Housing Bill, 1988: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I was dealing with the valuation of houses and making the point that a house in a local authority scheme, unfortunately, has a lower value than a house in a private scheme. This is manifestly wrong. There are reasons for it such as our class structured society which is not altogether as bad as in my young days; nevertheless we have a long journey to go yet.

The last scheme the Minister introduced for the purchase of local authority houses will, to a large extent, be counteracted by these provisions because people will be encouraged to remain within schemes, to take care of their houses and bring them up to better standards if possible, and to deal with the vandalism in their areas spoken of by Senator Doyle. The Minister should be commended on this very important, marvellous scheme where the houses are sold at a valuation which is very reasonable in every circumstance.

I welcome sections 9 and 10 of the Bill which deal with homeless people. Homelessness must be the ultimate in degradation and depths of despair but, no matter how hopeless a case seems, society can do much to help people to come to see the brighter side. Even where crime has been committed — in few instances with regard to homelessness — people can be reformed. They have a useful contribution to make no matter what their age or what area they come from. I believe what we were taught when young and more idealistic: "Though your sins be as red as scarlet they can be made whiter than snow." Society owes all those people who are without shelter and without homes on opportunity to make a fresh start. Representations were made to me and to all Members with regard to this problem. In one instance all the Sisters attached to the Convent of Mercy, Kells, sent me a letter, signed by each nun. Like many others involved in that area, they are very concerned about the homeless. This Bill will go a long way towards what they want to achieve. It may not be the ultimate and it may not give complete satisfaction to everybody; nevertheless it is an enormous step forward. I welcome it and everybody who is sincerely concerned in that area, I am sure, welcomes it as well.

I welcome the provision of sites for travellers. My urban district council at one stage were involved in making provision for sites of this kind. We visited sites around the country and saw they were very well conducted and very worthwhile. Unfortunately, it transpired after assessing the situation that there was no need for a site in the vicinity of the town of Kells and nothing happened in that regard. I simply mention that to show that the urban council were very concerned and were prepared, without exception, to make provision if necessary. The travellers have been much maligned. One could make a contribution on that aspect alone. While considerable strides have been made with regard to the travellers, not enough has been done. Society could do a great deal more without legislation, but the legislation will focus people's minds on this area and we hope we will make greater progress in the years ahead than has been made in the past. I understand the numbers of travellers, instead of decreasing, have increased. I am talking about people who are still travelling and have not been integrated into the settled community.

I welcome the fact that disabled person's grants are still available. They have been very helpful and are quite generous, taking everything into consideration. I made representations previously that the Minister might consider in this regard. Where planning permission is concerned, the local authority could undertake the necessary work to obtain planning permission or to organise it for the individuals concerned because, to a large extent, these people have not much knowledge of planning legislation or access to ordnance survey maps and plans. I understand Dublin Corporation provide plans for such people. I would welcome that provision generally around the country. The Minister might look at that aspect of it.

Senator Doyle referred to homeless teenagers. The Minister might look at this area and perhaps do something on the lines Senator Doyle mentioned. I understand from Senator Doyle that Teenage Care are doing great work in this regard. I commend them and all the voluntary organisations who are involved in every area of housing and who, through the years, have done so much heroic work.

Finally, I reiterate what I said at the outset, that generally this is a Bill on which we can come to grips with the details on Committee Stage rather than on Second Stage. It is very important legislation. While some people are not happy with the progress, it is a marked advance on the legislation we have on the Statute Book at the moment. I welcome it. I commend the Minister for it and I look forward to the further stages of the Bill.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil cuid mhaith oibre déanta aige ar an gceist seo, gur dhein sé cuid mhaith oibre, gur dhein sé a lán cainte, gur chuaigh sé i dteangmháil lena lán daoine agus gur dhein sé iarracht comhar a fháil óna lán daoine — mise ina measc. Chuir sé píosa fada dá chuid ama féin ar fáil domsa chun mo smaointe féin a chur a fáil. Chuir sé fáilte romham agus gabhaim buíochas leis as sin. Cé nach n-aontaím le cuid mhaith dá bhfuil sa Bhille níl mé chun aon ghearán a dhéanamh air. Tá dhá chúis agam faoin socrú sin, an chéad chúis go bhfuil an tAire sé horlaí níos mó ná mé féin agus go mbeinnse i mbaol, fiú amháin, dá mba rud é gur dheineas a leithéid. Agus an dara cúis ná nach fiú é agus go bhfuil dóchas beag agam go mbeinn ábalta cur isteach air chun cúpla athruithe a dhéanamh ar an Bille, rudaí a cheapaim féin a bheadh cosúil leis na smaointe atá aige féin ach a chomhlíonfadh na spriocanna atá aige féin.

A number of things in this Bill need to be commended. It is significant and welcome and, since he is the Minister who did it, it is to the credit of the present Minister in particular that the concept of homelessness is being awarded legislative recognition. Later I will talk about the response in the Bill to dealing with that problem, but it is a significant step forward that an area of housing need which was, at best, looked at by administrative means, is now being written into legislation. That is "prioritising" the problem. We can talk again about possible deficiencies in the definition but there is no doubt that this Bill is a significant step forward and the Government and the Minister who are responsible for it deserve commendation for it.

Implicit in the definition is a recognition of a problem at a time when the world is perhaps more affluent than it has been at any stage in its history. Most of the Western economies, Britain, the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States are growing at a faster rate than they did for a number of years. The capacity to sustain that growth is another matter. I am well aware of the Minister's concern about the issue of our own public finances. Nevertheless we are a more affluent society. It is somewhat ironic that, in the context of that increasing affluence, homelessness should be becoming, not just in this country but in most of the countries in Western Europe and North America, a matter of serious political concern.

Another very welcome aspect of the Bill is the carrying through by the Minister of a commitment he made a long time ago, soon after he became Minister, to repeal a particularly offensive section of the Vagrancy Act. Perhaps one could argue that the whole of the Vagrancy Act needs to be repealed. Nevertheless, it may be only symbolic but it is extremely important that nobody can be charged in future with "wandering abroad" and failing to give a good account of himself or herself. This is an indication of a reassessment on a policy level of what it means to be homeless and wandering abroad. The Minister deserves to be commended for that.

Since I had a small part to play in the development of the political concern about the issue of homelessness I would like to devote some time to stating why I now have the views I hold on the sort of policy response needed to the problem of homelessness. In some ways the tragedy is that some of the development of the publicity by the voluntary sector about homelessness is perhaps at the root of some of the problems in this Bill. When I and other people like me become involved with the problem of homelessness — in my case 16 or 17 years ago and in the case of many other people 20 or 25 years ago — we used particularly lurid imagery to draw people's attention to the problem of homelessness — lurid imagery of the dosser, the down and out, the wino and the alcoholic. In that process we created an image of the homeless which has never been got rid of. Contained in Administration, Volume 33, No. 1, is an extract from a letter to me from the Simon Community. The letter describes a meeting between members of the Simon Community and representatives of the City and County Managers' Association:

We were struck by some of the attitudes we encountered. The three county managers seemed to take the view that most if not all, homeless people were alcoholics or psychiatrically ill. Two of the managers insisted that in their county the alcoholism rate was 100 per cent. The men were irretrievably alcoholic, so much so that only intensive medical and psychiatric care would be of value to them. There was no way such people could ever be considered for housing. The chairman of the meeting insisted that drug-taking was widespread among the homeless.

In a way we had sown the seeds of many of the problems I now see with this Bill, by feeding to public opinion, in particular to those who have a major influence in determining public policy, a prejudiced perception of who the homeless are. Unfortunately, no amount of subsequent research has entirely rid us of that image.

At the time I worked directly with homeless people I began with a very similar image. There is no doubt that there is a considerable incidence of alcoholism among homeless people. There is no doubt that there is a considerable incidence of psychiatric illness among homeless people. There is no doubt that there is a considerable incidence of physical illness among homeless people. In fact, there is no doubt that there is a considerable incidence of virtually every malaise that can befall the human being among homeless people. Given their physical living conditions, given their inadequate income and the pretty bad health care available to them, one can expect all the consequences of such deprivation will be manifest among them. Nobody, for instance, suggests that the appallingly high infant mortality rates among travelling children — I hope they are beginning to drop now — are the fault of the travellers. They do not prove that travellers are somehow inferior to us in caring for their children, but are a consequence of their physical conditions. It takes some time to realise this. As one gets to know homeless people, one realises that many of them are alcoholics because they are homeless; not homeless because they are alcoholics. Many of them have psychiatric conditions because they are homeless; they are not homeless because they have psychiatric conditions. Many of them have physical illness because the are homeless; they were not physically ill and they became homeless.

Before the Simon Community were set up the St. Vincent de Paul Society were providing a quite extensive range of services for homeless people and although I am associated with one of the more romantically envisaged charities dealing with the homeless, I cannot get away from the fact that the St. Vincent de Paul Society have done an enormous amount of work for homeless people. The Simon Community in Dublin would probably not exist nowadays were it not for the goodwill of the St. Vincent de Paul Society who engineered the provision of a premises to get the Simon Community off the ground. Nobody should take that credit away from them and there are a considerable number of other voluntary organisations. All of those voluntary organisations in thinking through the problem have come to similar conclusions, not just in this country but in the United Kingdom, most of western Europe where I have contacts and North America.

The fundamental problem — not the only problem — of homeless people is, and it sounds like tautology, that they are homeless. They lack the guaranteed security of accommodation which is comfortable, reasonable, their own and in which they have security. Almost all of their other problems spring from the lack of access to accommodation. It is true that some people who are homeless will need some support. It is a matter of opinion how many of us could function and, in the words of the previous Bill, could prove to somebody's satisfaction that we were capable of independent living. Most of us marry because we are not particularly happy with the concept of living independently and on our own for the rest of our lives. All of us, even the Minister, need support. I would not like to be supporting the Minister, but we all need support. The myth that somehow there is a person out there who is capable of living on his or her own indefinitely is at variance with human experience.

That does not get us away from the fact that the fundamental problem of people who are homeless is that they lack accommodation. I do not mean they lack shelter because I do not like the concept of shelter. In other countries the problem of shelter has been dealt with by the provision of large barns and warehouses with, in some horrific cases in the United States, 1,000 beds or more in one large area. That gets the homeless off the streets but it does not stop them being homeless. Homelessness is about decent conditions, security and, above all, privacy and the right of a person to have a space somewhere he can be happy with, which is comfortable and which he can call his own. In dealing with the policy issues which emanate from that, we must accept that we are not dealing with winos, alcoholics or ex-psychiatric patients. Fundamentally we are dealing with people who have similar needs, perceptions and aspirations to those of us who are lucky, privileged or powerful enough to have access to decent housing.

The collective experience of organisations dealing with the homeless is that homelessness springs from a combination of circumstances. The first is inadequacy of income; in other words, people do not have sufficient money to provide accommodation for themselves. We can deal with that later. In some cases the lack of access to money to pay for accommodation is not because the money is not available but often because of poor administrative response, poor quality delivery, lack of understanding of what it is like to be homeless and an inadequate response to it. The second problem is the declining provision of low-cost housing. Almost by definition low-cost housing is public sector housing. The only other way to provide low-cost housing is by subsidising private housing implicitly or explicitly. The Minister has advanced and extended a number of provisions, including the £3 million which is most welcome. We can discuss that later.

There is more to it than simply handing money to voluntary organisations. For instance, in the United Kingdom in 1975 public expenditure on defence and housing was about equal. In 1985 public expenditure on defence was five times as high as public expenditure on housing. One of President Reagan's first decisions was to end all federal funding for public housing and the consequences of that I will deal with later because we should not pretend that the phenomenon of homelessness in the 27th richest country in the world is different from the phenomenon of homelessness in other richer countries in the western world. It is a product of changes that are taking place.

