Housing Bill, 1988: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Housing Bill is a major social measure. Its main concern is with the provision of adequate accommodation for those persons who cannot afford to provide it from their own resources. Most importantly, it will provide a new statutory framework for the development of social housing whether provided by local housing authorities or by voluntary housing organisations.

However, there are many other important aspects to this Bill and I would like, therefore, to start by mentioning briefly some of its main objectives which are to revise and update the statutory basis for the provision, improvement, management and letting of local authority housing so as to ensure, in particular, that the needs of categories such as the homeless, the aged, disabled and travellers get due priority; to increase the powers of housing authorities in regard to the accommodation of homeless persons; to put in place arrangements to facilitate the sale of local authority houses to tenants at prices which reflect the present condition and market value of the houses; to provide statutory backing for a number of schemes of grants, subsidies, loan guarantees and assistance for housing introduced in recent years; to provide an easier procedure for discharging mortgages in certain cases; to amend the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, in relation to the provision of emergency accommodation and, in particular, in response to the accommodation needs of travellers; and to repeal the offence of "wandering abroad" which is contained in the Vagrancy Act, 1824.

In preparing this Bill careful consideration was given to every aspect of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1985. The provisions of the 1985 Bill, which were considered necessary and appropriate, have been retained. In other areas new provisions have been devised. The Bill — as indeed the 1985 Bill would have been — is the most farreaching revision of housing legislation since the modern housing code was laid down in the Housing Act, 1966.

The provisions of the Bill on homelessness have attracted most comment since the Bill was published and I would expect that this area would be one of the main concerns of Deputies in this Second Stage debate. Comments on this aspect have concentrated in the main on whether legislation should place upon housing authorities a statutory obligation to secure accommodation for homeless persons. Section 10 of the 1985 Bill attempted to provide for such an obligation but one must pose the question, was that the most appropriate and effective response to the problem of homelessness? The proposed obligation was included in section 10 of the 1985 Bill not because it was legally or otherwise correct nor indeed because it was likely to significantly improve the lot of the homeless. It was included basically because of commitments made by the previous Government in the course of a difficult debate on a Private Members' Bill in the Seanad.

I would like to deal briefly with some of the issues which would be raised by a legal obligation to provide accommodation for any single category of housing need. The first problem is that any obligation required certain safeguards against abuses; this the 1985 Bill attempted to do. First, it provided that a person claiming to be homeless could not force a local authority to provide him or her with accommodation if he or she had become homeless deliberately. A second qualification was, in effect, that housing authorities would only be obliged to secure accommodation for persons who were capable of independent living.

Both of these, though in themselves reasonable and necessary, posed many difficulties for housing authorities. I suggest no reasonable person would advance an argument that local authorities should be obliged to house people who are not genuinely homeless but were merely abusing a provision in law to force a housing authority to provide them with alternative accommodation. Similarly, I do not believe that housing authorities should have imposed on them an obligation — enforceable through the courts — to provide accommodation for a homeless person who did not have the capacity to live independently. This would not be an appropriate response to the needs of that person. The ad hoc Committee on the Homeless which reported to the Minister for Health in December 1984 recommended that homeless persons who were incapable of independent living should be the responsibility of health boards rather than housing authorities. This is clearly the sensible approach. Health boards have available to them the medical, nursing, caring and other services needed to care for these people; local authorities do not.

The basic response by local authorities to the needs of the homeless remains the direct provision of accommodation but there will always be limits to the accommodation available to a local authority. The powers of local authorities to deal with the homeless therefore need to be expanded so that the smaller local authorities, in particular — who have very limited housing estates and very few vacancies becoming available — would have new powers to help them meet the needs of the homeless. These powers are provided for in section 10 of the Bill. They include a new power for housing authorities to secure accommodation for a homeless person with a voluntary housing organisation and to pay that organisation in respect of the accommodation so provided. In addition, housing authorities will be able to provide assistance, including finance, to a homeless person in order that that person may secure accommodation and, finally, a housing authority will be able to rent accommodation or lodgings for a homeless person.

In addition to the new powers provided for under section 10, housing authorities will be obliged for the first time to fully integrate the needs of the homeless into the planning of their housing programmes. Homeless persons have not previously been identified in legislation as a specific category of housing need. The provisions of this Bill will, however, ensure that housing authorities will in future be required to take into account the needs of the homeless at every stage of the planning, provision and allocation of local authority housing. Under section 9 of the Bill, housing authorities, prior to carrying out their annual assessment of the need for local authority housing, will be required to notify adjoining housing authorities and health boards and voluntary organisations who will then have the opportunity to bring the needs of any homeless person to the attention of the authority. Under section 11, housing authorities will be able to set aside a specific number or proportion of houses coming forward for letting to meet the needs of the homeless and other categories.

It has been suggested that housing authorities may not respond to the needs of the homeless, or properly operate the new powers they are being given. I would point to the fact that housing authorities, even without these powers, provided accommodation for over 1,800 homeless persons in the past two years. I think the majority of Deputies would agree with me that housing authorities will act responsibly in using their new powers and will seriously address the problem of the homeless in their areas both directly and in co-operation with the voluntary housing organisations and the health boards.

A number of sections of the Bill relate to voluntary housing. Section 5 in particular will provide an updated basis for the development of the voluntary housing movement which can play an important role in meeting social housing needs. As in many other countries, voluntary housing was the first organised response in the nineteenth century to the appalling housing conditions of the poor. However, the scale of the housing problem facing this country in its early years was such that the State through the local housing authorities began to play a greater and greater role in meeting social housing needs. For many years the potential and, indeed, the need for an additional arm of social housing was lost sight of in the mistaken belief that the State could solve all housing problems. In recent years, however, a successful scheme to again encourage voluntary housing has been put in place. This scheme comes within the wide range of powers conferred by section 5 on local authorities to assist the provision and management of voluntary housing accommodation. Finance to enable local authorities to make fully subsidised loans for voluntary housing is already being provided by my Department. In March 1984 the scheme of assistance for voluntary house accommodation was extended to include accommodation provided for homeless persons. However, between March 1984 and the end of 1987 only six units of accommodation had been provided for the homeless. It was necessary to encourage greater take-up of this scheme by organisations working on behalf of the homeless and with this clear objective the scheme was modified so that accommodation for the homeless would attract in effect 95 per cent grants rather than the 80 per cent that is available for the other eligible categories of housing need. The technical standards and guidelines for accommodation under this scheme have also been revised to take account of the particular needs of homeless persons. The Minister for Finance announced in his Budget Statement that an additional £3 million over three years would be made available for the provision of accommodation for the homeless under the voluntary housing scheme — £1 million of this being provided in 1988. This brings to £4 million the capital available this year for assisting voluntary organisations in the provision of housing accommodation. This compares to expenditure of just £248,000 under this scheme in 1984. I am very pleased that there has been a great response to the special provision of £1 million for accommodation for the homeless in 1988 and already one project which will provide accommodation for over 50 homeless persons has been approved in principle.

