Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1992: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I am glad the Leader of the House has given considerable time to the discussion of the Housing Bill and that we have had a change of attitude compared with the other evening when an attempt was made to bring it to a close.

It is generally accepted that we are entering into the silly season in politics. This House today is entering into the farce season because we are here discussing Bills which have been put through the Dáil, knowing that the Dáil is going into recess and that the Government will not accept amendments to any of the Bills. One such Bill is the Housing Bill which is now before the House. I drew attention to this farce at about this time last year and it is no harm to draw attention to it again. In the reform of the Seanad this is something which should be taken into consideration. I fully appreciate the Minister's position, that he cannot accept amendments. All we are doing here today is rubberstamping a Bill.

I appreciate and I want to acknowledge the change of attitude on the part of the Leader of the House in allowing us to discuss the matter until 4 o'clock this afternoon, but nobody can put forward amendments. All we can do today is speak about the housing situation and the Bill before us. No amendments can be accepted by the Minister. It is absolutely ridiculous and daft that year after year we put Bills through this House knowing that we cannot amend them. One of the main functions for which the Seanad was set up is being denied to us during this week and again next week with whatever Bills are coming to us, including the Family Planning Bill, etc. I believe a serious look should be taken at the situation.

I do not want to take from the day we experienced yesterday when President Robinson addressed both Houses of the Oireachtas. Most of us enjoyed her speech and found something worthwhile in it. It was an excellent exercise. We have, starting in the Dáil either today or tomorrow, the Adjournment debate which is generally statements on the state of the nation. It will be interesting to hear what is said in the other House on the Adjournment debate and compare it with the speech we heard from President Robinson yesterday.

I wonder will the Taoiseach announce some interesting figures in his address to the Dáil later on. Very interesting figures, which are relevant to the housing situation, are that 1.4 million people are in employment in this state and 1.2 million are living on State assistance. That is an extremely interesting figure. It is like watching the pint going to £1 and then the pint going to £2. Is the day fast approaching when we will have more people in the State living on State assistance than we will have in employment? Never before in the history of the State were there as many people unemployed. Will we hear the figure from the Taoiseach in the Dáil today? Never before in the history of the State were more people living on State assistance; never before were there more homeless people in this State, and never before were as many families in need of housing.

That is a serious situation. I am sure that, with the Adjournment debate in the Dáil and an analysis of the President's speech today and over the next few days, not much attention will be paid to what is said in the House but those are the facts. Despite what the President said yesterday and the lift which she tried to give the nation — and I am sure she will succeed in that — we have to come back to the reality of life in this State. I am sure that for most public representatives, people count but there is a group of silent people from whom we have heard very little over the last few years, and they are the people in need of decent housing. More and more people are in need of housing. We stopped the grants for the refurbishment of houses. We changed the system and, with a fanfare of trumpets, brought in what was called aPlan for Social Housing with a former Minister announcing all these new schemes for housing which basically have not worked.

We have many schemes in thePlan for Social Housing. We could have had an analysis of the schemes from the Minister in his speech introducing the Bill. I regret that he did not tell us how the schemes were operating, because I can see nothing in this Bill to improve the situation of those in need of housing. What we need is the Government and the Minister responsible to look at the many families who are in need of housing. It has reached the stage where we must take responsibility for housing out of the Department of the Environment. We need a Minister for Housing. Since the last election, we have seen a power struggle within the major party in Government and it is generally accepted that little or no work was done because of that power struggle. It went on for so long that the nation was saying that the power struggle should have taken place when the party was in Opposition not in Government. They were given the responsibility to carry out the affairs of the State but, they were dealing with the problems within the Fianna Fáil Party.

You have moved from the subject matter of the Bill. I would ask you to come back to the Bill.

I accept your ruling. I wanted to point out that many thousands of families were awaiting action on housing by the Government because thePlan for Social Housing is not working. There were many families and individuals looking forward to this Housing Bill to relieve their situation and they have been looking forward to it for a number of years. We have before us a Housing Bill which will not alleviate the problems or the suffering of those people who are in need of decent housing. I do not want to refer back to the power struggle within Fianna Fáil and I accept the Cathaoirleach's ruling on it but it is a very relevant point.

Very little was done regarding the housing problem since this Government was formed after the last election. One was looking forward to the time when those difficulties would have been resolved within the major party in Government. One thought that that had happened in February and one expected that we would see Bills coming before the Houses of the Oireachtas to deal with the problems within the State, and this is one of the major problems. If a person has not a comfortable home it is a serious problem. It is the duty of the State to ensure that every family and every individual is given the opportunity to have a home in which to live and rear their families.

I cannot find a great deal in this Bill to alleviate the housing problem. I would ask the Minister to take seriously my suggestion that we are now at the stage where we need a special Minister for Housing and to take this issue out of all the other Departments. In the Dublin area for some years we appointed a housing co-ordinator. There are some who would say it made no difference, but I believe it did and the facts prove it. We were scaling down our house building programme and the list of housing applicants was dwindling, but that is not the case today. I do not know the number of applicants for housing in the country, but in my county it is just under 2,200. As far as I can remember and I have been on the local authority since 1965, it was never that high.

