As I understand the purpose of this Bill, it deals with lands and property associated with the old workhouse system. After the change over, these lands and property became vested in the Minister for Finance under the State Lands Act. The purpose of this Bill, as I understand it, is to simplify the administration in connection with this property. It is now deemed advisable that the control in connection with it should be vested in the Minister for Local Government rather than in the Minister for Finance. The Bill is introduced to carry out that object.
State Lands (Workhouses) Bill, 1929—Second Stage.
While it is quite true that the Bill proposes to do what the Minister has explained, it also proposes to do rather more than that. At a later stage, perhaps, we shall have an opportunity of dealing with the rather important details covered in the Bill in the presence of the Minister who is responsible for this Department. I had intended to question the wisdom of the general purpose of this Bill. It seeks, in effect, to leave the letting and the disposal of disused workhouses to the local authorities, At present, whether it was intended or not at the beginning, the Minister has the disposal of disused workhouses. It seems to me to be rather unwise and unsatisfactory that disused workhouses, disused barracks, and buildings of that description, which are capable of accommodating with a reasonable amount of comfort a considerable number of people should be disposed of in piece-meal fashion without regard to any general purpose. I am convinced that before very long there will evolve a general national policy to deal with questions of employment and unemployment. I think it will be found that buildings such as disused barracks and workhouses will be needed in different centres throughout the country as a temporary home for numbers of men congregated for the purpose of doing public work of a useful character.
I would like to put the question to the Minister for Local Government that it would be good policy, if he has any views for the future and is not thinking of day to day requirements, that he should retain within his control buildings such as disused workhouses and disused barracks so that it will not be necessary to find accommodation, in the way of huts, for men organised for the purpose of earning a livelihood on public works. It seems to me it would be worth the Minister's while to consider that aspect of the matter which touches his own Department so closely. He should also, I think, bear in mind that he himself did outline a policy which practically suggested that there would need to be considerable groupings of men, living together and going out in numbers from different centres to do public work of a useful character. I throw that suggestion out in the hope that the Minister may take note of it, and so that he may realise that his promise, or his suggestion, of some years ago has not been entirely forgotten.
With regard to what Senator Johnson has said, I would like to call attention to the fact that there are a number of these old workhouses and institutions of that kind more or less lying derelict in different parts of the country. If they are allowed to remain in their present condition there is a great likelihood that they will become perfectly useless either for the purpose that Senator Johnson suggests or for any other purpose. A number of them that I know myself seem to be getting daily into a state of complete disrepair. They are becoming almost ruins. If the suggestion made by Senator Johnson is not put into effect, then I think a small amount of money might be advantageously spent in keeping them in a state of repair during the period that they are unoccupied. I have not very much enthusiasm myself as regards the use of them as tenements or as locations for men who may be gathered together to engage on some class of public works. A good many of these buildings are crumbling away at the present time. A little money could be well spent in keeping them in a state of repair, so that they may be utilised later on for such purposes as secondary or technical schools or workshops. I think it is about time that some attention was paid to their condition.
I think it is time that something should be done to define who is to take charge of these old workhouse buildings. At the present time if a county council wants to get control of one of them for the purpose of starting an industry, it has first to consult the Minister. To my mind the county councils would be the proper bodies to have control over these workhouses. As far as I know, the moneys used to put up these buildings were raised locally. Some of those buildings might be utilised as centres for the starting of industries of one kind or another. In the County Monaghan one of the workhouses is at present being used as a technical school. There are some other workhouses in the county that are rapidly becoming dilapidated. I think if the county councils had control of them they would be able to utilise them for the purpose of starting some useful work in them. Some of these buildings could also be converted into artisans' dwellings. I think the body having control over these old buildings should be clearly defined in some way. At present there is a good deal of confusion with regard to who is in control of them, and I hope that matter will receive the Minister's attention.
With regard to the point made that a number of these old workhouse buildings are falling into a state of disrepair, I think it is pertinent to call attention to what the Minister for Local Government said when moving the Second Reading of this Bill in the Dáil. He said it was proposed to impose on local authorities the duty of keeping and maintaining in good tenantable order and repair the buildings dealt with in the Bill. Therefore, I think that the point made by Senator Connolly with regard to keeping these buildings in a state of repair is being met as far as this Bill is concerned. It is clear, also, from the terms of the Bill and from the speech of the Minister in the Dáil, that any looseness that hitherto existed as to the control of these buildings is to be attended to under the Bill.