Private Members' Business. - Grants for Reconstruction of Dwellings —Motion.

I move:—

That, in view of the steep increase in the costs of labour and building materials, Dáil Éireann is of opinion that measures should be taken at once to increase the amount of the grants at present available for the reconstruction of dwellings.

This is a simple motion that I am sure will call for very little effort on my part to impress the House with the justice of the demand contained in it. I want to say at the outset that I do not wish to minimise or undervalue in any way the assistance which has been given by successive Governments in the way of grants for the reconstruction of dwellings. I know that almost since the foundation of the State, Governments have been fully cognisant of the desirability and the necessity to provide grants for the reconstruction of dwelling-houses. But, notwithstanding all the State assistance which has been given, it is a fact that there are many houses, particularly in rural areas and, indeed, in urban areas too, inhabited in many instances by large families, that are definitely unfit for human habitation.

We may do what we like in legislating in this House on matters of public health—and the health of the people is of paramount importance—but I believe that all our expenditure on attempts to improve public health will be wasted unless each family has a decent home to live in. I think that is the first essential in public health and, while it would be desirable that every family in this country should be provided with a new house, I do not think anybody listening to me will ever see that day dawn. I know that considerable assistance has been given towards the provision of new houses and for that reason I have not covered new houses in this motion, but notwithstanding the number of new houses which have been erected and the number of dwelling-houses which have been reconstructed there is still a very large number of houses that are, as I said, not fit for human habitation.

I am not going to attribute blame to anybody for that. The condition of housing generally when this State was established was deplorable, and it could not be expected that any Government or Governments since the foundation of the State could have solved the problem but I do think that now we must make some greater effort to provide proper homes for our people. It is no secret that building costs have increased, more, I think, than costs in any other sphere. Both labour and materials are very much dearer than they were, 30, 20 or even ten years ago. For that reason, Deputy Beirne and myself felt that it was opportune to direct the attention of the Government, of the Minister for Local Government, and of his Department to the necessity of providing still greater grants for the reconstruction of rural and urban dwellings. I know that both under the 1950 Act and the 1952 Act, an advance has been made in the direction of permitting local authorities to assist in this drive and I know that many householders are availing of the facilities offered by the 1950 Act and the 1952 Act.

There is one matter in connection with the administration of the 1952 Act to which, specifically, I wish to draw the Minister's attention. Under the 1952 Act, local authorities were permitted to make a 100 per cent. grant to the owners of a reconstructed dwelling where the valuation was under £12 10s.; a 66? per cent. grant where the valuation ranged between £20 and £27 10s. and a 33? per cent. grant in cases where the valuation ranged between £27 10s. and £35. My grievance is that the Department's inspectors do not appear to be cognisant of the very high costs of labour and materials in the rural areas. I do believe that, at the present time, labour and materials are practically as dear in rural areas as they are in the urban or city areas. I do not think there is very much difference, but here is the point. When the inspectors estimate the cost of a reconstruction job, they estimate it in such a way that the local authorities cannot provide the assistance which they would like to provide—in other words, they underestimate the cost of the work.

To illustrate my point, I shall take the case of a man who qualifies for the 100 per cent. grant. The inspector comes, inspects the work, and says: "This should cost £150." We will assume that it is a four-roomed house. The regulations provide that the tenant will be responsible for one-third of the cost of the work—that is £50. The Department provides £100 of a grant, which is the maximum grant for a four-roomed house, and then the tenant finds that there is no local authority assistance for him at all, because the Government grant plus his own charge, one-third of the cost, amounts to the estimated cost of the work. That is a matter which has proved a very serious disappointment to people reconstructing their houses. I have no hesitation in saying that a fair estimate has not been put on reconstructed works which have been carried out since the passing of the 1952 Act. I think it is only right to say that many local authorities were rather confused about the operation of the Act. Members of local authorities—I am talking about county councils now— thought that the county councils were permitted to give 100 per cent. grants for the reconstruction of dwellings but they find in actual practice that they are not, and that is one point I think that should be regulated. The whole trouble arises from underestimation by the Department's inspectors. I do not want to be understood as in any way casting any reflection on the people who operate in the country as departmental inspectors, but I have seen estimates which they made and the people in those areas could not possibly find a contractor who would undertake the work for the amount the Department's inspector estimated. I think it would be only fair that the Department's inspectors—while they would not exaggerate any estimate— would take into account the very high cost of labour, skilled or unskilled, at the present time, and I very much fear that they are not doing that. I think some inspectors of the Department are under the impression that tradesmen or labourers are not paid a high standard of wages in the country. But I am sure the Minister will agree with me that there is very little difference—if any—in the wages paid to skilled or unskilled workers in the country and the city. I believe that if an inspector were to estimate for the reconstruction of a dwelling in this city he would put a far higher figure on it than if he were doing it in the country. That is why many local authorities are deprived of an opportunity to provide grants which they are entitled to provide under the 1952 Act.

