Estimates 1990 (Resumed). - Vote 25: Environment (Revised Estimate).

I move:

That a sum not exceeding £575, 366,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1990, 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-inaid.

Is ámharach mar a tharlaíonn an díospóireacht ghearr seo ar an Meastacháin Chomshaoil ag deireadh ár nUachtaránacht an-rathúil ar an gComhphobal Eorpach — tréimhse inar chuireamar romhainn Uachtaránacht Ghlas a chur i bhfeidhm. Níl aon dabht faoi ach go bhfeichfear an tréimhse seo mar dhul chun cinn tábhachtach i bhforbairt cúrsaí comhshaoil ar an leibhéal náisiúnta agus idir-náisiúnta.

The adoption by the European Council of a substantial Declaration on the Environment, proposed by the Presidency, was a historical event; it was the first time that the Council had addressed environmental issues in a comprehensive way and agreed a framework and guidelines for future action. This in itself demonstrates the importance the Irish Presidency attached to the environment, but the significance of the declaration was enhanced by the fact it was backed up by specific action on a broad front at home and at international level.

Last January, I launched the Government's environment action programme. This is an ambitious IR£1 billion environmental investment plan with the object of improving still further Ireland's already high quality natural environment. The plan, for example, means that by the year 2000, all municipal sewerage discharging to inland or coastal waters will be fully treated; all dumping at sea will be stopped by 1998; air quality will be dramatically improved; and good forestry, agricultural and industrial processes will be promoted.

The Government have backed up these proposals on the environment by committing additional financial resources to implement them. Measures costing £20 million in 1990 were provided for in the budget and built into the relevant departmental estimates. In the case of my own Department, an additional £8.55 million was included. Over and above the extra funds for water and sewerage schemes, the funds allocated in 1990 for environmental and related services have increased by 144 per cent over the 1989 expenditure. Details are set out in subhead G in Part III of the estimate.

On the international level, it became clear to me that Community environment policy needed to be orientated to a much greater degree to what was happening outside the boundaries of the Community. At the same time, greater progress was desirable on the backlog of environmental legislation required to face environmental challenges within the Community after 1992.

At an early stage in my Presidency, I decided, following consultation with the Environment Commissioner, that political contact should be made with the emerging democracies of Eastern and Central Europe — countries beset by grave environmental problems which can affect the Community through transboundary water and air pollution. My initiative culminated in a special meeting of EC Environment Ministers and their counterparts from the USSR and Eastern and Central Europe in Dublin on 16 June. At this meeting, the EC Ministers were able to hear first-hand descriptions of the problems involved and to set in place a series of steps to help resolve these problems.

A major challenge which faced the Presidency was to ensure that Community member states acted together on matters of global interest and I am happy to say that some success was achieved in this area. A strong unified Community position was achieved at the Bergen Conference on Sustainable Development, at the White House Conference on Global Change and at the recent London meeting on ozone depletion.

During the Presidency, progress was made on a number of important measures at Community level. At the March Council, there was agreement on the Regulation setting up the European Environment Agency; an important directive on access to information on the environment; two directives on biotechnology; a resolution prepared by the Presidency setting out future Community strategy on waste; and a decision to extend the CORINE programme for gathering information on the environment.

The June Council built on the impressive record achieved in March and agreement on three new directives was secured. These were: a directive banning the sale of commonly used batteries with a high mercury content; promoting recycling; and requiring separate disposal of used batteries; an important new directive governing all aspects of waste planning and management; and a directive establishing strict controls on discharges into water courses of four dangerous substances generally used as solvents in the dry cleaning and other sections.

By any standards, the Green Presidency was a considerable success. I intend to maintain the momentum in the period immediately ahead.

Last year was a great year for the construction industry. The fall in output and employment which had persisted in the industry since 1981, was completely reversed and overall output increased by about 10 per cent over 1988. The total value of construction output in 1989 exceeded £2.1 billion and direct employment in the industry increased by 4,000 to 74,000. The projections for output and employment in the industry remain more promising than they have been for many years. Adequate mortgage finance continues to be available from a wide variety of sources and the recent reductions in interest rates are another welcome development.

The upturn in the industry is underpinned principally by the recovery in the residential market and by strong growth in new commercial and retail construction since 1987. The buoyancy of the residential market resulted in over 18,000 new dwellings being built in 1989, an increase of over 2,400 dwellings on the 1988 figure. I expect about 20,000 new dwellings to be built in 1990.

The value of new commercial and retail construction output increased by 115 per cent over the three years 1987 to 1989. This trend in private investment is an indicator of the high level of business confidence and of the favourable economic climate which Government policy has fostered.