In the United Kingdom the number of people who are homeless has increased by a factor of two in the period in office of the present British Prime Minister. That has been partly because of Government housing policy, partly because of reductions in Government housing expenditure and partly because of Government policy in other areas which has generated such a thrust of redevelopment that much of the low-cost private accommodation that was available, particularly in the south east, has been removed and replaced by high-cost, high-demand accommodation. This has squeezed out those who would otherwise have lived in that accommodation and in many cases squeezed them onto the streets.

The third problem that generates homelessness — usually the three go together — is the absence of family contact. If one has no money and one has access to one's family, one will not end up living on the street. A person who has no access to public sector or low-cost housing and has family support will not lose money. Even a person who lacks both money and access to housing will usually be sustained by family contacts. This is not my prescription but from Focus Point, Sister Stanislaus' organisation, who have done extraordinarily good quality research on the problem of homelessness. Therefore, those three things together are necessary to create the problem of homelessness.

If one starts from that assumption or that analysis, things begin to spring out of it such as challenges about policy and how people live. Later I would like to talk about specific cases because these are unsung people, often unheard and their experiences deserve to be on the record of the Oireachtas. We need to get away from much of the imagery of the homeless, the image of homeless people being dirty. Many of them are, but that is because they are homeless. People speak of their being ill. Many of them are, but that again is because they are homeless. People speak of their being drunk. Many of the people whom I know who are chronically homeless do not drink at all. Some of those who are chronically homeless drink far too much. There is no common thread through all the homeless of drink, drugs, psychiatric or physical illness. That needs to be disposed of once and for all. The trouble is that an organisation like the Simon Community, which has been vocal about the homeless, also tends to deal with some of the more extreme manifestations of homelessness. Many other organisations deal with the homeless and their problems. They also deal with the ordinary homeless people in the early stages before any other symptoms have developed.

Sr. Stanislaus has spoken at length about the risks, particularly to homeless women, of exploitation of one kind or another. We have recently heard talk about the possibilities for exploitation of homeless boys. They are the extreme examples of what can happen. They are extreme examples, but they are the examples of the consequences of homelessness. They are not the causes of homelessness; they are the products of homelessness. That is why any legislation to deal with the problem of homelessness must be as much preventative as it is remedial. It must endeavour to prevent people becoming homeless rather than attempt to remedy the problem and to deal with the problem when people are effectively homeless.

In my own thinking, as I try to develop it on this issue, a number of things became apparent. The first thing was that nobody accepted that there really was a problem of homelessness. It was with considerable difficulty that one got it through to the Department of the Environment, local authorities and many politicians that there was a problem of homelessness separate from the problem of chronic alcoholism or the problems of ex-psychiatric patients, that there were actually people who were homeless in the terms defined in this Bill who did not have another problem as well.

We succeeded for a while in getting that message across. Then another form of confusion became apparent. I was aware of health boards who said that housing homeless people was the responsibility of local authorities. I was aware of local authorities who said the opposite: that the problem of dealing with homeless people was the responsibility of the health boards.

In the earlier Fianna Fáil administration in 1980 or 1981 the then Minister for Health set up a working party to deal with that problem. The working party did not entirely resolve the problem, but it made a considerable amount of progress. It also identified the fact that there was serious confusion. I remember a survey done of what were called then "county homes". That was about seven or eight years ago. The people in those homes were asked to provide temporary accommodation for people passing through. They were asked did they think they had a legal obligation to provide shelter for people who were homeless. Sixty per cent said yes and 40 per cent said no. There did not seem to be a satisfactory policy response to such a difficult and controversial issue.

It is important to remember that it is almost 30 years since the decision was taken to phase out that area of concern of the county homes. It is about 30 years since the commitment was given by a previous Minister that, as the provision of shelter in county homes was being phased out, alternative forms of provision would have to be introduced. It was never done, of course. It is a regrettable fact that that service has been removed and has in many cases resulted in a drift towards the cities of people who used to be chronically homeless but at least lived in their own areas. The provision in rural areas via the county homes was, according to the Simon Community survey, reduced by about 60 per cent in a period of ten years.

My views on homelessness began to crystallise on a number of things. I realised that the issue was not recognised. I realised the fact that it was not clear who was responsible for dealing with the homeless. Thirdly, it was not at all clear that whoever was responsible could be persuaded, encouraged, or coerced if necessary, into doing something about the problem. Like all areas of minority concern where you have perhaps demand exceeding supply for any service, those who are least popular, those who are most stigmatised, those who are seen as being least in their ability to swing political concern are those who tend to be excluded.

We had to go through a phase of education and liberalisation of public opinion before it became acceptable that single parents should be given some priority in the provision of local authority housing. Regrettably, it is still true from time to time that certain politicians make a fair amount of cheap publicity out of side swipes at single parents. One former Member of Dáil Éireann was particularly good at it. We made that progress. It is also true, notwithstanding our considerable concern for old people, that we took a long time to acknowledge the depth of deprivation of many old people. There are 40,000 or so of them living alone in this country. It was the present Taoiseach who was responsible for the task force which was given the job of improving the physical conditions under which old people living alone were expected to exist. Each minority group needs to be not only identified but positively supported if its housing rights are to be accepted.

When you have a minority group which on the one hand is in a condition of extreme deprivation and when on the other hand you have a declining expenditure on public housing, and when there are other areas of need which are politically of greater influence and far more significant in numbers, it is difficult to believe that any expression of intent or goodwill of itself guarantees an adequate response to the needs of that minority group. It can happen, but it need not necessarily happen. For instance, the almost complete absence of halting sites for members of the travelling community in Limerick city is a good example of the difference between intent and fulfilment. The fact is that you can have all the enabling legislation, and have the funds available, but if you do not have the political will, or if the political resistance is of a particularly virulent kind, then you will not get the result however well intentioned the initial policy response may have been. That is the nub of the problem with this Bill.

When one thinks about the problem of being homeless it is important — I do not want to get involved in tear-jerking stuff, because there is nobody here whose tears would be jerked by my eloquence; and apart from that I would prefer rational argument anyway — it is important to realise what it means to be homeless. It needs to be said again and again and again that the lack of a secure base excludes you from everything. It excludes you from everything, not just from accommodation. It excludes you from proper health care. It excludes you from income, because neither the Department of Social Welfare nor the community welfare officers are prepared to pay one penny to somebody who does not have an address. You have the extraordinary position where we acknowledge now that there is a substantial problem of homelessness in our society but there is nobody on the books of any of the State support services who is categorised as being without an address. There are no people receiving State benefit who have no fixed abode even though it is quite possible any day of the week in the saddest of all areas of concern — the courts — to see people being recorded as being of no fixed abode in terms of the address they give. You will never find — and the Department of Social Welfare will have no record of — anybody without an address who qualifies for social welfare. It is simple: if you do not have an address, you do not get anything. Therefore, whether it is real or imaginary you create an address. It is a particularly regrettable form of exclusion.

Similarly, the Simon Community published a report some years ago which was entitled "Go Home to Bed for a couple of Days", the sort of sensible prescription most general practitioners or casualty officers in a hospital casualty department would recommend for somebody with a minor ailment. If you have no home or if you are living in a night shelter or a hostel, you cannot go home to bed. One of the assumed basic tenets of our general medical service which is that people have a home to which they can go, is undermined and somebody with a minor ailment cannot deal with it. The minor ailment deteriorates into a major ailment. That, in turn, necessitates people being hospitalised at enormous expense to the State and often used to result in people being hospitalised, then discharged back into their homeless condition, becoming ill again and being returned to the hospital again. That was another issue that had to be fought — the issue of the conditions under which people were discharged out of hospitals. It took a considerable amount of thinking, as well.

When you add to the absence of accommodation the deteriorating health conditions and also the extraordinary isolation of being homeless, you will end up in the company of those who are homeless and who will be left with the stigma that goes with being homeless. To put it at its crudest, that means you will probably not be served in 95 per cent of the public houses of any of our larger cities and towns. Therefore, you will effectively be seen, if you choose to drink occasionally, as one of the winos who sit on the benches in many of our city centres.

The absence of a secure place to call your own is not just a housing problem. In that I agree with the Minister. It is a human problem. Lack of a secure base produces a long succession of other exclusions and deprivations which will, in the long term, result in the deterioration of the person unless that person is of exceptional character and quality. From my knowledge of many people who are homeless I feel that the character, the strength of will and the determination to retain their dignity, pride and humour are the really inspiring sides of humanity you learn about from dealing with homeless people.

I have never been anything other than amazed by the survival of a sense of humour, pride and dignity among people who have had so much taken from them and so much pinned on them in 15 or 20 years' of homelessness. I am not suggesting that there is some sort of a romantic image of the romantic vagrant everybody can identify with. I am talking about imperfect people with many inadequacies. What I am talking about is the fact that, in spite of their imperfections, perhaps their drinking, perhaps their occasional runs in with the law, most of the homeless people I know remain very dignified, proud, good humoured and self-assertive human beings who need, and are entitled to, liberation from the sort of conditions which have broken them so far.

Anybody who wants to see the real quality of homeless people should go and see the Simon Art Exhibition in the Temple Bar Gallery. I know some of the artists involved in that exhibition. When it was opened I used the phrase that the people had their artistic skills "liberated" by the experience of this painting workshop they were involved in. The quality of what they did, the humour, imagination and talent in it, belies many of the images of homeless people. These were not marginally homeless people. These were chronically homeless people who have been homeless for long periods of years. One of them, I know, has been homeless for almost 20 years now. He produced a capacity to express himself in paint that would exceed that of the vast majority of ordinary citizens. I have no doubt of that. People who believe that homeless people are in some way inadequate or incomplete ought to go and see that sort of an exhibition.

When your thinking evolves, when you realise the extent of exclusion that not having accommodation creates, and when you see what that extent of exclusion does to people, it is then that you are forced to consider a radical response to the problems. The radical response means, first of all, that you define the problem. That is what is being done in this Bill. I disagree with the definition, but it is a step a long way along the road. You then identify who is responsible for dealing with the problems. That is also contained fairly clearly in this Bill. There is no point in defining a problem, saying who is responsible and then not saying what they must do about it. The third thing you must do with something as extreme as homelessness is clearly say that those who are responsible for dealing with the problem must — not "should, might or may"— do something about it and must not just count them, assess them, measure them, enumerate them or fit them into a programme. He must do something specific and appropriate about the problems of those who are homeless. That is a fundamental flaw in this Bill. I do not know what happened to the Minister, but when I discussed the problem with him he accepted that people had a right to be housed. When he spoke to the National Conference of Travelling People and was subsequently interviewed on "Morning Ireland" not much more than 15 of 18 months go, he used the words that people who were homeless would be housed "as of right" under the proposed legislation. I was extremely optimistic. That is why section 10 of this Bill is such a disappointment. Something happened between September 1987 and the date of publication of this Bill. That is something we can tease out later on.

Much in this Bill is directed in the way that all those dealing with the homeless have suggested that public policy should go. It is not a kind of naive, dreamy idea that people should have a right to a response from the housing authority. It is a recognition of the extremity of the need and of the damage that need does to people's capacity to participate as full citizens. I do not think people should have a right to semi-detached, three-bedroomed houses. I do not think people should have a right to an enormous income, but I do think there are basic things people must be entitled to as of right or else our society cannot protect itself properly and cannot protect its citizens properly.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Could I interrupt Senator Ryan to recognise in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery the presence of a very distinguished group of visitors from the Cortes, the speaker of the Cortes, Senor Sanchez-Reyes De Palacio, the President of the Cortes, his vice-President and a group of members of Parliament, and some officials. You are very welcome especially this year. May I take the opportunity of wishing the Spanish Presidency of the European Community every possible success? Mr. President, you are very welcome. We are honoured to have you here in the Seanad. Senator Ryan may continue.

