Supplementary Estimate, 1988. - Vote 26: Environment.

I move:

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £19,400,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1988, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for the Environment, including grants to Local Authorities, grants and other expenses in connection with housing, and miscellaneous schemes, subsidies and grants including certain grants-in-aid.

There are a number of items covered in the net £19.4 million being sought in this Supplementary Estimate. The extra funds required stem from greater demands for the payment of private housing grants and malicious injury recoupment claims from local authorities than was anticipated when the 1988 Estimates were prepared in 1987. The gross extra amount sought is £26.514 million but this is offset by increased receipts and savings on the grant to the Housing Finance Agency and some non-voted Exchequer capital.

The original provision for new house grants in 1988 was £17 million. This amount was intended to cover payments of the £2,000 new house grant for first time house purchasers and the £2,250 new house grant which was terminated in the March 1987 budget. The extra £4 million is required to enable additional new house grants maturing for payment this year to be paid within the year and thereby avoid any possible hardship for applicants which might otherwise arise from the carry over of payments into 1989. The additional demand is accounted for mainly by an upsurge in new house grant applications related to the termination of the £2,250 new house grant. The number of applications for the £2,250 grant was 6,595 while the number of grants approved was 5,166 with a value of £11.6 million. This grant will, in fact, account for about £5.7 million of the total expenditure on new house grants this year. A balance of £5.6 million approximately in outstanding approvals of the £2,250 grant will fall due for payment next year.

Three thousand three hundred applications for the £2,000 new house grant for first time purchasers have been received this year to date while anticipated expenditure on this grant will amount to about £15.3 million in 1988. Much of this expenditure relates to grants which were approved in previous years but did not mature for payment until this year.

When the Government terminated the 1985 house improvement grant scheme in the 1987 budget, commitments totalling £260 million approximately had been incurred under the scheme. It is difficult with an open-ended grant scheme of this magnitude to predict accurately the requirements which will arise in the following year. When the 1988 Estimate was decided on, it was expected that the full 1987 allocation of £100 million for the house improvement grant scheme would be paid in 1987. However, the actual outturn at £87 million turned out to be lower than anticipated. As the general economic climate began to improve, more of the grant approvals began to be taken up. As a result, an extra £10 million for house improvement grants is required this year. The extra money will enable grants to be paid in 1988 to about 3,000 applicants who would otherwise have had to wait until 1989 for payment. Expenditure under the 1985 house improvement grant scheme will, by the end of the year, amount to some £160 million.

I want to turn now to the area of malicious injuries. My Department recoup to local authorities expenditure incurred by them on malicious injury awards. In 1987, £19.6 million was recouped to local authorities and this Supplementary Estimate brings this year's provision to £28.75 million, representing an increase of over £9 million on 1987.

Deputies must be wondering why such a large amount is required this year, especially in view of the 1986 amending legislation. In order to explain this position I will outline briefly the background to malicious injuries recoupment. Due to the rising cost of malicious injuries to local authorities, a non-statutory arrangement was introduced in 1974 to put a ceiling on ratepayers' liability. The scheme provided that, if the cost of compensation to a local authority in any financial year exceeded the product of a rate of 20 pence in the £, the excess was recouped to the local authority from the Exchequer. This scheme was given a statutory basis by the Malicious Injuries Act, 1981. The 1981 Act was subsequently amended by the Malicious Injuries (Amendment) Act, 1986, the effect of which was to limit the scope for malicious damage claims to instances caused — (i) by riot; (ii) by malicious act of an unlawful organisation; and (iii) by malicious act of an organisation outside the State engaged in advocating violence for purposes relating to the State or Northern Ireland.

Under the 1986 legislation the entire cost of claims is recouped to local authorities as well as their legal costs. In 1987 a sum of £2.35 million was paid to Donegal County Council for incidents at Ballybofey and Letterkenny. Expenditure on claims under the 1986 Act in 1988 amounts to nearly £400,000 and the number of claims pending against local authorities is relatively small. The then Minister for Justice, Deputy Dukes, when introducing the Second Stage of the Malicious Injuries (Amendment) Bill, 1986, in June 1986 foresaw that "the full extent of the savings to the Exchequer resulting from the enactment of this legislation will not become apparent for a year or two". This prediction was correct.

Individual claims for compensation against the local authority must be made within 14 days of the incident. Experience has shown that a considerable time elapses before a claim is either settled or determined by the courts. Equally, many claims are lodged as a matter of course and never pursued by the claimants. The initiative in pursuing a claim rests with the claimant and proceedings may be commenced at any time within three years of the incident. This is the main reason expenditure on malicious injury recoupment is still so high even after the enactment of the 1986 legislation.

It has always been difficult to estimate in advance each year the expenditure requirement for malicious injuries and this year is no exception. The biggest difficulty is in trying to anticipate in advance the level of claim payments and to take account, if possible, of any large individual claims that may be finalised in the coming year. An example of this in 1988 is the settlement of one claim for the burning of a church premises which will cost in excess of £3 million when all costs are included. If the local authority fail to pay claims as soon as they are determined or registered in the court, interest can accrue to the claimant until payment is made.

This Supplementary Estimate will meet all recoupment demands arising to the end of the year and I feel reasonably confident at this stage that the requirement for 1989 will diminish considerably.

The Supplementary Estimate includes a provision of £14,000 to meet the general expenses of the National Roads Authority in 1988. These expenses comprise travelling and subsistence allowances and the annual allowances for the chairman and certain members of the Authority.

The launching of the new Authority in July this year marked a departure in road development in Ireland. For the first time we have a single Authority with functions in relation to the improvement and maintenance of national roads and access roads to our principal ports and airports.

When I launched the Authority last July, I indicated that they would operate initially on a non-statutory basis and that legislation would be required in due course to establish the Authority on a statutory footing.

As I mentioned when opening the debate, the extra expenditure detailed in the Supplementary Estimate is somewhat offset by,inter alia, additional receipts from the EC in 1988. These receipts comprise recoupment by the European Communities under the FEOGA Western Package of a portion of State expenditure on a national programme to stimulate agricultural development in the west of Ireland. In March 1988 the European Council concluded a review of the western package with a decision to increase, from 1 January 1988, the amount of EC aid available, the region qualifying for EC aid and the proportion of expenditure recoupable under the FEOGA Western Package. This enable Ireland to apply for a higher amount of EC recoupment than previously anticipated, with the result that £1.837 million more than estimated was paid into my Department's Vote.