As regards public investment, the upturn in our economy and the improvement in our public finances enabled the Government to significantly increase the 1990 Public Capital Programme provisions affecting the construction industry. An additional £131 million of public investment is being provided for construction work. This is almost 16 per cent more than the 1989 provision. It will add about 6 per cent to overall output volume growth for the industry this year and will create over 2,000 new jobs.

The 1990 allocation of £33 million for the local authority housing construction programme represents an increase of over 50 per cent on the 1989 outturn. This marks a significant departure from the pattern of recent years. To date in 1990, approximately 1,150 new local authority houses have either commenced or been brought to tender stage. It is clear, therefore, that good progress is being made towards achieving our targets for the year.

We are now well into the National Development Plan covering the period 1989 to 1993. As required by the Community Support Framework, an operational programme dealing with roads and other transport was submitted to the European Commission on 25 May. Already, the Commission have agreed to provide £451 million in grants for roads in the period up to 1993 and work is going ahead on that basis. There is no question of implementation being held up pending the EC Commission's approval of the operational programme.

This year, a record £219.7 million is being provided by the State for improvement and maintenance works on public roads, an increase of 13 per cent on 1989. Within this overall allocation, £188.5 million is being provided for road improvements, including works for storm damage which arose in February last, and £31.2 million for maintenance work.

I have allocated £72.5 million this year to local authorities for improvements and maintenance works on non-national roads. Of this provision, nearly £67 million has been allocated to county councils in discretionary grants for works on regional and county roads. This compares very favourably with £47.4 million last year and £33.4 million in 1988. This large allocation for regional and county roads should ensure a major improvement in these roads which are very important for local communities and for tourism development.

Mar sin, feictear domsa go gcabhraíonn Meastacháin na bliana seo bonn airgeadais na n-údarás áitiúla a chothú agus a mhéadú maidir lena seirbhísí riachtanacha agus traidisiúnta. Cabhraíonn sé freisin le forbairt na gcláracha atá i dteideal airgead a fháil on gComhphobal faoi na Cistí Struchtúrtha. Chomh maith leis sin, cuireann sé níos mó acmhainn ná riamh ar fáil do chlár samhailteach agus cuimsitheach chun an comhshaoil a chothú. Táim cinnte go bhfuil an Teach seo ar aon ghuth liom leis an dearcadh sin.

The Minister should be congratulated for a virtuoso performance. The Minister is clearly demonstrating once again that he is a product of the Bunny Carr school of self-congratulations. The Minister works on the premise that if one praises oneself often enough someone who does not know any better might start repeating the praise to one's benefit.

In the short time we have available it is very difficult to deal with the various issues that arise under the terms of this Estimate. I will deal briefly with a number of diverse issues that require attention. It is something of a farce for the Minister to suggest that in housing his record is worthy of support. In a Private Members' motion brought by my party, and supported by all the Opposition parties, we clearly demonstrated that we have a major housing crisis that there will be 25,000 applicants on the waiting list by the end of this year and that the Government have failed to meet the need for adequate funding for local authority housing. There is a major problem also in relation to the need to refurbish some of the local authority housing stock, both flats and houses. There is need for a far greater injection of funding in this area. There is a major problem in Dublin city where many local authority developments lack adequate bathroom and toilet facilities, the very basic facilities that we nowadays take for granted.

Also in the city and county area there are flat complexes which badly require refurbishment. Indeed, a report of 6 June 1990, published by Dublin County Council, sets out major works required in the flat complexes within the Dublin County Council area, Rosemount Court, St. Nathy's House and Hillview Court. A sum of approximately £3.5 million is required to undertake urgent work on the fabric of those flat complexes. Urgent work is also required to upgrade the electrical fuse boards and guarantee fire safety according to the county architect. I would ask the Minister to provide the funds necessary to ensure that families living in the flat areas in the city and county of Dublin are not at risk.

We have heard much about the Green Presidency. The phrase used in a press release published by the Minister's able press relations officer on his behalf was "ozone — less talk more action urges Flynn". In the context of the Green Presidency the most basic comment that could be made is that less talk and more action would be a lot more impressive. The foundations for some of the things for which the Minister has claimed credit were laid by earlier presidencies. It is somewhat ironic to see the Minister claiming credit for the directive relating to the establishment of the European Environmental Agency the basis of which was agreed during the course of the previous presidency. In January 1990 the Minister told the European Parliament that it was his aim during the Green Presidency to have the seat of the agency and its location agreed as soon as possible. The Minister lamentably failed in that and the European environmental agency has not been set up nor has the country in which it should be established been agreed. Indeed, the Minister ducked responsibility to this House to give the explanation for that in a Dáil question tabled this week when he had the question transferred to another Minister.