I think the original grant made available for reconstruction by the first Government that introduced them was £40. That was the maximum then. The maximum grant to-day is £120. I am quite sure that you would get a considerably greater amount of work done for £40 when the grants were originally introduced than you would get done for £120 to-day.

Some people appear to imagine that the cost of building materials has gone down. I do not think in actual fact that that is so. I think they have come to that erroneous conclusion because of the fact that there has been a certain drop in the cost of the standard of timber but the manner in which that is reflected in the amount of timber required for either reconstruction or the erection of a new dwelling is negligible. Whatever the situation may be as regards the cost of building materials to the providers I am quite sure that the people who are providing homes for themselves can see no decrease either in the cost of labour, skilled or unskilled, or in the cost of the materials.

We must remember that a very considerable number of houses have still to be put into proper condition and that notwithstanding how much the State may increase grants for new houses, it will still not be possible for many people in this country to erect new ones. It may be argued that if they were not in a position to erect new houses with the assistance of State grants they have the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts to fall back on. Speaking of country people particularly, very many of them have a very natural aversion to going into debt and I honestly believe we should not dissuade them from that view. The average countryman has a horror of debt. He does not want to mortgage the future of himself or his family and would far prefer to live his life in discomfort and even in want rather than go into debt. There are very good and well-founded reasons for that and I, personally, would not encourage any man notwithstanding any possible assistance available under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Acts to erect a new house unless he could very well meet the repayments. People in secure positions with secure incomes can avail of those things.

The poor man with very few assets and very limited resources knows quite well that he must meet his annuities twice a year; he must meet his rates twice a year, and he does not want to saddle himself with additional twice-yearly payments under the Small Dwellings (Acquistion) Act, and notwithstanding any encouragment this or any other Government may hold out at any time by way of assistance many of these people would prefer to remain as they are rather than erect new houses with that type of assistance. You have to admire them for their strength of character, and I think this Government can do nothing better for the people than to put tempting grants for the reconstruction of their homes in their way.

As I said before the Minister came in, in asking this I am not suggesting that the different Governments have not been generous in this respect. I am admitting that, and I am admitting that the sanitation grants made available are a great step forward, but what I want to emphasise is this— that the amount of £120 is not sufficient with the price of labour and materials as it is to induce many of those people to improve their homes.

Everybody knows the very short distance £100 will go to-day. There was a time in this country when £100 was regarded as a fortune; to-day it is little more than a bagatelle. I know that I might be gibed at for criticising the Government on heavy expenditure in some respects, and I will at all times criticise whatever Government may be in existence for what I will describe as unnecessary expenditure, but I consider that the provision of suitable, decent homes is one of the first essentials of a civilised community. I think I would be right in saying that no other factor has contributed more to the blister of emigration in this country than bad housing. I would go further and say that the lack of housing accommodation in this country is emphatically immoral where there is not proper sleeping accommodation for the adults of the family.

The Minister may smile, but it is a very serious problem for parents. As I said on the Valuation Bill, they are not worried at all during the period when the children are in their teens, but when the boys and girls of a family grow up proper living accommodation for them creates a very serious problem for parents. From any point of view, social or economic, there can be no more important demand made on a Government than one for the provision of proper housing. Since it is not likely that new houses will be provided for all the people who require them and if it is accepted that proper housing accommodation is essential and that the present grants are not a sufficient inducement to encourage people to improve their dwellings, then I do not think any responsible Minister or Government can turn down this very simple motion.

