority makes land available to builders for the purpose of building houses for sale. For many years Dublin Corporation have sold developed sites to small builders and this has allowed the construction of 5,000 houses. The houses are sold by the builders to people, many of whom would have applied for local authority houses in the first place. The scheme, which is ongoing, has been very successful, and some local authorities outside Dublin have based their joint venture schemes on it. I note in the Minister's speech that about 20,000 houses will be completed under this scheme in the near future. This has stimulated and will continue to stimulate the construction industry, which is experiencing difficulties at the moment. It will give additional employment opportunities to building workers and it will increase the rate of output in private housing. It is intended that this additional assistance to the building industry in the Dublin area will generate increased housing output in the private sector without a significant demand on the capital expenditure programme.

Recently Dublin Corporation changed the tendering procedure for corporation building contracts. The Housing Committee have accepted a report from the Chief Housing Architect and the Chief Quantity Surveyor. They state that time could be saved and the housing programme expedited by using the restrictive tendering procedure in accordance with EEC regulations. This revised tendering procedure has been recommended for an initial period of six months on a trial basis. It will not be necessary to have detailed examination of firms before each contract is placed, as is the practice at present. This can be done when replies are received to the initial advertisement. It will also eliminate delays in connection with bonding arrangements. Often this takes some time and it delays contracts. In some cases it will reduce the documentation necessary for the submission of tenders. In certain cases it should provide an opportunity for the extension of contracts with the approval of the Department of the Environment. There can also be a list of contractors who will undertake schemes of various sizes so that the corporation may know what a builder can do. In a time of scarce resources every method must be explored to ensure that the taxpayers are getting good value for money. Tenders received under this scheme will be monitored closely to ensure that prices are competitive.

The principle behind local authority housing is that it should be available to people on lower incomes who, through no fault of their own, cannot provide housing for themselves. Up to recently people on an average industrial wage would qualify under that category because repayments on loans to banks or building societies or in respect of SDA loans would take almost half their salary. However, with the introduction of the Housing Finance Agency the situation has changed. In respect of their scheme people are required to make repayments of 17 or 18 per cent of their income per week and that is reasonable by any standards. I am of the opinion that people who qualify for a loan from a building society or a bank or who qualify for an SDA or a Housing Finance Agency loan should not be considered for local authority housing: in other words, applicants for local authority housing should be means-tested.

There is an alternative way of approaching the problem. The time has come to review the operation of all housing subsidy schemes, including local authority housing subsidies. I know this will be an emotional issue, but we should pursue the question of equity across the board for all public expenditure schemes. If the public see that what we are doing is fair they will accept it. Every subsidy or transfer payment under any public expenditure programme represents a redistribution of resources from one citizen to another. Taxation and redistribution of resources are essential to provide public services and to make some move forward towards a more socially just society. However, sometimes I think we do not establish clearly what we want to do and because of this we end up making indiscriminate transfer payments to those who do not need them. As I said earlier, a case in point is local authority housing. I was shocked recently to learn that the average weekly subsidy for some local authority housing in Dublin is well in excess of £100. This represents housing at a level that could not be afforded even by people with reasonably high incomes. What is involved here should be explained clearly to taxpayers. We should make a start by ensuring that an economic rent is set for local authority houses and that those who need be given the appropriate reductions in respect of their rent. By putting the right price tag on local authority housing the people in the houses will appreciate them and those who grow richer and move towards a point where they will pay an economic rent will have an incentive to provide housing for themselves. This will free local authority housing for those genuinely in need.

A problem has arisen on a number of occasions regarding people in the private sector who are disabled because of multiple sclerosis or some other disease and who seek extensions to their houses. The local authority can pay up to two-thirds of the approved cost and recoup from central government up to a maximum of £2,000. Usually a local authority give a grant of £4,000 but recoup only £2,000. However, they have the discretion to give a higher grant, and I hope the Minister will be sympathetic towards the viewpoint that when a local authority give a higher grant they should be able to recoup half the amount from central funds. It is unfair to ask a local authority to pay more when it is well known that they have very little revenue at the moment.