Even more noteworthy is the major omission from the Minister's speech. There is no mention of the environmental protection agency which was promised by this Government. In November 1989 Fine Gael published a comprehensive Bill supported by all Opposition parties, to establish an environmental protection agency. All environment groups in the country, and all major industrialists, acknowledge that there is an urgent need for such an agency. What has happened? The Government during the Green Presidency on the first vote on an environment issue voted down the legislation to establish an environmental protection agency. They voted against establishing an Oireachtas environment committee. The Progressive Democrats wing of the Department of the Environment, which is supposed to be committed to Oireachtas reform, voted against the establishment of that committee.

Where are we today in regard to the agency? In December I warned the Government that if they opposed the enactment of the Fine Gael Bill there was no possibility that the Government would publish their own legislation this side of the summer recess and that there was no possibility that our environmental protection agency would be established and up and running before the end of the year. Those predictions are reaching fulfilment. What we have now is an unseemly squabble in the national media between the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, and the senior Minister, Deputy Flynn, with each of them trying to wash their differences in public and claim that the other is responsible for the delay in publishing the Bill.

Deputy Harney has not been slow to wander around the corridors of the House telling any journalists she meets that the difficulties she is encountering lie at the door of Deputy Flynn. The reality is that if the PDs had any more commitment to the concept of an environmental protection agency than had the Fianna Fáil Party there was nothing to prevent their wing of the Government supporting the Bill published by Fine Gael and allow it progress to committee Stage. There was nothing to prevent Deputy Harney taking up the offer I made to her, inside and outside the House, in November to put forward constructive amendments on Committee Stage. We were prepared to take such amendments on board and we felt sure that they would be supported by all sides of the House so as to ensure that the agency was put in place. So much for her wandering around the corridors of power telling everybody that the fault lies at the door of the senior Minister. His lack of enthusiasm for an independent environmental protection agency is clearly evident by his failure to give himself a congratulatory pat on the back in his speech for referring to the concept in about 20 Speeches delivered by him in the last six months. It is a scandal that the Government have failed to established that badly needed agency, that they have reneged on their promises to the House and failed to fulfil what was supposed to be a central commitment of the so-called Green Presidency.

It is most disturbing that the Government are silent on the investigation into allegations of planning corruption in the planning process, in particular in Dublin. For almost 18 months we have been told than an investigation was being conducted into allegations of bribes being received in return for planning permissions granted. Members on this side of the House have called for clarification from the Minister as to what is happening in regard to this. Will the Minister say if the investigation is taking place? Is it being obstructed by people in high places, or is all the co-operation required in the investigation being made available to the Garda? How many gardaí are still involved in the investigation? When can we anticipate more papers going to the Director of Public Prosecutions which may result in the issuing of court proceedings to bring to book people whom it is alleged have committed serious offences? For how long will the Minister leave this scandal hanging in the air, hanging over the integrity of the planning process and undermining the credibility of the hard working officials in Dublin city and county? They work with integrity and wish to have this matter cleared up once and for all. The Minister has chosen to ignore this issue.

In the context of the Green Presidency, it is notable that the Minister omitted any reference to the worries caused to Members, and the population, by Sellafield. The Sellafield issue is used on a regular basis by members of the Government to get a cheap headline of their concern about the nuclear reprocessing plants in Britain. Not one meaningful initiative was taken during the course of our EC Presidency to tackle the problems caused by Sellafield or to bring other member states on our side. Last week the Minister for Energy had the gall to tell me that he had not raised with the Japanese Government our concerns about the trans-shipment of nuclear waste to Sellafield through the Irish Sea. For those reasons, and others I would document if I had the time to do so, our party will be strenuously opposing the Government in the vote on this Estimate.

With the permission of the Chair, I should like to share my time with Deputy Ryan. I welcome the fact that the Minister is using recycled paper. If it was not for that I would not be able to say anything complimentary about his speech, which is more noteworthy for what he did not say than for what is in the short script prepared by the Department. The Minister has failed on a number of fronts in relation to his responsibilities in the Department. The Minister is a brave man to stand in the House and attempt to take credit for doubling the allocation for local authority housing, to £33 million. He told us that that represented an increase of more than 50 per cent on the 1989 outturn, but I wonder if the Minister is taking cognisance of what is being said at every local authority meeting about growing housing lists. I hope the Minister has taken heed of what has been said in the House in recent months in relation to the housing crisis that will confront him and his officials within a short time.

The Minister must be aware of the number involved. I understand that about 30,000 qualified applicants are on local authority housing waiting lists. Those applicants will have to wait four or five years for rehousing. On that basis we will be facing a housing crisis within a short time. The Minister, in this year's Estimate is failing in his responsibility to house the weaker sections of our community and he should address that problem in the coming months. If he does not, we will return to the problems we had in regard to housing 15 or 16 years ago.

The Minister boasted about the location for roads but he did not mention his roads authority, the great idea that Fianna Fáil came up with some years ago. I wonder why that has not been developed. As the Minister did not mention that body in his speech, are we to assume that the authority have been and are gone.