The local authority housing programme in the mid-sixties still faced major problems of clearing unfit and overcrowded housing. Families in very bad housing conditions often had to remain for years on local authority housing lists before being offered accommodation. Recently, however, local authority housing has been available more or less on demand to families in bad housing conditions. In the seventies and indeed in the early eighties single persons, unless they were elderly, had little real prospect of local authority housing. Recently there has been a dramatic change; for example, two-thirds of lettings by Dublin Corporation last year were to one and two person households.

While the total number of approved applicants for local authority housing has fallen by one-third in recent years, this does not fully reflect the real decline in housing need. More than anything else this has shown itself in a situation where reasonable accommodation has to be offered to a number of applicants before it is accepted. A further consequence of the current supply position on local authority housing is the problem of vacant dwellings. While some vacant dwellings cannot be entirely avoided, particularly in the case of a larger local authority, an undue number of vacant dwellings is a waste of resources and presents a serious and expensive management problem for the local authorities. It is a problem that is not met by simply boarding up houses and this is an area where a more positive and creative approach by local authorities could yield many benefits.

Section 9 of the Bill provides a new procedure which is designed to ensure that the provision of local authority housing is in future better matched to the real needs of persons seeking such housing.

There is little doubt that the emergence of smaller households as the dominant element in social and, indeed, overall housing needs was not adequately reflected in the local authority house building programme either in type of housing unit provided or in choice of location. I believe Deputies will agree that a local authority housing programme of a much smaller scale than that of the early eighties is now necessary. This limited programme must be directed at the needs now dominating the waiting lists and not solely at family type houses. The housing needs of a one-person household are not best met by the provision of a three bedroomed house or flat. When almost 60 per cent of applicants for local authority housing consist of one and two person households then it is wrong that the local authority housing programme should be dominated by three and four bedroomed family type accommodation. All the evidence is that average household size will continue to fall and this point must be clearly understood and addressed by housing authorities in presenting proposals for new local authority housing.

Section 20 will oblige local authorities in providing accommodation to take into account the range of housing needs as revealed in their assessments under section 9 and, moreover, to maintain a reasonable balance as between the different categories of need. These measures were proposed in the 1985 Bill and I believe Deputies will acknowledge that they are, if anything, even more necessary now than when they were orginally proposed.

The new tenant purchase scheme for local authority dwellings is now in operation and is attracting a very high response. Under this scheme, the gross price of the house to the tenant is calculated in relation to market value and having regard to the structural condition of the house.

The continued operation of the requirement for pre-sale repairs contained in section 13 of the Housing (Miscelleneous Provisions) Act, 1979, would clearly be wrong where house prices are being assessed on market value. In addition, the procedure can be very costly to local authorities, can result in long delays in transferring houses and can cause a serious hold-up in sales. Section 23 of the Bill accordingly provides for the repeal of section 13 of the 1979 Act and also for necessary transitional arrangements to ensure that the section 13 arrangements will continue to apply to houses being sold to tenants under earlier schemes.

Section 12 provides for the scheme of remedial works to local authority housing estates. For many years the local housing programme was directed at the provision of new accommodation with little if any attention being given to the need to modernise and improve the existing rented stock. In recent years, however, the easing of the pressure of demand for new construction has allowed additional resources to be provided for improvements to the existing stock. In this way the State's investment in local authority housing can be protected and the loss of dwellings to the rented housing stock can be prevented. In 1988 the allocation for this scheme has again been increased and is now £10 million compared to expenditure of £7 million in 1987 and only £1.5 million in 1986.

There is a danger that the benefits which accrue from the injection of capital funds into the local authority housing stock though the remedial works scheme will be quickly wasted unless there is improved estate management by local authorities. In this regard the role which the tenants themselves can play is of vital importance and authorities must now make every effort to foster and develop tenant interest in the running of their estates. The consultation process under the remedial works scheme should prove to be an important headline in this regard. Many Deputies will already be aware of a renewed spirit and pride in local authority estates which are being upgraded under the scheme.

There are a number of sections in the Bill which relate to the provision of housing, halting sites and other services for the travelling community. Section 6 provides statutory authority for the recoupment by the Minister of the salaries and expenses incurred by local authorities and certain approved bodies in the employment of social workers in connection with the accommodation of travellers. Section 13 deals with the provision of caravan sites and facilities. Section 9 requires housing authorities to have regard to the needs of travellers in their annual assessment of housing needs.

Section 27 amends section 3 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, to enable a local authority manager to undertake works which he regards as urgent and necessary to provide a reasonable standard of accommodation for any person. This measure has been retained from the 1985 Bill and is in effect designed to help with the provision by local authorities of accommodation for travellers. The serious problem of the travellers requires some measure such as this.

Section 24 of the Bill deals with the power of the Minister to make grant assistance available towards the running expenses of a small number of advice and research organisations working in the housing area. For a number of years now my Department have provided annual grant assistance to the National Association of Building Co-operatives, the Housing Centre and Threshold. I am pleased to inform Deputies that a grant of £45,000 has recently been made available to Focus Point in 1988. This grant is, of course, quite separate from the grant of £50,000 to Focus Point towards the cost of a project for the accommodation of homeless persons which was announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget Statement. It is, of course, also quite separate from any assistance that may be given to Focus Point for provision of additional accommodation for the homeless under the improved terms of the voluntary housing scheme.

Regarding private housing, while the main thrust of this Housing Bill is in the area of social housing and meeting social housing needs, there are a number of important measures related to the private housing sector. Section 14 provides a more up-to-date basis for subsidising the site costs incurred by certain persons of modest means in providing or acquiring housing for their own occupation, for example, through a housing co-operative, the Rural Resource Organisation, or joint venture housing. This section provides for grants to be paid rather than a loan charge subsidy. The current grant level is £1,000 per site.

It is a primary concern of housing policy to ensure an adequate supply of mortgage finance for house purchase. For many years this objective has involved the Government in providing substantial mortgage finance through local authorities for persons of modest means. However, the development of the housing finance system in recent years, particularly the emergence of the commercial banks as major providers of mortgage finance and the availability to the building societies of significant capital repayments from loans advanced in the seventies and earlier years, has meant that house purchase finance is now readily available from commercial lending agencies. This development presented the opportunity of transferring from public to private funding a significant proportion of demand for local authority house purchase loans.

Last year the banks and the building societies agreed to make £70 million available to provide mortgage finance to persons who would otherwise require loans from the local authorities. As Deputies are aware, local authority house purchase loans continue to be made available as heretofore to applicants who are unable to secure a loan from a bank or building society.

As part of the arrangements to encourage commercial lending agencies to provide this additional mortgage finance for lower income groups, a partial guarantee may be given by a housing authority to cover in the case of default payment of half of the amount by which the loan advanced exceeded 75 per cent of the value of the house. Section 16 of the Bill provides the statutory basis for this new loan guarantee scheme and provides for recoupment by the Minister of all or part of any expenditure incurred by a housing authority on foot of any guarantee given.

