When the debate was adjourned, I had not had an opportunity of reading the Minister's opening statement. I have since discovered that he introduced along with the Bill what I would describe as a sugared pill, a Supplementary Estimate which is supposed to give grants to those who clear derelict sites. That does not seem to me to be embodied in the Bill. It seems reasonable to ask the Minister why. He read out his Supplementary Estimate and explained fully all the benefits he proposed to offer. He then dealt very briefly with the Bill but only referred en passant to derelict sites. He gave no example of a derelict site and did not give Deputies a full understanding of what was really behind the Bill. Therefore, anybody reading the speech, the Bill and the White Paper must inevitably draw his own conclusion.
If it was intended, as the Minister said it was, for the purpose of improving the appearance of the country from a tourist angle, surely the Bill could have been brought in as some form of tourist legislation. If it was intended to do it in this way, the grant provision could have been included in the Bill. As I see it, the position is that a local authority may decide— make no mistake about it; the local authority is not the elected representatives but the county or city manager —that a certain site is derelict. Under the Bill the county or city manager will get power to tell any private property owner that portion of his estate, be it house or land, is a derelict site and that he must do something with it. The Minister, towards the end of his speech, pointed out that if the owners failed to do the job required, powers existed under the 1940 Act to enable the local authority to acquire the land and do the work themselves.
The only real difference the Bill makes is this. Heretofore local authorities could get a site only by acquiring it themselves, and they could acquire it on health grounds or if there was a danger to the public, but this Bill puts them in the position that they can force the hand of a local owner by giving him a direction to do something on his land that they claim is a derelict site. One could read this Bill for two hours and still be no wiser as to the definition of "derelict site." It is probably as difficult to define as "charitable donation" which the Minister concerned refused to define. Apparently the Minister for Local Government has given us a definition of a derelict site but it is very wide and vague and it really means that the county or city manager has authority to define anything as a derelict site.
Then comes the sugar coating of the pill, the Supplementary Estimate. That provides that £5,000 will be made available by the generosity of the Government between now and the 31st March from which anybody who is forced to do anything by the local manager can get a 50 per cent. grant if the work costs more than £30. If it is less than £30 he gets nothing. The maximum he can get is £100—I am not quite sure whether the maximum grant will be £100; I rather imagine it is £50.
Deputies who have probably had the same experience as myself in dealing with the unwieldy sort of system that exists in this country where an ever-generous Government is giving grants know that you cannot just arrange to say: "Here is a derelict site." The local authority says that. It says to the owner: "You must get rid of that derelict site but you will be paid a 50 per cent. grant." In the first instance it is not even in the Bill that they are to get this grant; it is a mere statement of the Minister on a Supplementary Estimate, but assuming that what he says will be the case they will have to wait for it. The machinery we have is cumbersome, roundabout and outmoded.
Does any Deputy think—and it is now near the middle of December— that if this Bill becomes law on 1st January and if a derelict site is declared, the grant will be given by the time all the cumbersome machinery has functioned before 31st March? If there are a few claims in one or two parts of the country that may be the case, but if there are claims in from all over Ireland, from people who read what enthusiastic Fianna Fail Deputies said about this wonderful new legislation and if claims come pouring into the Department of Local Government, some 40 or perhaps 60, 80 or even 200 of them, is it reasonable to suggest that, with the sort of machinery that operates here, each of these grants will be dealt with any time before 31st March?
Had the Minister embodied a provision in the Bill, and there seems to be no reason why he should not have done so, stating that those who did the work would be entitled to a grant, I should not have had so much to say on this. Candidly, I do not like the Bill very much, but was there any reason why the Minister should not have included such a provision in the Bill?
The Minister makes one of these nebulous promises, that next year we will have a grant from Local Government. Bord Fáilte will receive the Bill with enthusiasm because it will enable them to get rid of derelict sites and further promote the tourist industry. Is it a good idea to give still more power to civil servants and local authorities? I do not know that local authorities have been, as it were, too hot in utilising the powers they have had up to this.
I know several cases where elderly people are living on the income they obtain from the controlled rents of two or three houses. I know, in particular, of two elderly ladies in that position. They had no other means, They were unable to do up these houses. The houses fell into disrepair and the local authority were approached to take over the houses and do them up. The local authority refused. They were building houses on a new site outside the town.
Local authorities have an unhappy knack of taking sites and expending large sums on their development. They will not take houses in a village street and do something with them.
In every case, such houses ultimately become derelict. I fear that the same situation will obtain in relation to this measure. The local authority will tell people that they must do up their houses or they will become derelict sites, unsafe, unsightly, insanitary. The owners of these houses are probably living on a bare pittance. Will they get a 50 per cent. grant to do up these houses? If the houses are demolished, their income goes. I am putting these points before the House so that we may see the direction in which we are moving. The cases I have quoted may be extreme cases but they are sufficiently numerous to cause anxiety.
Many Deputies have given their views as to what constitutes derelict sites. One of the greatest eyesores in villages throughout Ireland is the tumbledown houses. They destroy the appearance of the villages. Local authorities never take over such sites. They would not look at them. They want new sites. They want a new building scheme with a blueprint and all the other trimmings. What is to stop local authorities taking over these sites and building new houses on them? That would be of advantage because it would help to hold the people in the villages—they would live more convenient to schools, churches and so forth—but local authorities will not do that.
It is proposed now to give still further power to local authorities to enable them to compel private individuals to do what the local authorities themselves have so signally failed to do, with all their powers and all their financial resources. The time has come when we must seriously consider the direction in which we appear to be moving. Do we, or do we not, want the State to do everything for us? I have been told that the Party opposite stands for private enterprise. There are members of this House who do not agree with private enterprise. Yet, it is the Party which stands for private enterprise which introduces this sweeping measure giving tremendous power to local authorities. Remember, that power will not be confined to towns and villages. It extends also to land.
What is happening in the west of Ireland? Homesteads are being left derelict. What will happen to these homesteads when they start to fall down? In some cases, the holdings and homesteads have been bought by syndicates; in others, they are quite derelict. The fields are full of weeds; the houses are falling down. Will the local authorities step in and take these over? Are we to have property-owning local authorities and farmer local authorities? Will the county councillors become farmers? I am not as familiar with the west of Ireland as others but I have spent many holidays there. Is the time coming when the west will be owned entirely by the Forestry Division and by the local authority? The people who have owned these holdings and homesteads for generations have been compelled to emigrate in search of a living. Will the local authority be empowered under this measure to take over these homes and holdings? Will they be permitted to bulldoze the homesteads and use the fields, covered with weeds, for whatever purpose they think fit? I should like the Minister to answer these questions.
It is the right and privilege of every Deputy to resist encroachment of the power of the State. The State can help in a lot of ways, but I, for one, could never subscribe to giving the State such drastic powers. Probably those who drafted this measure meant well. The idea was to clear up the unsightly appearance of towns and villages and the rural areas generally. I wonder are we handing ourselves over to a still closer grip by bureaucratic control? There are many things in life that are worth while and one is the right of the individual to own his own property and to do what he likes with it so long as he does not interfere with either the safety or the health of his neighbours.
In the 1940 Act, local authorities had all the power they wanted to meet the situation envisaged by the Minister. This is a further encroachment on the rights of the individual. If the Minister embodies in the Bill the views he outlined in relation to the Supplementary Estimate, one could take a different view. As the matter is presented to the House, however, it represents nothing but an infringement of the rights of individuals. It is the duty of every Deputy to defend those rights.