The net Supplementary Estimate is further reduced by savings of £5.277 million on the £11 million grant provision for the Housing Finance Agency. This grant assists the agency in matching the cost of funds raised by conventional borrowing with the return from income-related repayments by borrowers. The savings have been made possible by the reduction in interest rates and favourable exchange rate trends brought about by Government policy, and the increasing capacity of the agency to fund loans from capital repayments by borrowers.

Before concluding, I would like to refer to the motion which I will be moving later in relation to the 1986 Excess Vote. The need for this Excess Vote arises from the ESB's failure to pay the full £24 million determined by the Government as their contribution in lieu of rates for 1986.

The ESB are statutorily obliged under section 7 of the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act, 1982, to pay to the Minister for the Environment a sum in lieu of rates as determined by the Government each year. That sum could not exceed the amount which, in the Government's opinion, the ESB would pay in respect of the ESB generating and distribution network but for the fact that such property was technically exempt under the ESB Acts. The ESB contested the size of the annual amounts demanded. The situation came to a head in 1986 when, despite considerable efforts at both departmental and ministerial level, the ESB paid only £8 million of the £24 million deemed due for that year and decided to initiate legal action for the refund with interest of what the board regarded as overpayments in respect of the years 1983 to 1985.

Inevitably this gave rise to an excess on the 1986 Environment Vote.

This issue was addressed and solved within one week of the Government taking office in 1987. My colleague, the then Minister for Energy, had discussions with the ESB and indicated that legislation in the pipeline could include a provision to remove any doubt about the requirement of the ESB to pay the amounts demanded. The ESB immediately paid over the £16 million outstanding. Deputies will recall that the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act, 1988, confirmed the validity of the payments made since 1982 and provided for the imposition of full rates liability on the ESB. This actual rates liability will arise in 1989 when rates will be levied by individual local authorities on ESB valuations, determined by the Commissioner for Valuation under the provisions of the Valuation Act, 1988. This Act provides for the global valuation of public utilities and for the apportionment of the global valuation between the rating authorities. Thus the payment by the ESB of a single sum to my Department will not arise from 1989 onwards.

I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies on the Supplementary Estimate, on the matters I have raised, and on the 1986 Excess Vote. I will take note of any points raised and, in so far as it is possible, reply to them at the end of the debate.

I have an allocation of 15 minutes, and I would like to share that with my colleague, Deputy Carey.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

First, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Estimates and, in particular, to discuss some of the issues raised by the Minister. I would also like to refer briefly to one or two matters which have not been referred to in the Estimate and which would have been expected to have been contained in them.

It is noteworthy that when the National Roads Authority was established by the Minister, he stated that he wished the Authority to make submissions to him by September on the draft blueprint for road development. Indeed on that occasion, when announcing the names of members and welcoming them to the first meeting of the Authority, the Minister said that the Government had already approved publication of the blueprint, subject to some consultation with the Authority and that he planned to publish it in the autumn. The Minister stated that the blueprint to be published was to provide the policy and planning framework for our road network for the next 20 years. It was to contain a comprehensive statement of the main policy issues affecting road development and set out an assessment of the medium to long term needs for the entire road network, national, regional, county and urban.

As we head into the last week of this Dáil session before the Christmas recess, it is noteworthy that the autumn has long since past and the winter has arrived. The Minister still has not published the blueprint for the national road network and despite having asked the members of the National Roads Authority to make a very urgent and immediate comment to him on the draft blueprint, we still have not seen what the Minister intends to publish. It is particularly appalling that this is not published in view of the fact that the Taoiseach has stated that it is this Minister's responsibility to put together the infrastructural proposals — which presumably by and large mean the road network proposals which will be the base for this country's application to the European Structural Fund for funding for roads. I find it odd that the Minister when referring to the provisions to meet the general expenses of the National Roads Authority makes no mention of when this blueprint will be published and made available.

It is a matter of urgency that we publish the blueprint. Everybody on all sides of the House wishes to know the Department's plans for our road network, both in the context of the national primary routes and other roads, in particular county roads. At present, the local authorities have a major problem due to the cut in the rate support grant and due to the lack of adequate provisions to maintain county roads. In various parts of the country they are facing a major crisis and tertiary roads — roads that are regarded as minor roads from the perspective of the Department of the Environment but are of considerable importance to the local communities which they were originally designed to serve — are effectively breaking up all over the country. Having visited many parts of the country in recent weeks to examine our road network, I think portions of our county roads could be best described as a lunar landscape. It is extraordinary that more lives have not been lost on our roads, due to the collapse of our county road network, than have been lost to date. This is a matter of considerable concern. The lack of an adequate county road structure is going to impact on the lesser developed parts of the country that require good road networks both for industrial and agricultural purposes.

I think it is a very false economy to provide inadequate funding for the maintenance of county roads. Apart from the possible cost in terms of human life, the financial cost that local authorities will have to bear in future for accidents resulting from roads that are grossly inadequate, will in the long term far outweigh the actual cost of maintaining our roads in a proper condition. I am surprised that in his reference to the National Roads Authority, the Minister gave no explanation as to why the blueprint, which was promised to be published in the autumn, has not yet seen the light of day, and there is no indication that it will see the light of day this side of Christmas.

I ask the Minister to indicate when this blueprint will be published. When the National Roads Authority were established, the Minister said he was going to allow them some months to see how they worked before putting them on a statutory footing. I would like him now to tell us when he intends to put that body on a statutory basis, when he intends to bring the necessary legislation before this House and map out the powers of the National Roads Authority and how in legislative terms they are to interact with local authorities throughout the country. Again the Minister just says blandly that at some future time he will be bringing before the House the relevant legislation, but there is no sign of it.

The Estimate deals with providing funds for grants for House purchases and improvement grants some of which have now been abolished by this Government. It would be remiss not to put on the record of the House that at present a major housing crisis is developing in particular in the public sector in that during the year 1989 it is projected there will be fewer than 1,000 new houses completed by local authorities. The housing lists we saw growing in the seventies to crisis proportions by 1981 are growing again, and local authorities throughout the length and breadth of this country are being deprived of funding they require to enable them to meet basic housing needs and comply with their statutory obligations under the Housing Acts to provide adequate housing for those who cannot afford to provide it for themselves. The Minister has indicated in this House previously that he does not believe we have a housing crisis. I ask him to look at reports produced by a variety of organisations such as Threshold, Focus Point and others who are mapping out clearly from a non-political perspective — they have no political axe to grind — that we have a growing housing crisis which needs to be confronted.