Although now terminated, significant expenditure continues to arise under both the mortgage subsidy and the £5,000 surrender grant schemes. The 1988 provision for the payment of mortgage subsidy is £23.3 million and the provision for the £5,000 grant scheme is £3.5 million. Significant expenditure under the latter scheme should not arise beyond this year; however, payment under the mortgage subsidy scheme will continue up to 1993. These schemes are being given statutory backing by sections 3 and 4 of the Bill.

Section 25 provides that a new house grant may be paid in cases where a previous owner-occupier is providing a new house following marital breakdown if the person is in need of housing and refusal to pay the grant would cause hardship. This will be an exception to the normal requirement that only a first time owner-occupier may be paid a new house grant. This provision was also included in the 1985 Bill. Section 4 of the 1979 Housing Act already provides for the payment of a new house grant to a previous owner-occupier providing a new house where the applicant's previous accommodation was destroyed by fire, explosion or Act of God and where refusal to pay the grant would cause great hardship.

The offence of "wandering abroad" is contained in the Vagrancy Act, 1824. A number of groups have sought the repeal of this offence. In addition, its repeal was recommended by the Law Reform Commission in their report on Vagrancy and Related Offences which was published in 1985. While the Minister for Justice is primarily responsible for the Vagrancy Acts, repeal of this offence is included in the Housing Bill as an element in the Government's overall response to the problem of homelessness.

Most of the remaining sections of the Bill are largely technical in their nature and do not involve significant policy considerations. Some of the more important of these are: section 7 validates certain payments made before the passing of this Bill; section 18 extends to all mortgages the simplified system for the discharge of fully paid mortgages which has heretofore applied only to building society mortgages; the provision in the 1985 Bill applied only to housing mortgages but under section 18 the simplified procedure will be available for the discharge of all mortgages and this is, therefore, a significant amendment to conveyancing law; section 29 deals with offences under the Act and provides for fines not exceeding £500 for knowingly furnishing false or misleading information or withholding material information in connection with obtaining accommodation or assistance from a housing authority.

In my concluding remarks, I would like to make a few brief points regarding the overall thrust of housing policy and legislation as indicated in the Housing Bill, 1988. This Bill comes at the end of a period extending from the foundation of the State during which the main concern of housing policy was directed at providing new accommodation to meet a persistent and often chronic housing shortage. In this period much has been achieved. For example, over 40 per cent of the housing stock, or more than 400,000 new houses, have been built since 1971. However, as I have already indicated, as one problem in the housing area appears to have been addressed, new problems emerge to demand our attention, expertise and resources. Problems such as homelessness and other special housing needs appear to require more complex responses than merely setting a target for annual housing completions. Large scale local authority housing estates present difficult management problems for local authorities and, more importantly, offer little satisfaction to tenants. The 1988 tenant purchase scheme is, I believe, most important as it offers local authority tenants the real prospect of becoming owner-occupiers.

Deputies will be well aware of the good results that sales of houses to tenants can bring to the appearance, environment and, indeed, physical fabric of local authority housing estates. However, the sale of local authority houses to tenants cannot be the only response to the vandalism and anti-social behaviour which plague some local authority estates. What is also required is an enlightened approach by local authority housing managers to the management of their estates, particularly by involving and consulting tenants in the running of estates. Locally based maintenance and management appears to have a key role to play in this area. I will be encouraging the larger housing authorities in this direction, as the problem is clearly related to scale with the larger local authorities having the greater problems.

I look forward to the comments of Deputies on the Bill and full and careful consideration will be given to these before Committee Stage. We will also have an opportunity to tease out fully the details of the various sections in the course of Committee Stage.

I commend the Bill to the House.

It is ironic that at a time when the Government are presiding over the dismantling of the private and public housing programme the Bill to validate so many of the measures which ensure the success of the housing programmes of previous years referred to by the Minister is now before the House for ratification. I can only point to the irony of the Minister reminding the House that 40 per cent of our total housing stock was built in the last 17 years and to compare that proud achievement so very unfavourably with the record of output in the local authority and private housing sectors during 1987 and the anticipated output — perhaps I ought to say, non-output — of local authority and private houses this year. The Minister said that the legislation will fundamentally update the main housing Act of 1966 and that is being done at a time when the Government are producing the entire recipe for a return to the days of housing crises, a phrase we had not heard since the later sixties.

I should like to say, not with anticipation but with confidence, that the nineties will be a decade of housing crises the seeds for which have been sown by the policies of the Government in the last 15 months. It is fair to say that the Government, and the Minister in particular, have in 15 months dismantled the proud and substantial achievements in housing of the last 15 years.

Hear, hear.

The output of local authority housing fell from 6,500 in 1985 to 5,500 in 1986 and allied to that we had a scheme under which local authority tennants were encouraged to surrender their houses and buy private houses resulting in lettings in those years of local authority houses of the order of 11,000 per year. However, the Government have managed to just break the figure of 3,000 new local authority houses completed last year.

A record.

We will be lucky, I suggest if the achievement, if it can be described as that, for 1988 reaches half the 1987 figure. I cannot recall, and the statistics that are easily available do not go back far enough to tell us, the last time the anticipated output of local authority houses was so low. It is interesting to compare those with the private sector figures. On average more than 17,000 new houses in the private sector were completed in each of the years 1984, 1985 and 1986. That figure also fell by 2,000 completions last year to 15,376. I venture confidently to suggest that that figure will not be matched during 1988 either.

We have the recipe for a return to the disaster days of the sixties as far as housing is concerned. It is ironic that I am getting an opportunity to make those comments when the House is debating a Bill to validate many of the measures which were integral to the success of the housing programme of the previous Government. There are specific sections in the Bill to validate mortgage subsidies, the £5,000 grant, the extension of the special scheme to provide up to 95 per cent finance for voluntary bodies to provide housing for the homeless and so on.

The Bill also addresses a redefinition of the categories of people whom a local authority are obliged to house, in sections 2 and 10. The Minister of State in his speech, which was more akin to an explanatory memorandum than to a speech introducing a major piece of legislation or enunciating policy, made a passing reference to the homeless. In my view the Minister should have included in the legislation a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide housing for those who are known as the homeless. One of the difficulties in this area is that the phrase "homeless" means different things to different people and the concern that has been expressed has often come from voluntary groups involved in providing accommodation, social services and back-up facilities for certain categories of people, mainly in urban areas, who do not have permanent accommodation. I am in agreement with not placing a statutory obligation on local authorities because I do not believe it would be workable or fair. I do not believe that any attempt to build into the system a protection against abuse could have been successful. The result of the natural desire of the voluntary bodies to achieve a regime where substantial and decent accommodation is being offered to the people they are concerned about would have been the virtual abandonment of the local authority priority waiting list for applicants for housing in the normal way. That would have led to inequities and abuse.