May I be associated with your remarks, a Leas-Chathaoirligh? I wish my Spanish was up to it, but I will not even try the 20 words I have because I might embarrass the House.

The nub of the disagreement between myself and the Minister is that this Bill guarantees nothing to the homeless other than that they would be identified, counted and assessed. That is a particular tragedy. Having come so far in terms of identifying and quantifying the problem, the truth is that not since 1922, as far as I know, has a Minister for the Environment ever rejected a scheme of priorities produced by a housing authority. While the present Minister may well be full of good intentions he is not the master of his successors. The truth is that while all sorts of intentions can be written into the legislation the housing authority chooses to be difficult. There are good reasons why one could anticipate that a housing authority will choose to be difficult. I will talk about those in a moment also.

There is nothing in this Bill which will guarantee a homeless person accommodation. I do not understand that, because notwithstanding the fine words that the Minister and the Minister of State used in the Dáil about partnership with voluntary organisations, about the need to get away from the obsession that the State is the provider of the remedies to all our problems, the truth is that not one of the voluntary organisations — with housing authorities and Government Departments — with whom, I presume, the Minister intends he should set up a partnership accept the view of the Government or the Minister and, presumably, of his Department, that this legislation can work without people being given a right to shelter.

Somehow or other the Minister believes that he knows better than all the voluntary organisations, who have spent 20 years working with the homeless, what the response should be. While he has talked at length about why giving shelter alone to people is not sufficient, he has not explained to me why giving people a right to shelter with whatever means he thinks are necessary, is inadequate. It is not good enough to say that people have a right to shelter. What you must do is say why a particular remedy you propose is more likely to work. Let me remind the Minister again of the extract I read at the beginning of my remarks from Administration about the views of three county managers on the homeless. It is difficult to believe that people requiring the length and extent of education that those three people needed are suddenly going to become the leaders of a revolution in concern and compassion for the homeless. At a later stage I will propose a quite simple amendment to the Bill which might bring us a good way along the route.

I would not be too woried if everything in this Bill was not to my satisfaction. What is not clear from this Bill is what can be done to a recalcitrant local authority who refuse to deal with the problem. We can do a lot about them having to assess the numbers, though I was a bit distressed to read in either section 9 or 10 that they do not necessarily have to do a comprehensive survey, and that a representative sample will do. They can do that; they can produce their scheme of lettings for local authority housing, but I have never suggested that the total solution to the problem of homelessness rests in the provision of local authority housing. Neither the Bill I introduced in 1983 not anything I have ever suggested since, has ever suggested that. What I have always suggested is that it must be clear who is responsible for the provision of accommodation for homeless people, not who is responsible for building accommodation for homeless people. It must be clear who is responsible for ensuring that they are not without accommodation, who is responsible for ensuring that they get adequate accommodation and who is responsible for ensuring that the standards of that accommodation are adequate.

I have never suggested that the way to deal with the problems of homeless people is by having them all accommodated in purpose-built local authority housing. Since a substantial number of homeless people are single, it appears to me that it would be either necessary that local authorities would have to build a whole plethora of new single occupancy local authority accommodation or, alternatively, that a variety of other methods could be used. The tragedy is that in section 10 of the Bill the sorts of methods that I think would be useful are there, but what is lacking is any reason to believe that a local authority would be motivated to do anything more than make a token provision in this direction. The Minister is, perhaps, a better and more experienced politician than I am. He ought to know, therefore, that you cannot sit back and wait on goodwill.

In a world of competing priorities, competing demands and of increasing limited financial resources, those who are on the margins will be squeezed out. It is because those of us dealing with homeless people have seen people squeezed out that we want people to be given a right to shelter.

It is important to remember that this is not something outrageously radical. We already have in our Constitution a right to free primary education which was enforced by the Supreme Court not so long ago when a long-standing national school dispute in my own adopted county lasted longer than people anticipated. The Supreme Court said the State was obliged to make provision for primary education for children in that small town.

We also have a right to an income. Anybody in our society who has no income is entitled to one or other of the various income provision schemes that are available. It is important to remember that that is not a discretionary provision. It is a right subject to a means test. Since all of us have talked about people who are homeless and cannot afford to provide accommodation for themselves, we are not talking about some absolute, unqualified right. We give people a right to education. We give people a right to an income, however inadequate that income might be, but we do guarantee them an income. We also give people a right to decent health care, provided their income is below a certain limit. The health boards are obliged to provide a reasonable standard of health care. The idea of giving rights to people in areas of social provision is not something entirely new. It is already there in the area of education. It is already there in the area of income. It is already there in the area of health. The tragedy is that that which is necessary in order to guarantee people's health, in order to use their income to a reasonable extent and, perhaps, in order to make some provision for their own education — which is housing — will not be guaranteed to them by us. I do not know how we can argue that housing, which is such a fundamental need, can be treated in a different way from education, income and health. I look forward to the Minister elaborating on that.

There is a fundamental misapprehension behind much of the thinking here. That is that this provision, or my concern, is about a static population of people who happen to be static and homeless. What I and many other people are concerned about is introducing a policy position which prevents homelessness and which guarantees that people are integrated within society in a way which makes them part of society and which holds our society together. The problem with much of what is passing for public policy in this country today is that it is doing the exact opposite. Instead of holding society together, it is driving society apart.

I do not understand how the Minister can be so sure that all the voluntary organisations and the Archbishop of Dublin, and so on can all be wrong about homelessness. The Archbishop of Dublin criticised this Bill on the grounds that it did not give homeless people a right to accommodation. It was a well publicised speech in the past couple of months. I do not know how the Minister can be so sure that he is right and everybody else is wrong. I do not think the difference between us is as enormous as people might imagine. We could perhaps work out a middle road in which what is provided could at least be pushed along in the correct direction.

Since I am talking about policy responses to homelessness it is important to realise that we are not operating, as I have said before, in a vacuum. There are, for instance, a quarter of a million German citizens without accommodation, there are approximately 15,000 homeless people in Denmark, there are so many ex-psychiatric patients left on the streets of Italy that they have resulted in the coining of a new Italian word called the abandonati because they are effectively the abandoned. Homelessness in the United States has exploded from 600,000 to 3,000,000 in the last seven or eight years. The point of all that I am saying is that homelessness is not something that can be remedied by the exercise of goodwill alone. It must be dealt with in terms of clear policy decisions by the State to do things for the homeless, not to enable things to be done but to guarantee that things will be done.

At the world conference on homelessness in Boston in June 1987 — I am quoting from a report on that conference from the Simon Community national office — Professor Peter Marcuse, Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, said:

Western societies have so far developed three strategies for dealing with homelessness. They consist of denying the problem, blaming the victims and hiding the consequences.

We were making considerable progress in a different direction because we had created a political consensus — the Fianna Fáil Party, in my view, in their period in Opposition contributed substantially to that — which did not choose to deny the problem. Other voices in our society, the Church and voluntary organisations, contributed to that as well. So, we chose not to deny the problem. Once we have identified the problem there is an implicit tendency to blame the victims in the responses of many to this problem and also we may well be moving in the direction of attempting to hide the consequences. That having been said, we can make choices.

We do not necessarily have to rewrite this Bill to make those choices. The response of one particular area in the United States to this is interesting. I will explain the place in a moment. In this particular state in the United States the causes of homelessness were identified as shortage of affordable suitable housing, the institutionalisation, poverty and low incomes, unemployment and the failure of professionals to provide suitable and relevant services. That state developed a four-pronged policy to deal with homelessness, prevention services, emergency services, supportive services and aggressive policies designed to produce permament housing linked to employment. Prevention was the only way the state felt it could get ahead of the problem. The governor of this state and his advisers were critical of other states that put all their energies into emergency services. That was the state of Massachusetts. It is particularly interesting because the governor of that state will be, perhaps, the next President of the United States. He is identified as a pragmatic and practical man, neither an ideologist nor a dreamy idealist.

The problem about not providing an obligation to make provision for homelessness in this Bill is that the area of prevention will be the underdeveloped area of any policy response. We will be more and more moving into the area of emergency provision rather than of prevention because there is nothing like the prospect of an obligation to provide housing for people to concentrate the minds of people into the area of preventing homelessness. If you are liable to be left with the consequences of delay, poor planning and poor policy on your doorstep in the form of an obligation enforceable in court to make provision for people, then you will be more likely to identify the causes of homelessness, to do something about them and to deal with other agencies that perhaps can contribute to them. If you do not do that, if you do not have an obligation to provide for people, you will let the matter run.

Since figures are quoted a lot about people who are homeless it is important to get some case histories on the record, because as Governor Dukakis has demonstrated it is possible to be both successful politically, financially prudent and also radical in policy terms in dealing with the problem of the homeless. Governor Dukakis's very practical response to the problem is one that I would commend to the Minister in his reading about the problem of homelessness because it appears to have worked and it appears to have been successful. He was not swamped either with people who could not handle the housing, people who were trying to abuse the housing or anything like that. He seems to have dealt with the problem remarkably well.

I want to read a few cases on to the record of the House. I am quoting from the annual street workers report of the Dublin Simon Community. They stated:

Joan's story.

On Christmas Eve 1985 we met Joan, who is 25 years old and is originally from Ballymun. She had been sleeping rough and staying with friends on and off for a few months. Joan's family background is one of violence and for this reason she had to leave home. She is a very capable but slightly nervous person and was extremely anxious to obtain a flat. She applied to Dublin Corporation for housing. Some months later we went along to the homeless section of the corporation with Joan. We queued in a small room along with many other homeless people applying for housing. Joan's initial interview took place in front of the other applicants and did not afford any privacy. This is standard practice. Joan was offered a flat in Ballymun but this was too near home for safety. Joan, supported by one of the street workers, explained why she did not want to live in Ballymun. The officer dealing with her found this reason totally unacceptable and wondered why a woman of 25 years could not "face up to her father". At this stage Joan was in tears. Due to the intervention of the street workers, Joan was eventually assigned a corporation flat in the city centre. Joan is now settled happily into her flat and is surrounded by good and interesting neighbours.

There is a limitless list of case histories. The Simon Community report stated of Ciaran's case:

Ciaran is a man in his thirties who had worked as a merchant seaman. When we first met him in December 1985 he was sleeping rough. We kept in regular contact with Ciaran and in April 1986 he was admitted to the No Fixed Abode Unit of St. Brendan's Hospital. Following his discharge we helped him to obtain a private flat. The rent was £17 per week. Ciaran was receiving unemployment assistance of £36 per week. He applied for a rent allowance under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. Two weeks later a community welfare officer came to visit him and, on seeing a note from the landlord's daughter stating the rent, he promised Ciaran a rent allowance of £5 a week without delay. This allowance was to increase after a few weeks. However, Ciaran was kept waiting a further four weeks before any payment whatsoever was made. Ciaran enquired from the relevant health centre the reasons for the delay in payment and was told that the note was not valid because it was not signed by the landlord himself. The reason given to us by the community welfare officer was that there had been a temporary change of personnel due to holidays. Six weeks after moving into the flat, Ciaran received a rent allowance of £5 per week which was increased to £12 per week and back dated several weeks later. This only happened after several visits and phone calls to the health centre and after Ciaran was visited a second time by another community welfare officer.

The workers' comments are:

Ciaran's story is one example of the long delays many homeless people have to endure before receiving the basic rent allowance. If Ciaran had not got the support of the Simon Street Workers he could have become homeless again due to financial difficulties incurred in waiting to obtain his rent allowance.

Members of this House ought to consider what it is like to actually have to live for six weeks on £19 a week. I invite people to think about it because, as I said at the beginning of my remarks on this issue, I am not at all persuaded that the problem of homelessness is necessarily a problem of resources alone. It is partly a problem of resources. It is also a problem of administrative will, administrative efficiency and a willingness to provide flexible responses.

