Derelict Sites Bill, 1960—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

The object of the Bill is to enable more effective action to be taken to secure the clearance and improvement of derelict sites. The definition of this term in the Acquisition of Derelict Sites Act, 1940, is so restrictive that the majority of these eyesores are technically outside the scope of the Act or can be excluded by works which fall far short of the desirable clearance. Another difficulty is that the Act of 1940 enables local authorities to secure the clearance of derelict sites only by acquisition or the threat of acquisition.

The Bill proposes to repeal the 1940 Act and aims at securing voluntary clearance and improvement works. The scheme of grants, which has been introduced following the necessary financial provision by way of supplementary estimate, should greatly facilitate this approach to the problem and should go a long way to relieve any hardship which might be imposed where the local authority have to invoke their powers to compel owners of sites to clear them.

The Bill provides that if the owner of a derelict site has given an undertaking to the local authority to clear the site and fails to carry out the undertaking, the local authority may do the work and recover their expenses from him, or may serve a notice under Section 3 formally requiring specified works to be carried out or may acquire the site. The power to require works to be carried out is a new feature in legislation affecting derelict sites but the principle is long established in other codes such as the Housing and Sanitary Services Acts. An appeal lies to the Minister for Local Government against any requisition under Section 3.

A general power to acquire derelict sites compulsorily or by agreement is provided by Section 6. It seems inevitable that somes cases will remain where acquisition will be the only satisfactory solution, namely, where the site is abandoned. Compulsory acquisition will be by means of vesting order.

A local authority proposing to acquire a derelict site compulsorily will be required to give adequate notice of such intention and the occupier or any person having an interest in the land may lodge an objection with the local authority within one month. Where such objection has been made and is not withdrawn, Compulsory acquisition cannot be effected without the consent of the Minister. The Minister is empowered under Section 8 to refuse consent if he considers that the local authority should adopt either of the alternative procedures provided under the Bill, namely, acceptance of an offer of voluntary clearance or requisition to carry out works.

The remaining sections of this Bill are generally similar to provisions in the Act of 1940. Compensation for derelict sites acquired compulsorily may, in default of agreement, be determined by arbitration.

I recommend the Bill to the House.

There is not a great deal in this Bill, but there are many derelict sites in this country. I must say that I felt for a long time that they were matters that should be dealt with and I am glad that something is being done about them now. There is no village or town in Ireland where there are not a number of eyesores in the form of derelict sites. Apparently up to now, the definition of "derelict site" was not clear enough to enable anything to be done by the local authorities when owners refused to do anything, but I am glad that the whole question is to be tackled.

Last year, I went on a motoring tour of the west of Ireland. It was beautiful to motor along the main roads, but as soon as one came to what should be the pretty villages and towns, their good features were always overshadowed by the bad features of dilapidated buildings and derelict sites.

I mentioned before in another context the question of derelict sites which are not being dealt with under this Bill—abbeys and churches from the Middle Ages. I hope a Bill will come in some day under which those derelict sites will be dealt with. Some people, I am sorry to say, seem to think that there is something aesthetic about an abbey or a church that has no roof on it so long as it is about 700 or 800 years old. That, of course, is a mistaken idea which we should tackle very soon, but it is outside the scope of this Bill.

There are not many points in this Bill, as I say, but its main object, which I think we all agree with, is the removal of those derelict sites. There is then the question of dealing with them, which brings up the procedure under which these derelict sites will be dealt with. Although I am a champion always of individual rights as against the intrusion of the State, a very fair attempt has been made in this Bill to give the individual every chance of putting his property in a decent condition before the State in the form of the county manager is entitled to go in under a compulsory order and deal with the site in question.

I shall not go in detail into the procedure outlined in the Bill, but broadly the owner is given the opportunity to take action voluntarily or by a certain amount of persuasion, in the second case, and if he fails to do it voluntarily or by persuasion, then the authority can come in and take over the site under a compulsory acquisition order. There is also an appeal to the Minister. That is very fair procedure in dealing with owners of property that has been neglected or is falling down.

On the question of the grant given in cases where work is to be done on these sites, I am not at all sure—and I mentioned this matter before—that £100 will go very far nowadays. That, I think, is the maximum figure. I suppose it is a start, and if it is found that a £100 grant is not enough, I hope the Minister will at some future date alter it to a more reasonable or bigger figure, if necessary.

The Minister, in referring to these derelict sites in the Dáil, mentioned the factors to be considered in designating what is a derelict site, among them being questions of public health or amenities and safety. I suppose amenities could include aesthetic considerations, because very often while such places may not be dangerous to public health or safety, they are certainly blots on our towns and villages.

That is all one can say on this Bill —that the object is desirable and that the means of attaining the object seem to be reasonable, both as regards the owners and as regards the authorities. Therefore, I support the Bill.

In the absence of any document in my hand, I am relying only on what the Minister said and I am not quite sure as to what is in this Bill. I should like him to consider if anything can be done about semi-derelict sites in the country. I am referring to buildings that have been injured by fire. In the City of Cork, there are six such buildings burned to the ground floor. They are roofed and made safe to satisfy the public authorities, but it appears that there is no power to compel the owners of such property to restore the buildings to their proper height and to restore the skyline of the street. They are obvious disfigurements, and some power should be given to the local authority to ensure that where a building is half destroyed, it should be completely destroyed, removed or restored.

In many ways, this is an excellent measure, but it is one which requires very close examination in Committee. In examining it in Committee, we may help the Minister. I am not satisfied with the definition in Section 1. I do not think it is sufficiently comprehensive to deal with the problem the Minister envisages. We can quite see that in the principal streets of most towns of Ireland, derelict sites may continue to exist because they will not be derelict sites within the meaning of the definition set out here. There will be sites with the windows built up in the walls and left as disused rather than as derelict sites. The Minister would be up against great difficulties if he had to proceed against anyone to have such a site cleared compulsorily. The definition is not wide enough to bring in many types of unused sites, and to allow the local authority to acquire the site, in the first instance, and then to sell it to somebody who wishes to exploit it.