There is nobody in Government making any effort to improve the situation. The greatest problem I have had to deal with is housing individuals and families, but I cannot remember the figure ever being over 2,000 applicants in County Dublin; the highest was just when 1,900 — I am speaking from memory.

There are many measures I would like to see carried through but none of them is provided for in the Bill before us. ThePlan for Social Housing would probably have worked if everybody at whom we were aiming it was in employment and the families had a decent income, but that is not the case. An analysis of those who applied for the shared ownership housing will show that only those who could afford it — and that was a small percentage of the applicants in the County Dublin area and I have no reason to believe that it would be different in any other part of the country — were in the higher level of the lower income bracket. Those at the lower levels had no hope of obtaining a house in this way or in any of the other schemes under the Plan for Social Housing.

The Minister must have a rethink. I would suggest that he take measures to ensure that those who have been on the housing list for some time will have a reasonable opportunity of obtaining a house in the near future. He should also consider increasing the grant for house purchase to at least £36,000 if not £38,000. It is ridiculous to think that the loan today for a house purchaser in any area, but particularly in the Dublin area because it is the one with which I am most familiar, is £25,000 and for a special category £2,000 is added. The cheapest house in my area is £40,000. The Government are completely out of touch with today's market. That is one of the main reasons the housing list is escalating.

Dublin County Council will not be able to maintain thestatus quo when it comes to the housing list this year because the number of houses being provided will not match the number of new applicants coming on the list. The list is getting longer as the months and the weeks pass. As I said, I would like to see the Minister increase the grant from £25,000 to £38,000. A sum of £36,000 would be a reasonable grant but to make any inroads on the housing list, it would have to be £38,000. The grant should be increased for those obtaining their houses through the shared ownership scheme and it should be extended to the purchasers of previously occupied houses. The grant at present is £2,000. It should at least be doubled, if not brought to the figure of £5,000. The grant for those building a new house on their own site should also be increased. People in my own area have had great difficulty, even when the site is provided by the family in raising sufficient finance to erect a house on the site. Few people in County Dublin can now provide a house on nominee sites. A problem that was always there to an extent seems to be worsening.

I will give some interesting figures to the Minister, and I know that County Dublin may in certain instances be an exception. People obtaining their house through house purchase loans in Dublin county last year numbered 99. We heard Senator McGowan here yesterday say that people believed that if the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition was back in power all our housing problems would be solved. Nobody is suggesting that but it is interesting that the last time the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition were in office in 1986, 958 people obtained houses in County Dublin through the house purchase loan scheme. Last year the figure was 99; in 1987, 884; in 1988 — the first full year of the change of Government — 315, a significant drop. It dropped again in 1989 to 162 and in 1990 to 82. There was a slight rise last year to 99. Those figures speak for themselves.

I extend a sincere and warm welcome to Mayor Susan Hammer of San José, California, and the members of the San José-Dublin twinning committee. On behalf of the Members of Seanad Éireann, I wish them a very warm welcome and hope that they enjoy their visit.

You have spoken for all of us. I am sorry a distinguished party from abroad has to listen to our mundane housing problems. I hope they will find their visit interesting.

I do not have to elaborate on the problems encountered by those who wish to house themselves with house purchase loans. Along with the measures I have already suggested to the Minister, the immediate provision of finance to local authorities to enable them to get back to building houses is necessary. We reduced the responsibility of local authorities to provide houses on lands acquired by them and to allocate them on a points system. I can only speak for County Dublin but I have no reason to believe it is not the same in other parts of the country, with possible exceptions. I made an attempt yesterday to find out how many houses were being built in other parts of the country and although I could not find a county that was not building any, I found a county building one house — County Carlow. That is the situation we have reached. I remember a Fianna Fáil Member in this House say way back in the sixties that there was not then the price of a bag of cement to build a local authority house.

That was true.

It may have been; I was not a Member of the Oireachtas at the time. Senator Hussey knows whom I am talking about. We have got to that stage again and it would be appropriate to express it in the same terms. I will give the Minister some interesting figures from my own county. In 1986, the last year of Coalition Government of Fine Gael-Labour, just under £17 million was allocated for housing. The output of finished houses in that year was 603. The allocation this year is just under £2 million and it is hoped to finish 30 to 31 houses in Dublin county. Those figures speak for themselves. In 1987, £5.164 million was allocated and 190 houses were built. In 1988, £2.365 million was allocated and 80 houses were built. In 1989 just under £2 million was allocated, with an output of 29 houses. In 1990 it was £2,300,000, with an output of 29 houses. In 1991 it was just under £2 million, with an output of 33 houses. We are down to 29 or 30 houses this year, an extremely serious situation for all those who do not have a decent house in which to rear their family. While I am sure they got some satisfaction and lift from the President's address to both Houses of the Oireachtas, this morning they are back to the problem of having to provide for themselves and their families in disgraceful housing conditions. It appears that the Government are not going to do anything to solve the problem.

In relation to those figures, the Fianna Fáil speaker is going to get up and say that I have not taken account of the other schemes. Just in case someone would hit me with that when I have finished.