Many Members have been members of local authorities which are housing authorities. Anybody who has been a member of a housing authority knows the extent to which people will go to use, manipulate and — I am afraid I must say — abuse the system in an endeavour to gain for themselves additional points or a higher preferential place on a local authority waiting list. If the request that had been made in an effort to help a particular category had been included in the Statute, I am certain it would have resulted in chaos in the local authority housing programme where it would have been impossible to decide on a scale of priorities and where in an effort to solve one problem a far greater one would have emerged.

It is equally correct that there should be greater emphasis placed on grantaiding the voluntary bodies in the provision of housing for the particular category who have come to be known as homeless. However, I do not think that the provision of a sum of £1 million a year remotely goes towards adequately recognising the role played by the voluntary bodies and the amount of expenditure which it would be necessary for them to engage in in order to make a really meaningful contribution to resolving this problem. It is particularly appropriate that the voluntary bodies should be encouraged and I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate them on their involvement at all levels in this area over the years and especially over recent years.

The point has often been made, and indeed has been made in some submissions from some of those groups quite recently, that the provision of mere adequate housing accommodation alone for many people in this category is not sufficient. There must also be provided back-up social services. It should be clear, which it is not from the Bill — and I hope to pursue this further on Committee Stage — that the finance being made available to voluntary bodies is sufficient and is designed to allow them to provide not only adequate accommodation but the back-up social services that are in many instances necessary. I do not think the local authorities if they were exclusively to endeavour to take on that role have themselves that expertise. In that area it is the right approach that there should be greater grant-aid assistance given to the voluntary bodies.

I know the scheme was extended in 1984 to provide assistance of up to 95 per cent of the capital cost to voluntary bodies who provided housing for the homeless, but there was a very small number of units actually built on foot of that extension. I had an opportunity to visit some of those units in Galway some years ago and cannot speak highly enough of the work that had been done there and of the standard of accommodation and back-up in terms of the social support that had been provided. As the Threshold organisation said in a submission which I am sure was received by all Deputies in the past few days, what is often required is more than a simple roof for people in this situation. They very often need support. Some of them may need sheltered accommodation. Consequently, the management which is referred to in the Bill should also be expanded to make it clear that it includes provision for finance for the social support services. In that context, I want to reiterate that I do not believe the provision of £1 million a year will adequately allow the voluntarily organisations to expand their activities in the way which would be appropriate and which appears to be the general intention of the Government.

I would have to say that if I had a regret about the time when we were in Government over the earlier years of the eighties, it is that, when substantial sums of money were being spent in the area of public housing generally, we did not divert larger proportions of those moneys to the voluntary organisations to encourage them and give them an opportunity to participate more fully in this kind of work. Having said that, it is equally fair to point out that it is not always fully or publicly represented in the media the extent to which local authorities do house the categories who have come to be known as homeless. The figure of 1,800 from such category who have been housed in local authority accommodation in recent years is a significant one.

It is correct, also, that there should be an obligation placed on the housing authorities, in their preparation of an assessment and estimate of housing needs and requirements, that a special category known as homeless should be built into those assessments, that they should be carried out on a regular basis, should be communicated to the Department of the Environment and should play a much greater role in the thinking and forward planning both of the housing authority and of the Department. In that context, the Bill is deficient in not insisting that the estimate requirement in section 8 be obligatory on the housing authority from the point of view of obliging them to carry out that estimate on a regular basis and at a defined time.

There have been certain changes in the Bill from the 1985 Bill on which it is largely modelled. I know that a number of the voluntary organisations are unhappy about some of these changes but I would like to hope that there is not a real basis for some of the concerns which have been expressed by them. An earnest of the Government's intentions in that regard would be a commitment to a greater allocation of resources than the £1 million a year over three years which has been promised and also an amendment of certain of the sections placing an obligation on local authorities, for example, to carry out the estimate reviews at set periods and also clarifying that the money being provided to the voluntary organisations is intended to be used not just for the provision of accommodation and its management but also, where necessary, for the provision of appropriate social support services.

The housing pattern has changed over recent years as the demographic makeup of society has changed. It has been a source of concern to me that there was not quickly enough an appreciation on the part of housing authorities of that change and the likely change in anticipated demand. There is an urgent obligation on housing authorities and on the Department of the Environment to realise that there needs to be a fundamental examination of the range of house type, house size, especially size of housing estates, which is sanctioned and built when the Department and the Government return to their senses and begin to build public authority housing again.

There are many lessons to be learned from the type of housing, and especially the size of housing estates, which were provided in the past. Many of them are expensive lessons. In an effort to resolve the social problem of dreadfully inadequate housing in which many people were living, many schemes created future social problems because of their general layout and design and especially the scale of certain housing estates and perhaps the over-emphasis on endeavouring to provide such housing in green field areas on the basis that the relative cost was substantially lower than in providing infill housing in existing developed areas. I am not sure that that transparent saving was real because it was very often achieved by not providing the additional infrastructure services that were necessary when entire new communities were transplanted out into green field areas. There is not very much difference between the cost of infill housing and redevelopments in existing urban areas where those facilities and services are already available and the cost of building houses in green field areas and afterwards, belatedly, endeavouring to provide schools, shops, recreational facilities and so on which are so vital if the new and adequate housing estates are to be turned into a living community.

In that regard there is an obvious need — the need is more obvious in some areas than in others — for a radical change in the management of local authority estates and the way in which certain local authorities manage their housing stock. It has been a cause of despair to me to see an apparently uncaring attitude adopted by some housing authorities towards the management of their housing estates, their apparent readiness to turn a blind eye towards the development of social problems and their inability to realise the scale of the problems, some of which have been created by the local authority themselves, which they have perpetuated by repeating them on a number of occasions. It is not sufficient for the Department of the Environment to suggest that the approach to management of large local authority estates should improve at ground level.

There is an obligation on the Department to lay out the ground work and the principles as to the new and better standards of management that are required and, if necessary, to provide the training to ensure that management expertise, which is particularly appreciative and conscious of the social problems and social change in our society, is brought to bear in trying to solve these problems. It is not just money that is necessary in endeavouring to address some of these problems. Much of what is needed is understanding and basic management skills.

The same remarks apply to the phenomenon of certain people being without housing while large numbers of local authority houses are boarded up. These houses become not only unavailable for re-letting but also sources of social concern and degradation to the adjoining local authority neighbourhood and tenants. It eventually has the knockon effect of driving tenants out of estates and it causes anguish to the people who are living there.

The remedial work scheme which was set up during our time in Government is a realistic attempt to improve the fabric of older local authority housing. It will have to be applied to some of the areas to which I have referred and which have been to a large extent abandoned by the housing authority. These are areas of relatively new housing where the attendand community facilities were not provided and there was not enough attention given to the estates at the time of layout and planning. The principle of the remedial work scheme will have to be applied to those areas if there is to be any hope of their being rescued and rehabilitated.