What often happens in country towns is that people acquire sites adjacent to their premises for expansion. In those cases, all that should be required is that they will put them in such a state that they cannot be described as unsightly. A building does not always need to have a roof to look well. Sometimes it may be otherwise. Some of our voluntary societies have made even sites that could, within the meaning of this Bill, be called derelict sites very slightly by growing flowers, creepers and shrubs on them. In giving powers to the local authority, the Minister was very wise in making the provision he mentioned in the penultimate paragraph of his statement where he says that his consent will have to be received even if the owner of the site cannot be contacted.

Senator McGuire was right about the sum of £100. It sounds a nice round figure. It might be a considerable amount in one of our small villages but there are sites in our urban and county boroughs and £100 would have no significance whatsoever. The Minister might consider making available a sum bearing some relation to the valuation on the building that previously occupied a site. The size of the building which occupied a site on a previous occasion might bear some relation to the value of the site. We should all examine this Bill very carefully, particularly those of us who have had any experience in those affairs and in the difficulties that are likely to arise in dealing with the problem. This has been a most desirable move by the Minister. I feel he will have the wholehearted support of all sections of the community in trying to make this an ideal piece of legislation that will help to inspire local pride so that no unsightly derelict sites will be allowed to remain in our cities, towns and villages.

In the powers that will be given to him under this measure, the Minister ought to encourage the local authority to build dwelling houses on many of these small sites. Some of the regulations of his Department with regard to garden space precluded the local authority from building houses on such sites even when they could be acquired voluntarily. The local authorities were not interested in them because they were informed by the officials of the Minister's Department that no sanction would be granted because they did not meet the 1960 requirements. Great good could be done if the requirements and the site were looked at in a realistic way and considered sympathetically.

The House knows that the purpose of the Bill is to enable grants to be paid towards the cost of clearing derelict sites. The House is well aware of the problem of the sites so described in this Bill. The House is also aware of the spectacle presented to travellers throughout the country of fallen-down walls and houses, together with refuse dumps, created mainly because there has been no direct way of dealing with the matter up to now.

The increase in road traffic has brought the ugly aspects of this problem home to us. The facts are fastened in one's mind through seeing new housing schemes and other works interspersed with old buildings sticking up like bad teeth here and there throughout the country and spoiling the whole effect of improvements often undertaken at great cost to the community. The Bill will help to sharpen the senses of those engaged in and responsible for building schemes and other development work. I am glad the Minister has indicated in introducing this Bill elsewhere, that it is but an instalment of a proper planning system to improve the appearance of town and country. The Bill makes provision for grants of roughly half the cost of works undertaken under it up to a maximum of £100. I think that that is a good provision. It is an incentive towards acquiring and disposing of derelict structures which constitute an ugly problem.

This Bill is much wider in scope than previous legislation on this matter and takes in works which hitherto could not be dealt with in any rational manner. The acquisition of Derelict Sites Act, 1940, cramped initiative in this regard and more or less succeeded in choking comment on this important matter. It restricted and hamstrung local authorities and development societies in dealing with those scars on the landscape and prevented useful action from being taken where action was very necessary at times. Therefore, it is a good step to repeal the Act of 1940, or at any rate to repeal some of its provisions, and substitute a Bill such as this which will enable local authorities and others dealing with this matter to take direct action, if necessary.

I want briefly to support this Bill. I said something along these lines the other day on another Bill. It was gratifying to find that the Minister also felt very strongly in favour of taking action and allowing local authorities to take action to clear up some of the disgraceful derelict sites in our towns and villages. Being a Dubliner, I am most conscious of the derelict sites in Dublin. I am astonished at their extent. If one were to print a map of Dublin and to mark, in a single colour, the derelict sites one would be astonished at the amount of what, theoretically, is the most valuable building land in the city that has been allowed to go derelict.

Senator Ó Maoláin suggested that derelict sites are now largely display areas for derelict Party promises from the last election. Of course these may have been things fresh and beautiful when first produced but I think it is high time they were removed with the rest of the site. It is possible that some of our local legislation is responsible for the derelict nature of some of the sites. As I understand it, a building which has no roof on it is not liable for rates. I may be wrong in that. I understand if you take a roof off a building or a shed you do not have to pay rates. I suggest that many of our derelict sites in Dublin have been caused by a realisation of that fact.

I see one such site on my way home, at the corner of South King Street, beside Kennedy's Bakery and opposite Mercer's Hospital. I think of it as a typical derelict site and I find it quite inexplicable that such a valuable site should be left as it is. There is no roof on it and it is surrounded by corrugated iron and bits of wood. I cannot help wondering whether it is not due to the fact that the Corporation in their wisdom said: "We are going to acquire this site for road widening" and the owners said: "In that case, we cannot do anything with it", and the site has been left, partly owing to the slowness of the local authority. In relation to the particular site I have mentioned, that of course is pure guesswork.

I think it is true that some of the derelict sites owe their derelict nature to the dilatoriness of the local authority who say: "Some day, we are going to do something with it" and obviously there is no point in the owner developing it. I also suggested on another occasion that it might be well to consider legislation which would allow for the rating of site values rather than of what is on the site. I believe if that could be considered in future legislation, it might well have the effect of forcing owners who are compelled to pay rates on a full rate on a building site to develop it in order to get some of their money back.

The question is whether the local authorities will use these most valuable powers when they are given them? I hope they will; the Minister hopes they will; but some local authorities are a little like derelict sites—practically immovable and unchangeable. I do not say that in any offensive way but look at the speed with which they use their valuable powers on some occasions. I feel they are too slow and I hope that any publicity given to what is expressed in the Oireachtas about that point may compel the local authorities to use these valuable powers. After all, if they are not used, they are useless.

Bord Fáilte has initiated competitions between towns and villages for the best kept town or village and they have had an immense effect not only on the winning villages but on the villages competing. If you go through the country, you can see the effects and An Tóstal had the same effect. There is plenty more to be done, although quite a lot has been achieved. Bord Fáilte might take the opportunity to draw the attention of the local authorities to the powers vested in them in this Bill and possibly suggest lines on which certain specific derelict sites might be developed in particular towns and villages, and also perhaps in this city. Many of these could become attractive corners of the city if they were planted and turned into small gardens, as is done, for instance, in most of the British cities which suffered bomb damage. One can see it all over London today.