I am not in a position to say and neither, perhaps, is the Minister, what would be the financial repercussions of the acceptance of the motion. Knowing the problem as I do, it might reach a fairly staggering figure. It has to be borne in mind, however, that it is not likely that all the people who need to reconstruct their dwellings will do so this year or in any one year. If it were found that the demands which were being made were becoming too heavy, they might be deferred for a year or two.

I do not think it is necessary to labour the point that it is time now to increase the grants for the reconstruction of houses. I think, too, that some change will have to be made in the 1952 Act so that the full benefits, for which that Act made provision, may accrue to applicants. Where, for example, the inspectors go to estimate the cost of reconstructing a house, knowing that the local authority is prepared to co-operate with the Department in providing decent houses, they should suggest improvements of such a kind as to enable the local authorities to give owners the full benefit of the Act. If it should happen that the estimate was such as to permit, in the case of £120 State grant of equal amount, I am sure good work would be done, and that the same would be true if the State grant were £100, and if the local authority were enabled to give an equal sum.

Many cases occurred during the last 12 months where applicants got no benefit whatever from the 1952 Act because of the estimate of the cost of the work which had been made out by the inspector. Of course, the Minister could, if he had wished, although this might be going too far, have dropped the condition imposing a responsibility on the tenant of meeting one-third of the cost of the work. If that were done, it would enable the local authorities to come into practically every case. I am of the opinion myself that the condition of making the tenant responsible for one-third of the cost is a reasonable and a good one. After all, a man is dealing with his own home and should take an interest in it. It is not asking too much of him to provide one-third of the cost. My grievance is that the estimate of the cost does not meet the job, and neither does it allow the benefits which, I think, were in the mind of the Minister when he introduced the 1952 Act, to reach the tenant.

I do not think there is anything more that I have to say. I feel that, knowing the Minister as I do since he came into office, the motion will receive from him sympathetic and favourable consideration.

I formally second the motion, reserving to myself the right to speak on it later.

It had not been my intention to contribute anything to this discussion, but, having listened to the mover of the motion, I got the impression that living conditions, so far as housing in the country is concerned, were just appalling. Well, I could hardly support that. I have been connected with local administration for an uninterrupted period of 40 years. I have had personal knowledge of conditions as they were 40 years ago and can compare them with the position as it is to-day. I am very proud of the position as it is in the county that I come from. I think we can claim to hold a unique position in the country in this respect. We have made housing provision for over 6,000 cottiers, and for nearly 1,000 others in the urban areas. We have not yet finished the work. It goes on uninterruptedly. Ultimately, we hope to have very decent homes, with a plot of land, for all our agricultural workers. Due to Government intervention and to Acts passed by this House, good provision is now made for the housing of our people. For example, under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act, a person can get a free grant of £245 for the building of a five-roomed house. If the house has a greater number of rooms, the grant is increased. People come to me every other day to help them in filling up forms in connection with these free grants. In addition to the free grants, the person who proposes to build the house can borrow from the county council £60 against every £100 of its estimated cost. That means that a person can borrow between £500 and £600 from the county council. The redemption period extends over a period of about 35 years. The facilities which are available now enable practically every citizen to provide a home for himself and his family.

The rural cottages we are building are costing on an average £1,200 each. and to that must be added at least one acre of land. There is one matter to which I would like to draw the Minister's attention. It is the position of the poor farmer in the mountain areas with a very low valuation. He enjoys none of the amenities that are enjoyed by his brethren in the urban areas. His life is a constant hardship. Very often he has quite a large family. Many of these men come in to me and tell me that they want their houses reconstructed. The necessary forms are filled in and sent to the various authorities. Perhaps some two or three months later the inspector comes down. Sometimes he does not come for 12 months, at the end of which period we are tired ringing up the Department and writing letters. He examines the particular structures. I have one particular instance clearly before my mind, affecting a father and mother and eight young children. The inspector stated that the walls could not be reconstructed since they were made of mud. He informed the owner that he must build a new house. He told him he would get facilities from the county council to help him out. This unfortunate man is expected to take the initiative and put up a new house; at a certain stage of its construction he may get the first part of the grant. The unfortunate man has not so much as a £5 note of his own. He has not an earthly hope of getting out of the rut, of changing the antediluvian conditions in which he is living. Indeed, his circumstances from a social point of view are a sin against the very ethics of Christian decency and morality.