I would not dream of doing that.

Some of the Senator's colleagues might. I could not blame him for doing it either.

There seems to be a mutual admiration society between Senators Hussey and McMahon.

One of the other schemes one might think of referring to is the shared ownership scheme. It is estimated that in Dublin county there are 200 applicants for that scheme this year and that 100 will qualify by the end of the year and be facilitated. The mortgage allowance scheme has attracted 18 or 20 applicants, the number of casual vacancies is estimated at around 170 and the number of houses built at 40. I am being generous in these estimations. That is a total of 328 people coming off a housing applicant list of 2,200. Those are the other schemes that some of my colleagues on the other side may feel like referring to and comparing them with the figures I gave earlier.

Senator McGowan went to lengths the other evening to suggest, as I understood it, that nobody had an answer to the housing problem. That is ridiculous. We cannot lie back and allow the situation to continue deteriorating as it has been doing over the last few years. There was the message given in the Oireachtas only yesterday, which I am sure few will have noted except those depending on the Government to make housing provision for them. That announcement was made by the Minister for Finance. Of course, bigger things happened in the Oireachtas yesterday, although I am not complaining about that. Yet it is a pity that the Minister announced that next year is going to be a harder year than any of the immediately preceding years, with cutbacks in all areas. Is that not a lovely prospect for people crying out to be housed or to be assisted into homes by the State? We have conferences on the environment, on waste bottles, and on womens' affairs; but I do not see many conferences on housing needs. It is about time somebody spoke up for them and that the Government began to take heed.

I would say to Senator McGowan that in 1975 Dublin County Council finished 1,002 houses. That was during the time of a Labour-Fine Gael Coalition Government. In 1986 we allocated £17 million and finished 603 houses under a Fine Gael-Labour Government. In 1992 the figure is £1,979,000 and we hope to finish 30 or 31 houses. It gives me no pleasure to give the Minister these figures and to make the comparisons I have just made. My colleagues on the other side might not believe me, but it would be more pleasurable for me to congratulate the Minister on the job the Government are doing. I am afraid that cannot be done in relation to housing. I ask the Minister to put it to his colleagues that it is time to appoint a Minister for Housing and to give in his reply figures for other counties as I have given for Dublin county. Let us see how serious the situation is. No ray of hope or light that our President might have given to the Oireachtas yesterday will alleviate the problems of people in need of housing and this Housing Bill will not do so either.

Every Irish family wants to own its own house. Those who have opted for the shared ownership scheme have said to me that they know that they are getting into a house which they can call their own but that they will never own it in their lifetime. It is about time that we took a serious look at that scheme. I know we are not going to get a Minister for Housing immediately, but I appeal to the Minister to make finance available so that local authorities can get back to building and allocating houses on a points system.

The officials of the housing departments in both Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council do an excellent job in so far as the Oireachtas permits them. In Dublin county sites exist in Clondalkin, Lucan, Skerries, Portrane, Balbriggan, Lusk, Rush and Mulhuddart which were developed for individual housing co-ops with all services. All we need is money to provide the houses for the people who need them. I appeal to the Minister to make money available to County Dublin and to other counties to meet housing needs.

I am sure if he consults local authority members throughout the country he will find that most counties would request money to go back to building local authority houses. Let other schemes run alongside them, to be availed of by those who can go that road. Unfortunately, 75 or 80 per cent of housing applicants in County Dublin are on social welfare and none of them can avail of the schemes under thePlan for Social Housing. No schemes have been aimed at those people, so I appeal to him to make money available immediately before the list of homeless people lengthens. It is rising weekly in this city. One has only to go down the streets at night to meet homeless people. Is there anybody who will say a word for them? The Minister makes provision in the Bill for shelters and the housing of homeless people, but the finance is not available. We can pass all the Bills we like in this House; but, whether we amend them or not, if money is not available then local authorities cannot do the job.

I am sorry that I have had to give the Minister such a bad time this morning. As was said earlier today, Minister Wallace is a nice Minister to have in the Seanad and I would prefer to address my remarks to somebody whose shins I could kick more easily. It was not easy to hit Minister Wallace with all I have hit him with this morning. I compliment him on his patience during previous visits here in the recent past. He put in long hours here, as all of us do, and takes criticism like a man, remaining receptive to the suggestions of the Seanad. I hope the Minister will be receptive to the suggestions I have made this morning and will carry them to the highest level. I hope the next Housing Bill to come before the Oireachtas will bring some relief for the many families and individuals about whom I have spoken this morning.

It has been suggested to me in regard to the Minister who has been with us so often recently that we might make him an honorary Member of the Seanad.

We might all agree with those sentiments and I start where Senator McMahon finished by complimenting the Minister on his patience and endurance over the last number of weeks. In all the Bills he has brought through this House, he has given careful consideration to suggestions put forward by Senators and I am sure he will put many of those suggestions into effect. The same will probably apply to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1992 that we are discussing here this morning.