Will the Minister say where the authority are three years later? The Minister has been responsible for the Department of the Environment for three years and he has had plenty of time to set up that authority I wonder why the authority have not appeared. On national primary roads, I should like to point out to the Minister that not one yard of national primary road in County Kerry has been improved since 1986. I appeal to the Minister to attend to this. The Minister refused to meet a deputation from the local authority and I suggest that he travel to Kerry to see for himself that money is not being spent there on national primary roads.

The Minister concentrated to some extent on the so-called Green Presidency, but from the evidence available to us the Presidency has not been the success the Minister said it would be or told the European Parliament it would be. Two glaring instances of the failure of the Green Presidency were mentioned by Deputy Shatter. The first was the failure of the Minister to ensure that the environmental protection agency was set up during the Presidency. The fact that there was no agreement on the location for or on the setting up of the agency was a fundamental failure by the Minister in the last six months. The Government failed to publish a Bill on this issue. Most of the work on it had been completed but it appears that there is an inter-party dispute between the Minister for the Environment and his Minister of State, Deputy Harney, on the publication of it. One cannot help wondering if the Minister and the Department are backing away from the idea of having a strong and independent agency. There is no escaping the fact that the failure to establish the agency is a major flaw in the Minister's armoury. The Minister has failed to carry out his responsibilities to the House and to the nation in the last six months. I am surprised that the Bill has not been published in an attempt to claim some success during the Green Presidency.

I was surprised that there was no mention in the Minister's speech of the recycling programme. It is my understanding that the local authorities were asked to submit programmes to the Department of the Environment before the end of June. I therefore ask the Minister to indicate if these have been submitted and what the Department now intend doing.

It seems the Minister, the Minister for Energy and the Government have accepted that Sellafield is a fact of life and will continue to pose a serious threat to the Irish Sea. When Fianna Fáil were in Opposition one could not do enough on the questions of Sellafield, a nuclear inspectorate and legal action against the British Government. All of this now seems to have passed by the wayside. The Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Energy have missed numerous opportunities to raise the constant threat, which is well documented, posed by Sellafield, not only to the Irish Sea but to the country. In the context of our Presidency of the European Community, they failed to keep the issue on the European agenda. The Labour Party oppose this Estimate because it displays a lack of imagination, energy and effort on the part of the Minister for the Environment and his Department.

I would like to refer to the question of housing. I fail to understand how the Minister can stand up and make such a statement while keeping a straight face, given that he is fully aware of the position. On a number of occasions in the past, and I do so again now, I invited him to visit any of the constituencies in the city to see the conditions under which ordinary people have to live and try to bring up families. However, the Minister has failed to respond to this request. While he is not prepared to listen to us, I hope for the sake of these people he will listen to his backbenchers, who deal with this issue each week in their clinics, if they try to get him to tackle the problem in a realistic way.

I would now like to deal with the question of planning. In relation to section 4 motions and material contraventions, the Minister's colleagues on Dublin County Council have acted in a scandalous way. One would have thought the Minister would have asked those same councillors to come to listen to him, pay heed to the need for proper planning and development in one of the fastest growing areas not only in this country but in Europe and to ensure that it is developed in an orderly manner in accordance with the development plan.

I welcome the legislation on planning compensation which was introduced following pressure from both the Opposition and the public who regarded the original Bill introduced as both defective and flawed. Apart from the need to introduce a Bill on planning compensation, we also need to deal with the question of planning permission. I would like to refer here to two cases in my own constituency — one involving Grange Developments at Swords and the other an 85 house development at Portrane. One may well ask what these have in common and the answer is that they are both the subject of compensation claims in excess of £2 million. I urge the Minister to set up a public inquiry to examine the way in which permission for these developments was granted by An Bord Pleanála. We must get the system right. There is no point in having legislation in place if An Bord Pleanála will not adhere to it. This is a scandal and I ask the Minister to take on board this suggestion and take note of what the Opposition parties are saying.

The Minister for the Environment has become the master of the exaggerated statement. There is a clear example of this today when he made greatly exaggerated claims relating to the performance of the Government on the environment side. The Minister has misused the statistics and tried to give us the impression that expenditure on the environment side will be greatly increased. Indeed, there may well be modest increases in 1990 over 1989; but the Minister forgot to tell us that between 1986 and 1989 there were serious cutbacks in expenditure in the Department of the Environment.

In his contribution the Minister stated that the funds allocated in 1990 for environmental and related services have increased by 144 per cent over the 1989 expenditure. Let me examine that statement for a few moments to show how empty that claim is. It should be borne in mind that the figure has been increased from £4.5 million to slightly over £11 million, which represents approximately 2 per cent of the budget of the Department of the Environment. When we examine the expenditure under that heading we find that most of the extra funding amounting to £6.5 million will be spent on once-off payments.