The other day I met a man who has eight in family. He told me their ages. He has only one room and a kitchen in his house. I asked him where his big boys and girls slept and he told me that they put bags up at night. That is the structure: the boys are separated from the girls by putting up bags at night. That is one particular case, but it is not an exaggeration. It is only one of quite a number. I think there is cause for anxiety in such cases.

Sometimes one can get the Department to subordinate their objection to persuasion. In one particular case where there was a very good wall I suggested that the building should be reconstructed; the bulge in the centre could be removed, the walls straightened, and a section of reinforced concrete put in thereby providing an opportunity for increasing the space by the addition of an extra room. The £120 grant would naturally go a considerable way to effecting such a change as that. The grant was made available in the particular case and one would be amazed to see the reconstructed dwelling, a structure approaching more nearly to Christian ideals and providing more amenities for the little family. There are other cases in which help of that kind would be invaluable. These people will never be able to build for themselves. I suggest that the £120 should be made available to enable these people to reconstruct their present dwellings where reconstruction is a feasible proposition. If the Minister would instruct his inspectors along those lines we could take a step forward in providing better conditions for our people.

I have seen a good deal of work done in the urban areas since the valuation was at the maximum of £12. I have known small business people to take advantage of the grant of £80. It is amazing what can be done with £80. These small business people get no relief of any kind qua the agricultural grant or anything like that. They must pay the maximum rate. They must pay their water rates. They must pay for their light and various other things. I think these grants should be provided in inverse ratio. The small business people should get the £120.

I appeal to the Minister to consider sympathetically the points I have raised in relation to the little mountain homesteads and the small business people in the urban areas.

I had no idea that this motion would be reached to-night. In fact, though it may have been a considerable time on the Order Paper, I was hoping that any discussion on this subject might have been covered by the Housing Bill which is due to be introduced in the course of the next few weeks. I am not suggesting that its provisions will in any way go to meet what is suggested in this motion, but it would afford an opportunity to the mover of this proposal to make his case on the Bill then.

There were a few points made by Deputy Finan and the last Deputy who has spoken to which I would like to refer, because quite candidly, apart altogether from the fact that I am the responsible Minister, my knowledge as a Deputy, which I suppose is as good as that of any other Deputy on these matters, does not at all fit into the picture that has been so vividly painted.

The first point to which I would like to refer is this question of estimation. I understand what Deputy Finan means by that but I do not know where he could have got the experience from which he is speaking— I take it he is speaking from experience—because if that is Deputy Finan's experience then it is in conflict with my experience as a Deputy and in utter conflict with my experience as a Minister. The provision or provisions contained in the Housing Act of 1952 enable the local body to make, as he has stated, a supplementary grant in addition to the State grant, provided always that the amount received by the applicant by way of grant whether from the State or the local authority or both—the total amount of grant received—shall not exceed two-thirds of the estimated cost of the work. That is the law. That is the Act. An inspector is sent down or perhaps lives in Roscommon, the constituency which the mover of this motion represents. An application is received from some small farmer in Roscommon whose valuation, say, is £12 10s. The inspector arrives at his house. It is a threeroomed thatched house. He indicates to the inspector what he proposes to do by way of reconstruction. The inspector has, just the same as would a shopkeeper, a price list for everything, based upon work done on the rates of wages that are approved by trade unionism. That man with his three-roomed house is not proposing to remove the roof and replace it with a new roof; he is, instead, proposing to do certain external and internal repairs not of a formidable kind. He wants new and enlarged windows. He wants the house plastered inside and out. He wants new floors. He wants new doors. The inspector lists six new windows at so many pounds each, so many yards of plastering at so much a square, so many yards of flooring at so much, the ceilings the same.