I have listened to Senator McMahon for a long time and I agree that he made a very strong case for Dublin and highlighted the problems affecting his area. However, he conveniently omitted the fact that Dublin pays no service charges. I am sure that service charges there would yield a considerable amount of money, perhaps millions of pounds. If we collected the money that householders in Dublin do not have to pay and which we in rural areas do, the Minister would have a much freer hand to deal with some of the other issues raised by Senator McMahon this morning.

I welcome this important legislation. It provides the legislative framework and authority for the housing policies that were spelled out in thePlan for Social Housing earlier in the year. It restates the broad and long established objectives of the Government's housing policy which is to ensure that every household has a dwelling suitable to its needs, located in an acceptable environment and at a price or rent the household can afford.

ThePlan for Social Housing that has been discussed so ably by all Senators is new and should be welcomed. Senator McMahon blamed the power struggle within Fianna Fáil for some of the problems we are faced with. I do not accept that and I am sure the Senator is merely making a political point because Fianna Fáil always promoted the building of houses whether in the private sector or by the local authority and have always been prepared to come up with new housing ideas, even though those ideas may not always have been popular. They were prepared to promote them nonetheless because they felt they were in the best interests of the people and that by doing so they would enable many people to obtain housing who might not otherwise have been able to do so.

The range of innovative measures included in the plan is designed to provide a broader, more diverse response to social housing needs, to ease the path to home ownership for households of modest means and to improve the position of tenants in both the local authority and private rented sectors. There are many ways by which people can be assisted to provide their own house and I know that some local authorities are pushing this scheme and making progress, but others are not doing so well. I hope that the Minister in the not too distant future will take up this matter with the local authorities who are not promoting the scheme to find out why.

This plan offers various options to applicants and there is no reason they should not share housing costs with local authorities. I have always suggested, even before this plan came into operation, that where second hand houses become available in towns local authorities should by them and refurbish them. That would be a cheaper option than providing a house under the traditional system.

The cost of providing a local authority house runs to something like £42,000 and every local authority house built is subsidised to the tune of £85 per week by the taxpayer. That cannot be allowed to continue; the era of free lunches is over. There is no reason the Government should not consider other ideas. The State cannot continue making presents of houses to people at a cost of £42,000 without analysing the situation and finding the cheapest way of providing housing. If thePlan for Social Housing is operated properly ways will be found of providing houses for tenants at a much cheaper rate than the traditional building system.

In the course of my canvass for local and other elections in housing estates I noticed that estates are being allowed to run down. Some responsibility should be placed on houseowners who have received local authority houses to be responsible for the maintenance of the house. They should be made responsible for the fixing of doors and windows, for painting and so on. It is a tragedy that that was not insisted upon in the past; beautiful estates have been allowed to run down. When I or other councillors knock on doors looking for votes the first thing we are told is that a broken back door has been reported to the local authority, and that no one has come to fix it or that the range is broken and no one has come to fix that either. The responsibility should be placed on the tenants do to that kind of work because the cost would not be significant.

Housing estates built in the past were too large; it would be better to confine estates to about 20 houses making upkeep easier. Residents' associations which should be established on all estates should be given some responsibility as regards estate maintenance. This would give people a pride in their houses and in their estates and residents' associations could be very effective in that area.

Halting sites for travellers has been a contentious problem over the years. I would like to see more halting sites built in areas where there is a need for them, such as County Galway. We have done much in County Galway for the travelling people and there is still much to be done. Where halting sites are provided no traveller should get a house until they have spent at least two years on a halting site; this would prepare travellers for house ownership. Sometimes we blame travellers for treating houses badly but often they have had no experience of running or maintaining a house. A two year period in a halting site would be a good training time before being given the keys to a local authority house. A back-up service should be provided by a social worker and by people who would maintain and keep the halting sites tidy to make sure that the site was properly kept and to help travelling people to learn respect for a house. It is not just a house but a home and should be treated as such.

Great play has been made about the home improvement grants. I would like to see some kind of a home improvement grant introduced at the earliest possible opportunity. I do not want to see a scheme like the 1985 one referred to by Senator McMahon, which cost approximately £260 million. That scheme gave very generous grants to people who did not need them. I would have reservations about a grant scheme which provided such generous handouts of taxpayers' money for what might be non-essential work. The vast sums of money required by the 1985 house improvement grant scheme severely restricted the resources which could be devoted to other necessary purposes across the entire housing area. That has definitely put a drain on the resources of the Department of the Environment since then because they are still paying out the grants to which that Government committed themselves during the 1985-87 period.

I know a grant scheme would encourage people to fix up their own homes. It is surprising what a small grant can do. If a person knows he will get a grant for the installation of doors or windows or for fixing a leak in the roof, he will do it. It generates employment and gives some work to the builders' supplier and so on. I would certainly like to see that scheme reintroduced, if possible.

The essential repair grant scheme administered by the local authorities is a very good scheme. Unfortunately, there is not enough money there to go around. I would like to see more money provided under that scheme because it is far better to give money for a scheme such as that and for people to do up their own homes rather than to provide mobile homes or prefabs. These are not a good idea because after nine or ten years they deteriorate to such an extent that they become dangerous to live in.