The Minister did say that, when he was considering Part III of the Housing Act, 1966, under the Miscellaneous Housing Bill he intends introducing in the near future, among other things he will be considering housing people at present homeless. Recently I noted that Mr. Ben Thompson, chairman of the Housing Centre told members of the Simon Community at their annual conference in Dublin that local authority letting priorities had not been geared properly to help the most deprived — the single homeless. In general he said that the letting priorities and allocations had reflected the needs of families who are capable of making representations to councillors rather than those of single people who are dependent on night shelters and who have less access to local authority housing. He was right. In this regard Dublin Corporation have taken a step in the right direction. Up to quite recently the allocation of accommodation to single homeless persons was confined to senior citizens or to those with medical problems. It is now proposed to designate 100 units of accommodation for the purpose of housing homeless people at present living in hostels and other such accommodation. A schedule of designated accommodation of 50 units has been prepared which, if proven successful, will lead to a further 50 units being designated. In the first instance it is proposed to confine the scheme to persons over 40 years of age who are recommended by the Eastern Health Board, by a hostel of the Simon Community and who have been vetted by the chief welfare officer of Dublin Corporation. This constitutes a departure from present letting schemes and priorities and will need ministerial approval, but I would think, from what the Minister had to say this morning, that he will be only too anxious to give that approval.

I might turn now to the general question of local government financing. The whole concept of the financing of local authorities has altered radically in recent years. The abolition of rates on domestic properties brought about greater reliance on central government financing which inevitably resulted in greater Government control over local authority expenditure. Rates limitations introduced did not keep pace with inflation and it became more and more difficult to maintain a reasonable level of services. While the limitation on increases in industrial and commercial rates has been removed and power to introduce new charges enacted the Government's domestic rates grant is no longer equivalent to the loss of rates on dwellings, the grant increase for 1984 being less than 1 per cent. Basically the difficulties arise because of the abolition of a form of taxation without its replacement, which in turn has led to the Government having to find sizeable expenditure from resources already under considerable pressure. It is generally recognised that the system of financing of local authorities warrants scrutiny in a systematic way in order to ascertain whether a satisfactory long-term method can be devised which will not limit local authorities' capacity to provide services at the level required.

The increase in the rate over the last five years, that is prior to 1983, has been considerably less than the rate of inflation. Although the limited increase in rates on commercial and industrial premises was removed in 1983 it was not practicable to attempt to fully recoup the shortfall without imposing too great a burden on this sector, thereby having undesirable effects on employment. This was a problem confronting Dublin Corporation last evening in striking the rate, whether we should add 70p or 80p in the pound on the rate to maintain 319 people at present employed in the environmental works section and who have not been provided for in the Estimates. However, by so doing we had to remember that we would render other people in the private sector unemployed and we have a responsibility to both sectors. Therefore, the approach must be to avoid striking rate levels which are unduly high vis-á-vis current levels, to examine other forms of income to ensure that we maintain reasonable levels and to curtail expenditure as far as possible consistent with maintaining a satisfactory level of services.

For those who argue that there can be no reversion to the pre-1977 situation, and I am one of them, there are a number of alternatives which must be examined. First, a surcharge on income tax. This would constitute a serious option were it not for the current PAYE controversial debate and would have the advantage of including those who obtain the full benefit of local authority services but who are not householders. If administered centrally its collection would not add unduly to administrative costs. Another alternative would be a surcharge on VAT. But here one runs into the argument against the current level of this form of taxation. The same objections were raised even when the levels of VAT were small by today's standards. A third alternative would be to give local authorities a fixed percentage of the national taxes. This would have the advantage of there being an existing buoyant tax collection vehicle relatively cheap to administer, a feature lacking in current rates taxation. I believe there are many other options in addition to those I have mentioned that the Government must consider in their efforts to develop a financial base for local authorities and which I hope will be examined in the course of local government reformation. The short-term measures at present in operation are not satisfactory and there must be devised a long-term financial base for local authorities.

I hope the Government will give serious consideration to the options I have mentioned. However, in his introductory remarks this morning the Minister said there was no easy solution to this problem and there I am in full agreement with him.

I hope today to elaborate on some of the issues I was unable to deal with yesterday because of the restrictions on time allocated to me on the motion then before the House.

The first issue with which I want to deal is that of the pollution of Dublin Bay. The level of pollution there seems to be increasing on a monthly basis. There appeared to be very little promise in the Minister's remarks this morning of any hope or even any acknowledgment of the dangerous level of pollution there. I hope also to speak about the ecology movement as I have experienced it as a member of the Council of Europe, my knowledge of it and the reports in which I participated at the Council of Europe over the past few years.