We are at a particularly sensitive time in regard to the housing programme because of the demographic changes that are taking place. We need to appreciate that the changes in society dictate that new and different types of housing and housing estates in new and different types of areas need to be provided, perhaps not on the same volume as before but with far greater sensitivity. The application of new skills is needed in the provision, delivery and management of public authority housing stock. Much has been achieved. It is wrong for us as a community not to realise the enormous scale of deprivation and degradation of so many multiple family dwellings in our cities and towns that existed in the twenties and thirties and which manifested itself again in the fifties and sixties. Much has been achieved in the improvement of the basic facilities of housing for many of our people. The record of achievement in the last 15 years in particular is a very proud and considerable one.

It is particularly sad that, at a time when sensitivity to an adjustment in the type and range of public authority housing is so urgently necessary, we should be witnessing an abandonment — that is the only way to describe it — of the public authority housing programme. I note that the Minister of State has listened carefully to the remarks made on Second Stage. I would invite him to tell us how many new houses he has authorised for commencement in Dublin city and county and in the county boroughs, in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway, so far this year. His answer would indicate the uncaring approach that has been adopted to a problem that has become additionally sensitive and, for that reason, needs greater care given to it.

I welcome many of the provisions in this Bill because they validate and expand on what we endeavoured to do successfully in the last five years. I do not look forward to the future with any confidence in relation to the attention given to public authority housing. There will be a decline in public authority housing output and an inevitable increase in waiting lists in the next few years. The only thing that has kept those waiting lists from increasing even further is the vastly accelerated level of emigration, especially from the urban areas, in the last year and a half. Were it not for that, the housing waiting lists would already be at crisis proportions. Even with that, by the year 1990 we will be reading in the media again, and the term will have come back into the current parlance, of the housing crisis at least in Dublin and I suspect in other parts of the country also. It is not a proud record for a Government to look forward to in an area where so much had been done in the recent past.

I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on behalf of my party on this Bill. From our point of view, the two essential elements of the Bill are, first, in dealing with the area of homelessness, the housing crisis and the housing problem generally and, secondly, a number of financial elements which to a large extent are about tidying up or giving a statutory basis to some of the schemes already in existence.

Unfortunately, in many respects, the Bill is very much a missed opportunity and I am seriously perturbed by the fact that it is likely to fail in some of its key objectives. I have no doubt — and I am sure the Minister who has extensive experience in this area could not have any doubt — that if the purpose of the Bill is to deal with the extremely serious and growing problem of homelessness in our community, the Minister must realise that merely empowering local authorities to deal with that problem is not adequate and that that, in itself, will mean, consciously or otherwise, that the local authorities will give a vast sigh of relief because of rational reasons from their point of view they will evade their responsibilities in this area, as they have been doing in some cases down the years.

I would like to have seen in this Bill a significant statement of future objectives in regard to housing policy. The Bill is not in any way future orientated. It does not deal with the kind of challenges which have been referred to by Deputy Boland. It does not deal with the issues that are likely to confront us or the changing nature of local authority and housing demand generally, and it does not deal with the changing social and economic expectations and possibilities for the future. It is very much a tidying up kind of Bill and, in that respect, unfortunately, falls far short of what some of us would wish to see.

I am particularly concerned with the fundamental flaw in relation to the problem of homelessness. We will be seeking to have the Bill amended on Committee Stage to try to deal with that area, fraught as it is with problems. The reality is if we are serious about homelessness, this is probably the only chance we will get, in a legislative context, to deal with this matter within the next five to ten years. Accordingly, we cannot afford to let the opportunity pass by letting a Bill go through which empowers local authorities to deal with this issue — the local authorities already have these powers if they wish to use them — while not insisting that they have a duty to deal with the problem of people who are marginalised, often totally inarticulate and generally unrepresented or under-represented. Naturally, they are not a lobby group and, but for the work of some voluntary organisations they would be largely unrepresented even in the context of a debate like this. This is an opportunity to make advances for them and there is an obligation on us to do so.

The Bill is not in any sense evolutionary. It does not deal with future policy, or point to any significant change, apart from the financial side effects of the Bill, in terms of this Government's vision of how housing policy should develop over the next number of years. That is a major and fundamental flaw.

In relation to homelessness, we have a constitutional obligation to provide shelter for people. Article 45 of the Constitution says:

The State pledges itself to safeguard with especial care the economic interest with the weaker sections of the community, and, where necessary, to contribute to the support of the infirm, the widow, the orphan and the aged.

Prior to the passage of this Bill, a specific section of the Vagrancy Act made it an offence to be found wandering abroad without any visible means of support. I am pleased to see that this is being removed from the Statute Book. It is an abhorrent, replusive, outdated notion that because a person is destitute or poor he could break the law. However, the constitutional obligation is not to be developed in legislative form and I regret that very much.

Our failure as a society in this respect is, to some extent, understandable because much of the legislation coming before this House and the attitudes in our society are formed by major power blocs. In a book called Nobody's Neighbours by Kieran Furey, at page 79, he seeks to explain that. He said:

The powerful economic blocs in Ireland are the farming lobby, the trade unions, multinational corporations, private business, and the State. Trade unions and farmers' representative bodies are preoccupied with the interests of their respective members, and have little time and enthusiasm for, or interest in, agitation on behalf of downtrodden minorities. Employers simply tend to regard the unemployable as useless.

There is, in other words, no valid argument in political or economic terms for improving the lot of those condemned to life on the margin of society. There is only a human argument. This is where the State, with its considerable resources of finance and personnel, must take responsibility.

The State has yet to face up to that responsibility. Whether or not it will do so remains to be seen.

That book was published ten years ago. Unfortunately, if Mr. Furey was reissuing and updating that book, I am afraid he would not have any reason to change that last comment, that the State has yet to face up to this basic responsibility in this way at least by insisting that some agency — in the Bill, the local authorities — will have an obligation to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, despite what I am sure are the good motives of the Minister, the Government and some Deputies, the reality is that the outsiders, the marginalised and the homeless will continue to be a problem.

The constituency I have had the honour to represent for many years has a particular lesson to teach us in that respect. At that cliff face, I have seen evidence regularly of that kind of problem and I have seen the efforts of voluntary organisations, like the Simon Community, Focus Point and many others, trying to deal with the issue, but the ultimate constitutional and legal responsibility, financial underpinning and statutory arrangements have to be provided by the State, and they will not be under this Bill, in my view.

It is important that we put on record that there is an obligation not just on Government but on all members of society to assist in galvanising the very deep instincts of selflessness and caring that are latent in our people to tackle problems like this. In other words, it is not merely a matter for the State. It is a particular difficulty in a society with an education system which consistently instils and underlines the values of concern about me, a self-centred education system. What we are saying here is that unless all of us contribute in some small way in carying for others outside our own immediate circle, the problem will not be resolved. Those nobler instincts are to some extent constantly battered in pursuit of self-advancement.

Voluntary organisations have a role to play, and they are playing that role as far as they can. I regret more people are not involved in those organisations. It is very difficult for us to lay any fault at their door when there is not, and will not be if the Bill goes through in its present form, any legislation on the Statute Book which says the State accepts the responsibility and the duty to deal with homeless people. That is a fundamental problem about the Bill and I intend to try to do something about it on Committee Stage.