For example, money is being provided for the carrying out of environmental surveys, environmental promotion and Radio DOE, through which the Minister has promoted his Department, while £4 million will be allocated by way of conversion grants. As announced in the environmental action programme, the Minister has abolished these grants and this item will not appear in the Estimates again, as from 1990 onwards no one outside the specified area will be able to apply for conversion grants for the installation of low smoke heating systems. It is quite clear therefore that the Minister is being dishonest when he claims there has been a 144 per cent increase in the funds allocated for environmental and related services.

The same is true when we come to examine the question of housing. The Minister has made the grandiose claim that the allocation for local authority housing has been increased by 50 per cent. It is very easy to increase the allocation for local authority housing by 50 per cent when one considers that the allocation in 1989 was inadequate in the first place. The amount being allocated in 1990 for the construction of local authority housing at £33 million represents only one-seventh of the amount allocated for the construction of local authority housing in the mid-eighties. Furtheremore, the number of houses to be constructed in 1990 represents only one-fifth of the number of houses built in the mid-eighties. Therefore, it is clear the Minister is being dishonest and is trying to disguise the fact that he is presiding over the worst housing crisis for over a decade.

Many fine comments have been made during the past year, in particular during the Green Presidency, on the environment, comments with which most of us would agree. However, let us take the example of a family who have to live in an overcrowded three-bedroomed local authority house, or the young family living in cramped conditions in a boxroom. This is what the environment is like for many of the 20,000 on house waiting lists, who have little or no prospect of being housed, given the shortage of funds for local authority housing. I asked the Minister a straight question in this House last Tuesday. I asked him how many of the 1,200 houses which he promised would be built this year have been built and how many of the 50 houses due to be purchased by local authorities this year have been bought. I did not get an answer, but he anticipated that I would ask the same question again today.

The Minister now comes in and tells us that 1,150 houses have either been started or have been brought to tender. How many of these houses have actually been started and how many have been brought to tender? Can the Minister break down those figures? It is my belief that few, if any, of the houses that the Minister for the Environment has promised have actually begun construction. As happened last year when this country was promised 900 house starts in the end it transpired that only 300 houses or so were built. By the end of this year we will find that very few of the limited number of houses that have been promised will actually be built.

At present there are over 20,000 applicants on local authority waiting lists, many of whom have been waiting for years, many are living in grossly overcrowded conditions with increasing family pressures and emotional strains, many are being exploited by sub-standard over-priced flats. In addition there are several thousand transfer applicants in the major urban centres. Some of these are young families in top storeys of high rise flat complexes and people living in local authority accommodation without proper sanitary facilities. There are 2,500 local authority houses in Ireland without a toilet, there are 8,000 local authority houses without a bathroom; as we approach the 21st century that is the scandal. In fairness it is a scandal that is shared not only by the present Minister for the Environment but by his predecessors who down through the years failed to tackle this problem.

We are facing the worst housing crisis for over a decade. The allocation for housing is inadequate. At the present rate it would take 20 years to clear the housing list. The allocation that has been made is simply not enough. I do not believe the housing crisis we are now experiencing will remain quiescent for ever. Young families will not remain for ever couped up in cramped box rooms in the overcrowded homes of their in-laws nor will they tolerate indefinitely the damp, dingy basement flats to which many are condemned. Before long the 20,000 applicants on the housing lists will be taking to the streets as they did before and bringing their plight to the doors of town halls and to the gates of Leinster House. I am now calling on the Minister in the face of this crisis to declare a housing emergency, to face up to the problem that for so long he has been prepared to ignore.

It is interesting to know the attitude of the Minister to the housing crisis because a couple of years ago a Government Minister was telling us there was no emigration problem when all the evidence was to the contrary. Just as we told Governments a couple of years ago that people were emigrating in large numbers it is time the Government now listened to us when we say that there are large numbers of people living in impossible housing conditions that can only be rectified if the Government put additional resources into the housing area. If the Minister were to double the number of houses that are to be constructed this year it would relieve the problem for some of the worst affected cases.

It has to be pointed out that far from increasing the allocation on housing this year the Government are actually saving money. They are not allocating extra money for houses but rerouting the money that is coming in from the sale of local authority houses to housing construction.

If one looks at the Estimates one will find that under every single housing heading there are reductions; one subhead is down 84 per cent, another 38 per cent, another 5 per cent, another 48 per cent and so on. Even in the staffing columns in these Estimates one finds that the housing section of the Department of the Environment has the biggest reduction in staff. This Government are abandoning their commitment to house people, people who are now caught, on the one hand, between rising housing prices, rising mortgage interest rates and on the other hand a Government who do not care for how long people have to live in these overcrowded conditions.