I might also direct the Minister's attention to the continuing debate in Europe, indeed also among certain environmentalist groups here, on the question of employment and the effect environmental improvements and regulations have thereon. Such debate is between the environmentalists and business interests who are sometimes accused of being "environmental graffiti" people, if you like, people who are acting irresponsibly. But there must be a balance struck between business and manufacturing interests and the environmentalists. I am disappointed that this was not referred to in any great detail by the Minister. Certainly the allocation for environmental improvements in the Minister's report is rather sketchy, to say the very least, rather mean. I know we are subject to financial restrictions and so on.

First, let me congratulate the Minister on his appointment. As a Wicklow man, I am sure he is aware of the necessity to preserve the environment and particularly to maintain the environmental beauty of his county, or that part of it which adjoins the part of County Dublin in which my constitutency is situated. Yesterday I referred to a directive approved by the EEC Council of Ministers on 8 February 1975 concerning the quality of bathing waters. I said yesterday I am disappointed that the Minister with responsibility for the environment had not addressed himself to this directive, which has direct relevance to sea pollution, and in particular Dublin Bay. It is concerned with the quality of bathing waters and lays down legislative aims to protect the environment and public health where bathing waters are polluted.

Paragraph 1 of the directive states that a bathing area means any area of water which the public use, for instance, Dublin Bay, where a large number of bathers can be expected. There are many hardy people who bathe at Seapoint and the Bull Wall all the year round, but in summer there are large numbers who leave the city to use the facilities that I, and I am sure the Minister, have used — the bathing waters around Seapoint, Dolly-mount, the bay in general.

Therefore, I ask the Minister to pass that way and take a close look at Seapoint, to take off his shoes and discover that the place is littered with broken glass, all sorts of rubble that has been dumped there or discharged into the area. He will see large black bags of shop garbage and household rubbish that have been dumped there as in lanes throughout the city. Of course many tons are dumped in the bay by way of the Liffey. There is also industrial effluent being discharged into it.

I am disappointed, therefore, that the EEC directive has not been approved by the Minister. This is apparent, because no action has been taken to resolve the pollution of our bathing waters. Perhaps the reason that will be given for this inactivity is that the directive refers to places where large numbers of bathers go, and it seems that officially a large number of bathers do not avail of the natural facilities in Dublin Bay. Consequently, no action has been taken to implement the directive. Member states were given a ten year period to comply with the directive and this period is about to lapse — only a year remains — yet Dublin Bay and its facilities are in a deplorable state.

An obvious need is to improve sewage disposal facilities in Dublin. An application could have been made for EEC grants but such an application has not been made. The EEC Regional Fund caters for infrastructural problems such as this and an application by the Minister would be favourably considered because of the generally more enlightened attitude to the environment by continental Europeans. I am not saying that the Minister, in his short period in that Department, is responsible for lack of action in this respect, but I urge him to have a look at this directive and the grants that are available for the improvement of sewerage schemes and so on. I hope the point is well taken by the Minister and that because we have only one year left and apparently no request has been made for a Regional Fund grant the Minister will take this to be a matter of great urgency. Let the Minister examine Dublin Bay closely and give himself the experience anyone gets who walks down Sandymount Beach as far as the Pigeon House when the tide is out and all the algae and the rotting matter is around the area. It is most unpleasant.

I should like to refer briefly to points made in the Minister's comprehensive speech — it dealt powerfully with some issues and less powerfully with others. He referred to the building industry and said:

It is common knowledge that building and construction has suffered a significant decline in output and employment in recent years and I am concerned to see that decline halted and growth resumed as soon as possible. Indeed, I am optimistic that we may see the beginning of renewed growth...

I do not know if the Minister is living in the same world as I or if he is living in the real world. The building industry is on its knees. The disincentives in the budget and the lack of capital investment do not indicate any hope for the building industry. The Coalition are masters of many words, they are great people at describing small grants as something of significance, but they cannot deny that day after day builders are going to the wall. The private building sector has been penalised beyond measure. There is no capital investment, no encouragement. The private builders are in a state of desperation. The lack of incentive for the building industry is a tragedy. Surely the Minister must have met people who have become bankrupt as a result of the Coalition's policy. Builders who have traditionally been in the line of building houses at reasonable prices have gone to the wall. Other builders are being held up by An Bord Pleanála.