In every local authority area there are a number of sites lying idle for a number of years which have not been availed of. In the bigger centres they will eventually be built on, but in small towns many of those sites could be sold off to private people to build their own homes on. I think there is something in the social plan that allows that to happen. Local authorities should proceed with the sale of those sites to people in small towns or villages who are prepared to build on them and that people should be provided with those sites of a modest charge.

Criticism has been made of us here today because this Bill is being guillotined. I do not think we have any reason to worry about that, because there were 17 amendments to this Bill in the other House and any useful change that could be made has already been made. I have no fear of this Bill going through as it is here today. I have every confidence in the Minister and the Government tackling the housing problems with the resources and manpower they have. I believe that we will see a vast change in the housing needs of this country when we see thisPlan for Social Housing implemented by all the local authorities and pushed forward by them with dedication and commitment. I would ask the Minister to ensure that happens. I see this plan as a means for which people can get their own houses at a much cheaper cost to the taxpayer than the £42,000 per house it is costing local authorities at present.

At the outset, I would like to thank all the Senators who participated in this very interesting debate. Housing is, of course, a matter of great interest to all public representatives. I have listened attentively to the various issues which were raised during the course of the debate and I will attempt to address these as positively and constructively as possible during the course of my reply.

A number of Senators — including, I am glad to say, Senator Brendan Ryan — have welcomed the broad thrust of the new measures in thePlan for Social Housing and the Bill. I must say I agree with the sentiment that if we had these measures in effect some 20 or 30 years ago we would not be faced with many of the social problems which are of great concern to us all in the 1990s. The day of the large scale local authority housing estates is gone — for good social and economic reasons — and it is obvious that most Senators agree that we need new more sensitive approaches to meeting social housing needs. We need a multifaceted response to the housing needs of those who cannot afford to house themselves by conventional means instead of the one track policy of the past.

It is depressing to hear Senator Naughten harking back to the old ways. Shovel the money out to local authorities and they will do the job as they have done for decades — that was his message. However, it is a message that ignores fundamental changes — changes in social patterns, changes in the nature of the housing problem, changes in the economic context in which we must operate. It ignores the lessons of past experience and what is happening in other countries. On reflection, and having listened to this debate, I would hope that Senator Naughten would agree that the problems of the present and the future need something more than the outdated solutions of the past.

Contrary to what was suggested by a number of Senators, the extent of real housing needs is not being underestimated by the Government; nor am I going to deny that needs have been increasing over the past couple of years. The latest statutory assessments carried out by local authorities in March 1991 indicate that some 23,200 households have been approved for local authority housing. Even though this represents an increase of approximately 20 per cent over the 19,400 households recorded in 1989, it is still substantially lower than the 30,000 households which were on the housing waiting lists in the early 1980s. It is worth noting that of the total need of 23,200, 6,700 are one person households and another 2,800 are couples without children. A full analysis of needs has been published in my Department's 1991 annual housing bulletin — indeed Senator Brendan Ryan quoted directly from this bulletin.

I think public representatives should resist the political temptation to exaggerate the extent of real housing needs. It is not responsible to paint an unjustifiably black picture of housing prospects. Indeed, it is a disservice to those in genuine need. I believe that they would be better served acknowledging the opportunities presented by the new measures under thePlan for Social Housing and encouraging people to make maximum use of them.

There was criticism from some Senators over the lack of resources to implement thePlan for Social Housing, stating that there was inadequate funding which will result in the non-achievement of its objectives. Such criticism is not accurate. The true position is that substantially increased funding has been made available in the plan. The overall 1992 capital provision for housing, including Exchequer and non-Exchequer resources will be some £158 million in 1992, an increase of one-third on last year's expenditure. The Exchequer's contribution to this will be some £78 million compared with £51 million in 1990. This substantial increase on the 1991 provision is mainly attributable to the increased take-up of the various new housing measures and especially the shared ownership scheme.

A provision of £35 million has been made to cover the capital funding requirements of this scheme in 1992. The allocation for the provision of local authority housing is £41 million in 1992 compared with £33 million in 1990, while that for the remedial work scheme, including the provision of bathrooms, has increased from £15 million to £18 million during the same period. In addition, the provision for voluntary housing has increased from £9 million to £11 million with a further £5 million being made available for the rental subsidy scheme with allocations in 1992 for the improvement works-in-lieu scheme. The provision of sites scheme and the mortgage allowance scheme totalling £4.4 million did not exist in 1990. That these allocations have been made available during a very difficult period for Government finances is a clear demonstration of our commitment to the social housing needs of the people.

Senator Naughten was critical of the shared ownership system and suggested that people would never own their own houses under the system. The shared ownership system is designed to enable low income households to get into the first rung of the house ownership ladder. It does not purport to be a solution to all housing needs. It is one element — albeit an important element — in the full range of measures contained in the Social Housing Plan, and in this Bill, which are designed to meet all categories of housing need from the very lowest income groups to those on the margins of home ownership.

It is wrong, therefore, to criticise the shared ownership system on the basis that it will not meet all housing needs. It was never claimed that it would. However, shared ownership is, I believe, a welcome addition to the range of housing options available to low income households and should be welcomed as such. Indeed, I suggest that if we had not introduced a shared ownership system we would be criticised for failing to introduce a scheme which has worked elsewhere by the same Senators who now criticise us for introducing this measure.