(Wexford): Briefly, in the few minutes available to me I compliment the Minister of State for the amount of good work they have carried out during the past year particularly in relation to the new developments in my own constituency of Wexford. I will not waste time on a long winded speech but I will put a few points to the Minister, particularly in regard to urban renewal which has been very successful in Wexford town. While the Minister has extended the urban renewal scheme this year to other centres, I would ask that it be extended further in 1991 to include the town of Enniscorthy where there is a large number of derelict sites. We have a new bridge, a new sewerage scheme and a new road development into the town and we have many people who are prepared to invest and develop the old buildings if they get the incentives involved in urban renewal. I would ask the Minister to consider extending the scheme to smaller towns such as Enniscorthy.

The county roads were a major problem over the last few years. In 1987 when the last Government left office there was an allocation of the order of £6 million for county roads, this year it is in the region of £70 million. This has gone a long way to restoring the bad situation that had arisen. The Minister is to be complimented on recognising the problem that existed and taking corrective action. I would hope that next year we will see further allocations of money by the Minister into county roads to ensure that the people who live in rural areas have adequate roads and that they are up to the required standard.

The 1988 tenant purchase scheme which was introduced by the Minister was an outstanding success. Over 50 per cent of people in housing estates in various parts of the country availed of this scheme. It is now time for the Minister to have a look at the possibility of either reintroducing this scheme or introducing a new tenant purchase scheme to enable people who now want to purchase their houses to do so. Indeed, there is a large number of representations from people throughout the country requesting that they be allowed to buy their houses. Because there was such a large take up of the scheme there was a problem clearing them all through there councils. That is probably one of the reasons for the delays. I would ask the Minister to consider seriously the introduction of a new scheme.

Housing has been mentioned by Deputy Gilmore. We would all agree that there is need for a substantial number of local authority houses to be built to resolve the existing problem. There has been a substantial increase in the allocation this year to the different counties.

The time has come for the Minister to look at other ways of providing houses for our people. If there is a scarcity of funds in the Department — which appears to be the case — we have a duty, as Members of this House to put forward ideas on how we could possibly help to solve this problem. The Minister should consider the area of shared equity which was introduced in the UK in the early seventies and which has been an outstanding success. As the name implies the equity, or ownership of the house, is shared jointly by the tenant purchaser and the local authority. I suggest that the scheme would be funded from a capital grant from the Department of the Environment with a loan element being processed in the normal way through the county council, bank or building society. Purchasers as they would have the finance would be entitled to purchase the remaining equity in units of 5 per cent over a period. I believe there are many people out there whose income does not exceed £10,000 or the loan entitlement who would be interested in this type of housing provision if it was made available to them. I would ask the Minister to consider such a scheme and to have his officials look at it to see if it is possible to operate it in this country.

It appears to me that the problem in housing will not be solved overnight by the Department of the Environment. Therefore we must investigate other methods of resolving it. The scheme of grants which obtained under the previous Government, enabling people to surrender the ownership of their local authority houses and buy in the private sector, should be re-examined. I always thought it was a good scheme which should not have been terminated.

I would ask the Minister to take all of this into account when examining housing allocations in the future.

In the few minutes remaining I should like to get across to the Minister the housing crisis that exists. As Deputy Gilmore said, if the Government and the Minister do not realise there is a crisis in housing it may be that they will have to discover the fact for themselves, as was the case with regard to the crisis in health and education. Not alone has the cutback on housing given rise to a denial of housing for families living in over-crowded conditions but it has also led to serious emotional and psychological problems in the case of such people. Indeed the State would guarantee the basic right of these people to secure, spacious accommodation. Some families, most susceptible to such problems, are living in the most cramped, uncivilised type of accommodation. In so saying, I am not making a party political point. Those are the circumstances with which we are confronted daily in our constituencies. If we really care about the health and future of our society, and our children in particular, we cannot but recognise that crisis and take some action to alleviate it. A huge investment is needed. Indeed the type of housing programme prevailing to date has been totally inadequate for these purposes.

Another area in dire need of attention is housing for the elderly, those most vulnerable and at risk in our society. I would ask the Minister to seriously consider giving State support to people endeavouring to provide secure units for the elderly in communal settings. For example, in my constituency there is the Altadore project under which a huge amount of proceeds by way of fund-raising is eaten up by tax and VAT. Not only should we be helping such people but certainly they should not be taxed on their efforts. This project is being undertaken by a group of people who, denominationally, represent 0.5 per of our population. We should not have to rely on individuals, or committed small denominational groups in society to fulfil our responsibility to certain groups within society. Those most at risk in our society at present are children and the elderly, the two groups most in need of investment and any resources available. The Minister might well investigate making available tax incentives or rewards to people endeavouring to cope with the problem.