My final point is in regard to compensation. Under Section 11, the owner of the site is to be compensated. All this is laid out in various other Acts, as to the basis under which compensation will be given, but what is the value of a derelict site? I should be very tempted to say it has no value. The owner has not been making any use of it; he has not been paying rates. To whom has it value? If, we are told, it is in a built-up area, its value is £1,000 an acre or £1,500 an acre and presumably the compensation will then have to be given in relation to the market value of that land, if it is building land, although it is not being used or developed and may have been derelict. I feel that kind of compensation is out of all proportion to the use being made of the site by the owner. I should be inclined to say if you are prepared to calculate that such sites have a value which is related to the building value of the land, there might be some kind of retrospective rates and income tax collected out of the compensation which is given on the basis of such value for the site. I should like to hear the Minister's opinion as to the equity of compensating in extravagant terms owners of neglected derelict sites. Otherwise, I welcome the Bill and terminate my remarks with an expression of the hope that the local authorities will use the powers given them to the full.

The introduction of the Derelict Sites Bill must be welcomed by everybody who takes pride in the appearance of our country. I hope the local authorities will take advantage of its terms to give the country, especially in the villages and towns, a very much needed face-lift. Derelict sites, crumbling masonry and accumulations of dirt and rubbish have almost become part of the Irish landscape.

In 1954, when speaking on the Tourist Traffic Bill, I drew attention to the depressing effect on tourists of these derelict buildings. I had just returned from an important tourist centre and I had been depressed by the view of crumbling buildings and broken roofs from the hotel windows. I said on that occasion that a visitor from abroad might have been excused for thinking that Ireland had suffered very greatly from bombing and had not yet got around to clearing up the damage. Every person visiting our well-known beauty spots in Wicklow and elsewhere and going from Dublin passes through village after village where derelict sites abound. These sites have been there for years and each succeeding year sees them becoming more depressing, with increasing deterioration and ugliness, which is bound to have a most depressing effect on tourists. Tourists in the main, tour for enjoyment and our propaganda invites them to enjoy the beauties of Ireland, but we dull their enjoyment by presenting to them these signs of neglect and decay which I regret to say will be found in practically every Irish village.

If this Bill succeeds in getting the local authorities or private persons to clear up these eyesores, a valuable service will be rendered to the inhabitants of the towns as well as to the tourists whom we hope to attract and also the people who might be looking for places in which to set up industries. It will assure them that Ireland is not a decaying curiosity but in fact is a live and progressive country, with intelligent hard working people, a place where such industrialists might be justified in setting up concerns and where they could recruit intelligent energetic workers, a feeling which is not likely to be engendered when they see a population tolerating the sight of these derelict buildings which are a danger to the life and health of the inhabitants.

When the sites are either taken over by local authorities or an offer accepted to carry out the work, there should be no undue delay in getting the improvement work completed. The longer these horrors exist, the more visiting people will see them and the more damage will be done to our reputation as a progressive nation. Where a certain amount of delay is inevitable, steps should be taken, as Senator Sheehy Skeffington said, to maintain these sites in a tidy and picturesque fashion. Flowers of a quick growing annual variety could be sown to cover a site in the waiting period. This need not entail any great expense and indeed the sites could be kept in a neat fashion by school children who would get a very valuable lesson in civics.

Shortly after the end of the war, I had occasion to visit the badly bombed city of Portsmouth and the adjoining seaside resort of Southsea. Every bombed site around those places—and there were unfortunately very many of them; they abounded everywhere—was a blaze of colour where the local authorities and private persons had planted flowers. Even in bits of basements where absolutely nothing was left, there were beautiful gardens. In fact, in every nook and cranny where soil could be sprinkled, a garden had sprung up and I am sure that the effect on the population was very beneficial, helped them to overcome the tragedies through which they had lived and gave them courage to build up so quickly the magnificent city that Portsmouth is today.

As well as clearing up derelict sites, something should be done to prevent more sites from becoming derelict. I am speaking on the line which Senator Sheehy Skeffington took. I suppose if a person feels that a particular building has ceased to be of any use to him or sees going cheaply a building which in future years might be of value to him, he might, not wanting to make a bad bargain by having to pay rates in the interval, just take the roof off. The building therefore becomes a derelict site on which he has not to pay any rates. I should like to have seen in this Bill a provision whereby local authorities would ensure in a case like this that at least part of the valuation of the former building would be transferred to the ground site. This would prevent a new crop of eyesores springing up throughout the country. If these buildings had to be maintained in reasonable order and rates paid on them, it would certainly put an end to a new crop of derelict sites.

I would again like to say that I welcome the Bill and I hope that its implementation will clear away the old familiar eyesores so that we can show a brighter face to our people and to our tourists.

This is a very necessary Bill and its general intention is entirely praiseworthy. All of us have been annoyed from time to time, and I suppose indeed are continually annoyed, when travelling through the country by having to look at a variety of building sites in a dilapidated condition or presenting an unseemly appearance to the countryside. I have in mind not so far away from Dublin —and it always surprises me that you have this kind of thing coming into the capital city — one field which is covered with nothing but worn-out motor-cars and rusted chassis. It struck me as incorrect that an individual should be entitled to inflict that kind of sight upon the eyes of people coming into the capital city of the country.

It is not only private individuals alone, I must say, who are responsible for unsightly sites—I think that was the phrase used—around our cities and towns. I have in mind a local authority —I do not want to mention it by name —responsible for an old country hospital. That old county hospital constantly fell from one state of decay to another and eventually the local authority demolished it to a height of about 12 feet and then proceeded to put into the site of the former infirmary all classes of disused road machinery. They are just rusting away and a stream of rust is flowing out on to the public street at the present time. The crime of it all is that this site which is now a county council yard, housing rusted, useless road machinery, is on a magnificent green in the capital town of the county in question.

I do not see anything in this Bill to prevent local authorities from doing things of that kind. Though there were protests from various people about this transformation of a magnificent site in the most beautiful part of a county town into an old yard for rotting machinery, nothing was done. Now, I suppose, we have the position where one local authority may be able to proceed against another for creating and maintaining derelict sites. I wonder indeed, when the local authority itself is the cause of creating a derelict site, whether any power is vested in any citizen to take action against the local authority in the same way as the authority can take action against a private individual.

I think Senator Miss Davidson's contribution was most apt and indeed showed the benefit of having a lady Senator in the House. I entirely agree and support her suggestion for beautifying, or at any rate making less objectionable, these derelict sites, once they have been taken over by the local authorities.