Is it suggested that because the inspector, acting upon instructions which he receives from the applicant, makes up his estimate and the cost of the work in that way, based as it is on trade union standards—is it suggested that if, on arriving at his total, he finds that the cost of the work which the man has indicated he is prepared to do is £120 and two-thirds of that will be £80, and he receives £80 from the State, surely it is not suggested by the Deputy that he should receive two £80's, one from the State and one from the local authority, making his grant £160 as against an estimated cost of £120?

Not at all.

I have not misunderstood the Deputy.

Perhaps I should make myself clear. My point is that they cannot get the work done for the inspector's estimate.

I have dealt with that. The Deputy may take it from me that I have seen at least as many of these jobs with my own eyes before and after as anybody else and for a period as far back as when the grants for reconstruction were £40. It has been generally accepted everywhere that the estimate, the manner of estimation and the approach of the inspectors at all times, have been very reasonable, and I think that those responsible for the 1952 Act were quite fair not only to the applicant but to the local authority in seeing that in the case I have cited where the estimated cost of the improvements proposed to be made is £120 the State will pay £80 and therefore the applicant is not entitled to receive any grant from the local body. But should the estimated cost of the work exceed £120, for every pound, for every £10, for every £20 up to the maximum 100 per cent. local authority grant that the estimate exceeds that sum he will get the equivalent from the local body.

If, as I contend, the inspectors have in estimating the cost of the work which the applicant proposes based their estimates on that generous standard, then there is no case at all to be made unless you were to say to the inspectors: "Well, in that case the State is going to give this man £80 and £120 is the estimated cost, and throw on an extra 50 or 60 per cent. so as to make the local body liable for something." That is neither fair nor reasonable, and there is no point in discussing it from such an angle as that. I claim—and I am not claiming it just for the purpose of making a point, but from my experience over a long time as a Deputy and as a Minister—that every estimate prepared in respect of a job of work which I saw myself was in every case a fair one. The fact that the applicant might not be able to get a contractor to take the job at the estimated cost does not prove anything. In quite a number of cases I know that the applicants were able to employ labour, difficult and costly though it may have been to obtain skilled labour in rural areas, make a profit on those estimates and do the work at substantially less than the estimated cost. I am not saying that it would apply in all cases, but my experience as a Deputy and my knowledge as a Minister are entirely in conflict with what the Deputy has claimed, that in preparing those estimates there is ever the slightest tendency to be niggardly or to underestimate for any purpose.

The next point made by Deputy Madden dealt with this question of standards. Here, again, I know that Deputy Madden, when he rises to speak, can be very vivid in his description of a situation.

I do not exaggerate.

There is not much difference.

I would not like to put it that way because I hope the discussion will be friendly, but I am afraid I intended to get as near to saying that as I possibly could. However, there are 13 permanent and three temporary inspectors, temporary in the sense that they are moved about to assist those who may be in arrears in one district or another. I am not saying that what the Deputy suggested could not happen in isolated cases, but if there were any real substance in the charge there is no person who would be more likely to hear about it than the Minister himself or his Department. If there was any question that these inspectors were aiming at too high a standard, the correspondence addressed to me, as a Minister, would show it.

For almost three years now I do not believe I have had anything near half a dozen complaints under that heading. Looking back over 20 odd years of the administration of Housing Acts and taking an interest in my own constituency as a Deputy and receiving correspondence, I do not suppose I received two dozen complaints on the same matter, and the housing standards—I am referring to the old type of houses—were certainly as low in my county as you would find in any place. I remember meeting a number of these inspectors—I think I met all of them in connection with the 1952 Act. They have often met with problems for which you cannot be prepared or give any instructions. They must be given a fair share of discretion. No matter what knowledge a Department may have and no matter what instructions they may prepare for these men based upon experience, cases will still arise here and there that will be different and will not have been met with before. If these men were to seek instructions as to what they would do in certain circumstances, the instructions I would give them would be that if the house to be reconstructed was fairly good as it was, they must aim at securing improvements that would make it considerably better; if, on the other hand, they came across a house in extremely bad condition, such as the one described by Deputy Madden, even though there might be a tremendous prejudice against covering up mud wall or any portion of mud wall, they would have freedom there to use their judgment and discretion. If they could secure an improvement upon that low standard that would even bring it to a standard as good as that of another house that needed reconstruction but was fairly good as it was, then they would be entitled to issue their approval certificate.