One item, surprisingly, is not referred to in the Estimate and one would have expected that it would be here. I was looking forward to this evening's debate to welcome the Minister taking action in this area and I am disappointed to see now that no action has been taken. I recollect the Minister some six weeks ago flying over the Munster area, looking down on the flood waters of Cork city and county and telling the people in Cork he would provide the necessary funding to help to defray the cost of damage done by the flood waters. He assured us in the House a couple of weeks ago that that was not a public relations exercise, that it was an exercise with serious intent and, indeed, that finance would be provided to meet the needs in the area and make good the damage caused by the flood waters in Cork.

Indeed, over different parts of the Munster region very real damage was done not just in the context of damage suffered by individual householders or businesses. Due to the flooding in the Cork region a road network which was already collapsing has been further damaged. There is an urgent need for funding to be provided to the local authorities in the Munster area to make good the damage caused by the flood waters some weeks ago. It is a great disappointment that the Minister who saw fit to fly over the area and look at the flood waters has nothing to say in this Estimate to the people of Cork who were affected by the flooding and has provided no funding for them.

This is a brief Estimate debate. A great deal more could be said. I do not want to go on at length. I want to give my colleague an opportunity to come in. I would like to refer very briefly to two other issues. The Minister referred to the western package and EC funds we have. I would like to ask one brief question. On a number of occasions in this House the issue has been raised of the Structural Funds we are seeking from Europe next year, the way in which plans are being put together for the seven designated regions and the fact that the ultimate plans for each of these regions must be submitted to Brussels by 31 March 1989. Will the Minister or the Government be bringing before the House in draft form the plans that are being put together for the seven designated regions for debate and discussion in this House and, if necessary, for amendment by this House prior to those plans going to Brussels in March 1989? Will the consultant's report which is being commissioned at tremendous cost — I understand some £300,000 — to deal with the Dublin region be published and will it be available for debate and discussion——

I intervene to advise the Deputy that of the time allotted to him three minutes now remain.

——or will it be a matter that will be kept in secret? I conclude on that note. I want to give my colleague Deputy Carey an opportunity to come in and discuss a number of other matters.

The Minister devoted at least 20 per cent of his speech on this Estimate to the ESB and the way in which this Government dealt with that issue. The £24 million it is proposed to raise is in my view a hidden tax which he did not indicate to the public prior to the last election, and he is passing it on. My problem comes from my constituency. The Minister did not say in his speech that, while the ESB are now to be levied with rates, and have been valued, the money will be collected by Clare County Council and the Minister in his wisdom will deduct the same amount from the grants being paid by the Government to Clare County Council. In effect, the local authority will have nothing despite the huge development, the hardships suffered by the people of Clare and the problems which have arisen because of the huge lines that went over our county. Despite all these problems the Minister is going to grab everything. That is no encouragement to local authorities. If you want to have any confidence in the members of local authorities you must at least give them the opportunity to spend the rates.

The Minister has been very active in promoting a property tax. How does he think he is going to get the support of the Clare colleagues who are looking at it, as Deputy Shatter looked at it, as a lunar surface pockmarked with potholes from the southern end to the western end? The Minister is trying to do a PR exercise here, to give people the impression that local county councils have plenty of money, that they are not getting value for money he is giving them, when in Clare County Council alone there were 53 redundancies of road workers. That prevented even the ordinary drains at the side of the road being opened and led to further deterioration in the quality of the roads.

The only other thing I want to mention is the great disappointment in my town of Ennis at the lack of initiative by the Minister in applying the Urban Renewal Act. He said nothing about that in his speech. We in Ennis have shown the Minister of State that we have investors prepared to invest up to £1 million in the Parnell Street site and the Minister refuses to designate it.

This Estimate is about the Department of the Environment. The Minister's speech is not truly about the environment in the broadest sense of the word. To a large extent it is dominated by what I would see as tidying up areas of economics on the fringes of the built environment, but I hoped that most of our time in here would be spent on the key issues which seem to me to be not the accountancy side of the new house grants or house improvement grants, which in a sense are the kind of give and take one expects in annual expenditures in this area, and the speech is fairly typical from that point of view. I hoped we would have heard a little from the Minister on what I would call the green environment and there is not one word in his speech about that.

It is not that the Minister does not need to seek more resources in that regard if recent answers of his in his House are anything to go by. In the last couple of weeks the Minister was in a position to tell the House, in the area of dumping of toxic waste, that his Department did not have a list of sites in respect of which landfilled dumping was at present taking place. The process of dumping which is euphemistically called landfill basically means dumping on sites around the country, a practice which is banned in other enlightened countries. Those are the kind of issues that are the heart of the Environment Estimate, and not some of the fringe and fairly typical tidying up of peripheral economic details with regard to the expenditures in certain areas, like house improvement grants, which are neither here nor there in the medium to long term but which are the natural outgrowth of the inability of anybody to predict exactly how much expenditure will occur in one year or the other.

I am very disappointed that there is not even a paragraph or two at the very least about the area, the true area, the green environment about which I think this House is concerned and about which the people are increasingly concerned because they believe that right around the country under a variety of headings we are gradually witnessing an environment that is in crisis whether that be because of the difficulties of air pollution and smog in city areas, the difficulty of effluent into the rivers and streams, the issue of toxic wastes being dumped at uncontrolled and apparently uncontrollable and unlisted sites, the illegal incineration of toxic waste around the country, the questions which arise in relation to incineration at sea which I gather is to some extent controlled, or any of the other myriad of assaults on the environment. Those are the things we would like to hear a bit more about. I would suggest respectfully that when the Minister comes in here the next time to talk about the environment that he might address some of those points because they are the key points. I do not think some of the stuff that is in the Minister's speech this evening isapropos.

I would like to ask the Minister a specific question. I know that he and Members on all sides of the House are increasingly concerned about this area of the green environment. I wonder if he will consider the establishment of an all-party Dáil committee to discuss environmental issues. I was very taken by the fact that in our Question Time session here a couple of weeks ago no time could be afforded to some of these very important issues. I felt that the Minister had a great deal to say about it and certainly I had. I am sure Deputies Shatter, Kavanagh, Sherlock and others who are here, and my colleagues on the far benches there, would agree that if we had the chance to discuss some of the issues, which are in some cases somewhat technical and in other cases need insight into international experience, that might be best done by a committee of the House. We have established committees in regard to other areas which at least could not be argued to be any more important and, in some respects, might be said to be a lot less important than the fundamental question of the environment because if that is not correct, if the quality of our environment is not right, then all other issues pale into insignificance. I am suggesting that the Minister might consider establishing a committee of the House on the environment. Like any spokesman in this issue, I have been doing my own research and I have found that there is a very substantial volume of experience internationally which is available to us. As a small island country off an island country off the coast of Europe we have some advantages. In commercial terms we have a market edge and in environmental terms we should have an edge as well and we are eroding that very rapidly. Some of the reasons are inadequate legislation, inadequate enforcement of legislation or inadequate sanctions, and fundamentally underlying all that, totally inadequate education on the real value of the environment, and that starts in the schools and the homes.