I am not at all certain as to whether this definition is satisfactory and I should like to ask the Minister about paragraph (a) of the definition of a derelict site. Does a cow-byre or some such building on a farm which is not a dwelling and is in an unpresentable condition come within the definition of "derelict site" in paragraph (a)? To me, it does not appear to come within that definition and I do not know that it comes within the definition of "derelict site" in paragraph (b).

As regards rural Ireland, particularly during the past three or four years, this question of what is a derelict site will become more important. As we all know, whole families have been fleeing farms in rural Ireland. It takes only a very few years for a dwelling house and out-offices to fall into the condition described as a "derelict site". A lot of these people may, in fact, return in better times. I know quite a number of farms where the key has been turned in the door and the owners have gone. After a year or two, these houses fall into a state of dilapidation. Anybody who has had experience of appearing before the Land Commission Court knows that a number of people go abroad for a few years to earn sufficient money to enable them to return and stock their farms properly and, perhaps, build a new house and settle down again on the old family farm.

Business suspended at 6 p.m. and resumed at 7.15 p.m.

I was talking about the definition of "derelict site" in Section 1 of the Bill and, as I say, I am not satisfied as to whether an out-office on a farm which is not being used by reason of the owner having emigrated, or indeed a farmhouse which is left unoccupied for a period and could fall into a dilapidated condition, become a ruin and appear to be dangerous, comes within that definition. I want to ensure that, if the owner left his land because of economic circumstances, with the intention of returning, there is no possibility that the local authority can demolish the farmhouse or the out-offices associated with it. I am not at all satisfied that the rural population may not be subjected to the attentions of the local authorities under the definition as set out in Section 1.

There is another matter in Section 5 to which I wish to refer. I want to preface my remarks by saying that when I refer to the authority which is being vested in officials rather than in the courts, I do not do so simply because I happen to make my livelihood by appearing in court. That kind of sneer, or jeer, or gibe, or remark, can come too easily from people who want to make little of the point that has been made. I regard the courts as one of the important institutions of the State, and when they can be properly used, they should be used.

Having made that remark, I want to refer to Section 5, which provides for an appeal by the owner of the site which the local authority considers derelict and in relation to which it proposes to take action against the owner.

Section 5 provides an appeal in these circumstances by the aggrieved person from a decision of the local authority. The appeal is to the Minister for Local Government, and I consider an appeal by a local authority to the Minister for Local Government, metaphorically speaking, as going to court with the Devil in Hell, because the Minister for Local Government is a person who has to co-operate with local authorities.

The Minister should not be compared with the Devil in Hell.

I said metaphorically speaking, and I was not being in any sense offensive to the Minister; but the Minister is the person who must co-operate with the various local authorities, and everybody knows very well that the Minister will offend only as infrequently as possible the members of local authorities, and that he will not, save in exceptional circumstances and for extraordinary reasons, want to override their decisions.

In any event, to get down to the reality of the situation, when we put into an enactment here that there is an appeal to the Minister for Local Government, that is not an appeal that is directed to and considered by the Minister for Local Government who is the political head of the Department. As we all know, it is considered by an official of the Minister, and if we want to delegate authority to officials of the Minister, let us do that as clearly as we did in the Social Welfare Act, where certain matters are left to deciding officers.

I recollect that when I was an officer of the Revenue Commissioners in the Estate Duty Branch, I frequently wrote letters saying: "I am directed by the Revenue Commissioners to communicate with you and to point out that you have become immediately liable to pay estate duty, and unless you deliver the amount and pay the duty immediately, proceedings will be taken against you which may lead to your detention and imprisonment." The unfortunate person who got that notice——

The Senator should not continue in that strain with regard to the Civil Service. The Minister is responsible for the acts of his Department.

That is so and I quite appreciate that, but I want to get down to what is the reality in putting into a section of the Bill such as this——

The reality, as far as Parliament is concerned, is that the Minister is responsible.

That is correct, but, with respect, all I want to say——

That is the fact. The Senator must address his remarks to the Bill.

What I wanted was to get down to the person who decides these things. The Minister may take responsibility for them, and no doubt the Revenue Commissioners always took responsibility for any letter I wrote, but it was I who threatened legal proceedings and imprisonment upon the unfortunate widow——

The Senator may not continue in that strain.

With great respect, if we are considering legislation in which we are vesting in a Minister of State a right of appeal, I submit that I am entitled to consider who in fact will deal with that appeal.

Parliamentary procedure calls for laying the blame for everything at the door of the Minister. The Senator must know that by now.

Then we shall say that the Minister for Local Government will vicariously decide all these appeals, and I am not satisfied, and I do not think the House should be satisfied, with a vicarious decision by the Minister on appeals under a section like this. I am not satisfied at all that the only remedy we ought to give the owner of a derelict site in this legislation is an appeal vicariously to the Minister. I do not think these vicarious appeals are worth anything in practice. On the contrary, I want to point out this. There is constant complaint about the growing size and the growing cost of the public service. Resolutions are passed by various bodies calling for a reduction in the size of the public service and for a reduction in its cost. The latest variation on that theme is for a decentralisation of the public services. The Minister for Lands indicated recently he proposes to decentralise parts of the Civil Service to rural areas.

What does a section like Section 5 mean? It means that more and more duties are to be discharged vicariously by the Minister for Local Government and this vicarious discharge by the Minister for Local Government means an increase in the number of public servants and an increase in the cost of the public service, while at the same time we have an institution admirably adapted to taking decisions of this kind: I refer to the district court.

Will the Minister for Local Government or anybody else say why the district court, of which there are quite a number and which cannot be said by any standards to be over-worked, is not better fitted to decide matters between a local authority and the individual than a Minister? It seems more in accordance with the principle of justice, with the principle that no man should be judge in his own case, that the matter should be decided not by the Minister, who is an extension of the local authority, but by the district court which is completely impartial.

I do not know what rules or regulations will be laid down, if any. That is a matter which will come up on Committee Stage, presumably after Christmas. If a letter is sent by somebody to the Minister for Local Government and a reply is issued saying, in effect: "The Minister has considered your appeal but is of opinion that the local authority are entitled in the circumstances to proceed with the acquisition of this site," I submit that that is not the kind of thing we ought to have in legislation of this kind and I do not think it is the kind of thing this House should approve of.