I might draw the Minister's attention to another crisis with which we will be confronted once the weather gets colder in that we have now imposed a ban on the distribution and sale of bituminous coal. This was the only fuel within the means of the poor or elderly to date, although at times even that was beyond their reach. There is no point in our introducing a ban on coal without considering some subsidisation for those people who will be hardest hit. It is not alone unjust and immoral to demand that poor families and the elderly do not burn the cheapest fuel available to them at present, forcing them, in turn, to raise funds for more expensive types of clean fuel without the State, simultaneously, subsidising their additional expenditure in some manner.

Serious consideration must be given to our greatest resource — in which we all rejoice — that is natural gas. Some type of subsidy, even if means-tested, should be given to families who avail of its installation for cooking and heating purposes. Very often it is not so much a question of considering investment, but of diversion or distribution of available resources, the bottom line always being: who will be the hardest hit?

If I may revert to the housing crisis again, we should take into consideration not only people on public housing waiting lists — who face a bleak future in relation to any prospect of being rehoused within years — but also, something of which the Minister must be aware, the slowing down generally in the construction industry caused by increased interest rates on mortgages. Many couples are at present subjected to grave stress because they are unable to maintain high mortgage repayments. I would ask the Minister to make representations to the building societies and other lending institutions to reduce their interest rates simultaneously with Central Banks reductions.

The Minister would appear to have £6.5 million or so national lottery moneys hidden somewhere in his Department which has not been distributed for community needs to date. When replying, I hope he will be able to assure us that that money will be allocated directly to the communities most in need, perhaps not based on geographical or political considerations.

I should like to share my time, with the permission of the House, with Deputy Martin.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

When speaking on the Estimates two years ago I asked the Minister to continue his good work on county roads, particularly those in the counties surrounding Dublin. It would be remiss of me if I did not acknowledge the fantastic increase in allocation to county roads that there has been over the past year, something for which the Minister should be commended.

There has been much talk on this Estimate about the provision of housing and, indeed, housing in general, a matter of concern to all of us. There is an acknowledged shortage of residential housing, with a consequent demand on the Government to provide more and more public housing. I should like to propose an option which might be considered, encouraging the private sector to provide good quality, rented residential accommodation by way of a tax incentive scheme similar to that applicable at present to manufacturing industry under the provisions of the business expansion scheme. We are all aware that the incidence of home ownership here is much higher than in other European countries. It is not difficult to envisage, in the coming years, difficulties in maintaining that level of home ownership with escalating land values and an ever-increasing urban population. Therefore it may become impossible in the future for many young couples, first, to accumulate the requisite deposit on a house and then repay the mortgage finance required for the purchase of their homes. If such a scheme could be devised, along the lines of the BES one currently applicable to manufacturing industry, we would have a ready supply of good rented, residential accommodation, much to be desired. In this way we would be encouraging developers to participate more actively in that sphere. In order to ensure that appropriate type housing is provided for people at the lower end of the market statutory limits could be imposed on the type of housing to be funded, utilising BES-type relief.

The Minister could also take power to fix rents for specified periods for that type of accommodation, and the length of time an owner would have to hold on to the house could also be stipulated and penalties imposed if it was sold before that. That scheme would have the benefit of providing increased accommodation and would also lead to an increase in employment in the construction industry.

Acting Chairman

Deputy Martin has one minute.

I would like to join in the tributes paid to the Minister this afternoon. The last three years represent a major change in environmental policy. We have made tremendous strides and that should be acknowledged irrespective of party. There is a far greater level of consciousness now concerning the environment.

I welcome the content of the environmental plan announced this year which allowed for the elimination of the discharge of raw sewage into waterways and harbours. It is particularly welcome in my own constituency of Cork where Cork Harbour has suffered unduly from untreated sewage entering into the harbour. The Minister has taken the bull by the horns and has directed the local authority to construct a sewage treatment plant and prepare design plans for that purpose. That represents a watershed for the development of Cork Harbour as an amenity for the people of Cork, particularly the yachting and bathing fraternity.

In relation to housing, what we have seen in the debate so far has been a major reaction to the Minister's policy on housing. We need a far more analytical approach to housing in the future. It is far too easy to say we should build more local authority houses and throw more money into these projects. Things are far more complex than that. The demographic situation is different to what it was in the sixties and seventies.

I should like to thank the House. I am grateful to the Deputies who contributed to the debate. I would like to deal with at least a few of the points raised, if the time allows. One expects some Deputies to be always negative while others try to base their remarks on facts. The facts can be stated in a few minutes. I would like to put before the Deputies what they are. I agree with many Deputies that there is need for a major remedial works programme. That is why the refurbishment programme has taken off with such a big commitment of money for the past few years. It should be recognised that the £15 million this year is a sizeable advance on the situation a few years ago when it was less than £3 million. It has, therefore, increased fivefold in a few short years. I would like to be able to give more money to that area because, as Deputy Gilmore says, there are a number of very serious cases so far as sanitation is concerned that should be addressed. That is the reason I have transferred quite a lot of money into that area and it has to come from some place else.