I am simply saying to the Minister here tonight that he might consider the establishment of that all-party committee as I believe it would allow us to go into many of the issues that are raised at the moment in a very sketchy, peripheral way and have them debated and discussed and examined in fullsome detail.

Any other area of Government policy gets Dáil time and attention. We spend most of our time talking economics. We have debates on the budget. We have debates on the Adjournment which invariably are about economic issues. Occasionally we discuss issues on other areas of national importance; but as an issue in itself the environment tends to be a bit of a Cinderella and it needs a great deal more time and attention and at the moment that time and attention is not afforded in the normal way in this House. This debate is the first on the environment in recent times, leaving aside some of the Bills we discussed, and invariably they are not about what I would call the green environment. The Planning and Development Bill and other Bills that would come within the Minister's ambit, including the constituency division Bill, could hardly be called issues that deal with the green environment, whatever about the political or other environment. Therefore, I am making a plea tonight for us to address seriously in this House, in some structured way, the key issues which are confronting us, which are all about us, which are about dereliction in our cities, decay in some of the green environmental areas, all those things which we do not give enough time to. I am not accusing the Minister of not giving enough time to his own Department; frankly, I do not know whether he is or not, but I am willing to believe that he is givig a fair amount of attention to it. However, it is not emerging here, we do not see it and it is not occupying our time in this House. I would like it to be much more centre stage because I believe it is fundamentally important. At present it is, to some extent, seen as a peripheral area which is discussed if we have not something more important to talk about. I do not believe that is the way it should be seen. Maybe the Minister would react to that suggestion of an all-party committee.

I would like to also make a concrete suggestion. In terms of structuring what is known as the Department of the Environment at the moment, the Minister might review the present arrangements which appear to me to have no distinction drawn between environmental areas and local government areas which would be basically what the Minister is speaking about tonight; he is talking about local authorities, house improvement grants, malicious injuries, the normal activities of local authorities and their interplay with the Department of the Environment. In fact unless there is a rethink in terms of how the Department is structured, it seems to me that much of the day-to-day exigencies of the built environment and the arrangements in place between local government and Government will, if one likes, put to one side the key areas, the fundamental area of quality of life, quality of environment. I wonder if the Minister would consider a restructuring within his Department, a separation of the two areas into two clear administrative areas so that there is onecorpus of responsibility resting on one group of officials for policy in the area of the environment in the true sense of the word, while other officials in another wing of the Department get on with the job of local government which is fundamentally different. I recall, when the Department of Local Government, as it was then known, was retitled the Department of the Environment, feeling that it was not simply enough to change the name of the place if there was not some new commitment at its heart. Indeed some of the steps since then would indicate that we have gone backwards — I am talking about the dismantling of An Foras Forbartha and other various watchdog elements that were in place in relation to the green environment, although I know the Minister himself has a commitment in this area and is serious about it. I am simply saying that I am not sure that it is manifest and perhaps those two steps might result in some progress in this area. I refer to an all-party committee and a review of the structure of the Department itself.

Perhaps the Minister would comment, when winding up, on some of the comments made by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his reports, which inevitably deal with the Department of the Environment, some of which are a repeat of previous years. I am not going to go into them now because time or inclination do not allow; but there are indications that there is a bit of tightening up to be done in the Department of the Environment and a lot of that is about how resources are used. In these days of very tight cashflow and very tight revenue it seems reasonable that one might ask each Minister in turn and, in this case, this Minister, what exactly has been done about the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General in regard to each of the specific references, some of them a little unflattering in recent years in the area of the Department of the Environment, because ultimately that officer and his officials who do an excellent job on behalf of the people of this State, are trying to ensure best value for public money. I have no doubt that that is an aim close to the Minister's heart. I should like to know what systems have been put in place and what changes have arisen directly out of the comments of the Comptroller and Auditor General in his most recent report.

I should like to make some comments in regard to malicious injury claims. In the course of his speech the Minister said that his Department recoup local authorities' expenditure incurred by them on malicious injuries awards. That is standard practice. I should like to know if the Minister has carried out any form of investigation into the manner of assessment and the way in which some of those claims are contested, considered or treated by local authorities. My experience tends to indicate that wherever one is not directly footing the bill a different attitude is adopted in relation to how one responds to claims. It is fair comment to say that there have been instances in respect of which it would be reasonable to have a suspicion at the very least that some of the claims were substantially inflated because the view obtained that somehow it was not a specific named local authority or a specific set of officials who were handling it but some type of large amorphous public purse that eventually funded the cost. It appeared that the view was that one did not rigorously oppose or evaluate such claims because the bill was being passed on to central Government.

I should like the Minister to say if in the area of malicious injuries claims there is a slight degree of soft underbelly. I accept that the Act introduced by the Government to deal with malicious injuries claims has helped but as one with an interest and an experience of how local government functions there is room for massive improvement in that respect. The most central issue in the Minister's speech is local government reform. I hesitate to mention it because people tend to get a wry smile when they talk about local government reform these days. At present a plethora of local authorities of varying degrees of efficiency and skill are handling a very mixed bag of responsibilities and some are doing it better than others. The Minister would be doing the country a service if he could say when and how extensively he will be introducing a major reform of local government which is long overdue. They are the issues I would like to spend the valuable time of the Dáil debating. I am disappointed to note that there was not one word about the green environment. I hope the Minister will be good enough to respond to the queries I have raised, particularly the suggestion of an all-party committee and the restructuring of his Department.

I should like to ask the Chair if it is in order for me to give five minutes of my time to Deputy Sherlock who, apparently, has not had any time allocated to him.

Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

On the introduction of this Supplementary Estimate I would have expected the Minister to tell us that he was doing something to relieve the parlous state the Government, since they took office, have plunged local authorities into. The Minister's reign in the Department will be remembered as a time when local authority services were destroyed because of a reduction in the rate support grant. The Minister has not made any money available to local authorities to make up the shortfall they have suffered as a result. At meetings of the General Council of County Councils the Minister promised members that he would reorganise local government and in doing so would tackle the issue of local financing. However, after almost two years in office no such proposal has emerged and the Minister has continued to apply the cutbacks imposed on him by the Minister for Finance. He may appear to be making cutbacks in his Department but, in effect, what he is doing is transferring taxation to local authority level.