I should like to know why the Minister adopts in this piece of legislation something that will increase the volume of work in his Department when there are other institutions of State lying idle which could better discharge the duty under the Bill. Having said that, I want to make clear that I think this Bill is admirable in its purpose and intention. I quarrel with the means adopted to achieve its purpose and to effect its intention. I trust that on Committee Stage, we shall have an opportunity of ensuring that as far as the rural population is concerned, this piece of legislation will not and cannot be used by local authorities to cause hardship to them. I trust the Minister will see the point of the argument I have been making that another organ of State ought to be brought into full operation for the purpose of appeals against decisions made or notices served under Section 3.

Unlike Senator O'Quigley, I consider that the provisions of this Bill are admirable. It is much more expeditious to have an appeal to the Minister rather than an appeal to the district court. I have had experience of appeals to the Minister under the Town Planning Acts on a number of occasions. I have been very satisfied with the way in which such appeals were dealt with and with the consideration given to them by the appeals officer. The position is that a letter is written to the Minister and the facts of the appeal are set out. That information is then submitted to the local authority. An inspector from the Department of Local Government visits the site and satisfies himself on whether or not the appeal should be granted. Then he submits the evidence, or his report, to the Minister who is the final arbiter in the matter.

Last night, Senator O'Quigley suggested, on the Transport Bill, that litigation is expensive. I feel if the appeal were brought to the district court, it would mean that expert advice would have to be produced by both parties and that the district justice would not be qualified to judge and in fact might have to inspect the site. Normally, the district court does not adjourn to inspect a site and the district justice is not qualified in the way that the inspector of the Department of Local Government is qualified to deal with the matter. For that reason, I consider that it is cheaper from all angles to allow the inspector from the Department to deal with the matter.

This Bill is very good in the sense that there is an inducement rather than a compulsion, under Section 3 of the Bill, and I feel in consequence that considerable progress will be made by local authorities in carrying out what we all hope will be the clearing up as far as possible of these derelict sites. Senators have referred to the question of valuation and rates on derelict sites but the House should be aware that until such time as the valuation is removed by the Valuation Office, the rated occupier will be liable for rates. An application must be made to the Valuation Office to have a revision of the valuation before the rates will be taken off, even though the roof may be removed from the building. Just because the roof is taken off, the building is not free of rates. The manager has not got very much discretion and he must charge the rate until such time as proof is given that the building cannot be let. It is not so easy to prove that, even though the premises are unoccupied or part of the roof is taken off.

There are one or two matters I should like the Minister to refer to. One is the definition of "owner". I am not sure that the definition is wide enough to cover a person who has a life estate. It refers to an owner who has a fee simple interest and to an owner with a leasehold interest but there are cases of people who are life tenants and the remainder man may be a child and in that case the notice which is required to be served on the owner may not be practicable and the person who is the life tenant may not be entitled to the notice. There may not be much in the point but it is a matter which should be looked into.

I should also like to refer to the question of an offer by the occupier. It states that the occupier can make an offer and the local authority can accept that offer, but it does not say that the offer should be in writing. Unless the offer is in writing, there would be no documentary evidence of the fact that the tenant or occupier was prepared to carry out his undertaking. I imagine for all practical purposes the local authority would expect the offer to be in writing but it would be better to ensure that that was actually done.

I also wonder whether or not in the case of an appeal and where the Minister has decided to uphold the appeal, the local authority has any right under Section 4 of the City and County Management Act to rescind the order the county manager makes. Would the local authority be entitled to do that before the Minister has made his decision? The local authority, for instance, may not be aware of the matter until such time as the Minister has given his decision because this Bill is really a function of the manager rather than of the local authority. In that respect, Senators have referred to the fact that local authorities have not been as active as they might be in dealing with derelict sites in the past, but the reflection may lie to a considerable extent on the manager and the county engineer rather than on the members of the local authority as such. At any rate, I am very glad the Bill has been introduced and I feel considerable progress will be made by local authorities in dealing with these derelict sites which we have in so many parts of the country.

I welcome any effort to deal with the problem of derelict sites throughout the country and in our cities, towns and villages, but I am worried as to whether the course set out in this Bill and in the previous Bill is really the proper long term solution to the problem. I agree that what is proposed here is all right for dealing with the present situation but I am concerned as to the position which would arise in the future, with the assistance that is being provided to people to deal with their own derelict sites. It seems to me that with the assistance about which the Minister spoke in the Dail, the £100 grant, there seems to be an inducement to the owners of property to allow that property to get into a bad state of repair in order to qualify for this grant. With such people I think the more just approach would be rather a penal approach, that there should be some system of heavier rating on the owners of derelict sites so that they would be encouraged by that sort of pressure to remove the eyesores and deal with them rather than leave them until they qualify for the grant.

That is the only aspect of the Bill about which I would be concerned. I do not think it is good or proper that the ordinary ratepayer should have to provide money as a grant to the owners of derelict sites. In many cases, the money might be better used and if it could be done, I think a better way would be to give a financial inducement, by a penal rating to compel the people who own these sites to clear them.

Any person who is interested in the appearance of the country must certainly, through time, be very concerned about it. I looked up the date of the last Derelict Sites Act. I see that it is the 1940 Act which is to be repealed. Could I say that there is altogether too much regard for real property in the whole thing? I suspect, of course, that this kind of thing comes about from the long complex code of law in the Department of Local Government. It would be far better if the Department could get away from that complex code of law and realise that real property is not at all the valuable thing it was long ago, that there are other ways a man can make a living nowadays and that income is more important than real property. After all, the fact is that the services of any person on a contract of service can be terminated on the end of that contract by giving notice and that is more important nowadays than acquiring a chunk of derelict land.

I am not saying that it is not a good effort. I am not capable of judging whether it is or not, but certainly the last effort was most unsuccessful. I know a village on the road from Dublin to Cork. You pass through this long village—I do not recollect its name and that is just as well, perhaps—but really it is a desecration of the countryside. In that village, there are at very least a hundred buildings derelict. We have all heard stories about the well-known city in the west, about the first World War and the submarine captain who came in to shell it. I understand it is much better now, or so I am told, but certainly in the Thirties, it was in a dreadful condition.