I have tried to document that there is considerable evidence of a lack of flexibility and a lack of sensitivity in many of the administrative responses and, indeed, in many of the delivery agencies. I hope it is easy to see why I am less than happy about resting on the shoulders of some of those agencies the responsibility to be flexible, to be imaginative and to be creative in dealing with the problems of the homeless. The evidence up to now is sadly to the contrary.

To conclude on the work of the street workers of the Dublin Simon Community, the Dublin Simon Community's annual report for 1987, which has just been published, says:

Our street work service is designed to assist and befriend people with accommodation difficulties. The two full-time street workers visit people known to Simon in flats, prisons and hospitals. The street workers identified through telling case histories some of the problems encountered by homeless people in search of accommodation. These include standards of accommodation in the private rented sector which are appallingly low and vulnerable people are charged high rents by landlords for squalid flats. This situation continues because there is no control or regulation of this sector.

This is an area to which I invite the Minister to direct his attention. If there is a comprehensive response to the problem of homelessness, part of it must be an attempt to produce some sort of comprehensive enforceable sustainable standards for accommodation provision in the private sector. The report goes on to say there is unnecessary hardship, as a result of long delays on the part of the Eastern Health Board in granting basic rent allowances and these delays can last up to 15 weeks.

The point I want to make here is that the Eastern Health Board are familiar with and experienced in the provision of financial assistance to people through the community welfare officers and the supplementary welfare service. What am I supposed then to make of section 10 of the Bill where housing authorities may provide a person with such assistance including assistance as the authority consider appropriate. As of now, I am not aware of any function of a housing authority to provide people with financial assistance. When I see the records of an agency experienced in and familiar with the provision of financial assistance I am entitled to be less than optimistic about how any agency who have no familiarity with or experience in this area will deal with the question of providing financial assistance to people.

That is the sort of reason I have for being pessimistic about the effectiveness of section 10 of the Bill. The Simon Community report said that there are little or no support services for people discharged from psychiatric hospitals. I have often believed that people dealing with the homeless have been unduly defensive in the sense that we have always argued that because we were trying to get them a right to be housed, we asserted that effectively the only ones we were concerned about were the ones who were not mentally ill, who were not alcholics or who were not mentally handicapped.

It should be said that people who are mentally ill, mentally handicapped or, indeed, who have other ailments are just as entitled to decent accommodation as those who are whole and that the wounded and the whole in our society are not some sort of two different degrees of need or of concern, that whoever is responsible for people who are mentally ill, whether it be the housing or the health authorities, cannot get away from the fact that somewhere it should be written down that any human being, irrespective of his or her physical or mental condition, is entitled to live in dignity in decent accommodation, of a decent standard, with a reasonable aspiration to security in that accommodation.

The report by the inspector of mental hospitals on the largest hospital in the State, which was leaked some weeks ago, would not reassure one that even the so-called caring agencies do a particularly good job of looking after the most vulnerable in our society.

The Dublin Simon Community report goes on:

Impersonal and insensitive arrangements whereby applicants for local authority housing are interviewed through a hatch in a public office so that other applicants overhear details of their personal life.

It is not necessarily relevant to the Bill but that sort of an experience underlines the reason so many voluntary organisations are so sceptical about the effectiveness of this Bill. The organisational system which deals with people like that, the organisational system which does not understand people's need for privacy, which does not understand the urgency of people's needs, cannot really be expected to produce the sort of urgency of response that the prevention of homelessness requires or demands.

That is why I keep on coming back to the fundamental flaw in this Bill, the fact that there is no way of pushing, persuading or coercing a recalcitrant local authority to do anything they do not want to do. It could be done quite simply without any surrender of any principle by simply enabling the Minister to instruct a housing authority, where he was satisfied that there was a homelessness problem, to do all or some of the things they are enabled to do. It would not give people a right to housing, though I believe they should have one. It would at least focus the minds of those who are given the job of making provision at local level on the fact that, if they identify a problem of homelessness, they can either deal with it themselves as they see fit or they can be instructed by the Minister to deal with it. That would go a long way because it would crystalise responsibility and would identify a line of responsibility. Otherwise we will have a very diffuse system where each local authority will respond in their own way and where it will not be possible to enforce other than through long and difficult campaigns the services that are meant to be provided for homeless people.

I am not sure that the only reason for the dilution of the right to shelter in this Bill has to do with policy towards the homeless. I read the debates in the other House and there was a considerable reference to the future housing crisis which we are now effectively guaranteeing because of the reduction in funding for local authority housing. I have figures here which suggest that local authority housing completions in 1980 were 5,984. This rose to 7,002 in 1984. It is estimated to have dropped to 3,400 in 1987 and is estimated to drop to 1,600 in 1988. Those figures are from the Dáil Official Report of 25 November 1987, column 1785.

If you have a drop of almost 5,500 in four years for the maximum provision to what is now envisaged and if that persists for a number of years, quite clearly, even given demographic changes, even given emigration, one will have to accept the fact that we will have somewhere around 200,000 to 250,000 unemployed, an increasing number of old people in our society, a large young population and a large marrying population. That sort of a dramatic drop in local authority housing completions, coupled with the drop in income that unemployment and deflated wages will produce, will mean an astonishingly large housing crisis in a relatively short period.

The Dáil Official Report of 27 April 1988 states:

The allocation for new house starts to Cork Corporation for 1988 is nil, to Dublin Corporation nil, to Galway Corporation nil, to Limerick Corporation nil and to Waterford Corporation nil....

We can see that even the figure of 1,600 for 1988 may well be substantially less in 1989 and 1990. It is difficult, therefore, to see how one can have people who are without shelter, people who are homeless, guaranteed a right to shelter when, in fact, effectively there will not be any local authority housing carried out in the immediate future. I have a funny feeling, even though I am sure the Minister will spiritedly deny it, that there is a connection between the substantial reduction in local authority housing construction and the reluctance to give people any sort of, however qualified, right to shelter. There is a lot that could be said about the problem of homelessness but I have said it on three or four occasions already in this House. I have said it to the Minister and to his officials and there is probably no need to repeat it again. I have spoken at some length on the issue.

I would like to begin to conclude, if I can use that phrase, by talking a bit about some of the things that are in the Bill. The most trenchant and most valid criticism, the best expressed criticism, is that of the Simon Community. Like the Simon Community, I welcome what is positive in the Bill, but I am unhappy with many things that are missing from it. I am not happy that the definition of homeless in section 2 is comprehensive enough. In particular, given my emphasis on prevention of homelessness, which I believe to be the proper way of guaranteeing that we do not have a problem nothing is being done about people who are threatened with homelessness.

It seems entirely ludicrous that you have to wait until people are on the street before the provisions of this Bill, however inadequate I may take them to be, can be implemented. I do not know why it is not possible given the discretionary nature of section 10, to extend it to people whom the local authority view as being threatened with homelessness. Since the local authority are effectively God in relation to what they need to do, they could quite clearly make provision for people who are threatened with homelessness instead of having to wait until people are on the side of the road.

The second concern I have with respect to the Bill relates to sections 8 and 9 in terms of the estimates of housing requirements. I do not understand why we cannot have a guarantee of estimates of housing requirements on a regular basis. Section 9 guarantees that a housing assessment will be carried out not less frequently than every three years. If the housing assessment is being carried out not less frequently than every three years, why not the estimate of housing requirements? It would be logical and sensible to conduct both together and to conduct both with an equal frequency. I also think it is a considerable pity that it is not clear from section 8 or section 9 that the result of the estimate of housing requirements and the housing assessment will be made public.

I cannot understand why it is not clearly written into the Bill that such information should be made public. I invite the Minister to agree with me that it should be published, or to explain why it should not be published. It does not have to be published in any elaborate fashion. There need not be any glossy publications. The scheme of lettings for housing can be inspected by any member of the public at an office of the housing authority — that is contained in a later section of the Bill — and I cannot see why the outcome of these assessments cannot be available for inspection by any member of the public.

I suspect that it is not the intention that this material should be made public. I suspect that parts of it may be made public, that nobody will be too happy with publishing every three years, or whatever it is, measures which show that housing authorities are actually not dealing with the problem, particularly in a period when on the basis of the allocations so far this year, we will not have any new house starts in most of our major urban areas. I have reason to believe nobody really wants to make provision for the publication of this information. Perhaps the Minister can assure me that I am entirely mistaken.

It is a pity also that section 10 does not contain, as I said previously, a guarantee of a response. I am not even talking about a right to housing. One of the interesting things about section 2 is that, notwithstanding my criticisms, it has one very useful aspect to it. It states:

A person shall be regarded by a housing authority as being homeless for the purposes of this Act if there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the authority he, together with... might reasonably be expected to reside...

If the person has no accommodation, there is no real opinion that the housing authority can have and, therefore, that person must be regarded as homeless. In many ways that definition of homelessness is more satisfactory than the qualified one contained in the Coalition Government's Bill because it does not enable people to use their own opinions to exclude people from being homeless so they have to accept them as being homeless. The tragedy is that, once they have accepted people as being homeless, they do not necessarily have to do anything about it. That is why the Minister ought to take to himself, either by regulation or in the Bill, the right to direct authorities who have assessed a problem of homelessness on whatever scale it is and who are not doing the things they are entitled to do, to do them.

There is, however, another problem in section 10 to which I direct the Minister's attention and which has not been commented on so far, that is, subsection (8) which states that where accommodation or lodgings are made available to a person by virtue of subsection (1) (a) the circumstances of that person change to the extent that, in the opinion of the housing authority, inter alia, if the accommodation or lodgings being made so available were no longer available, the person would not be homeless, or the person is now able to provide accommodation from his own resources, the authority may cease to have such accommodation or lodgings made so available.

That sounds perfectly reasonable if you are talking about either direct subsidies or local authority housing, but subsection (1) (a) talks about the housing authority making arrangements with a body for the provision by that body of accommodation for a homeless person. It appears that any voluntary organisation who enter into such an arrangement will have surrendered their autonomy to the housing authority because any person they are providing accommodation for whom they deem to be homeless can be put out of that accommodation if the housing authority come to that conclusion.

The autonomy of voluntary organisations will be undermined by what is an unintentional provision of this Bill which will give the housing authority effectively the right to say to a voluntary organisation: "We no longer think that person should be in your accommodation; out he goes".

I do not think that is the intention of the Bill. It is something that should be amended and we can discuss it at some length. The other unfortunate omission, particularly in the area of renting accommodation, arranging lodgings, or contributing to the cost of such accommodation, is the omission of any reference to standards that I could find in the Bill. We have had enough evidence at this stage of the hotel for the homeless syndrome in the United Kingdom, of some of the horrific stuff that was in the Sunday Observer about security staff in the so-called hotels, intimidating children and threatening residents that, if they spoke to the press about the conditions, they would be kicked out of the place. The last people who complained to the press about the conditions of one particular so-called hotel lost their accommodation two days later.

We do not want people getting rich on the backs of the homeless. The way to ensure that is to insist that decent standards be met. Nobody is talking about excessive luxury, but reasonable standards in terms of privacy, sanitation, water, heating, absence of dampness etc. They are reasonable expectations. They are expected in other areas of provision. Local authorities have obligations in many cases to insist on these standards but, whether they enforce them or not, is another matter. That is another unfortunate omission from the Bill.

Senator Fitzsimons said those sort of matters are best dealt with on Committee Stage. I am not sure when we are proposing to have Committee Stage but it is suggested that we might have it tomorrow. I will have a substantial number of amendments on Committee Stage and I expect to have an equally substantial number of amendments on Report Stage. I look forward to the usual quality of reasonable response which the Minister gives to reasonable arguments. It is a great pity that a considerable opportunity was lost to write into our legislation the right to shelter, to write into our legislation a guarantee that nobody who is homeless and who has not got the means to provide for himself or herself, should live on the side of the road.