Senator Naughten is of the view that shared ownership had little or no application in his area, being a rural one. Yet, Senator Ó Cuív said that the scheme was particularly effective in rural situations where, for example, the applicant would have a site available. I believe Senator Ó Cuív is right and perhaps Senator Naughten might benefit from taking a look at how the scheme is operating in the neighbouring county.

Senator Ó Cuív was concerned that the indexation of the unpurchased equity by reference to consumer price indexation would be a disincentive to persons availing of the shared ownership system. It must not be overlooked, however, that the authority must borrow the money to buy the house in the first instance and must pay interest on their outstanding borrowings until they clear their debt when the buy-out of the lease is completed by the shared owner. Therefore, the buy-out cost of any equity during the lease period could be frozen at its initial value only if the shared-owner's rent payments were high enough to cover the housing authority's borrowing costs in full. This would increase the outgoings on the house to an extent that would make shared ownership no longer viable.

Indexation does not mean that the buy-out cost remains the same in real terms or in terms of value of money. On the other hand, a person who cannot start to purchase, is entirely at the mercy of the property market which can prove much more volatile than general inflation.

Senator Ó Cuív raised the question of the £10,000 cost limit for improvement works-in-lieu of rehousing in so far as it applies to islands. Of course, I acknowledge that building costs are higher on the islands, and indeed this fact has been recognised in loan and grant limits over the years. I will, therefore, look at what can be done to provide a more appropriate cost guideline for this scheme in the case of works that are being carried out on the offshore islands.

Senators Ó Cuív and Naughten also referred to difficulties associated with the need to have fully registered ownership for the purposes of the improvement works-in-lieu scheme. To address this problem, section 5 has now been amended to remove the statutory requirement for a housing authority to take a mortgage in every case and to provide that such a mortgage may be registered without the need for the putative owner to be registered as the owner. I hope this amendment meets the concerns expressed by the Senators and that it will remove an obstacle to making full use of this widely welcomed scheme.

I will look into Senators Neville's and Foley's contention that this scheme is proving impractical because of insistence on overly demanding standards in relation to houses. While, obviously, household's requirements cannot be regarded as being met unless the accommodation provided is of a decent standard, I would not like to see an excessively fussy approach inhibiting the sensible operation of the scheme.

I was somewhat perplexed with Senator Naughten decrying a greater role for voluntary housing organisations and then he going on to praise the very good work achieved by the rural housing organisation in providing good quality accommodation in co-operation with the local authorities. In fact, the essence of this Bill and of thePlan for Social Housing is to secure greater co-operation between local authorities and voluntary housing organisations, indeed the very type of policy that is well exemplified by the RHO in the early 1980s and more recently by organisations such as Respond, which is based in Waterford but is now carrying out new housing developments throughout the country including, I am glad to say, in Cork, where Respond have plans for a 38-house project in Douglas.

The new rental subsidy scheme will increase the provision of accommodation by the voluntary sector this year and I am satisfied that the enhanced role for voluntary bodies envisaged in thePlan for Social Housing is appropriate. The involvement of the voluntary sector is essential if we are going to deliver a balanced and flexible response to housing needs and to benefit all the resources, both human and financial, that are available to help meet this objective.

Senators McGowan and Hussey also referred to the high cost of maintenance and management of local authority housing and suggested that tenants might be made fully responsible for the maintenancy of their dwellings. It would represent a fundamental departure from the norms of landlord-tenant relationships to make tenants fully responsible for maintenance. I doubt if it is a practical proposition while the local authority remains the owner and the the tenant just that — a tenant. Look, for example, at the difficulties that would arise in the case of flats. If the tenant fails to maintain, is a publicly funded asset to be allowed to depreciate rapidly? Is the tenant who maintains to be charged a different rent to the tenant who does not? I am glad to say section 9 of the Bill recognises the potential for group tenant participation in the running of their estates, by enabling local authorities to delegate responsibility for maintenance and management to properly constituted tenant groups. I believe the direct involvement of tenants in this way will bring about an improvement in the maintenance and management of local authority housing.

Senator Naughten professes not to see the difference between the rental subsidy scheme and the direct provision of local authority housing. There are, however, a number of significant differences. First, the voluntary movement have a record of providing housing at very competitive prices. Secondly, it is providing a means for people to help themselves, rather than waiting for others to do it for them. Thirdly, it will promote greater tenant involvement and a more positive attitude by tenants to the maintenance of their housing.

The accommodation of travelling people was raised by a number of Senators. It is important that I should again outline the reasons for the inclusion of section 10 in the Bill. Section 10 is a measure designed to help solve the accommodation problem of travellers, not to penalise them. I would ask Senator Naughten to note that it is not the policy of the Department, or of myself, to force travellers into permanent housing. We respect the preference of most travellers for a mobile way of life. That is why the major policy emphasis has, for some years, been on the provision of accommodation for caravans, to ensure that travellers do not have to suffer the deprivations of life on the roadside. An annual capital allocation of £3 million has been made for the purpose in recent years.