That board have done a great deal of damage to employment prospects because of the constant on-going bureaucratic delays in dealing with appeals. For instance, a builder in my constituency who finished on a site last Christmas, who had 14 workers who had been with him for all of his builder's life, had a planning application approved by Dublin County Council. A third party appealed that decision and the appeal remains in the bureaucratic network of An Bord Pleanála today while 14 workers, decent men, are on the dole queue when they could be fully employed if the appeal had been dealt with simply and quickly. There seems to be no reason why the Minister should not consider amending the regulations to allow for rapid decisions on matters that should be relatively simple. The crank complainant will always be with us. There is always somebody who objects to everything no matter what it is. This builder has been sitting idly around his building site with nothing to do because he cannot get his appeal through An Bord Pleanála. By the way, An Bord Pleanála are not acting very courteously towards public representatives. They should have a look at the way they treat public representatives who make inquiries of them about issues where jobs are at stake.

The Minister and successive Ministers have taken seriously the question of the travelling people, but it is time to take it even more seriously. It is a horrific Third World problem right on our doorsteps. On the Tallaght by-pass is over a mile of caravans, shacks and sheds without sanitation. It is an appalling indictment of our political system that it allows people to languish on the side of the road without facilities or apparent hope. It is an appalling indictment of us as politicians that we cannot once and for all come to grips with providing hard stands around the country for small numbers of travelling people. Dublin has taken more than its fair share of them. On the Tallaght by-pass may be seen caravans with rural and GB registrations. To some extent this is a national problem which must be taken from the hands of the local authorities, who simply cannot deal with it. They have not the capacity to deal with it because legitimately people put pressure on local politicians, saying: "We have the travelling people, but we do not want them here". That is not to say that the people of south County Dublin have not taken the responsibility seriously in this matter. I pay tribute to the people in the Rathfarnham-Nutgrove area particularly. They were the first to take on a tigín site in Holylands, and the travelling people are fully integrated there. Their children are integrated into the youth clubs in the area and the atmosphere among the travelling people and the local people is very good. The way in which they have integrated is surprising. The area has local authority housing, Dublin Corporation housing, very expensive private housing and the itinerants. Basically there is no problem is settling the travelling people if we can take away the fear and provide the control. The big problem about flats such as in Ballymun and local authority housing of that kind was that we put people into the flats but we did not put estate management into them. They had no washrooms or facilities of any kind. The itinerant site at Holylands has never caused any problem and the best of integration has occurred there. The Minister must consider provisions along those lines. It is a moral disgrace and outrage that we have not been able to deal constructively and positively with the plight of the travelling people. I am not blaming local councillors or local people. We need an educational programme and a national programme with the back-up of strong legislation to deal with this. We do not want to put 20 or 30 itinerant families behind anybody's back garden. We want to make sure that the hard stands and tigíns are provided. Dublin County Council have done a wonderful job in integrating travellers and allocating houses to itinerant families. In Moreen there are nine itinerant families and Ballyboden has 11 itinerant families. After one or two hiccups in the beginning. Dublin County Council ensured that welfare workers were sent there and were there, constantly monitoring what was going on. The council deserve great praise, despite the criticism they have taken recently for their position on the hard stands around the county. That reaction is understandable. The people in Moreen were asked initially to take 13 itinerant families at the back of their estate. That is outrageous. The thought of putting a section of the Tallaght by-pass at the back of an estate is ludicrous. The people rejected that suggestion and I supported their objection to it. They had already accepted into their community nine families, and those nine families are a credit to the judgment of Dublin County Council, but more must be done. I know that the Minister will consider taking stronger measures than we had in the past.

On the question of roads and road works the Minister referred to a provision of £123.5 million, which is an increase of 5 per cent, but in real terms it is a decrease and the roads are disimproving enormously every year. There is no indication that the Minister has fought within his Cabinet to get much needed money for the basic infrastructure. As one travels around Europe one sees the high-ways and by-ways which have been grant aided by the EEC, and relatively very little of those funds are coming here. We will have to state our case more carefully at the Council of Ministers when dealing with grants of that kind.