The problem about this Bill and the most upsetting part of it is that it accepts implicitly that people in our society will continue to live on the side of the road. If it is wrong for people to live on the side of the road, if it is wrong for people to live in the sort of accommodation provided in the night shelters I am most familiar with, it should be our objective to end it. You cannot end it by hoping that something will happen or by promising that you will do your best to see that it will happen. You can only end it by guaranteeing that people will do something else. That has been the considered view of every voluntary organisation in the country, every voluntary organisation that I am aware of in the United Kingdom and every voluntary organisation I have had any contact with in the rest of the European Communities. It is also the view of many of those dealing with the homeless in the States, that you cannot do it either by market forces or by expressions of goodwill. What provision there is for homeless people in New York city was fought for through the courts and the courts accepted that the State had an obligation to make provision for people.

There is a body of legal opinion which suggests that there is an implied right to shelter in our Constitution. It may well be that, if we do not succeed in getting the guarantee written into legislation, we may perhaps have to pursue the constitutional route. That is one of the reasons I regret the fact that, after so much hard work, so much effort and so much thought on his part, somehow or other this Minister's good intentions were deflected and that a Bill that starts well and goes on well, ends so poorly with such a weak provision at the end of so much in terms of effort, definition and intent. Nobody I know in the voluntary sector, dealing with the homeless, believes that this Bill will make a fundamental difference. They believe it is a representation of thinking. They believe it is a step forward but they do not believe it is the sort of necessary dramatic shift in priority which would be needed to deal with the problems of the homeless.

I want to compliment the Minister for the things he has done which are very worth while. I want to qualify heavily that compliment by saying that I believe section 10, as it stands, will not have the desired effect in local authority areas, where either housing, or funds, or goodwill, or all three of them or any of the three of them are in short supply. Even if there is goodwill there, the fact that no specification as to minimum standards is written into the Bill will leave homeless people open to provision in very inadequate accommodation. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to consider at least some amendments to section 10. In order to facilitate those of us who want to ensure that local authorities do what they are enabled to do, I ask the Minister to ensure that the results of the surveys under sections 8 and 9 would be made public so that we can at least evaluate in an objective way the performance of the housing authorities.

I join with other Senators in welcoming the Minister to this House. I welcome the new legislation. A large number of people recognise that the legislation will be helpful. I do not think anybody could ever claim that ideal legislation can be introduced and that all the problems in an area as vast as housing will be automatically solved or covered. I accept this. This Bill is a useful improvement in general terms and goes a good part of the way. The housing problem is vast. Rural Ireland has different problems from the city problems.

I listened to Senator Ryan's fine contribution. It is related mostly to the problems in the city with which I have very little contact, even though I have been a member of a local authority for 29 years. I read in the papers that all cities have a really serious problem of homeless people. We could attribute it to the affluence of the society we are living in, or we could attribute it to many different aspects of our developing society. Nevertheless, the problems to be covered in the Housing Bill are enormous.

I see this Bill as an improvement and as a step forward to meet the need. Like any other legislation, its implementation depends on the funds available. I see legislation in a totally different light. The provisions are laid down but they are only paper provisions unless the Government have the will to finance them and the local authorities have the will to implement and deliver them on the ground. I welcome the Minister's attitude and his constructive approach to a difficult problem. That is my general assessment.

Like other Senators, I have my own difficulties coming from a rural area. I hope this legislation will provide a framework that will enable local authorities and all the agencies involved in the provision of housing to embark on the development of a housing programme that will be never ending.

I welcome the tremendous development we have had recently with the tenant purchase scheme. That was a massive improvement. I am a member of a local authority in rural Ireland where we were faced with the difficulty of continuing to repair houses. It is very natural that people should wish to own their own house. The decision to allow local authority houses to be purchased by the tenants at a reasonable price was a major breakthrough. It is tragic to see local authorities providing houses and then having to meet repair bills which far exceed the rents of those houses. The initial cost of the house is never recouped. If you look at that in practical terms you will see that there has to be an end to it — but when the end comes somebody who does not have a house may suffer. Finance for the provision of houses is a major problem for a country such as ours which does not have vast wealth. It is tragic that the maintenance bill for a local authority house outstrips the total rent.

There is another bad aspect to that kind of system. When a person gets a local authority house all the repairs are carried out by the local authority who provided the House. But the person becomes careless about the house. It is not his own, and it is not his responsibility to keep and maintain the house. I would say every member of a local authority has had occasion to baulk at being asked to bring out an engineer to clear a stopped drain or to do some small maintenance work which involved vast resources of money and manpower.

I was delighted to see the new tenant purchase scheme being offered to people. There is a realistic assessment of the value of the house. I come from an area where there is a vast number of local authority houses and the response to that scheme was magnificent. In my 29 years as a public representative I believe it was the best measure ever introduced by any Government or local government and it evoked the best response on the ground. It got people involved in ownership and maintenance of their own home. It stopped the financial drag on resources, thereby automatically making more funds available to provide for further housing. That was the intention behind the scheme. I warmly welcome that measure.

Recently, there was a new move by the Government to direct the financing of private housing away from local authorities and from central funds to those who are involved in the business of financing, whether it is housing agencies, banks or financial consortia. That was a tremendous development and is welcomed in general terms by the vast number of people. But it is not yet 100 per cent satisfactory. There have been difficulties, perhaps more difficulties in rural Ireland, about the value of the house, the area where the house was being built and many other aspects that would not be very relevant in city areas. But, generally, the measure encourages the financial institutions within the State to become involved in the financing of houses. It is, therefore, a good arrangement and I welcome it.

The new measure has a major task. The provision of housing is ongoing and is a major difficulty. The difficulty in rural Ireland is substantially different from that in the city of Dublin. The Housing Bill, 1984, was not a great measure. It was not very satisfactory so far as local authorities in rural Ireland were concerned.

I am speaking mainly about the aspect of the 1984 Bill which provided for house improvement grants. A reasonably wealthy person in the city could have a second house. He could spend a lot of money on repairs, putting in PVC or aluminium windows, doors and porches and central heating, actually bringing up the standard of an old house, and making it a financial proposition whether to retain or to sell it. For people with the wealth and for the people who had a house on a valuable site in the city it was a very attractive proposition to repair that house. When the measure was introduced people in the country had to get planning permission and they had to apply for finance. It was harder to get finance to do housing repairs in rural Ireland and it also took longer. Therefore, I believe that a number of people in rural Ireland who had applications, and still have applications, under the 1984 Act for house improvement grants were caught. The number of people who were caught in rural Ireland is substantially greater than those who were caught in the city. There were a number of areas in which people found themselves with a problem because they were not so quick off the mark, because they had more difficulties to surmount and were less confident in their ability to finance the project. That highlights a serious difficulty in rural Ireland.

We must continue to build in rural Ireland. We must continue to build single cottages. It could be argued that they are not an economic proposition. But look at the disadvantages and the problems when you allow people into the city — Senator Ryan is complaining about this — when we have to provide shelters and have to respond to homeless people on the street. I think it would be a lesser problem if people were supported and retained on the family farm — even if they are the last of the family, perhaps two elderly people living in the old homestead that needs repair or replacement. I still see a need for cottages in rural Ireland. I hope the Minister will continue to provide the local authority with finance to build rural cottages.

I will not deal with the question of hard stands, camp sites and so on, because in rural Ireland, and certainly in my county, they do not present the same type of problem. Our biggest difficulty at the moment is to segregate the travelling people. Some of them are very well off, some are better off than the people in the settled communities and a big percentage are in business. The public at the moment could find it very easy to be hostile towards travelling people because of the impression the traders and the better-off section of the travelling people are giving. Most of them certainly in my part of the country, are trading very successfully. They have new vehicles and that in itself presents a problem for the less-well off section of the travelling people. The local authorities and the many organisations in rural Ireland are doing a useful job and the provisions in this Bill will help that good work to continue. I do not see that as a major problem in rural Ireland.

The expressed intention in this Bill is good, as it is in any Bill, but all of us must recognise that the introduction of legislation is not in itself the complete answer. The delivery, the performance, the financing of and the compliance with it are the real test of the Bill. Local authorities will be anxious to work in accordance with the new legislation and to provide extra houses but I hope — and I say this in country terms — that those who are planning to develop housing in rural Ireland under the new legislation will not suck the hind teat as far as provision is concerned. That expression is often used in the country.

Because of my experience, commitment to and understanding of the difficulties of rural Ireland I believe that it is more difficult to provide housing there than in the cities. I will support that by saying that the Bill will most benefit the cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, or other major centres of population where property value is higher.

It is much easier to provide a house in these areas because the finance agency that will lend money, whether to a private builder or to a local authority, will always recognise the importance of the value of the house. This is borne out by the fact that the National Building Agency in the past three or four years have not gone north of a line between Dundalk and Galway and the number of houses built privately by contractors has declined west of the Boyne. I hope the Government will recognise the difference. Perhaps it is more evident in my county.

In County Donegal, the county manager, who has been there for 30 years, sanctioned the building of six houses when he should have sanctioned the building of 20. The third of four stages now costs three or four times the price. As a result — and I believe this to be unique — we have a serious housing shortage. This is a serious problem but not entirely brought about by any Government or by any legislation. It is partly self-inflicted. Therefore, we are very concerned about the introduction of new legislation and how it will affect us, how we can put the balance right and recover the ground that we have lost over so many years. I believe we have a very substantial housing list and the National Building Agency are not contributing anything to the west. That, in itself, makes it much more difficult. In major centres there is private development, contractors building on "spec" and the National Building Agency and this has gone a long way towards solving the housing problem. There is not the same approach towards meeting housing needs in other areas.

In relation to housing grants, I want to say to the Minister of State, Deputy Connolly, whom I believe is committed and conscientious and has been on top of this problem, that he has had a major problem in O'Connell Bridge House. He has had to take on responsibility for an administration that was difficult, outdated and arrogant — and I do not use that word accidentally. I will give three examples of house improvement grant decisions that I believe to be utterly unfair. The Minister said that we would cut out the red tape and use a practical approach.

I know of a family in Donegal who applied for a house improvement grant and the housing inspector did not call until almost a year later. He called on a Saturday morning and put a card under the door saying that he had called when nobody was at home. Four days later that applicant got a letter saying that as he was not at home when the housing inspector called that his grant application had lapsed. That is utterly unfair and I protest here in the strongest possible terms as it is the only forum that I have to protest in. I have the letters with me here. That is certainly not fulfilling the housing legislation in any manner.

The Housing Memorandum part A — eligibility — section 2.4 states:

Where the house is built on the applicant's own site under a contract to build "self build" the VAT registered work undertaken by the registered contractor(s) must not be less than £15,000. More than one VAT registered contractor can contribute to make up the £15,000 minimum.

I was informed of a case where a small contractor went to do a job. The applicant, who had borrowed £20,000 from the housing agency, went with the contractor and bought the materials. The invoice was made out in the applicant's name. There was no dishonesty. It was done openly and fairly and the VAT was paid on £18,000 worth of materials. The work cost about £5,000 to the contractor. The invoice was submitted to the Department and a letter issued refusing the grant which was utterly disgusting and unacceptable.

The Chair has been very lenient with you in regard to these special cases that you have been mentioning. You should talk on housing generally because individual cases have no relevance to the provisions of the Bill before us.

