I rise to move the following motion:—
"That the Seanad views with grave concern and surprise the decision of the Government to withhold the Housing Grant from the Dublin Corporation, and requests the Government to reconsider the question, with a view to rescinding their decision."
This motion merely expresses the opinion that the Seanad views with grave concern and surprise the decision of the Government in withholding the Housing Grant from the Dublin Corporation, and requests a reconsideration of the matter with a view to an alteration of that decision. I put down this motion for the purpose of giving the Government an opportunity of reconsidering their decision. I must say I was amazed when I read of the decision of the Government. I believe if the Government had given this question the consideration it deserves they would not have arrived at such a hasty conclusion. Those of us who are familiar with the housing conditions in Dublin City view the matter from no other standpoint than one of amazement. As far back as the year 1913, during a time of great industrial trouble in this city, the Government of the time appointed a Commission to enquire into the housing conditions of the working classes. The Commission sat and heard evidence, and then issued their findings. The report of the Commission disclosed an awful state of affairs. It shocked everybody, and proved conclusively that twenty thousand families in Dublin were living in rooms and houses unfit for human habitation. The Commission made certain recommendations to deal with the housing of the people, but for one cause or another no serious attempt was made by the Government then in power to deal with the situation. It is common knowledge that for 10 years the Dublin Corporation have been endeavouring to do something to end this awful state of affairs. It is true also to say that for 10 years the Government used every art and every device that the official mind could conceive to prevent the Corporation proceeding with the work that its own Commission said required to be done. It is an appalling thing to think that seventy-four thousand people in Dublin are living in one-roomed tenements. It is a shocking state of affairs to think that more than one family are living in one room. There is no respect for morality, no respect for decency. I suggest to the Seanad that if you want to have good citizens you cannot have them under the conditions in which the unfortunate poor are condemned to live in Dublin. Worse than that, the housing conditions in Dublin are responsible for an abnormally high death rate. Statistics have proved that the mortality rate per 10,000 of the population who live in single rooms is 390 as against 64 per 10,000 of the population who live in houses with 4 rooms.
I suggest to the Seanad that the Government did not give this question the consideration it deserves. The first time the President of the Dáil got an opportunity he attended to this important question of housing. I want to say here publicly that the President has done one man's part in regard to housing in the city. I must pay him the tribute that he has done more than one man's part. I have known of his work for many years on the Dublin Corporation in regard to the problem of housing, and at the very first opportunity he got when he went into power he dealt with it in no halfhearted way. He got the Government to agree to make a million grant for housing purposes in the country. Out of that grant Dublin would be entitled to something like £400,000. We were not able to do anything in Dublin because we were hampered under the old regime by the Local Government Board. The Housing Committee of the Corporation made every effort to deal with this much delayed problem, and after very hard effort we were about to proceed with the work when, to our amazement, we found that the Government had made up its mind to withhold the grant. I would prefer not to deal with this question from the view of the cause. I would rather deal with the effect of the decision, although I have no objection to dealing with the cause, if necessary. I say, with all respect, that the 20,000 families in Dublin who are living in houses unfit for habitation should not be condemned to continue to live in these houses because of the fact that 16 members of the Corporation did a certain thing. If 16 members of the Corporation did something which is wrong they, and they alone, ought to be made responsible for their act. Surely it is not fair to visit the sins that rightly belong to 16 members of the Corporation, on the unfortunate people who are rotting in the filthy slums of the city? Surely that is not an act of government? It appears to me to be a reprisal. Further, there has been a double hardship inflicted on the unfortunate people by the action of the Government. There are in the building trades in Dublin between 3,000 and 4,000 men unemployed. There are no building operations going on at the moment; the operations are operations of destruction rather than of construction. Between 3,000 and 4,000 building operatives are unemployed, and if the Government insist on withholding the grant it will mean that these people will be out longer, and I suggest it is not good to have that number of hungry men unemployed in these times.
The Government had many other ways of meeting the situation than by the action they took. I suggest there were many ways of dealing with it other than the method they have adopted. As to the cause of the action of the Government, the position ought to be made clearer. I have no hesitation in dealing with the matter from that standpoint. The Dublin Corporation for some months past have been considering the question of the payment of allowances to the dependents of men who have been arrested. As far back as last September the Finance and General Purposes Committee of the Corporation, after having this matter under consideration, sent a report to the Corporation. When the report came before it the Corporation decided to refer it to the Law Agent for advice, and the Law Agent advised, and the result of the Law Agent's advice was that he went over the ground covered formerly with regard to the payment of wages or allowances to the relatives and dependents of men who had been interned or imprisoned. The Corporation dealt with this, not from the point of view of payment of allowances to dependents of men in prison. The decision of the Corporation—and I want this thing to be clearly understood, because the position, in my opinion, has been wilfully misrepresented—was to make an allowance of half-pay to the dependents of untried prisoners. I suggest that the position has been wilfully misrepresented. Reading the public Press one would be of the opinion that the decision of the Corporation was to pay allowances to the dependents of every man in prison. That is not the position. The decision of the Corporation was that an allowance of half-pay was to be made to the dependents of untried prisoners. In the case of men in custody, the payment of the allowance was to cease immediately on these men being found guilty of an offence and convicted. We understood under the old regime that, according to the law, a man or a woman was innocent until they were proved guilty, and I think that a man or woman is innocent, or ought to be regarded as innocent, until convicted. They ought not, at any rate, to be prejudged. What are the facts? As far as I can ascertain there were about 55 employees of the Dublin Corporation arrested, and of these 15 have been released. I venture to say that, if these people are innocent, the other people still in custody may be equally innocent.