We have the continuing debate in south Dublin regarding the Southern Cross route. While everybody knows that EEC grants are available and that it would cost little to be accepted for them, it is good economic sense to get on with the construction of this Southern Cross route, a by-pass which would take the traffic from the suburban estates and the juggernauts from the small villages. It would move all heavy traffic away from the housing estates and villages from Dún Laoghaire to the Naas Road. I ask the Minister to review the whole business of seeking EEC funds for this route, so that this very worthy project can be got under way.

An increase of 5 per cent compared with 1983 is miserable, to say the very least. The Minister further talks about environment improvement schemes. I am disappointed that £2.5 million of the funds allocated to local authorities for environmental improvement works in 1983 remain to be spent this year. Why have they not been taken up? This is a mystery which perhaps the Minister might clear up. Who is slipping up on what, or is the information not getting down to the local authorities?

I shall reply to that query, all right.

In addition, the sum of £4 million has been provided through the Labour Vote to enable local authorities to continue the special projects which were approved in 1983. I do not know if that is being at all generous. In fact, the whole allocation of funds from the Department of the Environment is rather low.

On the question of Dublin inner city, we find that £300,000 is provided in the Estimate to continue the inner city group's operations in 1984. The Minister said that in the past five years a total of over £2 million has been made available from the funds to aid various Dublin inner city projects in the economic, social, recreational and educational fields. The Minister expresses himself as satisfied. However, he ends with a little reminder that he is keeping an eye on this group. He states:

I intend, however, to take a closer look at the group's role and structure and to see whether it is the most effective way of proceeding with this very worthwhile programme.

It has succeeded beyond all our expectations. It has been an enormous success. It has given the people in the inner city of Summerhill and its environs great hope, great pride and great dignity in being able to do things for themselves within their own community — things for which they had had their hands out fruitlessly years before. They were driven away empty handed, and now the Minister is threatening to examine the group's role and structure. Perhaps it is only a review that he is making, but this group have done an enormous amount of work and every single penny spent by them has been well spent, even if occasionally there has been a hiccup in their administration. They have been a wonderful success and deserve more support, more money and more assistance. Their work will reduce crime and vandalism in that area. The group have done work on drug addiction and in the Third World centre in Summerhill. I cannot speak too highly about their activities. They are people who have been brought back into the mainstream of decision-making in their own community. If the Minister is looking at this matter I urge him to look at it constructively, seeking ways to make them an even stronger, better and financially more secure group.

In general, the Minister's speech was wide ranging and referred to a number of issues. The end line is that he has not provided any increase in capital investment for housing or roads of any significance in real terms. I perfectly understand how the Minister finds himself in this position. However, I would ask him to look at the EEC Regional Fund with a view to improving, in our capital city, the environmental structures, the derelict sites, roads in general and pollution of the air and of Dublin Bay. He must ensure that the Dublin mountains are protected from pollution, vandalism and so forth. Many years ago I suggested that these mountains should be preserved as a national park and met with very strong resistance from the Wicklow Deputies and the Wicklow sheep farmers who misunderstand my proposals and were driven to do so. They felt that it would infringe their rights to private property, but far from it. It would have protected their rights and preserved this beautiful county of Wicklow from weekend trippers vandalising the area and generally destroying crops, upsetting livestock and so on. It would have helped the farmers and been to their advantage. However, the Wicklow sheep farmers decided that they did not want the Dublin-Wicklow mountains and they won that battle.

The Department of Fisheries and Forestry have done a marvellous job with regard to forest walks and the provision of excellent facilities for the day trippers. They have to some extent, but not officially, provided a national park in the Dublin-Wicklow mountains by nature walks and so on. In particular, I would refer to that from Marley Park right into Wicklow itself which I travelled during the summer, spending a couple of days doing so. If the Minister has any time, he should look at that area and see how it could be improved. It is a wonderful tribute to the environmentalists in the various Departments responsible.

I want to refer briefly to a colloquy which I attended recently in Barcelona on the question of the impact of pollution control programmes on employment. Businessmen and environmentalists tried there to resolve their conflict of interests. Basically, the business interests argued that environmental programmes contributed to unemployment, while the environmentalists pointed out that such programmes stimulated the economy, preserved existing jobs and created new ones. The truth probably lies midway. Environmental programmes can hurt employment in several ways, forcing factories to close down and inhibiting new construction, diverting capital away from expansion.