I do not know whether there is any other way of tackling this problem. I see such things as vesting orders in Section 9. The land shall be vested in the local authority. If a man buys a farm under the Land Purchase Acts, I understand why it should be vested, but, mind you, many men have bought farms and for many a long year, the farms were not vested in them. It did not do any great harm—not that I approve. I think the efforts of the late Deputy Moylan when he was Minister for lands were of great benefit to the country. He turned a large part of his staff over from land acquisition and division to vesting land which had been purchased and left over. The game was to list all the easy cases, thousands of them, and when a snag turned up, put that one by and build up hundreds of thousands of them, not ten or fifteen but a couple of hundred thousand. The late Deputy Moylan—I give him all credit for it— in 1947, proceeded to deal with the problem and all of them have been polished off now, difficulties and all.

I may be thoroughly wrong in this, but you are dealing with a piece of property which has land valuation so low that the owner is not using it at all or, alternatively, he is a kind of speculator, a shrewd person, who is sitting on it in the hope that the local corporation will acquire it. Then what is worth nought one year is inclined to have two more noughts added plus a one in front, so that one plus 0 0 0 is the value of something worth nought, from the income point of view.

I hope the Bill will be a success. I really genuinely hope that and I take it that the Department, having experience of the previous Act, know the difficulties of the problem. One thing used to appal me about the previous Act: when Dublin Corporation made an effort to put it into operation we saw the enormous notices in the newspaper literally costing pounds——

Hundreds of pounds——

When you scanned these notices, you found they were for four perches or something like one perch five yards sometimes and you had these enormous notices. When you have a grave problem, a very serious problem, I suppose you have to tackle it gradually, piecemeal, but if this Bill fails for any reason to achieve what we all want to see, the clearing off, the railing off or fencing off of these sites, then I would hope that the Department of Local Government would forget their ancient real property legal approach to the problem and deal with it by the direct method. That sounds very much like a reversal of things I sometimes say, that we tend to give managers too much power, but if you have a grave social evil—and this is a social evil of a sort in the community —I would like to see the Department adopting a much more radical approach to the problem but I wish the Minister and the Department well with it.

The general approach to the Derelict Sites Bill here tonight seems to show the keen appreciation by members of the need for such a measure and I think it can be said that the Bill was quite warmly welcomed. That, I think, was the mind expressed in the other House before it came here and this can be regarded as a very good omen for the advances which we hope the Bill will make on this ever present and pressing problem of unsightly and derelict sites throughout the country.

Many and varied matters have been raised in connection with the Bill. Some of them—in fact, quite a few of them—might indeed well be dealt with more appropriately on the next stage. However, as Senators have raised them on the Second Stage, I presume it would be rather churlish of me if I did not advert in some way to them so that the House may have the official view before discussing them in greater detail on Committee Stage, as Senators undoubtedly will.

Senator McGuire mentioned a point which I think I should clear right away about the maximum grant of £100 being, generally speaking, too low. I should say here and now that the grants, or the grants scheme as such, are not a part of this Bill in any way. That scheme is not subject to the passage of this enactment and while the lack of this enactment would undoubtedly be a grave discouragement to the usefulness of the scheme, nevertheless, the scheme is a separate and distinct operation. For that reason, while it does not come within the Bill, I would say to those Senators who have raised points about the inadequacy or otherwise of these grants that we will not be tied to the scheme as such. The scheme is pretty generous and, in my opinion, it will be found to be so when it is applied, but if we find from experience that changes in the limits, minimum or maximum, are called for, then we will consider it. We will not need legislation to change it.

I can assure the House that if the intentions of the House prove difficult to achieve without some change in the scheme, then, subject to the good graces of the Minister for Finance and the Government in general, I shall have no hesitation in looking for such changes as may show themselves necessary from experience. I am satisfied at this stage, however, that the scheme, as outlined, is certainly a big advance and should make a big impression, with the full cooperation of all concerned, in the near future.

Senator McGuire also mentioned that voluntary clearance was being encouraged in this Bill by the terms of the scheme of grants. Voluntary effort is without doubt the primary object of this Derelict Sites Bill. I think it would be well that it should be regarded in this context rather than in the compulsory context in which it was discussed by some speakers here to-night. Compulsion is not the primary method of operating under this Bill. Rather is it relegated to a secondary position and, indeed, compulsion in regard to acquisition will arise only in some rare cases and will operate, in the main, only as a last resort. The whole emphasis is on the voluntary removal of these unsightly or unhealthy sites which abound throughout the countryside, in towns and cities. Voluntary effort is further encouraged by the scheme of grants which has already been introduced.

Senator Barry mentioned buildings which, through fire or some such hazard, have suddenly become "semi-derelict." We are talking about derelict sites and if it is a question of semi-derelict, I do not think the site can be said to be derelict. If such a condition as semi-derelict were to arise, I think it would not be properly dealt with under the Derelict Sites Bill at all. Possibly he had something further in mind.

He may have had in mind the type of problem to which Senator Burke referred, the broken-down house with windows built up. The line to be drawn as to what is or what is not, or what constitutes or what does not constitute, a derelict site is difficult to define. Each case will have to be looked at individually. All the surrounding circumstances will have to be brought into consideration. If we try to define too closely what is a derelict site, there are dangers.

The fears expressed by two Senators that some eyesores would escape attention are not justified. There were those who expressed the fear that we might, indeed, have made the definition too wide. We must use our commonsense and must adopt a reasonable approach to these matters. It is all too easy, no matter what stand you make on a measure like this, to pick holes in it which are not so readily filled by counter-arguments.

Senator Burke also mentioned that the definition in Section 1 was not strong enough. The definition was chosen in its present form with great care. It was revised on several occasions before it finally emerged as the House sees it in this Bill. I believe we got a definition which was pretty all-embracing and that there will not be the obvious escape routes which existed to the detriment of the 1940 Act, which fell practically into disuse, due to the lack of an all-embracing definition. I can assure Senator Burke that there is no lack of strength in the definition.

A point was made about the building of houses on sites which will come to be cleared under the operations of this Bill. Senator Burke made the point that no effort was made because of the uncooperative approach of the Department in their adherence to certain standards. There may be a certain grain of truth in that, but, on the other hand, there is very little point in spending public money on a scheme such as this to clear up derelict sites, if in their place we are to build in a manner contrary to good building practice and to the general standards the Department apply throughout the country. It is against that background that we must look at the difficulties which seem to have been made by the Department of Local Government for local authorities who may have wished to build houses on certain sites. If there are such individual cases in the future, there should be no hesitation on the part of the local authority in making the case that in a particular set of circumstances, it would serve the common weal in a more advantageous way, if the regulations of the Department were departed from. I can only say it will be examined sympathetically. We have to have a common line somewhere but that does not say that circumstances cannot alter the line for the benefit of the common good.