I am not making this claim now for the Department over the last two, three, ten years or any other period; I am merely making this statement based, as I said at the outset, upon my own personal knowledge as to how these men did their work. Sometimes Deputies receive correspondence from different constituents about delays of one kind or another. Delays are objectionable but the one important thing, especially in this matter, is that you would have men engaged on this work who had the right approach and knew the problem. From what I have seen of their work, I may say I never saw a set of officials more versatile and more anxious to use—and use successfully—the discretion they have, in order to meet the many problems confronting them in deciding whether a certain reconstruction job might be done in a certain set of circumstances, such as those described by, say, Deputy Madden.

I have never seen a case where the manner of estimating the cost could be fairly challenged. I know that a man who reconstructs a house and does a very fine and very costly job, which in expense is almost equal to what would be required to provide a new house, is receiving only a grant of £120 and whatever supplementary grant his valuation will permit of his receiving from the local authority—if the local authority has adopted the scheme at all. However, I am contesting the claim put forward. As a matter of fact, if any Deputy can produce for me at any time a better estimate, showing item for item the amounts provided, I would very much like to see it. The claim that has been put forward by Deputy Finan, that such is the case, is entirely in conflict with everything I know and with my own experience.

In regard to the other point, if there was any question of inspectors being too rigid, too hard to satisfy, stipulating impossible conditions to applicants whom they found in dire need of improved housing, I would expect to have learned that from my correspondence. I can assure the Deputy and every member of the House that if any case should arise— there could always be an odd case— and if it were reported to me, my whole feeling and my whole approach would be to see that the most generous decision or new approach would be made by the Department—provided the housing standard was so low that, even if perfection would not be attained by reconstruction, the standard would be substantially raised. That is my frame of mind, and I hope that, to whatever extent I have been responsible, it is the frame of mind of those who are responsible for this work. Therefore, I am disputing entirely the two points that have been advanced here.

I am not going into the other points mentioned by Deputy Finan. He spoke of the effect that bad housing has upon the mental attitude of people who live in rural parts. Everyone knows or should know that, but one does not like to be whipping that horse too much and too often. There are so many factors in these days that contribute to inducing people to move from place to place and to move out of rural parts, that this is not the time to wade into that wide field.

I was hoping this motion would remain on the Order Paper until the Bill which is due in the ordinary way would be under discussion. The two years will expire in April, and it will be necessary to have a new Bill enacted by that time. That would enable us to cover all these points in our discussions. I am not holding out the hope that the Bill will provide something such as is suggested here in the motion. The motion took me by surprise, but I felt I should deal with those two points. If they represent the attitude of my inspectors, that is the first time I ever came to know it.

I hope and trust the inspectors dealing with the housing problem throughout the country will read the Minister's speech. If they do, and if they take from it the courage that he says the directions already given to them should have given them, some headway will have been made and the motion itself will have had some success. The question of increased grants is very important at present. No matter what the Minister may say, that people have been able to get the work done for the estimate, that is as great an exaggeration as he said Deputy Madden was guilty of. It is a physical impossibility, even with supplied material and supplied labour, to get a reconstruction carried out on the estimate made.

I advocate and support this motion for an increased grant; and I trust that when the Minister is bringing in his Bill he will give very serious consideration to the view being expressed by Deputy Finan and myself here to-night. Over a great part of the country—in Longford, Cavan and everywhere else—the housing conditions are still not up to the standard. A great deal of reconstruction could take place if the grant were adequate. I admit that in County Longford, where the local authority has come to the assistance of the person reconstructing his house, the supplementary grant has gone a long way towards meeting the needs of the people. However, in a great many cases of which I am personally aware, the estimate is too high at the moment. There is too much work to be done for the grant and the county council grant and the people are not able to pay the difference. Therefore, it is imperative that an increased grant be made available, because of the increase in the cost of building materials, wages, and so on.