Pollution control costs cause price increases which can lead to lower demand, lower production and consequent loss of employment. In some cases, firms — multi-nationals in particular — may be induced to shift new production capacity to other countries with less stringent regulations.

We have seen what has happened recently in the case of the Ford and Dunlop factories in Cork. I do not believe that was necessarily because of environmental regulations, but wherever they are going we can be certain that whatever the regulations are in that country they will be less stringent than they are here, such as in Mexico, where I believe they are setting up a factory. We cannot rely on the multi-nationals or big business to implement these regulations. It must be pointed out to them that there are side benefits in implementing environmental schemes which could reward them handsomely. Cleaning up the environment creates jobs. People are employed in the construction and development of control programmes. We have to consider the overall balance between the job losses and the job gains. These are affected by a number of factors such as:

(1) the state of the economy at the time the environmental policy is being implemented;

(2) the type of environmental measures being implemented;

(3) the extent to which pollution control equipment is manufactured at home or imported, and

(4) the means of financing pollution control expenditure.

Substantial research has been done to establish the effect of pollution control programmes. Factories do not close simply because of environmental control programmes. Factory closures occur for a number of reasons such as the imposition of Government regulations, unfavourable market conditions, as in the case of Ford and Dunlop and out of date equipment. Plants which it is alleged are closed for environmental reasons are usually small, old and unable to afford the cost of implementing pollution control regulations. Economic considerations would probably force their closure anyway.

The report on that particular colloquy in Barcelona will come before the Council of Europe in May. I hope the Minister and his officials will examine the outcome of it and the recommendations in it. It is a very important report as far as environmental improvements in this country are concerned. I would like to refer also to the ecology movement. The Council of Europe, of which the Leas-Cheann Comhairle was a distinguished member and is sadly missed there, has been dealing with this. The Council of Europe and its parliamentary assembly began taking an interest in the question of environmental protection as far back as 1961. The Committee of Regional Planning and Local Authorities, of which I have been a member for the past three years, were specifically instructed in 1970 to report to the Assembly on the main problems concerning the natural environment. The committee have presented reports every two years. I am glad to say I had an input into some of those reports although all the recommendations I presented were not fully accepted. However, that is the process under which democracy works.

During the debate on environment policy in Europe in 1982 the Assembly adopted order No. 417 instructing the Committee on Regional Planning and Local Authorities to make a study of ecologist movements. This was as a result of the success of the Green Party in Germany, with which Ms. Petra Kelly, a personal friend of mine and a person I have a high regard for, was involved. There are several reasons for holding discussions and examining the ecologist movement. Their presence in our society, although it varies between one State and another, is real enough whether at local, regional or national level and in combination with media coverage makes these movements influential in many areas of political life, environmental policy in particular. Their influence is illustrated by the fact that in recent years most of the established major political parties have to consider their position on nature and the environment. The ecologist movements have also brought a new idea into political debate, the concept of ecological democracy based on a new relationship between man and nature.

There is no overlooking the fact that the ecologist movement transcends frontiers and is found in a more or less organised form in all of our member states. We have An Taisce. In some countries the ecologist movements have given rise to the formation of political parties, for instance, the Greens in Germany. There are many environmentalists in this country who intended contesting local elections, which unfortunately they will not be able to do this year. In my constituency we had a candidate campaigning on the ecologist movement. He certainly has a good representative in me. There is a trend throughout the country for people interested in the ecology movement, the environment and what is happening to the environment, to participate more actively in politics at local and national level. I welcome that because it certainly can do nothing but good and make people aware of what is happening to our air, seas and environment generally. They are an excellent addition to the political spectrum.

The origins of the ecologist movement in Europe stem from nature councils which began in the sixties when people began to realise that the polluting effects of the economic growth caused environmental damage with repercussions on the quality of life. At that time the main emphasis was placed on combatting air, water and soil pollution and the word environment did not have its present day connotation. However, the associations involved in nature conservation quickly realised that the campaign against pollution called for some kind of political action. In the more industrialised countries, particularly the USA, the environment became an electoral issue in the presidential campaigns. In the last presidential election campaign we saw enormous pressure being put on the various candidates. President Carter became a victim of a campaign against his lack of interest in the environment which partly resulted in him losing the election.