When service charges were introduced the idea was to ensure that employment was maintained at local level. They amounted to about £30 in 1986 but in my local authority area that charge has risen to £142 for the coming year. That is not a service charge; it is a straightforward local tax which is being imposed so that local authorities can provide all types of services and not for water, sewerage or refuse collection as was originally intended.

The decision of the Minister to reduce the rate support grant has left most local authorities with huge overdrafts they do not have any way of reducing. It has also meant a huge reduction in the number of people employed by local authorities. The number employed in Wicklow has been reduced by 40 per cent in the short time that the Minister has been in office. The Minister may be happy with that but I should like to tell him that local authorities are not able to provide the minimum of services. Our roads are in a deplorable condition, hedges have not been cut and very few local authority houses are being repaired. The services which local authorities traditionally provided have been done away with.

The Minister will have to decide whether to reorganise local authorities in the coming years. He will have to make local representatives aware of his plans for the future. If he continues to reduce the amount of the rate support grant to local authorities while at the same time expecting them to increase the service charges I can tell him that he will be destroying a service that has operated for more than 60 years. That will be his epitaph after his period in the Custom House.

I should like to refer to the rates paid by the ESB, a point highlighted by Deputy Carey. Such rates are imposed and collected by the local authority but taken off the rate support grant. In effect, local authorities are being asked to do the collection work for the Minister. There is little consideration for the fact that such rates are not paid on time and that local authorities must carry huge overdrafts while waiting for payments. Our county was despoiled with pylons which take up an area of ground equal to that taken up by four or five reasonably sized houses. Wicklow gets all the negative appearance from all the pylons erected in the county while the Minister gets the money.

I should like to point out to the Minister that the responsibility for valuing property rests with the Department of Finance and not with the officers of the Department of the Environment. The argument as to who should pay rates on any property can be contested in the courts.

The local authority house purchase scheme, which includes a £2,000 grant, is being used as a means of offering a more attractive scheme to the purchaser which is good but, of course, the Minister does not pay the £2,000 back to the local authority. I think he should since he is pushing the scheme very hard. I know he told the county managers to get on with the scheme and that he was very disappointed with the response. He should be aware that this plunges local authorities still further into debt. When the Department of the Environment come up with a good scheme they should carry the expense as in the past and should not pass it on to the local authority. I am sure we are all in agreement that the scheme is an attractive one but the great losers are the local authorities. The Minister can claim credit for giving very good value to the purchaser but it was the local authorities and the previous Government who built the houses, unlike the present Government who stopped building houses. If one looks at the record of local authorities one will see that every time Fianna Fáil have been in office since 1970, local authority house building stopped. It came to an end as no money was provided. Never has it been so bad as in the last two years. I know that in my county five houses have been built in the last two years when in three years while I was Minister for the Environment about 600 were built. The Minister can laugh at that but these are the hard facts and he knows it.

The Deputy would never have paid special attention to Wicklow.

No, we gave every area their fair share. I indicated, a Cheann Comhairle, that I want to allow some time to Deputy Sherlock. Do I still have some time?

Deputy Kavanagh would want to conclude about now if he wishes to facilitate Deputy Sherlock. The Deputy has about one minute left.

The Minister has brought to an end the building of local authority houses. Not only is he causing problems for people who are looking for houses but he has also brought to an end small building concerns in many areas because of the cessation of grants to encourage the repair of houses and the stopping of local authority building. The Minister cannot be very proud of his two years in office. He may have some time to reverse that trend. I hope that in the next year we will see a change in his attitude towards local authorities and the fine work they have done. I hope we will see the re-organisation of local government, the first part of which was introduced by me. I would like to have had more time to deal with it, it is there for him so why does he not get on with it?

Deputy Sherlock has four minutes.

The first thing I should like to refer to is the grant for the improvement of houses. The figure given by the Minister of £260 million is very sizeable. I would remind him that he paid much of that grant to well-heeled people who were very quick to avail of it. That should not have been the case because now we have a situation where people cannot get a grant for the actual improvement even where the light is showing through the roof. The Minister should introduce grants to enable people to sink more wells so that they can provide running water in their homes. There are 700 homes in the north Cork area without running water. The number of houses in towns that still do not have bathrooms is a question that should be addressed. The exclusion of grants to local authorities for small sanitary schemes is to be deplored because these schemes enabled local authorities to provide assistance to people. The local authority building programme has also slowed down and the lists are growing again. The condition of tens of thousands of dwellings is substandard and successive Governments have no coherent housing policy. It is about time the Government issued a White Paper on housing.

I would like to refer to the problems that have arisen for people who have lost their jobs and cannot afford to pay back SDA loans. I would ask the Minister to look at that problem to see if the time for payment could be extended. According to newspaper reports the Government are to introduce a new tax which will be paid by virtually every householder in the country, including local authority tenants. It is clear that what the Government are planning is not a property tax but simply a tax on homes and the other properties such as land, race horses, jewellery, works of art, expensive cars and yachts — optional luxuries for the rich — are not to be taxed.

The only adequate way to finance local authorities is by way of guaranteed block grant from central taxation. I would refer briefly to the 1986 excess expenditure. I will not dwell on it but I would ask the Minister to take cognisance of the serious position that has arisen in my own county of Cork where companies have successfully appealed their valuations, for instance, the refinery and many other industries in Cork which have left the local authority in a very bad state. As a result there are huge demands for repayments by such companies to the local authority. That is a serious matter.

I hold the view that the establishment of the national roads authority should be used as a means to facilitate the widespread privatisation of road construction and the road network. No independent analysis or research has ever been produced to support the view that private enterprise is more efficient or cost effective than the public sector in the planning and development of our roads system. I would refer to the fact that roads in many areas at present are in an appalling and dangerous condition. It is time this matter was addressed because people are howling for some work to be carried out on road maintenance and improvement which has been neglected for the last couple of years.

The Deputy has one minute left.

At the end of the day it will cost much more to restore the roads to a reasonable standard. I would ask the Minister to consider making some increase in the funds available under the heading of special housing aid for the elderly. Good work has been done under that scheme but it has only been a scratch on the surface where, elderly people are living in homes which, perhaps, were cottages that were purchased under a tenant purchase scheme years ago or old farmhouses. In many such cases, the provision of windows and doors is not sufficient, much more work is required to be done.