The reason I raise it is that I recognise the difficulties and the good intentions when introducing legislation. However, I also recognise delivery on the ground. If we do not succeed in implementing legislation, all the pious platitudes that can be inserted in a Bill based on parliamentary draftman's experience, on the best advice given are meaningless if there is not good intent on the part of everybody, the Minister and all others. I am not availing of this occasion to embarrass the Minister. Privately and publicly I acknowledged that I hold the Minister in high esteem. There is no bluff or no lack of intention on the part of the Minister to deliver. I am criticising the structures, the system and the difficulties they present. I said at the outset that I recognise that the Minister has inherited a problem at O'Connell Bridge House. No matter what legislation is introduced, if you cannot deliver, if the pipe is corroded, the full measure cannot be achieved. I am not questioning the Minister's intention for one minute. I totally support him. It is abundantly clear to all that he has done outstanding work. The Minister should take aside those people who are complacent and say to them: I am satisfied that in introducing this Bill it was my firm intent to wipe out any sloppiness or bad procedure in the implementation of its provisions.

If you sit down, allow red tape and bureaucracy to win, the poor will come off worst and those who are well-organised and well-financed, will do best. They can more quickly and easily surmount any difficulties. The greatest need at present is in pockets of rural Ireland. I say that with total respect to Senator Ryan's passionate plea on behalf of the homeless people and those on the streets. For example, I could take members a distance of two miles and show them ten caravans with young children, with water running down the walls, leading to condensation, chest problems and doctors visits. Should I be elected to a county council, to the Seanad five times and not air those serious matters that concern me? I would be failing in my duty and would resign had I not the opportunity or the support of this House to do so. I am hopeful that the provisions of this Bill will go part of the way to clearing up the housing problems in pockets in rural areas, in particular in my own county.

I want to see people removed from the squalor of caravans and bad housing. I know it can be done by way of encouragement of local authorities and people generally to house themselves. It can be done. The provisions of this Bill are adequate and welcome. Perhaps I am not being sufficiently eloquent but I am trying to get the message across that I am concerned about delivery and implementation on the ground. I am saying to the Minister that probably he would be my choice as the man to deliver the goods. I am merely helping him to identify difficult areas. I trust that the Minister will recognise that I am sincere and that I have some experience in these matters. I hope the provisions of the Bill will go some way to meeting some of the needs.

I ask the Minister to investigate the possibility of local authorities buying houses from small contractors. This is not done at present, but we are now looking at matters afresh. We should not be afraid of addressing procedural difficulties. I am asking the Minister to encourage local authorities — if they are satisfied beyond doubt that they can buy a group of two or, say, ten houses — to buy ready built from a contractor particularly if access roads are developed, the site acquired, services laid on and the houses meet the building standards, VAT has been paid and the contractor is 100 per cent above board. With the provisions of this Bill I am asking the Minister to encourage local authorities to buy houses from small contractors, or large contractors, where it is proven beyond doubt that they are getting good value.

Perhaps as a more revolutionary idea in today's world, as Europeans, and representing a county with a housing problem, I ask the Minister to allow local authorities to borrow money, whether from the European Investment Bank or wherever. I know that probably the Central Bank and others would frown on that proposal. I regard housing of people as a valuable investment. I regard local authorities as experienced bodies in that respect. Part of the problem in rural Ireland could be solved if local authorities were allowed to borrow directly. They should have no difficulty whatever in getting the money. For example, my local authority, Donegal County Council, could raise funds and bring about a substantial improvement in the housing position in Donegal if the Government allowed them to raise funds within legitimate, recognised, financial structures in Europe. The Minister might examine that suggestion.

Perhaps I went into too much detail but I did so with the sincere intention to encouraging the Minister to support needy areas in respect of which all the legislation in the world will achieve little if we cannot deliver and implement its provisions on the ground.

I want to say this in sincerity without being parochial, local or rural to the extent that I do not recognise we have a lovely city here in Dublin. I drive out by Donnybrook and I see the marvellous development there, as good as any in the world, far superior to anything in America, with cutstone pillars and gates and lively housing schemes. I visit them, I even stop my car and see the staff of the local authority watering the flowers and replacing plants on the road between here and Donnybrook. Then I go back down to Donegal, I see the difference and I say to myself: "You have a long way to go, McGowan". You know you have a heavy task and even those coming after you have a task, if ever we are to get equal status, if we are ever to get the people out of living in rotten caravans on the hillside in Donegal. That is the problem I have to tackle. Having an opportunity to air it here and to get it off my chest is a help.

Our Constitution aspires to cherishing all the children of the nation equally. I have not used that expression very much. I see how unequal we are. I see the need at least to provide decent housing for all our people. If decent housing with running water, electricity and education are provided in rural areas they will survive. Is it not better to do that and give them some degree of support for basics than allowing them reach the stage when they no longer believe in themselves, when those who are living in the city centre with their roads covered with flowers, are taxed to death to send vanloads of money, guarded by the Army, down to sustain those on the side of the hill? That is my simple philosophy.

I hope the provisions of this Bill work. I hope it goes part of the way to solving those problems. I call on the Minister to ensure that rural areas get their fair share of allocation of moneys for housing, whether by way of grants for essential repairs, disabled persons housing, a rural cottage, whether it involves a private builder, a local authority or whatever aspect of housing development. I hope the Minister will ensure rural areas get their fair share of the cake and that attention is given to the serious difficulties obtaining with regard to housing in rural Ireland.

In general the Labour Party welcome the Bill and see its provisions as being progressive. The main argument with the Minister would be that there is no obligation or duty on local authorities to house homeless people; rather it is still simply a requirement.

I should like to deal with what I consider to be some omissions from the Bill. I was glad to hear Senator McGowan speak frankly and sincerely about the problem of the travellers. In Waterford city we also have a problem with travellers. We have succeeded over the years in housing quite a few travelling families but at present there are three or four families who do not particularly want housing, who are camped on the side of the road and frequent the area for most of the year. We call these the permanent travellers. The Minister's Department have approved in principle £170,000 for the provision of a hard stand in Waterford. Very recently a revised proposed lay-out by his Department was agreed by Waterford Corporation.

I should like to put one point to the Minister. The planning committee of Waterford Corporation went to a great deal of trouble to investigate this matter, to learn from what had been done in other areas, to make the halting site or hard stand as successful as possible. The official who deals with such matters in Dublin County Council came to a meeting of the planning committee and outlined to us what was happening in Dublin. Likewise members of that planning committee went to Cork city and visited the halting sites there. One point that came across to us very clearly was the need for a caretaker on each of the halting sites. Waterford Corporation sought this provision from the Minister's Department but they were not able to agree to their request. We are genuinely concerned about this matter.

The three or four families about whom I spoke would be the so-called permanent traveller families. Probably there are another nine traveller families who could be described as transient. The latter would frequent the Waterford area for a part of the year only. Then there are the group Senator McGowan described as traders, some of whom can have adequate housing accommodation in other areas, who come to the area when there are pickings to be had for a local festival, race meeting or whatever. Mixing permanent traveller families and transient families on a halting site can present difficulties. Groups dealing with the travellers have pointed out these difficulties to us.

The role of the caretaker is important in ensuring that problems do not arise when permanent traveller families and transient families are mixed. If there could be a provision included in this Bill that, where a halting site is provided, a caretaker should be also provided, that would be an important progressive step. I have seen halting sites where, because a certain family moved in and there was no caretaker there, feuding broke out resulting in all the families leaving that halting site. It is a difficult problem. But in terms of State investment, the extra money needed for the provision of a caretaker would be vital and well spent. If the Minister examines the position he will find that those local authorities who have made progress in this respect have been those who provided caretakers on such halting sites.

Another matter that concerns me and in respect of which there is no provision in the Bill, is that part of our national housing stock without bathrooms. In Waterford city there are 300 to 400 houses which do not have bathrooms. There is no grant system to assist the local authority in the provision of such bathrooms. It is a crying shame that, in this day and age families are forced to live, not alone in cities but in rural areas, in some cases, without running water and in others without bathrooms. This deficiency in the Bill concerns me enormously and is something I would ask the Minister to consider rectifying. On Committee Stage we shall be tabling amendments to the Bill. In this day and age any State-provided house which is without running water or bathroom is just not good enough.

Recently I obtained a report on the homeless from the Dungarvan Social Action Group in County Waterford. The figures emanating from a survey they carried out on the problems of the homeless in Dungarvan and its environs are fairly shocking. I have not had an opportunity to check those figures. Between April 1986 and April 1987 questionnaires were sent to school principals, clergy, gardaí, voluntary and non-voluntary social workers and medical personnel. The information supplied showed that there were 70 young people at risk in a town where the approximate population would be 7,000; that there were 30 battered wives, 23 unmarried mothers and 48 men on the road, homeless and in need of emergency accommodation and support services. Those figures paint a very bleak and alarming picture.

This gets me back to the part of the Bill that deals with homelessness. Let me again state the Labour Party's concern that if and when this Bill is passed there is not an obligation or duty on local authorities to provide housing for the homeless. The Labour Party will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage. One will be in relation to section 2, which deals with the definition of homeless persons. We shall be seeking the insertion of the word "hostel" in that section. Our definition of a "hostel" would be multiple accommodation constructed for the purpose of providing a refuge, aid, facilities or services for a person who would not otherwise have accommodation readily available to him or her for occupation but shall not include hostel accommodation for students, professional trainees or youth hostels. Some people who go into hostels — and I have seen this in my area — do not settle there. They are excellent occupants but invariably feel they need independent accommodation, an independent place for themselves. We would be very concerned that, in terms of the definition of "homelesness", hostels would be included as I have defined them.

Whenever a report on the housing needs of an area are being defined the Labour Party would contend that young persons leaving institutional care, without family accommodation, and single persons should be considered. In my area there are at present quite a number of single men and women living in very inadequate accommodation. I am talking now about people on fixed incomes, be they unemployment assistance, disability benefit, single woman's allowance or whatever. When such people are forced to seek private accommodation invariably there are two alternatives available to them. They can pay for decent accommodation but, in terms of food and entertainment, their budgets are severely restricted. Alternatively, they can opt for very inadequate accommodation when they will have a little more money for food and clothing. Neither of those alternatives is a happy one. This group should be favourably treated in regard to housing because they are becoming more numerous in our society.

The whole question of local authority housing, and loans was dealt with last week on a Labour Party Private Members' motion in regard to the funding of local authorities. At that time I stressed the point that the reason the 1988 local authority house purchase scheme was so attractive to tenants was that in 1987 the rates support grant to local authorities was cut by 9 per cent and this year was cut by a further 18 per cent. The effect of these cuts is that local authorities have neither the personnel nor the materials to carry out necessary repairs to their housing stock. I might cite the position obtaining in County Waterford, where there is one tradesman and one labourer for east Waterford, one tradesman and one labourer for west Waterford. It will be appreciated that the real reason for the introduction of this scheme was that local authorities — with present funding and manning levels — could not carry out the necessary repairs to their housing stock.

An interesting anomaly arises here. A point was brought to my attention this morning, that someone who had purchased under a previous house purchase scheme could be paying £20 a week more than a neighbour purchasing under the provisions of the present scheme. If we take that argument to a logical conclusion it means that the tenant who purchased under the provisions of our earlier scheme, to some extent is subsidising the tenant purchasing under this latest scheme. The anomaly becomes clearer when one notes that a local authority tenant, on 1 January 1988, is entitled to purchase his house but people with many years tenancy who purchased under the provisions of earlier schemes pay a lot more for theirs. For instance, there is an urban renewal scheme in Waterford city whose houses were offered under the old scheme at approximately £39,000 and are now being offered at £22,000. That is inequitable treatment of people who were transferred to these houses because their existing homes had been demolished and who had had many years of local authority tenancy and now in spite of that tenancy they find they are paying an awful lot more than those people opting to purchase under the new scheme. This is not a criticism of the provisions of the new scheme. But I believe the Minister should address himself to the question of restoring equity to the system.

I read with interest the Minister's comments this morning when he spoke of £70 million being made available by banks and building societies to finance people on moderate incomes to provide their own homes. One of the most retrograde steps taken by any Government in the matter of housing was that taken by this Government in October last when they abolished the fixed interest rate on local authority loans. If we take the lowest rate of interest that applied during the eighties and the highest rate of interest that applied on the maximum ordinary loan from a local authority, there could be a difference of £90 a month in repayments.