Although funding has not been, or will not, be a problem progress on the provision of halting sites has not been as good as I or my predecessors would have liked; the main reason is the opposition of the settled community to the location of new sites. Some of this opposition has come about because some travellers are inclined to remain parked on the roadside in the vicinity of serviced sites that have been provided for them. Section 10 of the Bill gives local authorities power to deal with these cases in order to reduce the potential of the sort of local opposition to which I have already referred; it is not designed to penalise travellers. It is there to help travellers in general by allowing local authorities to take action to resolve a problem that creates unnecessary conflict, hindering the authorities settlement programme and ultimately reduces the prospect of all travellers getting adequate and satisfactory accommodation.

There has also to be a balance between the needs and wishes of travellers and the interests of the rest of the community. It is not unreasonable to expect travellers to make use of halting sites that have been provided to a very high standard with good amenities at considerable expense to the taxpayer and effort of the local authority. Parking instead on public roads or other public areas causes dangers to traffic, damage to amenities and other problems, especially when large numbers congregate.

Finally, I again want to emphasise that this scheme only gives the local authority power to act where there is a vacant berth on an official halting site in which the temporary dwelling concerned could be accommodated. It is by no means a draconian power: it can only be used in very well defined circumstances.

Senator Brendan Ryan referred to the travellers' situation in Cork. In my opinion, the people who have caused problems recently in the Cork area could not be regarded as ordinary travelling families. It is obvious to any observer that these are substantial traders with considerable resources. Local communities should not have to tolerate the destruction caused by the arrival of convoys of large caravans and vehicles parked indiscriminately without regard to the safety of the general public.

Fellow travellers.

These activities make it much more difficult to successfully tackle and meet the needs of the ordinary travelling people. It is to the credit of many local communities that they have accepted the provision of halting sites and acknowledged the need for action to ensure that the problem, which concerns society as a whole, is faced up to.

I want to pay tribute here particularly to the people in Cork because they have responded very positively in taking their share and facing up to the needs of the travelling community, as Cork Corporation and county council are about to do. Unfortunately, far too often, I have personal experience of people being penalised for that. We have obligations and I want to make a strong appeal to all local authorities to face up to their responsibilities. These people are human beings and they must be treated as such. Far too often it comes across that some local authorities are not facing up to their responsibilities. This is not fair to those who have done so. I would make a strong appeal to the councillors in local areas to take this on board. If we do we will be making strong inroads into dealing with this serious problem.

The Dublin area has played its part.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Minister, without interruption, please.

Senator Brendan Ryan expressed concern that the provisions of section 26 of the Bill might allow local authorities to sell tenanted houses to voluntary organisations without the consent of the tenants. I want to make two points about this. First, the sale of a local authority house or flat, whether tenanted or not, to an approved voluntary housing body is subject to a resolution of the elected members of the housing authority who will be aware of the views of, and represent, the tenants. Second, the question of tenant consent to the transfer of a local authority house to an approved body is specifically provided for as a matter which may be covered by regulations. Clearly, consideration will have to be given by the Minister to the question of tenant consent and the manner in which it is to be obtained.

Senator Brendan Ryan also referred to the overall level of new housebuilding. The number of new houses built annually declined each year between 1981 and 1988. In 1988, only 15,700 new houses were completed. Since then, housing output has increased to a total of 20,000 per annum. In fact, on the basis of available indicators, I would expect new house completions in 1992 to be over the 20,000 mark. There is no reason to believe that the current level of overall housing output is inadequate. In fact, it will exceed the projected housing requirements contained in the NESC report,A Review of Housing Policy.

Senator Naughen felt that the social housing plan and this Bill are transferring power from local authorities. I would see it as the opposite. The operation of the whole range of new measures was devolved to local authorities from day one. Local authorities now have an incomparably better set of tools with which to tackle the housing problems of their areas than ever before. They retain their traditional functions but they can now be complemented by new powers. As I said in my opening speech, their role has changed fundamentally but it has certainly not diminished. Surely, it is good that local authorities can promote voluntary and co-operative effort in housing as an alternative to local authority housing. It is better to foster a spirit of self-help than dependency.

Senator McGowan suggested involving the elected members in securing the implementation of the new measures in the social housing plan. I agree that councillors have a vital contribution to make to the success of the plan. They can do much to inform public attitudes and to help spread an understanding of the range of new measures available to meet housing needs. Indeed, they have a responsibility to ensure that their own authority makes full use of the measures and resources available to meet the housing needs of their area.

I think it is particularly irresponsible for politicians, at national or local level, to attempt to undermine the new measures, often without even taking the trouble to understand them properly. There is an onus on all of us as public representatives to seek to make the best of the various measures available to improve housing conditions.

It is not correct to say, as Senator Naughten did, that the £2,000 new house grant was a thing of the past because of the tax clearance requirements associated with the grant. I would like to point out that the Government are providing £9 million to pay 4,500 new house grants in 1992, which hardly suggests that these grants are "a thing of the past".