The founder of the Simon Community was Anton Wallich-Clifford, whom I had the great pleasure of meeting many years ago. A paragraph in one of his works entitled No Fixed Abode, sums up the point I am trying to make. He said:

I feel, now no less strongly than I did ten years ago, that the responsibility for the socially handicapped in our society is one in which we must all share — and I do not mean by paying taxes. The biggest danger in our welfare state is that it makes it too easy for us all to slip out of personal concern and care on the pretext that `We don't have to bother — the State takes care of all that'.... I believe that we should not become accustomed to practising our charity by proxy.

He goes on to develop that point. The founder of an organisation engaged in the area of voluntarism was quick to point out the role of the ordinary citizen. We owe a substantial debt of gratitude to him and to the organisation he founded. It is clear that the time has come for the State to become much more involved than it has been heretofore.

Local authorities are particularly hard pressed in capital terms and I know from my experience that if the facility is afforded to choose between statutory priorities and options for investment in terms of housing development, the areas where they are empowered to act will be sidelined in favour of areas where they have a duty to act. There is no point in the Minister's empowering local authorities to act if the capital allocations continue to diminish in real terms. It is vain and rather hypocritical to think that because something is written into a statute or a document is drawn up in the Custom House it will change something in the real world. Ready resources are needed to create the kind of infrastructure which is necessary and the mere empowering of local authorities will not bring it about.

For a number of reasons the problem is getting worse. There is an economic depression and we have an increased number of elderly people in our society, some of whom are unfortunately unable to provide for themselves. There is a serious problem of homelessness. It is difficult to get absolutely accurate figures in this respect but I was taken by a paper by Brian Harvey on the subject of administrative responses to the homeless. He stated:

Homeless people do exist in Ireland. They can be found on the streets, in night shelters, hostels, psychiatric institutions, county homes, and in our country lanes.

The Cork Simon Community found 138 people sleeping rough in the city in 1983. Dublin Simon found 98 people sleeping rough in the city in the same year. Of these 98, 82 were men and 16 were women and 11 were under 18.

He develops the figures in that paper, but they are probably the tip of the iceberg. Many people are homeless in the broader sense of that term, living in a form of shelter or some form of makeshift accommodation which is completely unsuitable. The dimensions of this problem are much more serious than perhaps we recognise. Some of this is because of the unfocused and rather formless shape of the problem. It does not represent a clear constituency in terms of being readily identifiable. Mr. Harvey's paper goes on to deal with the health boards and their experiences. It is clear that the problem is very serious. The most recent report from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul points out the enormous and growing problems which they confront.

Unfortunately it has not been clear whose responsibility it was to deal with this problem. In some areas local authorities and health boards, like Pontius Pilate, washed their hands of the problem and referred homeless people to each other. No one agency would accept responsibility. The Bill at least states that the local authority is the responsible agency. Unfortunately, because of the way in which the Bill is presented — it is a significant deviation from the 1985 Bill — I believe it will fail.

The State has to be the guarantor of last resort, at the very least. There is no recourse for homeless people except to the State. Provision should be available for them but it is not.

The whole question of a housing crisis is very pertinent. The housing problem has been tackled relatively well over the past few years but unfortunately the gaunt spectre of a housing crisis is about to re-emerge. This will further aggravate the problem we have been talking about. The National Campaign for the Homeless have published a paper on the link between housing and homelessness by Brian Harvey and Mary Higgins. That paper states:

Just as the contraction of public housing in Ireland in the 1950s led to the housing crisis of the 1960s (and ensuing homelessness), so too is there a danger that the severe contraction in public housing anticipated over 1987-1990 is likely to provoke a crisis in the 1990s (and ensuing homelessness).

It is clear there are tough days ahead in the housing area and this Bill may be the last chance to redress some of those problems.

It is fair to ask to what extent we have succeeded. In doing my research the name of the late Ian Hart cropped up on a number of occasions. I looked at one of his works, Dublin Simon Community 1971-1976, published by the ESRI. He stated:

Statutory involvement should aim at reducing as far as possible the population of the large central city hostels and rough sleepers in Irish cities by a programme of research, individual assessment and resettlement on an individual or small group basis within the local community... Careful study should also be made of housing needs and ways of meeting them. These researchers should be organised and co-ordinated by some central body such as the Department of the Environment. They should advert to possibilities of reducing the recruitment of new members to the central city hostels by such measures as, for example, requiring local authorities to incorporate flats, chalets or small group homes for such groups as single homeless or elderly within all new local authority housing projects.

It is very interesting to see his awareness of these problems some ten years ago and the need to insist that local authorities should address the problem.

I will be appealing to the Minister to introduce an amendment to enable him to enforce that obligation when reviewing the scheme of letting which has to be submitted to his Department annually by each local authority. I will be relatively satisfied if we can amend the Bill to place that duty on local authorities. If that cannot be done, then the scheme of letting priorities must have built into it capacity for the Minister to deem a scheme insufficient because it does not deal adequately with the problem of the homeless and the marginalised.

Many elements of the Bill concern the financial arrangements for some of the existing schemes. Some of the schemes the Minister has initiated are extremely worthy in that they facilitate the possibility of more home ownership, but in reality the valuation of houses and the percentage loans involved rests ultimately with the local authority. Some form of independent valuation is essential if we are to get meaningful valuations rather than some outdated notion which could be said to arise from a conflict of interest. The local authority, hard strapped for cash, will inevitably be tempted consciously or otherwise to undervalue houses in order to minimise the percentage loans that will be given. I know, from experience, that valuations are completely unrealistic in some cases. That is a difficulty which permeates housing loan finance relative to local authorities and it should be dealt with in the Bill.

I regret the Bill does not deal with future policies because I hope and believe it is time for the old attitudes to local authority housing to be fundamentally questioned. Why do local authorities feel obliged — and apparently are obliged — to continue to build directly and subsequently let the houses to people on their lists? There was a time, thankfully past and I hope it will not come again, when incredible, substandard conditions were widespread and the State had to undertake the direct building of houses and flat accommodation. To some extent, that should be reviewed because of its inherent inefficiencies and unnecessary costs, also because of the delays and divisions in society associated with that approach. There is no reason for the Minister not to consider allowing local authorities the possibility of facilitating the people on their lists, with loans in some cases, so that they can purchase houses on the open market and become owners like anybody else.

The obvious argument against that is the difficulty in regard to repayments. However, there would be a massive benefit to the State in adopting this course regardless of the repayments and how long it would take to repay them. We should state as a policy principle that it is desirable to work towards an arrangement where there are no longer two societies, this division in the community between private estates and local authority housing. We should not simply accept that that is the way it must always be. There should be a healthy social mix of people who own their homes or who are tenants in them. The ghetto mentality, which says we must have two different kinds of people in our cities and towns, must be eliminated. There should be a move towards telling local authorities that they may use a percentage of their capital allocation for the purpose of advancing loans, subject to the terms approved by the Minister. That is not unreasonable and would be a move away from the very strict arrangements at present which are extremely expensive in view of the total income from rent relative to the outgoings and the costs involved. It would be extremely helpful and beneficial not just to local authority housing staff but to the self-image and dignity of people. It should be their right that they should have the capacity to pursue their rights.