We are talking here about loans available to people who have an income of less than £10,000 a year. Young people come to me now for advice regarding local authority loans. If they came to me 12 months ago, in some cases I would have said "yes, I think it is a good prospect for you. It is fixed interest. What you are paying now will continue throughout the term of your repayment". However, they could be on the margin and not have much disposable income to play with. We never know when interest rates are going to go up again. The interest rate on local authority loans since the change last October will now go up and down with the market. The mortgage subsidy is now gone. International interest rates can rise due to factors beyond the control of this or any other Government and our interest rates will follow. All these matters could and will cause very severe hardship to young people who are providing their own houses and not proving to be a burden on the State.

As the 1988 house purchase scheme stands, the final say as regards valuation rests with the local authority. We intend to put down an amendment on Committee Stage seeking outside independent arbitration where there is a dispute between the tenant who intends to purchase and the local authority. The amendment is to provide that, where a dispute arises between the purchaser and the local authority as to the open market value, the dispute may be referred by either party to an independent arbitrator. The costs involved in the arbitration shall form part of the purchase price of the dwelling and shall be included in the terms of the mortgage. We believe that in assessing the market value tenants who intend to purchase should have the right and the safeguard to go to independent arbitration if they so desire.

The terms of this purchase scheme are very attractive and, as I said to the Minister here last week, councillors of every political persuasion are encouraging their constituents to avail of the scheme. However, it is going to reduce dramatically the housing stock of local authorities. This Government have dramatically cut back on the provision of local authority houses. I instance the example of Dublin County Council, who are getting enough money to provide approximately three £40,000 houses this year, when they have a waiting list of 722 approved applicants. Dublin city is even worse, with a waiting list of 3,696 and no money provided. In my own area Waterford City Council in the past two years have been allocated no money for new starts, and we have a waiting list of 448 applications. In the county council area, where 50 houses a year were built throughout the life of the last Government, enough money has been provided to start six houses towards the end of this year, and we have a waiting list of 106.

The Labour Party's major concern — and it reaches beyond this Bill in some senses—is that by 1990 on present trends we are going to have a very severe housing crisis unless the Government start to put money back into the provision of local authority houses. We are selling off much of our housing stock and we are not providing the houses to replace that. By changing the terms of local authority loans we are making it more and more difficult for young people on modest means to provide their own houses and therefore not be on local authority housing lists as approved applicants.

I will conclude there. Our intention is to put down quite a number of amendments on Committee Stage.

I wish to make some comments on the generality of the Bill as I respond to it and to take up one or two points which I have heard other Senators making. Firstly, I would like to pay a tribute to the Simon Community for the great work they have done in this area and to record that shortly after I came into the Seanad, when there was an interest in mounting a Homeless Persons Bill, I took it upon myself to go around late at night in Dublin to the various hostels and hostelries where the homeless persons abide. In one sense it was quite an appalling experience and in another sense it was very uplifting. It was appalling because one found so many people were driven through homelessness to seeking shelter in hostels. I can well remember the entry into the Simon Community hostel on the quays. In order to gain entry you kicked the metal door three resounding bangs and it was opened. The uplifting part was the person who opened it and the people who were behind him. Those were the young people who staffed that hostel and who gave of their time, service, energies and devotion to the down-and-out, the deprived and the sick. I always recollect finding on the very top floor an old man with his wee dog in his bed.

I remember visiting another place in Sean McDermott Street and going to O'Connell Bridge, when most respectable Dubliners were probably tucked up in nice comfortable beds, to participate in a soup kitchen which had resonant notes of times past in Ireland and times which we hope will some day be past forever. Finally, I visited at the back of the Custom House where people were climbing into cardboard boxes. At another place I saw folk getting into old, broken down cars. Another uplifting experience was a visit to the Salvation Army home. The Salvation Army has done magnificent work for down-and-outs for many years not only in Dublin but throughout the world.

I would also like to share in the tribute that was paid to the voluntary housing organisations. The removal of the phrase "deliberate homelessness" is a move in the right direction, because that term always conjured up in one's mind a condition of manipulative homelessness. I do not think anyone, even someone who might be guilty of some manipulation in certain circumstances, could be said to be "in a homely way of going" if in fact he is trying to manipulate such labels. There is a difference between a house and a home. You can put a roof over someone's head but you certainly cannot by legislation alone provide the homely, heartfelt sense of being in a real home.

Senator Brendan Ryan raised the problem of the lack of a secure base people have who feel homeless for one reason or another. Without a secure base a person lacks confidence and a sense of purpose and has a generally constricted attitude to participating in the society to which he rightfully belongs and into which he should be reintegrated if at all possible. There seems little doubt, therefore, that the homeless person is one of the increasing numbers of marginalised sections we see in this day and age of increasing centralisation. We must reverse that centralising trend and make the decision makers at local community level more accountable to the whole scene and not just parts of it. This trend in marginalisation is much more acute in today's Britain than it is here. Certainly the effects of it seem to be much more marked in Britain. A fundamental human right should be the right to shelter.

In my clinical experience I see many people who, if not homeless, are on the margins of homelessness. They become involved in drunken brawls and gang fighting. They have been violent in the home and have been thrown out of the home and because they have been thrown out of the home, in despair they have been reduced to violence. They feel excluded, they are marginalised; they have nowhere to go. Sometimes they even create symptoms so they can gain admission to hospital for a night, preferably short of the surgeon's knife, although sometimes that has been known to slip if the symptoms are sufficiently convincing. You can have the down and out, and the out and down. Alcohol, conflict in the home, psychological problems, depression and so on have been mentioned. I was delighted to see the travellers mentioned and taken into account again.

It seems that there is a dearth of money and resources to meet what may be an expanding and difficult need to respond to. Therefore, we have to look once again at the question of the second house. People holding Irish passports hold second houses in the 26 southern counties of the Irish Republic. There are also people who do not hold Irish passports who own a second house or another house in this part of the country. To be fair to the people who have purchased the second house, it seems not unreasonable that, when they come to sell it, if they can get their original price plus whatever is required to even up for the change in the cost of living, that should be adequate to recompense them for the privilege of having that second house, but it is high time we looked at what happens to the remainder of the profit.

Is it right that those who do not pay taxes in this jurisdiction, for example, can make a profit using a house as a form of currency, leave the jurisdiction with that profit and put nothing back into the community which they visited for a very short time in the year? The Minister should look into this area as a possible source of income when it comes to the need to build, restore or repair houses. I happen to have a second house and I feel very privileged to have it. I have always felt it is an odd quirk in the way we manage our affairs that you can be in that house for such a short time in the year, the community in which it is placed gets so little from you, and you can then sell it perhaps at enormous profit and leave the State that much worse off and the community no better off. It would seem perfectly fair and right that people so privileged should have some form of tax imposed on them to ensure that the money can be shifted in the direction of those who need houses. Furthermore, the fact that you have a second house inevitably inflates the value of the housing stock.

I am delighted with the commitment to repeal the offensive section in the Vagrancy Act. Let me mention the problem of homelessness and houselessness. There is a distinction. You can go into a very humble home where there is great warmth and where the house in itself is not particularly sophisticated. You can go into a very well appointed house and find a fairly heartless hearth and a great deal of tension and anxiety there. We are dealing here mainly with the creation of shelter, but we will never deal with the whole state of homelessness unless we go beyond the need to provide shelter. In a sense, therefore, we must try to raise awareness about the problem and involve people in its solution. Therefore we get back again to the whole business of community politics in a country which is trying to struggle towards some type of more decentralised philosophy.

Why could there not be in each community a forum in which the various important aspects of Irish life could be discussed from time to time or raised for discussion? Homelessness might be one of these aspects. Perhaps two or three times a year there could be a community forum. Health could be discussed at one meeting, homelessness at the next, education at the one after that, and so on. In any community a network of agencies are available which never come together in an organic sense collectively to discuss the problems or a particular problem as it relates to that community as a whole.

If all the statutory and voluntary agencies related to the problems of the homeless were obliged to meet even once a year in each community, we would begin to know better what the resources are and would become much more aware of different areas of problems. By talking them through and becoming aware of them, they would seem less threatening and we might begin to have much more constructive thinking thrown into the general pool of thought to deal with social problems such as homelessness. Therefore we must also address the problems of community powerlessness, community politics, more accountability of the decision makers to the people, more involvement of the people and a much wider framework in which to operate so that we get a feeling of the collective that makes up the community rather than individual fragments of it.

The Minister mentioned the limitations of legislation. That bears out what I have just been saying. I have often reflected on the limitations of the Litter Bill passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas to such acclaim six or seven years ago and yet, except in those areas where the local community have taken action, Ireland is fairly scattered with litter.

I was delighted to read about the need to relate to the adjoining housing authorities to bring about an integrated approach to ensure that the responsibility is shared and is not seen as a responsibility only of a small local community. Those who have resources share them and those who have not ask for them; I assume that is what is intended. I support the setting aside of houses for special categories. The other area which seemed to be a move in the right direction was the assessment of need and the inventory of the housing stock, but I implore the Minister to realise that that should be done on an annual basis. We have the machines now that can store the data. We have all sorts of means of determining the parameters we want to select. It should not be too difficult, once the base work has been done, to accumulate and have on-going information on the state of the housing stock throughout the country, community by community, and the state of the special needs, general needs, marginalised needs and so on, but it requires commitment and openness. That again comes back to what Senator Ryan suggested, that information should be published clearly. We are trying to create a much more open society than we were accustomed to heretofore in the country as a whole and it will be to the benefit of all.

Pursue accurate information in regard to housing stock and people's needs, publish that information, look at the whole problem in the context of the lack of awareness — indeed the great apathy — that exists, try to make people more aware consider how we can create the structures throughout Ireland to do that, look again at the need to involve people locally and bring together the voluntary and statutory agencies to discuss this subject much more widely than has been the case. Finally, I implore the Minister — I am sure people will be dealing with this on Committee Stage — to ensure an element of compliance in the local authorities in meeting the very laudable aspirations of this Bill, which I fully support.

Like other speakers, I welcome the provisions of this Bill. I see it as having very far-reaching consequences. It is legislation that will serve the people well for the next 20 or 25 years and I congratulate all concerned for bringing it forward. We had made great progress over the years in the area of local authority housing and the letting of houses. I am proud to have been a member of a local authority for 21 years this June and I have seen the great progress which has been made in the area of the SDA, the Housing Finance Agency and the letting of houses. Whereas in the past people were years on a housing waiting list, now in nearly any local authority almost certainly a family in need of rehousing will get a house on demand. That is progress in itself.

This Bill sets out to revise, update and improve the management and letting of local authority housing and to ensure in particular that the needs of categories of people such as the homeless, the aged, the disabled and the travellers are getting their due priority. It makes provision to increase the powers of housing authorities in regard to the accommodation of homeless persons. Those are very laudable proposals one which I, naturally will support.

I have no objection to the provisions in the Bill in regard to the housing of the homeless. We as a local authority have been housing homeless people for years. The Minister indicated in his speech that 1,800 people of no abode were housed within the last two years by the various local authorities. I have no objection to housing homeless persons and have been helping to do so for years; but I maintain that the homeless person ought not have priority over the family unit. The family who need rehousing should continue to be the priority. Obviously, if a three-bedroomed house become vacant it will not go to a single homeless person. Surely the county manager of the area concerned would be seeking to house a family in it and at the end of the day, no matter what we say or think, it is the county manager of the local authority who makes the allocation and has the final say.

It has been said time and time again that housing authorities in Ireland have been unsympathetic to the needs of the homeless. I do not think so. We in Westmeath in the Athlone Urban District Council have been quite active in this area. A new departure seems to be that the interest lies in single people rather than families seeking homes, and this is what part of this Bill is all about.