In 1969 and 1970 the nature conservation movements exerted so much pressure that certain European Governments drew up environmental protection programmes and in some instances set up specialised Government Departments. That is probably why the Department of Local Government was changed to the Department of the Environment. At European level, 1970 was proclaimed European Conservation Year by the Council of Europe and a European Conservation Conference was convened under the Council's auspices in the same year. This event was to be followed in 1972 by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, forming the starting point for a new international approach to the issue of nature conservation.

In some member states, however, implementation of environmental protection measures met with serious opposition of an administrative and legal as well as of a political nature, because obviously this threatened the existing status quo among politicians who did not appear to take any particular interest in the environment. In other countries decisions were taken according to purely technical and scientific criteria and had adverse effects on the environment. At the beginning of the seventies the decision-makers, whether politicians or economists, showed a certain lack of alertness to environmental issues, although there were few exceptions such as the personalities gathered in the Council of Europe.

The shortcomings of the national, regional or local administrations caused a whole range of environmental protection groups, associations and committees to band together as a more or less organised movement throughout the seventies. In France this movement made headlines during the 1974 presidential election by putting up the world's first ecologist candidate.

While certain associations abstained from any action which might involve them in politics — I do not see why they should because the environment is very much a political issue — there were more and more others who openly contested the elections. In the French municipal elections of 1977 a number of ecologist candidates were successful. In the Federal Republic of Germany in 1979 an ecologist list achieved representation for the first time in the regional parliaments and in the last general election they obtained seats in the Bundestag. Germany, Belgium and Switzerland all have ecologist Members of Parliament at present.

For the 1979 European Parliament elections, ecologist lists were presented in various Community member states. In France they obtained nearly 5 per cent of the national vote and "The Greens" in Germany obtained 3.2 per cent. We can see from all these figures that Europe is taking the environment and the ecological movement seriously and they are becoming a political force.

I would encourage politicians on all sides of this House and members of local authorities to begin to take conservation of the environment seriously, to make it something of a crusade, to show that we are anxious to conserve the environment — the beautiful coastline from Donegal to Kerry, around Wicklow and so on. We must watch very carefully at all times to ensure that our coastline is not destroyed by vandals.

The simplest way of describing the motives and objectives of the ecologist movement is to refer to their own electoral programmes. It is of course impossible to examine all their programmes but in the German programme they brought in the campaign for nuclear disarmament. They fought, unsuccessfully, against the siting of Pershing and Cruise missiles on German soil. In Britain they have gained very little ground because of the complexity of the direct vote system. They have contested local and general elections there but without success. In Ireland there are members in every political party who are genuinely committed to the environment and the ecologist movement and the issues that would interest such movement, but unfortunately they are not heard often enough and they are not as powerful a political lobby as I would like to see.

I hope that next year the Minister will have better and more constructive news. I wish him every success in his job. He is a man of great honour and sincerity, a man I have admired, and I wish him every success in his job and hope next year he will have better news for us.

I would like to congratulate the Minister on presenting this Estimate for his new Department and wish him the best for the future. Hopefully he will think of the neighbouring counties each succeeding year as he allocates funds for the various services provided by our local authorities.

The size of this Estimate is an indication of the extent and importance of the services provided by local authorities. The community generally do not appear to regard these services as very important when they are asked to make contributions for those services. The public contribute by way of general taxation to this area, but it has become obvious over the last four or five years that there is a need to raise money within the various local authority areas which would be spent within those areas. Let us briefly glance at the range of services provided by local authorities — housing, roads and footpaths, water services, refuse collection, physical planning, environmental protection, fire services, library services, recreational services and so on. There is a vast range of services immediately available to the public. This is one of the most important Government Departments but the importance of these services appears to have passed over the heads of many politicians and members of the public.

I mentioned briefly the contentious issue of charges. It is timely to have a look at that situation now. We have politicians who for their own reasons are jumping on the band-wagon and saying that people should not pay such charges or contribute to the provision of the type of services I have mentioned. They make a lot of political capital out of this. It sounds good to stand on a platform and advise the public not to contribute to these services, because nobody can force them to do so. It is about time we stood up and appraised the situation properly. We must face facts and accept that if we want the services we have now to be provided in the future we must pay for them. Whether it means a change in the taxation system is immaterial. There is no point in politicians or others telling the people that there are ways and means of providing these services without their becoming a burden. Those ways and means have been tried and have failed.

Debate adjourned.