Senator Sheehy Skeffington raised— I was going to say he raised the roof but it is in fact a case of no roof— the question of "no roof, no rates" and said that we were helping to create these unsightly buildings without roofs. I agree with him in the main that they can scarcely be said to enhance the appearance of any locality, town or village.

The question of removing the roof has been dealt with to some degree by Senator Walsh who explained the situation in regard to the procedure which must be followed in order to relieve oneself of rates in respect of such buildings. It is not sufficient to take the roof off. The rates will not automatically disappear. There is a further procedure to be gone through. The hereditament must be removed from the valuation lists and become non-rateable. If we were to have some change in that direction, I would not go so far as to say that was the immediate benefit. No such remedy would be readily available under any heading for a roofless building. Nevertheless, if that point is worth following, it would have to be followed through the Valuation Office, through the Minister for Finance and the Valuation code rather than by way of any action which I could take as Minister for Local Government.

Fears have been expressed by several Senators, and indeed by a few Deputies, that the measure now before the House may not in fact be utilised fully by the local authorities. In so far as that is concerned, a circular has been sent to the local authorities and we have asked them to make an effort to encourage the use of the grants and in every way to try to make the whole scheme general throughout the country so that we can have a uniform approach rather than have isolated efforts in one place and no efforts at all in another.

We shall be writing further to the local authorities, if and when this measure becomes law. We have already issued a circular relating to the grants scheme to national voluntary organisations such as the N.F.A., the I.C.A., Macra na Feirme and Bord Fáilte. Bord Fáilte have been asked to get in touch with local development committees to encourage them to participate as organisations to get the clearance work done and to give them every encouragement.

I have appealed and will appeal again to the county councils and to the various local authorities and in so far as getting it across to them is concerned, I have not been remiss in that respect. A further circular will be sent to the local authorities and I might say it will wind up with a special appeal to them to look after an item that has been mentioned here also, that is, that they themselves should clean up their own houses, where necessary. If there are any of these unsightly or injurious buildings in their functional areas, I will ask them to pay particular attention to cleaning them up as well as getting after the private owner in their areas.

In the main, I think there will be no difficulty whatsoever in that direction. Generally speaking, the local authorities will welcome this measure and particularly will they welcome the fact that grants are now available which will to some degree in their case, as in the case of a private owner, go part of the way, at any rate, to meet the costs which may be incurred in doing this useful work. I have not only written asking them to push on with this clearance work but I have also specially reminded them to set a good example themselves in regard to their own property. That would be a very good first step and would certainly bear much fruit.

Senator Sheehy Skeffington also raised a question which came under review in Section 11. He wished to know the manner in which the value of the site would be computed. He thought it might be computed in an unduly advantageous way to the neglectful owner in a case where land or a site had to be acquired from him because of his neglect. In fact the compensation will be the market value of the cleared site, less the cost of clearance which falls on the council. It is true that may, in some cases, be over-generous, but, on the other hand, no one stands to lose. It is true that the neglectful owner may stand to gain, by virtue of having the site acquired and cleared and the value less the cost of clearance handed to him more or less as a present.

We must have regard even in its neglected state to the potential market value of that land. Before the clearance, the site must have been worth approximately the entire total value less the cost of clearance. The owner of the neglected site will get no more as a result of the operations under this Bill than the cleared site would be worth, less clearance. If we were to regard it at its value before it was cleared, we might create hardship and it might not be in the compass of the owner to do anything about it, due to economic circumstances.

As I say, in the last analysis, no one will lose by this provision. The neglectful owner may in fact get some money from it which he otherwise might not because it might be some considerable time until a buyer came along to buy it. It is better that we should be fair and that we should err on the generous side, rather than that there should be the off-chance we might inflict an injury or loss on some unsuspecting individual who may have let the site become neglected through no fault of his own.

Senator Miss Davidson, in very generous and general terms, welcomed the Bill and hoped that it would work and that it would clear up all the various unsightly buildings and unsightly and injurious sites throughout the country. She went on to develop a very sound idea which, indeed, we have not neglected, that where these small and, from a commercial point of view, useless sites are cleared, mere clearance alone may relieve them only of their ill-appearance for a short time, and that it would be far better that there should be some way of getting them planted and beautified by flowers, shrubs, or merely by grassing.

This scheme of grants is not appropriate to the Bill, but I must crave the indulgence of the House to answer the Senator. It is possible under this scheme to get a grant for the clearance of a particular site and, if necessary, to do just what Senator Miss Davidson, has asked. It was with that in mind that we were looking to the voluntary development associations throughout the country who might find themselves in a position to acquire practically useless but derelict sites in their towns and villages, and having acquired them to clear and develop them, with, possibly, their own labour and their own money, so that they will not just fall back into the state from which they had taken them.

I hope that those organisations throughout the country will take this to heart and will be very active in regard to these small and commercially useless sites which should beautify rather than disfigure, as they now do, our towns and villages and our countryside in general. I believe that very much can be done and I hope that it will be done under the grants scheme by the grassing down of these sites and the planting of shrubs and flowers on them.

Senator Miss Davidson also mentioned the transfer of half the valuation of the building on to the actual site. This again comes into the same category as the point raised by Senator Sheehy Skeffington in that it is rather outside my jurisdiction, and one which could be referred to the Department of Finance and the Valuation Office.

Senator O'Quigley had quite an amount to say on this matter. In general, he welcomed the idea behind the Bill, but he took exception to a few things in it. I am not quite happy as to whether, because of their detailed nature, I should deal with them in the detailed Committee manner which would be necessary, if I were to deal with them adequately. I am rather inclined to leave them over for Committee stage, and deal with them there when they can be more appropriately dealt with.

He did make a few points which are not new in so far as certain objections to this Bill are concerned. A few such objections and similar ones were made in the other House. It is better to follow the argument here and now rather than to let it die a natural death between now and the next Stage.