The tenant purchase scheme has been referred to by many speakers. It is mentioned in the Bill and in the Minister's speech. The tenant purchase scheme introduced in February of this year was well received by the tenants of the local authorities, and why not? For example, Athlone Urban District Council built a new scheme of beautiful houses three to four years ago which can now be purchased by tenants for a total of £11,200 net — 40 per cent off plus the £2,000 grant. That is the bargain of a lifetime.

I would encourage as many tenants as possible to avail of the scheme. I know the Government are saying that it will relieve them of the repair bill at the end of the year. Governments will never deny that that is what it is about, but it is a very attractive offer and tenants will jump at it. They have the facility of a 100 per cent loan and reduced legal costs. Throughout the country as many people as possible should avail of the scheme. I welcome it very much indeed.

The Minister indicated in his address that the building societies and banks have agreed to make £70 million available in 1988 to provide mortgage finance to persons who would otherwise require loans from the local authorities for house purchase. Local authority loans continue to be made available as previously to applicants who are unable to secure a loan from a bank or a building society. That £70 million is a correct figure, but I assure the Minister that the amount of money available for buying or building houses by the banks and the building societies far exceeds £70 million. There is extreme and intense competition in the marketplace between groupings providing money for this exercise. The intention was that the local authorities should not become involved except where banks and building societies have confirmed their refusal. I found out this morning in my county of Westmeath that from January to now there have been a mere 17 applications for housing loans whereas two years ago, in 1986, there was an average of 60 applications per month or a total of 360 for the year. Clearly, this exercise is working. The role of the bank and the building society is now predominant in mortgage finance provisions.

Other technical measures in the Bill will be debated on Committee Stage. This Bill has much to commend it. I congratulate the Minister heartily for bringing it forward and I have no doubt that it will be very successful and will serve the needs of the people for many many years to come.

I want to welcome this Housing Bill, 1988. This is a debate on a Bill which has been looked forward to eagerly for many years in this House. I welcome this Bill because it contains many very significant improvements. I accept that it does not meet all the points, all the cases and all the situations.

I do not want to deal with local authority housing to any great extent, except to say that, as far as our county is concerned, there has been a drastic change in the emphasis on local authority housing by virtue of the fact that the funds for the schemes in operation up to last year have been curtailed drastically or withdrawn. At the same time, I must acknowledge that the housing situation at least in some counties was such that the young people, whether married or not, could be provided with local authority houses on demand.

I would like to see at least one significant change, especially while local authority resources are scarce. I ask the Minister seriously to consider having a provision in the tenancy agreement whereby tenants of local authority houses would undertake to provide the day-to-day maintenance on heavily subsidised local authority housing. They would start off into a new £25,000, £26,000 or £40,000 local authority house, as the case might be, in the sure knowledge that they would be expected to keep in the glass, or put in the screws in the door handles, and to paint it. In the local authorities I am familiar with, it is nonsense that funds are not available for repairs, through redundancy schemes or whatever. The repair team on the local authority have been diminished to a position where they cannot possibly do all the work that is required to be carried out and the council still sign tenancy agreements undertaking to repair houses.

I would make only two exceptions to that rule, old age pensioners and physically disabled persons. The others, if they are getting a new house from the beginning, should have an obligation. I agree that people have a right to be housed but with every right there goes a responsibility. The duty of people who are in benefit of such heavily subsidised houses should be to maintain them, not in the interest of the council but in the interest of the comfort of their own families. That is not provided for in the Bill. The Minister could do it by regulation. Since it is not possible for the councils to carry out repairs because they neither have the money nor the craftsmen, I ask the Minister and the Department to look seriously at that change, which would remove a lot of problems from members of local authorities.

I welcome the fairly new provisions in this Bill for the homeless. I welcome the provision the Minister has made for a greater input by community and voluntary organisations to assist in this very important work. I compliment the Minister and his predecessors, Deputy Fergus O'Brien was a Minister of State in 1984 when the special scheme was introduced whereby voluntary housing agencies could be grant-assisted to the tune of 80 per cent of loan charges. The Minister made reference to the fact that, while the scheme was successful, it did not do a lot for the homeless. I submit to the Minister that, when that scheme was introduced, £1 million a year was allocated. That £1 million a year grew to £3 million which the Minister has provided this year. In this Bill a further £3 million is allocated.

I have the privilege of being the chairman of the Sue Ryder Foundation of Ireland who share with the Care organisation dedicated to the relief of suffering in providing accommodation for terminally ill people. We have availed of the generous assistance — not just the grants — of personnel from the Department of the Environment in the provision of housing accommodation for people living alone. We have two projects, one in Ballyroan, Laois, and one near Carrick-on-Suir in south Kilkenny. I hope the Minister will come down in the next couple of months to assist at the official openings. While the money has been paid — and, might I say, more than matched two to one on a voluntary basis — these schemes are just coming on-stream. They are a completely new concept of communities providing for and assisting people to live out their lives in their own environment and in their own community with the minimum amount of support for them to do that.

We acquired a new premises here in the Dublin area quite recently. The units are to have relatively small numbers — 25 or 30 — so the occupants will not become institutionalised. As soon as people become institutionalised, they become helpless and then there is a problem for the State. While the Minister says they are giving 80 per cent grants, that still does not represent the cost of maintaining a geriatric patient in one of our health board geriatric homes for a year. I am not downgrading the scheme but I think we should put it in perspective.

If we support the local community to look after themselves and their own people, the capital grant scheme is very good. The present scheme supports actual units of accommodation only with the ancillary activities of a common living room, laundry facilities, or a kitchen which is necessary for elderly people who must have a balanced diet and at least one substantial meal provided for them. There is a tendency for elderly people, or for anyone living on his own, not to go to the trouble of preparing a substantial meal if dining alone. In so far as the Sue Ryder Foundation of Ireland is concerned, we would propose to provide that kind of quietly supportive background wherein people would be quite independent living alone. Nevertheless they would have professional assistance at the end of a bell push.

I ask the Minister to look at the problem of supporting to some degree the ancillary services that are provided. This Bill will make it possible for every community, with a considerable amount of effort and fund raising, to provide sufficient resources to ensure that their own people will be looked after in their own community and that they will be able to maintain their independence and their own standards of living.

I compliment the Minister on this Bill. I hope that he will be able to implement the proposals he has outlined in his speech. They are very important. I hope the local authorities will be able to avail of the Minister's offer to appoint social workers. This is very important, especially on the question of section 13. Section 13 deals with the itinerant problem. In the work that has been done over the last four or five years in the town of Tullamore and in Portlaoise both prototype councils have been eminently successful. The scheme represents money well spent. I hope that, so far as possible, additional resources will be put into that area.

I wish the Minister well with this Bill. There are a number of points which I will raise and go into detail on at Committee Stage.

First, I want to thank all the Members of the House for their contributions. Since I came in to relieve the Minister I have noted all the comments.

Housing, as we all know, is very close to the hearts of all our people. We are faced now with a new situation in regard to housing. We have unmarried mothers, we have smaller families. I think there should now be a change in the design and possibly the layout of housing. I do not like very large housing estates. I think they cause problems. I like to see small, compact estates. I never like to see very large estates. I have no doubt that they were built with every good intention.

Senators will be glad to know that the NESC are at present finalising a report on housing policy which, I suggest, will contain revised and somewhat lowered projections compared with those prepared in the early 1980s. In the meantime I suggest that Senators might read an independent analysis of Ireland's changing population structure published in September last year by a well known firm of economic consultants. The study, which has been widely reported, suggests that the level of output may be 16,000 completions this year. I am satisfied, as of now, that our target will be met.

Senator McDonald referred to the maintenance of houses. I could not agree with him more when he said that the taxpayer, the local authority and the corporation are allocating very good houses to tenants. The houses are costing on average between £25,000 and £30,000. They are well built. The estates are very well completed by the local authorities. In some cases, I am sorry to say, the houses did not get the proper respect from their tenants. Do not expect me or the Department of the Environment or the Minister to give any local authority money to replace broken panes in windows or doors or to tighten screws. It is not on, and I will not wear it.

Every one of us has to do some type of maintenance on our homes, possibly yearly. We are glad to be able to do it. I want to say here this evening — and I hope the press will take note — that there is an overall responsibility on every person who is allocated a house to take care of it. Do Senators realise that a local authority house is costing the taxpayer approximately £70 a week to subsidise it? I do not begrudge that to those who are in need, but a little more care is needed. I know that all the Members of this House agree with me on this, because in talking to them privately they informed me that there should be more care.

Senator McDonald said that possibly it should be written into the Bill that maintenance of a local authority house should be the duty of the tenant. There may be legal complications here. They would have to be examined, but I will look into that. I want to put it on record that in many housing estates throughout the country the tenants have taken great pride in their houses and in the maintenance and upkeep of the estates. I sincerely thank them. There is a tiny minority who want us to do everything and who want you, as members of local authorities and corporations to do everything. That is not on. It is not on with the local authority members and it is certianly not on with me.

The subject of homelessness is a sensitive matter. We are endeavouring now to go as far as we can to look after those who are in need. We had an excellent debate on Committee Stage on the Bill in the Dáil. I have no doubt, knowing the calibre of the Members of this House, that we will have another very good, perhaps even better, debate on this Bill. We will be able to tease out the matters on the sections of the Bill. Senators will need to discuss and to go into some detail, on which both the Minister and I will be glad to do and explain as best we possibly can.

I want to thank the Members for their goodwill and also for the manner in which they welcomed the tenant purchase scheme. This is a very good scheme. The valuation of the house that we have asked the local authorities to decide on is the market value of the house, taking into account what repairs may have to be carried out. So far I have been informed that local authorities are acting responsibly and are doing everything they possibly can to inform the tenant of the conditions of the scheme.

The legal arrangements we have made are attractive. There is a 100 per cent loan available, the interest rate of 6 per cent is attractive. Even if interest rates rise to 18 per cent again — I hope they never do — that rate is fixed. The person knows exactly what they have to pay for their house while they own it. Irrespective of what type of employment they might have in the future it will still remain the same. There is also a tax concession for those paying some tax. I would ask everybody to give the scheme full support.

There are roughly 120,000 houses involved. Taking income and expenditure into account, there was a shortfall of approximately £24 million. The Minister and I are trying to relieve the taxpayer of as much of this as we possibly can. We are also giving the tenants an opportunity to decide in future years what they want to do with their houses with regard to improvements.

I want to thank all the Members of the House for their goodwill for the scheme. If there is any weakness in it, let me know and I will see what I can do about it.

In conclusion, on Committee Stage we will be able to deal with it section by section and go into all the relevant details. The Members of the Dáil have done so and I have no doubt we will do the same here. If there is confirmation needed on any issue with regard to the wording we will be able to let you know exactly the position. In introducing the Bill we had to strike a balance because there is a limit to the money that is available. All Members will be aware of the financial climate that exists, but we will be as fair as possible in helping those in need. That has always been our aim and that shall be our aim in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Will the Leader of the House indicate when it is proposed to take the next Stage?

Tomorrow.

We will not be able to take it tomorrow. What about Tuesday or Wednesday next, because we have another Bill in the Dáil tomorrow deeling with multistorey buildings. With your permission, and subject to agreement of the Whips, could we take next Stage on Tuesday next?

I was led to believe that the Minister was in a great rush with this Bill. That is why I said tomorrow. In that case we will order it for Tuesday, but that does not mean that we will take it on Tuesday if the Minister is not free. We will order it for next Tuesday.

I have no objection to taking it on Tuesday if it is ordered, but can I take it then that we will not be taking it tomorrow? If it is ordered for Tuesday, it can be taken either Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 28 June 1988.

Acting Chairman

By order of the House yesterday, Items Nos. 2 and 3 are being taken together.