Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 6 Dec 1960

Vol. 185 No. 5

Committee on Finance. - Derelict Sites Bill, 1960—Second Stage (Resumed).

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

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.

I welcome this Bill. I think it is overdue. There is one point I should like to have clarified. Would the Minister tell me what constitutes a local authority in relation to the powers contained in this measure? I think a local authority should mean the elected members of the county council, borough council or corporation. I do not want to see more power vested in county managers. If it is the intention to vest these powers in county managers, then there is a strong case to be made for abolishing the elected representatives as such. The more responsibility we lay on the shoulders of elected representatives, the higher will be the standard of representation.

It is useless to give the opportunity to an elected member of a local body of saying when there is a matter of responsibility to be decided: "I have no say in it. The county manager is doing all this." That is the type of approach we get from a number of elected members of local authorities. I am not going to say that the fault is confined to one side of the House or another, having regard to the politics of the individuals concerned.

If the intention is that the local authority in this instance means the county manager, the Minister should reconsider it. When he has an opportunity on an occasion like this he should give the utmost power to local authorities and show the elected members of local authorities that the Government and the House have confidence in them.

Nobody questions the desirability of dealing with derelict sites. There are many derelict sites throughout the country. We must remember that many of them exist because of our past history, because of the difficulties in which our people lived in generations gone by.

On reading the Bill through I find myself rather uneasy. The Bill gives very wide and rather arbitrary powers to local authorities. It must be remembered that our people traditionally are land-minded. Once you enter a man's land for a purpose of this kind, his resentment is immediately aroused. Personally, I think the Bill will lead to a good deal of chaos, litigation, resentment and confusion. If it happens that people will band together and resist incursions of the local authority it may lead to very undesirable situations.

There, are derelict sites all over the island. There should be some definition of location. When, there are derelict sites in cities, towns, villages of a certain size, near a tourist road or a main road, there is some reason for having them removed but there are derelict sites in remote parts of the country where a stranger scarcely ever puts a foot. Does the Minister contemplate that they also should be included in the Bill for removal?

In many cases there is no title to ownership of these sites. In such cases it will be easy for the local authority to get possession and to do as they think fit with the land so taken over. Let us be reasonable in this matter. If sites suitable for building purposes are taken over, they should be reserved for that purpose alone. If there are sites that are not fit for building purposes which could be used as car parks or amenities of that kind, it would be desirable that they should be so used. What I fear is that these wide powers will be used by local authorities in a way that will arouse resentment.

Local authorities should be the first to give a lead in the matter of removal of derelict sites. I know places where terraces of houses have been erected and the space in front of those houses could be regarded as derelict because of the rough nature of the surface. I have seen instances of that kind even in Cork City. I do not know whether it is the contractor or the local authority who is responsible. At all events, the local authority should give the lead in having such places made presentable and put into decent repair so that they will catch the imagination of the passerby.

As I have said, one becomes uneasy on reading the Bill. I believe it will lead to a great deal of confusion. I hope the powers given to local authorities will never have to be used. Local towns bodies, such as the Irish Industrial Development Association, could be very helpful in this matter if they were appealed to to get rid of eye-sores. They could encourage owners to be reasonable and to accede to requests to get rid of derelict sites.

It must be remembered that many owners of derelict sites are in very poor circumstances. If they have not the wherewithal to carry out the work and refuse to conform to the regulations, the local authority may carry out the work and claim the cost from these unfortunate people. How will they meet such claims? These are matters that should be considered.

Above all, I would appeal to the Minister to go slowly in this matter if this Bill is passed or I am afraid he will find himself facing many difficulties.

Deputy Manley has dealt with this matter from the point of view of the owner of land. I agree with a great deal of what he said. However, as a member of a local authority, I welcome the Bill. Local authorities find themselves held up very frequently in the acquisition of derelict sites. In Kilkenny, as in other towns of similar size, in a row of houses there may be one or two which are allowed to become derelict and thus reduce the status of the terrace. In many cases the local authority have found it very difficult to get possession of the sites.