I shall deal with the question raised by him when he took exception to the intention to have appeals under Section 5 to the Minister for Local Government, and his very pointed question as to why they should not be to the courts. He likened a local authority appealing to the Minister for Local Government, metaphorically, to going to court with the Devil. That is Senator O'Quigley's view, no doubt, and I appreciate his expression of it in such clear and concise terms, but equally I would disagree with his whole approach to this matter. I do not agree at all that appeals would be more appropriate to the courts under Section 5, because if the Senator has a look at Section 5, he will realise that this appeal is the least objectionable from his point of view, in that it deals only with the question of whether or not a requirement made on an owner of property is excessive, or whether or not the time within which he is asked to carry out the requirement is too restricted.

I would say that, by and large, that is a matter which does require the intimate knowledge of a trained man, and that intimate knowledge is available in the trained men in my Department, in considering possibly a specification as to how something should be done, even to the last detail of how the job is to be done. In other words, the examination of a specification would in fact be a quite appropriate and likely type of appeal to come up under this section. Surely the people in Local Government are well versed in these matters, and without undue reflection on the general body of people who have knowledge such as this, I would say that, by their training and knowledge, they would be in a better position to vet these proposals and to advise me on whether or not such a proposal was excessive or not, and also be better qualified to advise me on an appeal as to whether or not the time specified was too short for the operation called for from the owner. Again, I emphatically say that they are well and truly qualified, and better qualified than most, to advise on such a matter.

That brings us to the question of vicarious decisions which the Senator developed as a natural follow-on to these appeals to the Minister for Local Government. Such decisions are arrived at after a careful examination by competent people who have no axe to grind either with the owner or the local authority, and who, in turn, submit their findings and recommendations to the Minister. It is not a question of delegating power; it is a question of the Minister finally taking a decision against or with the advice he sees, from the reading of both sides of the case. He is responsible for that decision taken by him, and he cannot in any way fob it off on some person to whom it would have been said that he delegated that power.

Senator O'Quigley suggested that the deciding officers would appear to be more appropriate because in fact that is what is going on. I want to tell him that that is not what is going on, and it is not what is contemplated under this or any other sections of the Bill. When it says that an appeal to the Minister shall lie, that appeal will in fact be to the Minister, and decided by the Minister, but he will have the evidence and advice of those competent to advise on matters such as this before he gives his decision.

The idea, again, that these types of decisions which are really, according to the Senator, passed on to somebody else are going to create more public staffs and more costs on the public in general is rather begging the question. We get a clear picture of what he regards a Minister for Local Government to be—a mere extension of the local authority. He alleges that this system of appeals to the Minister would increase the work of the Department. He wants to know why we should increase the work of the Department of Local Government while other Departments of State are lying idle.

If Senator O'Quigley knows of Departments of State which are lying idle, he should raise the matter where it is worth talking about it and try to have them given something useful to do. There is no reason to ask me to give them work because they are idle. They are not of my creation. I have no jurisdiction over them. The matter here is appropriate to be dealt with by my Department in the manner proposed rather than by handing it over to other Departments of State which the Senator alleges are lying idle at the moment.

I did not refer to Departments of State lying idle but to other institutions of State—which is quite a different thing.

If I have misquoted the Senator in the actual hair-splitting manner in which he has corrected me, I accept his explanation.

He mentioned the courts.

Very good. If it is the courts, then let it be the courts, but whether or not they are lying idle is not a matter that comes under my jurisdiction. If the Senator maintains that they are lying idle that is a matter that should be raised and dealt with as idle institutions should be dealt with. It is not a matter that should be dealt with by passing on work which the Department of Local Government are more competent than most others to do in order to fill up the idle gap in those institutions.

That is one view. The members of this House do not agree with the Minister or his Department. That is the point.

I am giving my view.

The Minister has given a new version of what I said.

I disagree with it totally and entirely. It would now appear that the suggestion is that I do not know what the Senator said. I have a fairly good idea. I took a few notes and generally I can read back what I have written.

I do not agree with what the Senator has said in regard to the handling of these appeals. I would agree to what has been said by other speakers that, in the main, appeals such as these are more cheaply and freely dealt with by the Minister for Local Government than by any other institution. We must have regard to the financial standing of the people with the right of appeal.

It was also mentioned by the Senator that in his personal experience as a civil servant he himself decided to threaten proceedings. It do not doubt that that may have happened. I question whether or not, ultimately, the final decision whether or not to put the threat into operation was his.

Senator Louis Walsh raised the matter of the offer which may be made to the local authority by an owner who is proposing to clear a derelict site and in what form this offer should be made—whether or not in writing. I am not clear that it is absolutely laid down here that it must be in writing. I cannot conceive that an offer which ultimately may become a matter of dispute or of an appeal to the Minister could be said to be an offer unless it was put into writing. This offer in most cases would be in the form of a specification for the particular job of work the owner was proposing to do. I do not think there could be any question that such an offer could be made verbally and that it could have any force whatsoever. If it were made verbally, to whom would it be expected to be made. The only procedure I can see is that the offer must be made in writing. I feel that it will not become a problem for us in the future.

Generally this House welcomed the Bill and the grants scheme which, allied to the Bill, will make a great difference to the general appearance of our country in a very short time.

I hope so.

In their various ways, in their ordinary contacts whether political or private, I am sure Senators will give their support in every way to further the ends of this Bill which are to wipe out derelict sites and, if possible, to leave some form of beauty in their stead.

Could a garden society receive grants similar to the ones given to a development committee or a parish council?

I do not see any reason why for the purposes of this Bill they may not be regarded as suitable organisations to receive such grants. Although Senators may have some queer views about it, I do not see why the various branches of political organisations might not do these jobs. It sounds strange but there is no reason why not, in fact, they should not be included.

Exactly, and quite rightly, too.

Question put and agreed to.

As there seems to be unanimity on the Bill, perhaps we might find agreement to take the remaining Stages now?

This Bill was ordered by Dáil Éireann to be printed on 23rd November of this year. It has come to use only to-day. I do not see the tremendous urgency of putting it through. I strongly object to the notion that this House is to be used as some kind of a slot machine to put a Bill in——

Is the Senator objecting to the taking of the remaining Stages now?

I strongly oppose it. It want to put down a number of amendments.

We shall order the Bill for the next sitting day.

When is the next sitting day—to-morrow?

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 21st December, 1960.