The Minister barely touched on the question of payments in his reply. I want to point out that another cause of hardship on the people is delay in the payments. The local merchants get credit and carry the financing of the work to a great extent. That should not happen. When half of the work is done, the grant should be paid quickly. The old saying holds true here that he who gives quickly gives twice. I urge the Minister to speed up that particular aspect of the matter.

The Minister says he is in close contact with his constituency. I know he is. He says that if the grants were inadequate he would hear about it quicker than or as quickly as any other Deputy in the House.

I did not say grants. I said the estimated cost of the work.

Yes. You must have a very fine set of inspectors in Cavan.

The same as yours; the same man.

If you have, I will produce his estimates from Longford and if the Minister will produce a few of his from Cavan we can compare them. If it is the one person, I know his estimates. Too much work is demanded.

Then there would be less money. If there is less work there will be less money.

A certain amount of work is absolutely essential but in my opinion the estimate is out of all proportion to it. That, perhaps, may be the cause of the delays in the payments—that we have one man for the two counties and that he has too much to do.

They all say that.

Remember, I know contractors who have practically been pressed out of business because of the delay and because of the failure of the banks to extend credit any further.

We seem to be widening the discussion.

I am very anxious to get a list from the Deputy. If any people write to him making a complaint like that, I should love to see a few of their letters.

I am the last one in the world to complain of the civil servants or of an inspector in any way or to come down to an individual case like that. I want to say, however, that I have been urging the payment of five cases since last September, and the Longford division of the Housing Section in the Custom House will verify that.

Hear, hear! That is a recurring evil.

Anyhow, it is not in the motion and I will not develop it.

I should like to get these five names.

If the Minister asks me to give them I will give them to him.

The motion deals with increasing grants for reconstruction.

I am making the case that a grant paid quickly is an increase in itself and that the old saying that he who gives quickly gives twice still holds in this matter. Take, for instance, a house where some of the walls are sound walls and where there are some mud walls. I think that the removal of the mud walls should qualify that house for a reconstruction grant. Notwithstanding the discretion that the inspectors have, for some reason or another if there is any mud wall at all in the house they shy at it like a young horse, and the only thing to do is to build a new house.

I am glad to hear the Minister say that the inspectors have discretion because when I meet them again I will quote the Minister's speech to them and ask them if they have read it— in the hope that it will go a long distance towards improving the conditions under which these people have to live and, generally, that it will speed up the estimate and get a reasonable estimate and get quicker payment.

Deputy Finan, in introducing this motion, made a fairly good case but, in my opinion, it was not a good case for the motion because the motion seeks increased grants for reconstruction, and Deputy Finan's case was mainly against the officials of the Minister's Department for underestimating the cost of the works for which the grants were sought. Therefore, he was really advocating not increased grants but a revision of the method of operation on the part of the Minister's inspectors—and that is not in the motion.

If we are to deal with the motion itself, we will have to admit that, on the whole, reconstruction grants have been fairly generous. They were introduced for the first time almost 20 years ago by the then Minister for Local Government, Deputy Seán T. O'Kelly, who is now our President. They were at the rate of £40—and a very considerable amount of useful work was done. Later, the grants were increased to £80 and in the past couple of years they were increased to a maximum of £120 with the proviso, of course, that they would not exceed two-thirds of the estimated cost of the work and, if the estimation on the part of the officials concerned was fair, as Deputy Finan has said, then the two-thirds grant would represent a very substantial grant.

In the course of this debate, reference was made to grants for entirely new houses. It is well to remember, in regard to new houses, that the grants are not anything like as generous as those in respect of reconstruction. I think it would be fair to say that the grant which is given in respect of a new house is not more than one-third and very often it is not more than one-quarter of the cost of building the house. Therefore, the man who proposes to reconstruct his house, rather than build a new one, comes out better as far as grants are concerned. He gets approximately two-thirds of the estimated cost whereas the man who proposes to build a house—even with the most generous grant and even if he gets a supplementary grant from the county council— will get very little more than one-third of the cost. For that reason, I say that there is not a case for this motion, as it is worded.