Perhaps I could share my time with my colleague, Deputy Hyland and perhaps you would so remind me after seven minutes.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

One of the major items that was introduced by the Minister this year was the tenant purchase scheme. I welcome it in its entirety. It is a wonderful scheme. As chairman of the Dublin Housing Committee, I had a problem on reading certain press reports in relation to that scheme, I spoke to the Minister about it and he assured me that there has been a fantastic rush, particularly in the Dublin area, to take up the special terms. As everyone is well aware, this is a once off effort. It enables all tenants to purchase their own homes. The Minister has informed us that 30,000 tenants — that is 40 per cent of those eligible — have applied to buy their own homes. This is an unbelievable success story.

Following various meetings of housing officers with the Minister he impressed on them that everything possible should be done to allow any tenant who wished to buy their own house to do so, regardless of whether they had the price of the house, or whether it had been valued or whether they were in a position at that time to purchase. Once an application is made before 31 December they are entitled to buy the house at any stage after that date. I would suggest that every tenant should consider purchasing their own house and to make application to buy the house under the special discount terms available under the scheme. As I said earlier it is an excellent scheme and one that should be welcomed by everybody. It is the dream of every Irish man and Irish woman to own their own house. This is a great opportunity to do that. As it is a once-off scheme we should make sure it is widely publicised.

I should like to congratulate the Minister that in this, his second year in office, he has made a strong move to control smog in this city. Some may call him "the Minister for smog" but I have no doubt that he will go down in history as the Minister who did away with the problem of smog. He has done more than any other Minister in that Department during the past 20 years to alleviate the problem of smog in this city and he is to be congratulated for that. One often wonders if it is only the people who live in Cabra or in Ballyfermot who are responsible for the problem of smog in this city. We all know that each person in this city who burns coal, or other smoke producing fuels, is contributing to this problem and it would help greatly when the weather turns cold, as it did a few weeks back, if they were to consider burning smokeless fuels regardless of where they live in the Dublin area. Each of us as individuals has a responsibility to look after our neighbours but sometimes we forget this very quickly and point the finger at the Government and everybody else. Each of us could help in alleviating this problem. While legislation is necessary, each of us has a particular role to play.

Reference was also made to the problem of pollution. Last week in this House I spoke about the beauty of Ireland and the potential in tourism. We have wonderful lakes and rivers which are being polluted not only by industrialists but also by many farmers who just do not seem to understand or bother about the damage that is being caused to our rivers by effluent seeping from their farms. By acting quickly the Minister has helped greatly in the alleviation of this problem. If one looks at the statistics it is clear that the number of fish kills is very much down this year. Being from Dublin I do not know a great deal about life in rural Ireland but I believe that the extension of the western package to the poorer parts of Ireland has helped greatly. I believe that people living in the areas covered by that scheme are able to apply for grants to help in alleviating the problem of pollution arising from the seepage of effluent from farms and industrial sources. At this point, I would like to congratulate the Minister and to say to him that he is doing his bit and that it is up to the rest of us to work as hard as him.

Before concluding I would like to congratulate the Minister for setting up the National Roads Authority in July. This was a move in the right direction and I look forward to benefiting from the fruits of their endeavours over the next few years. With that I hand over to my colleague.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I would like to share my time with my colleague, Deputy Tom Kitt.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Like other speakers on this side of the House I support the Supplementary Estimate which has been presented to the House this evening by the Minister. In this Supplementary Estimate the Minister is seeking extra funds for the payment of new house grants and house improvement grants. This will be welcomed by those who have carried out very extensive improvements to their homes. I ask the Minister to seriously consider, when the financial position improves, the reintroduction of house improvement grants as there is absolutely no doubt that both the new house grant and the house improvement grant led to an improvement in the living conditions of many people. I know, of course, that the £2,000 new house grant is still available.

I would like to congratulate the Minister for introducing the local authority tenant purchase scheme which was very widely welcomed by local authority tenants throughout the country. This scheme has helped many people fulfil their ambition to own their own homes. Each person living in this country has a desire to own his or her own home and it is nice that we have a Minister for the Environment who introduces a scheme which enables local authority tenants to fulfil that ambition. The Minister has recognised that some local authority tenants will have difficulty in complying with the requirements of the tenant purchase scheme before the end of December and as a result he has agreed that those who apply may have their applications considered at a later date. Some speakers have spoken about what the Minister may be remembered for after his term of office. I believe he will be remembered as the Minister who made it possible for local authority tenants to own their own homes.

That is rubbish.

The Minister has had some success in dealing with a number of difficult problems but I believe he now faces his greatest challenge of all and I have absolutely no doubt that he will deal as effectively with this problem as he has with the others. I am referring, of course, to the reform of the local authority structure.

With what is left of it.

Being a former member of a local authority the Minister is as well aware as I am that local authorities are grossly underfunded. In fact, they are no longer able to fulfil their roles as development corporations, a role which they are capable of fulfilling and a role they must fulfil in the future so as to tackle the problems particular to rural Ireland. It is well to remember that members of local authorities feel a sense of frustration at present and we in this House do not remember as often as we should the generous contribution which has been made by members of local authorities. They are doing a good job, getting very little thanks in return. Because of the present restriction on funding their task is becoming more and more difficult.

There are some four minutes left of the time allotted to the Deputy and his colleagues.

I want to make the point that inadequate funding leads to inefficiencies. Because of inadequate funding it is difficult for local authorities to operate as efficiently as they should. On the other hand, Government policy on funding has forced local authorities to examine their spending programmes and perhaps this is a blessing in disguise as there is absolutely no doubt that public bodies, be they local authorities or health boards, did not get the return they should have got from the funds which were available. If and when adequate funding becomes available, it is my view that members of local authorities and the management of local authorities will look very carefully at their spending programmes so as to ensure that they get the best return.

Let me quickly make the point that commercial rates and service charges are too restrictive and selective and are not an adequate or satisfactory means of raising funds for local authorities. Therefore the Minister and the Government will have to look at alternative sources of funding. My final point, and I am sure the Minister would be very surprised if I did not make this point, is in relation to county roads. There is absolutely no doubt that our county roads structure has deteriorated. When the Minister is introducing Supplementary Estimates again I would ask him to seriously consider coming before the House with an Estimate which will provide adequate funding for members of local authorities so that they can tackle the problem of the deterioration of the county road structure throughout the country.

The Deputy has two minutes remaining.

I should like my colleague, Deputy Kitt, to benefit from that two minutes.

I am grateful to my colleague, Deputy Hyland.

Two minutes in which to build a southern cross route.

