In presenting a Bill to extend to one part of the community, benefits not to be enjoyed by the remainder one may be expected to show adequate grounds for the differentiation in treatment. In the case of the present Bill that task is an easy one. This is a Bill to remedy conditions which have long been a reproach to the nation.
Everyone familiar with the Gaeltacht knows very well its vast stretches of barren land divided into tiny uneconomic holdings, its squalid cottages, ill-lighted, ill-ventilated, hopelessly inadequate for the decent accommodation of their occupants. We are sadly conscious that these conditions are most prevalent in Connemara, Erris, the Rosses of Donegal, and in those parts of Cork and Kerry which constitute the Fíor-Ghaeltacht. Abandoned and forgotten in the past, the people of these districts have, in generation after generation, trodden the hard road of penury and privation. They have appeared to be nobody's children, as it were. Remedies which brought relief elsewhere have passed them by. So bad has been their state that it has seemed beyond the power of human agency to cure. That is the problem with the solution of which we find ourselves confronted.
The task has already been in the settlement of the people in their holdings, in their own right: in the removal of groups to other land so that the holdings of those left behind may, as far as possible, be enlarged to economic proportions, and this policy is being steadily continued.
In the carrying out of that policy considerable improvements have been made as far as the houses of those left behind are concerned. During the years from 1924 to 1928 certain Acts were passed by the Oireachtas dealing generally with housing as far as the country as a whole was concerned. These have been available for the people of the Gaeltacht as well as for everybody else, but, in fact, they have been of no assistance to the persons for who this Bill is intended. Some advantage has been taken of these Acts as far as the Gaeltacht is concerned. Under those Acts 1,414 houses have been built there, but these were built by persons who had some substantial capital of their own to help in carrying out the work. This Bill is for the assistance of the most necessitous classes of those who were unable to take advantage of the former Acts, those Acts which had general application through the country. It is designed for those persons who, unless they had these exceptional facilities, would be entirely unable to provide themselves with better houses. The problem is to an extent simplified by the fact that in the Gaeltacht you have a certain capacity for self-help. There is a considerable degree of skill amongst the people in the Gaeltacht from the point of view of building. A great part of the materials are easily available there, and they will be able to carry out a large portion of the work themselves. It is only when the roofing, doors, window-frames and similar materials and fittings are required and have to be put into place that assistance is necessary. The cost of these materials and of the skilled labour which, by the way, is given by a class of handyman peculiar to the Gaeltacht, have been carefully considered in the framing of the Bill. But as to the standard house at which we aim in those cases in which the circumstances of the small holder will admit of his undertaking the responsibilities entailed, the cost is estimated at £180. That involves a free grant of £80 and a loan not exceeding the same sum, a loan to be spread over a period of thirty-five years. The loan is to be given, only if it is found indispensable, towards enabling a man to build this particular type of house.
I would like to emphasise the fact that loans will be regarded as an emergency rather than a normal measure of the proposed assistance, not because of any unreadiness on our part to give the further help, but because we feel that a loan will entail the repaying. It will entail an additional financial burden on the borrower extending over a number of years. Later on, I will say how we propose, as far as we can, to grapple with this question of the repayment of loans, by putting them in a better financial position to meet such obligation where they take it on their shoulders. The question of the need for a loan and the capacity to repay is the governing consideration in determining the character of the house which can be provided and the amount of the grant which can be given. The grants in respect of houses falling short of that particular standard will be correspondingly reduced. This is to a great extent where this Bill differs from former housing legislation. There is more elasticity. It is felt that there may be many necessitous cases in which a small holder cannot afford to put up a house of the type to which I have referred and which is perhaps the type that in other respects we would like to see. But the householder under this Bill can provide something less satisfactory, but at the same time something which is a very great improvement on his existing housing conditions. We are desirous not to rule out such cases. In this matter discretion will be exercised in the framing of the regulations.
We are also making provisions in this Bill for improvements. Grants and loans will be available for the improvement of existing houses where it is clear that the houses will lend themselves to improvement. The maximum grant for improvement will be £40 with an equivalent loan where, again, it is necessary. It is appreciated that we are cut off ing here with people who are cut off from the facilities for the purchase of materials which exist elsewhere and who have little opportunity of obtaining advice and assistance in the resolving of problems which may arise in connection with their title, that is, the legal title to their holdings. Very often indeed if that advice were readily available, they could badly afford to pay for it. We have inserted provisions in the Bill to meet or remove these disabilities, and to make the path more easy.
Under Section 12 of the Bill— there is a marginal note as to arrangements for general purchasing—there will be power, where a small holder so desires, for the Department to act for him as his agent in the making of contracts for the purchase of materials. We believe that where arrangements of this sort are made in any general kind of way for the district that the small holders there will be considerably benefited through the fact that by buying in bulk the materials can be bought more cheaply and at the same time materials can be made to conform to a more reliable standard of quality. Under Section 12 (2) power is taken to deal with difficulties which may arise in remote areas in providing scaffolding, and things of that kind, as well as lime, sand, and so on.
On the question of title rather exceptional powers have been taken in Section 9 (4). This is to overcome the anticipated difficulty owing to the notorious failure of persons to take any steps to register their title. Anyone who knows the conditions in the Gaeltacht will be aware of the failure in that respect. In cases of that kind, where the worldly goods are so small, the devolution of title has been done rather generally in a haphazard way. It is very rare that letters of administration or the probate of a will have been taken out. In the absence of these special provisions to deal with this matter, considerable expense might be involved in making title if some provision to deal with that was not made in the Bill. The Department will have to satisfy itself that the person in possession of the land who was looking for a grant or loan has a reasonable show of title.
It will be obvious that the occupier who is to receive the grant or loan must have security of tenure. In framing the Bill considerable difficulties arose in making a provision of this sort, owing to the variety of tenures which are prevalent in the Gaeltacht. For instance, it is not proposed that the grant will be available in the case of persons with weekly or monthly tenures— either to themselves or their landlords. The occupier or the landlord can utilise the existing Acts for any assistance he requires.
Section 13, that is the rating section, provides that any improvements or buildings made under the provisions of this Act will not be subject to any increase of rates for a period of twenty years. I might say here that the schedule defining the Gaeltacht for the purpose of the Bill includes all district electoral divisions which were returned in the Census of 1926 as a place in which 25 per cent. or upwards of the population are Irish speakers. There are a few districts deliberately left out, and one left out by mistake. That will be inserted subsequently. The City of Galway was omitted by mistake. The area around Maynooth College and the area around Rockwell College have been omitted. The figures of Irish speakers in both these areas have been increased by the students in those two colleges.