Deputy Spring spoke about the NRA legislation. That will happen. There is no doubt about that. I gave my commitment to it and that legislation will be discussed, if we can get a bit of co-operation in the House, during the next session.

I would also like to say that there was quite a bit of talk about the location of the European Environmental Agency. If any of the Deputies were paying any little attention at all to what was going on during the Presidency, they would know that the location of the European Environmental Agency was not a matter for my Presidency at all.

The Minister pretended it was for four months.

Excuse me, Deputy, you do not know what was going on out there and, consequently, you have put your foot in it again. It is a matter for the General Affairs Council.

The Minister is washing his hands of the issue.

On the contrary, it was not my responsibility. There was also a fair bit of talk about the environmental protection agency here and Deputy Shatter, as usual, had something to say about that. I did not realise until today that he is one of the guys who listens to corridor chat around Leinster House, but I would like to tell Deputy Shatter that he has got it all wrong. There is no conflict at all between me and the Minister of State.

The Minister should tell her that. She has a different view of that.

We will have the environmental protection agency and, but for the large amount of work involved in the Presidency and because of the complexity of the Bill — this is not just an ordinary Bill; there are more than 100 sections in it — a lot of consideration has to go into it and a lot of consultation with other Ministers. It will be before this House and, to put it in a rather vulgar way, we will be expecting Deputy Shatter to swallow his spit on that as well later in the year.

The Minister should have accepted our Bill and had the agency up and running. He would not have to resort to crudities in this House to cover up his own ineptitude.

Shouting and roaring does not achieve anything for the Deputy; it never did. I am glad Deputy Shatter has at least put the House on notice that he is paying particular attention to the Minister's speeches and knows the number that were made on environmental matters. I recommend them as prescribed reading for Deputy Shatter because, having considered the pathetic Fine Gael document put forward on the environment, he neither knows anything about it nor has any commitment to it.

My speeches should be prescribed reading for the Deputy and he should keep it up.

They are like Enid Blyton novels except that they do not have as great an intellectual content.

A Chathaoirleach, I did not interrupt Deputy Shatter when he spoke.

Acting Chairman

I was sitting here when Deputy Shatter spoke and he spoke uninterrupted. Perhaps, he would render the same courtesy to the Minister.

Deputy Shatter finds it hard, I know, to listen to the basic facts which are the truth. Some Deputies attempted, without any great conviction, to raise the spectre of the housing crisis in the country. They are as aware as I am that there is no housing crisis and no real danger of a housing crisis. Let me be clear about it, there is no point in quoting unfounded figures about housing needs.

On a point of order, does the Energy Estimate have to be moved before a quarter to six.

Acting Chairman

They have to be moved at a quarter to six.

I get five minutes, I presume. The true figures have been given in the House often enough and the net need, as assessed by the 1988 act of assessment is 20,000, not the 30,000 suggested by Deputy Spring.

It is also well to bear in mind the recycling programme that Deputy Spring raised. I have to say that I agree with him. I was very disappointed with the result from the local authorities. Only two recycling programmes have come to hand at the moment, from Dublin Corporation and Cork Corporation. I will be pursuing that as vigorously as I can.

Last month saw two reductions of one half of one per cent each in interest rates generally and the building societies have already announced cuts in their rates in response to the first reduction. New borrowers are already benefiting and I expect the building societies will announce further reductions in their mortgage rates soon. I agree with Deputy Barnes that borrowers should get the full benefit wherever possible.

Existing borrowers have not got any part of the 1 per cent.

Deputies will appreciate that I have no control over interest rates charged by building societies and I do not intend to pretend here that I have.

There was a question about a planning inquiry. Deputy Shatter is legally well enough informed to know that that is not a matter for me but for the Garda authorities. I do not have the information he is talking about. He persists in trying to seek it here but he is requesting it from the wrong Minister.

Deputy Gilmore raised a question at Question Time during the week. I did not have the figures for him then but I did check them and that is the reason they were put into my contribution today. The Deputy sought further clarification and the position is that there have been 350 starts and £800 are at tender stage.

Acting Chairman

The order of the House indicates that I must ask the Minister to conclude.

We do not have the same detail we used to have because of the change in the discretionary position as far as local authorities are concerned. They now do their own tendering and acceptance of tenders. That is the position as I understand it.

On a point of order, I do not wish to interrupt the Minister but under the order of the House the Minister's speech, and the movement of this Estimate, should have concluded by 5.45 p.m. I accept there is a degree of latitude, but the Minister is now attempting to move the Estimate five minutes outside the time.

Acting Chairman

If the Deputy had not interrupted so much it would have been finished. We have gone two minutes over time.

It is five minutes, Sir.