I will never get to that. I should like to make two or three points in relation to this Supplementary Estimate. The house purchase scheme has been a great success in my area of Dublin County Council where there has been a 38 per cent uptake of the scheme. This is a phenomenal achievement and I congratulate the Minister on introducing the scheme. There is a difference between what I would call the maintenance mentality and the ownership mentality, and the individual who owns his house has a dignity and pride in his house and neighbourhood.

I agree with Deputy Keating that there should be a distinction between what I would call the mechanical and physical elements of the Department of the Environment, namely, the grants and potholes, and the health and environmental areas — the protection and development of our environment. In this respect I would refer to air pollution, smog and, in the area of the Department of Energy, the protection of our seas and the nuclear issue. That is a very valid point but to be fair to the Minister he has been given a very broad spectrum of responsibilities. He has handled and undertaken these responsibilities with vigour and has been very protective of our environment.

With regard to local government reform, I am a member of Dublin County Council which has 78 members and it has come to the stage where it is almost impossible for us to manage our affairs. I know there is a report on the Minister's desk with regard to local government reform which proposes the establishment of three authorities in the county area. I would encourage the establishment of these three authorities because it would take care of many of the problems which we now have.

It might create new ones.

In this respect I want to refer to the housing area. In many new sprawling urban estates some three bedroom houses are now occupied by unmarried mothers, many of whom are unable to cope. If we give back responsibility to local areas, with some imagination, local autonomy and initiative from a new local authority system within the Dublin area on a community basis, I believe we can tackle many of these real social problems. I am aware that the Minister knows that this is a matter of priority.

Deputy Quinn referred to the southern cross route. I welcome the fact that the Minister has been given special responsibility as co-ordinator of the EC Structural and Regional Funds. During the next five years we will be presented with the most amazing challenge of all time. I know the Minister will take advantage of these new funds and I hope he will direct them in particular to the Greater Dublin area and that he will build an EC route from Belfast around Dublin to Rosslare. I now pass on to my learned colleague from the Dublin area who I know will support me in congratulating the Minister and wishing him well with his new task.

I wish to inform Deputy Quinn that I am obliged by the Order of the House of this morning to call the Minister for the Environment to reply to the debate at 9.50 p.m.

I should like you, a Cheann Comhairle, to consider calling the Deputy from Clare, Deputy Taylor-Quinn——

The other Quinn.

——in approximately three minutes.

The Deputies are sharing the time.

I am going to speak for three minutes only.

Is it satisfactory to share the time between the two Deputy Quinns?

With regard to the road authority I want to make the following points. The Labour Party support the concept of a road authority. The Minister knows this but I want to put it on the record of the House. The Minister has been very tardy in getting the operation off the ground because until they are properly established on a statutory basis, having regard to the realities of the regulations which govern these areas, they cannot do their job. The fact that they have been so inadequately resourced — and this Supplementary Estimate gives testimony to that — is an admission in public of how insubstantial the authority have been to date. I am simply asking the Minister to proceed with something which is a good idea. I am not going to take up my time criticising the Minister; Deputy Hyland has praised the Minister with so many words of honey that the poison contained within them will slowly emerge when the smog clears.

With regard to roads, the southern cross route, etc, I want to make the following points. Unless the legislation is brought forward very quickly for the necessary fast track arrangements — I am not mixing metaphors — which can be made to bring about the speedy construction of roads in the Greater Dublin area, which is probably the worst authority for the building of national primary roads, we are not going to get the centre hub of the road radian wheel right in this country. I ask the Minister to expedite the drafting of the necessary legislation which is required to give effect to that authority. Perhaps that is when the western ring which will link the N1 with the N11 will be completed. I share Deputy Kitt's aspirations in that regard. He may then formally tell his colleagues in the engineering section in the Custom House and in Dublin County Council and Dublin Corporation that the eastern bypass has been buried democratically, is not to rise again in any shape or form and the Euro route — I forget the precise designation — will run west of the city linking the outer and inner suburbs.

I am conscious of the time and of Deputy Madeline Taylor-Quinn's anxiety to contribute to the debate. The Minister has the support of the House and the possibility of European money to do something about roads. He has deferred the publication of the document on the national roads plan and perhaps he might explain why. We want to support the Minister but he will have to show us how. We are suspicious of the Minister's failure in this regard to date.

I thank Deputy Quinn for sharing his time with me. I suppose it would be remiss of me not to wish the Minister well with his new responsibilities in relation to the allocation of funding under the EC Structural Fund but I would say to the Minister that there is very great concern at the overall manner in which the committees in the seven regions are being managed at present. There is concern at the manner and nature of the input into these committees and in particular the lack of local government input from the point of view of local government public representatives. I think the Minister would be the first to agree with me that nobody knows the scene on the ground better than local county councillors and urban councillors in their respective counties. It is unfortunate that a more definite input is not being made into the seven committees and SFADCo in my area. This situation needs to be changed and I ask the Minister and his Department to urgently examine this problem.

With regard to my constituency — and I am going to be parochial on this matter — it must be said that County Clare has one of the worst road networks in the country. The condition of the county roads in Clare are absolutely appalling at present. Since the Minister took over as Minister for the Environment the funding to Clare County Council has been substantially reduced. Unfortunately the Minister did not continue the percentage of funding to Clare County Council which was given by the previous Administration. If he had done that, Clare County Council would have had £10.7 million more to spend on the roads in County Clare than we have had under the Minister's jurisdiction. This reduction in funding is very evident from the conditions of the roads throughout the county. Needless to say this has a serious impact on potential developments and industry coming into the area.

Another area of tremendous significance is urban renewal. Ennis Urban District Council made an application to the Minister for funding under the urban renewal programme. At present people in Ennis who have property or who intend purchasing property are extremely reluctant to carry out any improvements in that section of the town because they believe some moneys for these improvements will come from the Department under the urban renewal programme. While those people are awaiting that money the centre of Ennis is becoming more and more derelict and it is unfortunate that this is happening in the capital town of County Clare.

Last week the Minister met a deputation from Shannon Town Commissioners who are extremely anxious to be recognised as an urban district council. We had hoped that the Minister would be in a position by the end of December to allocate this status to Shannon and there is great disappointment that he has not yet seen fit to do so. Perhaps he would let us know what progress has been made and when he will raise the status of the town commissioners in Shannon.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí a chuir fáilte roimh an Meastachán Fórlíontach agus a bhí páirteach san díospóireacht.