Not everyone would take up such an option but some people would, as is evident by the response to the scheme introduced by the Government. I could quote figures about the cost involved in maintaining dwellings and the total income from rent. In many cases, there is an obligation on the State to house people because they cannot afford to pay significant costs for housing. Many elderly people, the unemployed and — in some cases — the homeless are not in a position to take up that kind of option but others could and should. A move in that respect is important and it is the kind of approach that my party would take. We should ensure that there is genuine and adequate protection and compassion extended to those who are truly in need while making sure, as far as possible, that those who can look after themselves — as most Members in this House presumably look after themselves — should do so. That facility is not being extended at present in a meaningful way in the context of housing policy and that is regrettable.

I do not accept Deputy Boland's suggestion about focusing on the possibility of abuse by local authority tenants. There is abuse but there is also abuse at every other level and walk of life because human nature is pretty much the same everywhere. We get worked up about social welfare fraud and possible abuse by local authority tenants — although, God knows, while not condoning abuse I could not blame anyone for doing their best in trying to provide housing for themselves and their families — but I am not aware of a serious problem in regard to this kind of abuse. Housing officers are vigilant and there is an extremely experienced corps of people in local authorities who deal with this area daily. It is a little pernicious to single out this category of people as being, by genetic conditioning, different. I have no experience of that and I do not accept it. It is not in accordance with what some of us believe to be the case.

Is there abuse?

Yes, but I do not recall Deputy Boland referring to any other type of abuse. Why single out the weakest in society?

Is it in order for former friends to abuse themselves in this House?

We are not abusing ourselves, which is sinful even by my standards. The point is that the only time abuses are mentioned is in regard to people at the bottom of the social pile. There is no mention of abuse when it comes to powerful and wealthy people. That is somehow legitimate. Of course there is abuse; wherever there are people there are abuses and it is wrong on any level. However, in this case a very vigilant corps of officers minimise the abuse and, if there are specific examples of abuse charges should be laid. It is as simple as that. Blanket allegations about certain categories of people should not be made because they have honourably and honestly tried to get shelter for themselves and their families.

Lord, I thank thee that I am not like the rest of men.

Deputy Boland had the chance to make his contribution and he should do me the courtesy of listening to mine although he may find it difficult to do so.

It is difficult to listen to hypocrisy.

The Deputy should leave.

Unfortunately, I am obliged to listen to Deputy Keating.

Deputy Boland's presence is not required.

Acting Chairman

We must continue the debate on the Bill.

I did not start the argument. Deputy Boland had a chance to do something about these issues when he was in office but now he is moaning and groaning about the Bill. It is very difficult to take that kind of nonsense. I am making the point that there is abuse at every level of society but the only abuse referred to in the context of this debate is by people at the bottom of the scale. It should not be applied to everybody who is looking for a home.

In section 13 of the Bill there is a reference to the travelling community and there is a facility for local authorities to be empowered to do something about it. We know exactly what they will do unless the Government force them to address the problem. They will do the same as they have done down through the years. Some of them have done excellent work while others have run away from the problem. In some cases travellers have been chased away by craven councillors. In many cases local authorities have evaded and ducked their responsibilities. The Minister has to look again at whether a section of an Act which empowers a local authority to do something will have any effect given that the natural instinct, in the context of a declining capital budget, is to run away from such responsibilities.

There was comment earlier on the reluctance of the Government and previous administrations to place an obligation on local authorities because of their alleged fear that a massive fraud would be perpetrated on the Department. I do not accept that a valid argument can be made for refusing to place such an obligation on local authorities.

In this respect we can learn from the experience of other countries. For example, there are lessons to be learned from the way in which the Homeless Persons Act of 1977 in Britain has been implemented. That Act contains the infamous intentionality clause whereby any local authority can turn away any applicant deemed to have contributed to his own homelessness. One of the constant fears about this particular group in society is that they are somehow likely to be corrupt.

Some local authorities who have no intention in the world of housing homeless persons, either because they do not have the resources, the interest or the political will, simply deem the majority of applicants to be intentionally homeless. It would be absurd to compare Glasgow, where the local authority do not operate the clause, with Edinburgh where the intentionality clause is used in 39 per cent of cases. The capacity of a local authority or government agency to divine intention is facilitated. What happens is that the local authority interpret the clause in the way that suits themselves. The only other conclusion which could be drawn is that those living in Edinburgh are frauds whereas those living in Glasgow for some obscure reason are not frauds at all.

The State should not make assumptions about its own people as the State is ultimately the servant of the people. In this case it should not make any presumptions or assumptions about the likely outcome of enforcing an obligation on local authorities to carry out certain responsibilities in this respect. Again, I am indebted to Brian Harvey for the figures which I have quoted in relation to those two cities. They come from a document of his entitled "Housing Policy and Homelessness" which was published last year, the International Year of the Homeless.

I think this Bill is disappointing because it does not provide a vehicle with which we can shape future housing policy. It ducks some of the serious issues and therefore it is very likely to be a failure. This is sad, because we are not taking one of the very few opportunities we are going to get to do something about these issues.

In conclusion, let me say that the Bill has some commendable features. At least the local authorities and health boards would no longer have to fight with each other about who is responsible for the homeless and people would not find themselves being charged with a crime just because they found themselves destitute. However, the fundamental challenge of assigning responsibility for the homeless and the challenge of changing the financial arrangements to facilitate people in pursuit of the ownership of their own homes have not been taken up in this Bill. As far as my colleagues and I are concerned, an opportunity has been missed.

This is a sad day, the day on which this Bill has finally found its way on to the floor of this House, because the Minister for the Environment, who is not noted for his shyness or his inability to exploit what the commentators describe as a media opportunity, has chosen not to present this Bill and has sent his very earnest and very able Minister of State to do the job for him. This amounts to a clear political and public admission that there is no political kudos to be gained from presenting this Bill in the House. I say this with sympathy to the Minister of State who has been charged with the responsibility of introducting this Bill.

Since the publication of the Homeless Persons Bill by Senator Brendan Ryan in 1983 there has been a struggle to see if it would be possible in this Republic, the twenty-seventh richest country in the world, to enshrine in our laws the right to shelter for every person. That is what Senator Brendan Ryan's Bill seeks to achieve and that is the meat that is attached to this Bill which has gone through three gestation periods following which it has lost the word "miscellaneous" from its title. It is now simply called the Housing Bill, 1988.

Effectively, the Government have decided, with all the advice that is available to them, that this Republic is not yet ready to grant to every one of its citizens the legal right to shelter. Unlike most other northern European countries we are not yet politically prepared to grant the right to shelter, despite our enormous riches and the fact that we have the highest home ownership, although this statistic can be misleading. Let me make it very clear what I mean by this. There are some people who feel that the waiting list system or the letting priority system of local authorities would be so abused that the granting of a right to shelter would cause mayhem but I am not saying that the right to shelter should automatically confer on someone the right to a particular house, of a particular size, in a particular street, in a particular district.