The tax clearance requirement is reasonable and is consistent with the policy of successive Governments to ensure that public funds do not go to those who are not paying their due taxes. This is a device to counteract the black economy. There is no intention of trying to deprive legitimate first time house purchasers of the grant. I sincerely hope that the Fine Gael Party do not condone black economy operations which have been the scourge of the building industry in the past.

I hope the Minister is not taking advantage of Senator Naughten being in the Chair.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

The Minister, without interruption, please.

Senator Naughten said it was a disastrous decision to abolish the house improvement grant scheme brought in by the last Fine Gael-Labour Government; even though this scheme only came into effect very late in 1985, it was terminated in early 1987 and it had cost the taxpayer over £200 million. When it was abolished applications were still coming in at the rate of £5 million a month. The scheme was poorly focused and open-ended and expenditure arising from it could neither be predicted nor controlled. It gave large handouts of taxpayer's money to individuals, regardless of their means and in respect of often inessential or cosmetic works. Neither did it halt the decline in construction employment which was a hallmark of that Government's period in office. The 1985 grants scheme squandered the lion's share of the money available for housing over a number of years, money that could have been put to far better use in other ways. When Senators in Fine Gael and the Labour Party question the adequacy of funds provided for social housing, they cannot ignore the legacy of commitments they left behind them and which has taken five years to pay out.

We reduced housing lists, as the Minister of State well knows.

Senator Naughten called for a fixed interest rate on local authority housing loans.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

While I might agree with some of the comments made by Senator McMahon, the Minister should be allowed to continue without interruption.

I consider that local authority house purchasers are generally in the long term better served by a variable interest rate——

The Leas-Chathaoirleach is getting an honourable mention.

——having regard to the Government's policy of keeping interest rates as low as possible. In the past many who had to borrow when rates were high and fixed for the life of the loan were at a disadvantage when rates declined, as they have done recently. All in all, I believe that the reintroduction of fixed rates could give rise to a similar situation in the future. The local authority rate is set at the lowest prevailing building society rate, that is, 10.75 per cent from 1 July 1992.

Senator McGowan suggested that local authorities should borrow money for local authority housing from the European Investment Bank. I am afraid this is not a solution. When the Exchequer provides capital for the local authority housing programme this is now done by way of a capital grant and no repayments or interest charges fall to be met by the local authorities. The full cost of borrowing this money is met by the Exchequer — in other words, by the general taxpayer. Our basic economic difficulties derive in large measure from previous borrowings and the extent to which servicing these debts absorbs funds which could otherwise be used to provide badly needed new investment in key areas such as housing.

Borrowing from the European Investment Bank provides no answer. Such debt would still have to be serviced and repaid and, as the Senator knows, the rent received from the houses, after taking account of the maintenance and management costs, would make little or no impression on servicing the loan.

Senator Naughten referred to the rural resettlement organisation and I am pleased to be able to inform Senators that I will be meeting with Mr. Jim Connolly, the founder of that organisation, this evening. Many of the schemes dealt with in the Bill, such as shared ownership, the mortgage allowance scheme and the improvement works in lieu, are, I believe, potentially beneficial to many of the households who are relocating to the western counties with the help of the rural resettlement organisation. The mortgage subsidy scheme, in particular, will provide a subsidy of up to £3,300 spread over five years to assist persons leaving local authority housing and acquiring their own home with the aid of a mortgage loan. In fact, most of the new measures are available to persons leaving local authority housing even if they are moving to a different part of the country.

Senator McMahon regrets that circumstances do not allow amendments to the Bill to be accepted in this House. I would not agree with him that this makes the debate futile. The Bill provides the broad framework for the various schemes and the points made by Senators will certainly be taken on board when drafting the detailed regulations.

Finally, I would like once again to thank the Senators who participated in this debate. I think I have covered the main issues that were raised. It would be inappropriate in a debate like this to go into the housing position in each local authority area. The House will get down to the nuts and bolts of the Bill on Committee Stage and there will be an opportunity for Senators to dwell in more detail on the individual provisions of the Bill.

Question put.
The Seanad divided: Tá, 22; Níl, 14.

  • Bennett, Olga.
  • Bohan, Eddie.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Dardis, John.
  • Farrell, Willie.
  • Fitzgerald, Tom.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Haughey, Seán F.
  • Honan, Tras.
  • Hussey, Thomas.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Kiely, Rory.
  • Lanigan, Michael.
  • McGowan, Paddy.
  • McKenna, Tony.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullooly, Brian.
  • O'Brien, Francis.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Donovan, Denis A.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • Ryan, Eoin David.


  • Costello, Joe.
  • Harte, John.
  • Hourigan, Richard V.
  • Jackman, Mary.
  • Kennedy, Patrick.
  • O'Reilly, Joe.
  • Ross, Shane P.N.
  • McMahon, Larry.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Neville, Daniel.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Foighil, Pól.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Upton, Pat.
Tellers: Tá, Senators E. Ryan and Fitzgerald; Níl, Senators Neville and McMahon.
Question declared carried.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 15 July 1992.

On the Order of Business this morning it was agreed that Item No. 2 would be taken at 4 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 12.20 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.