I thank Deputies who contributed. A number of points were raised which I will try to deal with as best I can in the time available. I am disappointed that Deputy Shatter and one or two other Members, particularly Deputy Keating, do not understand the rules of procedure as far as Supplementary Estimate contributions are concerned. I am not permitted under Standing Order 128 to raise matters not included in the Supplementary Estimate. To express disappointment that I did not deal with a whole range of issues is nonsense and I wish they would pay more attention to the procedures of the House in this regard. Deputies Shatter, Quinn and others referred to the National Roads Authority. I agree that they need a statutory basis to do the job properly. They cannot do without it and I am giving it my urgent attention. I particularly wanted to give them a little time to operate on a non-statutory basis before starting the detailed drafting of the Bill. We must get the Bill right because the National Roads Authority will have to deal with an enormous amount of work and last for a very long time.

Unless abolished by the Minister's successor, as he abolished certain things.

I doubt it. Quite a large legislative framework will be involved and the Authority will have an important role to play in the development of our infrastructures. Several policy issues are to be addressed in the blueprint for roads and it is intended to publish it. Of course it is ready and it has been considered by the National Roads Authority. They have made their submission to me and everything is cleared. We are awaiting the finalisation of the intervention rates and related matters.

For the Bill?

No. I am referring to matters related to the Structural Funds. These must be settled before the blueprint is published. That is the proper way to do it. We will then know precisely where we are going and precisely what has to be done on the national roads. The report will then be published. When the blueprint is in place and arrangements for the Structural Funds draw down has been agreed in the national plan which is to be submitted before March, the National Roads Authority will have a statutory basis. I agree that this is absolutely essential.

There was much talk about county roads and I am pleased that Deputy Shatter could say he had taken a trip in the country. I presume it is the first time he has been outside the Pale to see what the country looks like.

He was in Clare last night.

He knows now what county roads are about.

He canvassed up the mountains in south County Dublin.

I am very familiar with county roads and how they are developed. Some reference was made to cutbacks in regard to county roads. In 1986 the then Coalition Government provided £5 million for the maintenance and improvement of county roads throughout the whole country. On coming to office I decided there was a need to redress the problem which existed and I provided £15 million in 1987. Because of the continuing problem, I also allowed £15 million in 1988, while in 1989 I have agreed to allow £19.5 million. A sum of almost £50 million will have been provided in three years, which is more than the accumulated total for nearly 20 years before that.

The Minister closed down the housing programme to do it.

Let us talk about the roads. There has been a lot of wild talk about the funding for county roads during the past few years. The Coalition Government provided £5 million in the year they went out of office and since then we have provided successively £15 million, £15 million and £19.5 million.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

It must all have gone to Mayo. We did not get any of it in Clare.

These figures give some idea of the misinformation which is being disseminated. Mention was also made of the national plan for Structural Funds. It must be in before March but I intend to submit it before that, if possible, because the first in the queue gets the best attention in the drawdown.

Has the Minister any role in it?

It is our intention to submit the plan before the deadline. The blueprint for road development over the next 20 years will be included as part of the national plan.

I take some exception to the claim that we are not doing enough about the green environment. I put it on record in my own defence that more has been done about the green environment during my 18 months as Minister than was done by any administration since the foundation of the State.

Including the abolition of An Foras Forbartha.

I challenge anybody to say nay to my assertion.

I am saying it now.

It was suggested by one of the Deputies that the Department of the Environment should have the strength to deal with matters concerning the environment of its own accord. That was one of the basic reasons for the setting up of the environmental research unit. It is now functioning to a very high degree of efficiency.

It is giving an entirely different outlook and motivation to the Department to function in accordance with its name. Anybody who wishes to challenge this can do so at a later date.

I accept the challenge.

I can cite not only the Air Pollution Act but the issue of licences for industrial plants and the regulation of SO² emissions. I dealt with water pollution and the question of cleaner rivers. We had 162 fish kills in 1987 but fewer than 40 this year. For the first time ever we have received recognition for dealing positively with the whole question of water pollution. Directives have been put in place regarding drinking water and bathing water and they are being monitored properly with good results. We provided grants for the private sector to deal with waste, whether toxic or hazardous. I undertook a feasibility study regarding the disposal of toxic waste. That is now on my desk and I will be making the necessary decisions shortly.

(Interruptions.)

I want to impress upon everybody that applications under the tenant purchase scheme should be made before the end of the year. I ask Deputies to urge those involved to get in their applications this week because some of the offices will be closed for a few days after Christmas. I increased the amount of money available for housing aid for the elderly by another £500,000 to £2 million.

Interest rates have gone down by 6 per cent since the Government took office and local authorities have made savings on their overdrafts. The voluntary redundancy scheme, together with the controls on numbers employed, have reduced numbers by almost 5,000 or 14 per cent since 1 January 1987. Annual net savings to the local authorities are estimated at £37 million and the Government have funded lump sums amounting to £23 million during that period. The Government's early decision on Estimates means that local authorities hold their estimate meetings much earlier than heretofore. The result has been the better management of expenditure programmes and significant improvements in revenue collection. This can be verified. The Local Loan Funds Act, 1987, streamlined financial transfers between the State and local authorities, eliminating waste and improving the local authorities' cashflow. Grants for the strengthening of county roads have gone up from £5 million in 1986 to £19.5 million in 1989. That is a very significant improvement.

In 1987 we had the usual whirlpool of spending on the back of ever increasing borrowing. It had to be stopped and we did it. The elected councils have displayed a remarkably responsible attitude towards their spending arrangements and the assessment of how to get better value for money. In 1988 the spiral of increasing debt on local authorities has been reversed and deficits no longer exist in an increasing way on local authorities.

In an increasing way?

They are not increasing any more. They are being stabilised and revenue performance has improved. Financial trends are correct and in step with the national attitude. That is what everybody here wanted to see achieved. It has been achieved in two years and Deputies are bleating and craw-thumping about it. As far as the financial management of local authorities is concerned there are leaner budgets now. There is much tighter financial management and people are getting better value for money in every local authority area. The services are being provided from the existing resources.

That is not true.

There are 2,500 fewer people employed.

The services are not being provided.

Mention was made by one Deputy of people being made redundant. Anybody who left the local authority service did so on a voluntary basis. I wish Deputy Sherlock would stop giving misinformation about these matters. Short term working was eliminated in 1988 and we hope to maintain that position in 1989. Considerable progress has been made on all fronts, both regarding the green environment and the built environment, and it is generally recognised that that is the case. There is more talk now about the green environment and about dealing with that environment in a positive way than there was in this House or this country for 30 years. The reason is that there is an environmentalist in charge of the Department of the Environment. I welcome criticisms concerning the green environment because that strengthens my hand in the places where I get my assistance.

I was wondering what the green smog was.

Vote put and agreed to.