Deputy Boland effectively answered for the Minister when he explained why the right to shelter has been removed from this Bill. Such a right was contained in the 1985 Bill. He has outlined the arguments which have re-echoed up and down the corridors of the Custom House and elsewhere, that such a right could be interpreted in such a way as to make a nonsense of an orderly letting priority system. That point of view is sincerely held. Deputy Boland is someone who has the unique and unparalleled experience of having been chairman of the largest county council in this country.

Although it is a point of view which I respect it is not one I agree with. As Deputy Keating said, while there is some evidence of abuse, the scale and extent of that abuse is not sufficient to warrant our walking away or shying away from making the political decision in 1988 to grant to our citizens the basic right to shelter. The reason the Minister of State is sitting here today with his officials beside him, Terry Prone and Carr Communications are not busy polishing a script, the "Today Tonight" team have not been invited to interview the Minister on bringing forward this marvellous measure and the Government Chief Whip wanted to have the Second Stage debate completed by 7 p.m. tonight is that the Government have decided that this sordid little business, denying the basic right to shelter, should if at all possible be got over as quickly as possible, but that is not going to happen.

The Minister of State's official explanation for the dilution of the 1985 Bill — why that basic right was removed — is continued in a very innocuous phrase at the beginning of his introductory remarks. I commend the ability of the civil servants in the Custom House, whose skills I have frequently admired, to write such prose that covers such a depth of denial of a basic right with such a plausible explanation. The relevant phrase is:

The proposed obligation was included in section 10 of the 1985 Bill not because it was legally or otherwise

— and "otherwise" could cover a multitude —

correct nor indeed because it was likely to significantly improve the lot of the homeless. It was included basically because of commitments made by the previous Government in the course of a difficult debate on a Private Members' Bill in the Seanad.

The Minister of State should seek out the author of that phrase, encourage him to take a career break, to sign up with the scriptwriters of "Yes Minister" because he has a superb future ahead of him writing such scripts and explanations. I suspect he would be much more profitably employed there than by the manner in which the Minister can afford to pay him in the Custom House at present. It is a masterful phrase. Effectively it says that we, the permanent Government of the State, the civil servants, who must make the managerial system at local authority level work, do not have to take account of the political debates in the Houses of the Oireachtas, that political motivations are perhaps somewhat suspect, that a political commitment given in the course of a Seanad debate was something that the permanent Government naturally could discard or ignore because the administration had now changed, there was a new Government in office who were not as committed politically to conferring the right of shelter on citizens of this State as had been the case previously. I say that because I gave that political commitment in the Seanad on behalf of the previous Government. I believe it was the correct thing to do. Equally I believe it tragic that the Minister of State present, on behalf of his Minister, saw fit to remove it.

In that scriptwriter's phrase there is an attempt to take away the sting vis-à-vis the removal of this possibility of a right. That attempt is contained in the clause which reads:

...nor indeed because it was likely to significantly improve the lot of the homeless.

Beautiful — nor indeed was it likely — beautifully qualified all the way down the line. If one takes the example to which Deputy Keating referred in relation to a citizen of Glasgow, as compared with a citizen of Edinburgh, if the right was there, the person who was denied the opportunity of being housed by a local authority in Edinburgh could have had the right to take action against the burghers of Edinburgh who were never noted for their radicalism anyway, unlike those of Glasgow, to ensure that he would be housed.

That is the first point I want to make about this entire Bill. It is a retreat from a campaign initiated and launched by the Simon Community, led in these Houses, and still is to a large extent, by Senator Brendan Ryan. It has gone through successive stages of debate, analyses and examination and, after more than a year, is resting in the Custom House, taking its place in the queue of legislation, not exactly generating much energy or excitement from the political point of view, whatever about the administrative commitment in terms of the resources made available to it.

The Minister also indicated at the outset of his introductory remarks that this Bill was a major social measure. I say: would that it were; would that the Minister's introductory remarks gave an indication of the manner in which he regards housing as a major social issue in our society at present. Sadly, I must concur with Deputy Boland that the Minister's remarks amount to an extended explanatory memorandum rather than availing of an opportunity to outline Government thinking in relation to housing policy and its consequences in a Bill which he described as a major social measure. The reason that very talented scriptwriter — whose skills we have already witnessed — was confined to writing an extended explanatory memorandum is that there is no Fianna Fáil housing policy, there is no major social structure or system of housing policy evident to this side of the House. There is the guillotine housing policy emanating from Merrion Street, from the Department of Finance, the axing of moneys, grants, schemes, some of which were killed 15 months ago. We are now being asked to authorise not their death certificate but their birth certificate under the provisions of this Bill, such is the speed with which the mechanisms of this House operate, that measures which were alive and are now dead — killed by this administration — require retrospective legalistic validation.

It is somewhat absurd that the energies of this House should be usurped on this kind of exercise but it indicates the preoccupation of many civil servants and lawyers to ensure that whatever is done is done properly and correctly. While I would encourage such an approach in general, it is to be deeply regretted that there is no effective Government policy on housing. There are many publications now available to the public at large, in particular to the Department of the Environment and the Government in relation to the nature of housing demand in our society. Deputy Boland made brief reference to it. It is significant that, in his entire introductory remarks, the Minister did not give the House one statistic. In replying at the end of Second Stage perhaps he will give us some indication of what is Government policy in relation to housing, what is their assessment of current housing demand.

Various indications have emerged from different sources to suggest that we would need to be producing a minimum of 25,000 new dwelling units a year. As we heard today already, the figures for this year are likely to show that the number will be fewer than 15,000. Over a period of five years which is the kind of timescale we should be adopting for examining housing output, it is clear that the measurable demand for housing ascertained by such bodies as the National Economic and Social Council and others, as against the level of output encouraged directly by Government through the local authority budget or indirectly through the private sector, the various policy instruments available to the private sector, show that the actual output will be approximately two-thirds below what is deemed to be required. Measuring housing demand is not a perfect science, of its nature it cannot be an exact science, but we have sufficient experience in this House and country to realise that we can ascertain a fairly accurate assessment of the order or magnitude of that demand.

I share the view expressed by Deputy Boland — in fact, I expressed it last week in a newsletter to Labour councillors — that this Government are systematically, consciously, knowingly, laying the foundations of a housing crisis that will emerge in the early years of the next decade. By that I mean not some date in the long distant future but rather within three to four years from now.

Deputy Boland asked what were the figures for new housing starts in the boroughs of our major cities. The figures are zero for Dublin, for Cork city, for Waterford and for Galway. For Dublin County Council, the local authority of which Deputy Boland was chairman on a number of occasions, the grant sum of £100,000 was allocated for this year for new houses, which would buy just about three houses.

They will be able to start four of them.

That kind of creativity is to be commended but the 796 people on the approved waiting list will not be satisfied with four or even three houses.

Debate adjourned.