The burden of Deputy Finan's case was that inspectors are too rigid in regard to estimation and that they fixed their estimates too low for the amount of work done. That may happen in cases. Every Deputy has a different experience, but I think there are some cases in which it may happen that the inspector's estimate is too low and there are others in which it is not, but, on the average, I think the estimates are fairly reasonable.

It does happen that, when a farmer sets out to reconstruct his house, in the course of the work, he finds some other improvements to be carried out, or finds that it is better to spend a little more and make the job more complete, if he can afford it. It may possibly happen that, while the inspector's estimate may have been fair enough, the applicant may extend the work somewhat and do a somewhat better job than was originally estimated for. I am not sure if there is discretion given to the inspectors, but I think that, where a very good job is done, a better job than was estimated for, he should revise his estimate and raise it somewhat, to ensure that the applicant will get two-thirds of the cost of the work he undertook.

I have a good deal of sympathy with the case presented by Deputy Madden, particularly as he painted it so vividly. "Painted" is the operative word, because Deputy Madden is certainly an artist in presenting pictures of this kind. He painted a picture of a very deplorable condition, the burden of his case being that the inspector's standard was too high, that he wanted too perfect a job done, and he suggested that it would be better to build a new house rather than reconstruct the old one. In many cases, there is a good deal to be said for going out on a virgin site and building a new house rather than trying to patch up an old one.

Hear, hear!

In that case, the grant is not quite as good as if the applicant decided to reconstruct, but I do not altogether agree that the standards of the inspectors are too high, because many of us going around the country come upon places where we would be inclined to think the standard was too low and where the inspectors were persuaded to approve of a reconstruction job which was not a really good job. I have met one farmer who reconstructed his house 12 or 13 years ago and who blamed the inspector for allowing him to do such a job as he did and for not insisting on his raising the house a little higher and making a decent job of it. However, the job was done and could not be undone, but it is right that the inspectors should try to get as good a job as possible done, because they are not being over-rigid in so doing but are perhaps being a good friend of the person seeking the grant.

A decent house is something to be proud of, something that will last for a long time, and for that reason it ought not to be done in a slipshod way. We know that there are jobs which appear to be slipshod. I am not blaming anybody in that respect. The inspectors try to adjust their views to the views of the applicant, and the applicant probably tries to adjust his views to the amount of cash he can lay his hands on. Some of the work is not as good as we would like it to be, but these are not the majority of cases by any means, because, since the £40 grant was introduced over 20 years ago, it has left a mark on the face of rural Ireland. We know that the number of decrepit, miserable, dark and damp houses has been very much reduced and that there are quite a number of improved homesteads dotted all over the country as a result of these comparatively small grants of £40 which were readily availed of by people in rural areas. Since they were increased to a maximum of £120, with a supplementary grant from the county council, they have been still more readily availed of and very good work is being done.

It would be wrong for any inspector to underestimate the cost of work which he requires to be done under this scheme, and I agree with Deputy Finan on that point. It would be equally wrong if he were to overestimate the cost and thereby give some individual applicant a bigger grant than he would be legally entitled to. The inspector has a duty to be fair to the applicant and to the general taxpayer, and Deputy Finan was quite right in his reference to the fact that it is always popular for a Deputy to come here and demand higher grants for everything, while, at the same time, protesting against higher taxation. We have to be fair to the people whom we try to benefit and to the taxpayers.

Deputy Madden suggested that there was no alternative for the person who was refused a reconstruction grant and who could not afford to undertake the building of a new house itself. There is an alternative in many counties. If the valuation is very small, if the holding is very small and the person concerned very poor, the county council can stretch their Housing Act to enable it to come in and build a house for him at a weekly rent. That has been done in a number of cases, and it has met cases of hardship. While I do not think Deputy Finan made any case for the motion, he did make a case for a careful investigation into the working of this scheme, with a view to ensuring that nobody is victimised. Everybody is entitled to a grant of up to two-thirds of the actual cost and that was all Deputy Finan asked.

Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday, 4th March, 1954.