It would have been much better if the Minister had left this matter in the hands of the elected members of local authorities rather than make it an executive function of the manager. I have nothing but praise for our own county manager but he is not living in the county or city. He is very far from the problems of our city. The local representatives are the people to grapple with these problems. I was speaking to a Deputy. I pointed out that we always got the utmost co-operation from the county manager. The Deputy pointed out that there could be a change of managers and that future managers might not be prepared to co-operate. I had to admit that in those circumstances the position would be different. Members of local authorities are elected by the people, just as Deputies who pass the laws are elected. Members of local authorities are reasonable men who would deal with matters on a reasonable basis. The Minister would have been much better advised had he reserved these functions to the members of local authorities.

This Bill should help to clean up many streets before they become derelict sites. There may be cases of hardship but I have never known of any local authority which would not be reasonable. If a landlord is prepared to do something with the property, the local authority will be only too happy to help him. The last thing the local authority want to do is to interfere with a landlord's rights. They would be most anxious that the owners of property would make full use of it. I welcome this Bill if only because it enables local authorities to raise the standard of city amenities. We would all like to see our towns and cities in good condition without broken-down houses or walls.

The tone of the discussion in the main has been one of welcome for the Bill. I do not know whether the provisions are fully understood. Some misunderstanding undoubtedly has arisen in the minds of some speakers and possibly some further comments on the matters raised might disabuse the minds of those Deputies who are not too clear as to what is intended under this Bill.

One big objection which a few Deputies on the Fine Gael Benches and some Independents see is that the functions under the Bill come within the ambit of the county manager rather than of the elected representatives, and some very impassioned pleas have been made as to why these should be in the hands of the elected representatives rather than in the hands of the manager.

On this question of powers of the manager versus the elected body, I am always prepared to go as far as anybody else I have heard discussing these matters in this House or outside it. However, we are now talking about sites which through neglect have become injurious to the amenities or the health of the people in a particular locality, a site so neglected that it may be dangerous and unhealthy and, therefore, not one that could be regarded as of great value since it has been allowed to fall into such a state. The impression was created by those who wish the local body rather than the manager to deal with this matter that we are giving the manager some extremely powerful weapon. Just remember the context: a useless, dangerous or unhealthy site which has been allowed to become that way through the neglect of its owner. At the same time it is completely forgotten that very recently this House has seen fit to approve, without any question whatsoever, the giving of such powers to the manager in regard to the acquisition of land for other purposes under the Local Government (No. 2) Bill which could be most valuable land in the heart of Dublin, land which need not at the moment cause any concern because of being in an unhealthy or dangerous condition.

That Bill applied only to Dublin.

The point is that powers in respect of very valuable land are being given in other Bills and have been given in other Acts. This most recent Bill gives that power and it was not questioned here; yet there is this grave concern being expressed in regard to these sites which have been allowed to deteriorate. Lest a Deputy may interject that this Local Government (No. 2) Bill might only apply to Dublin—I do not hold that that is so, but it might be felt that is a fair argument—is it not a fact that in relation to other matters such as the acquisition of land for housing in any part of the country the manager has the power of acquisition? And it is not useless, derelict sites that he normally acquires. That has been accepted by the House not on one occasion but on many occasions.

We have taken this matter of power being vested in the manager completely out of its context and, wittingly or otherwise, we are making a mountain out of a molehill. Furthermore acquisition under this measure will be the last resort. Under the 1940 Act acquisition or the threat of acquisition was the only power granted to deal with derelict sites. Now acquisition will under the Bill be the last of three different procedures. The normal procedure will be that the owner, if the owner can be found, will be notified that the site in certain respects is injurious or dangerous. The manager will point out that he would like him to do something about it. The owner of that site, having got that notification from the manager, can opt to send in to the manager his proposals as to what he intends to do with that site in order to remedy the defects that have been pointed out to him by the manager. If the proposed remedies are accepted, if they seem to meet the case by removing the derelict aspect of the site, then the manager will leave it to the owner to proceed with the works.

That owner can then get the grants provided for in the Supplementary Estimate. We are making provision in order to enable him to do the minimum that is required in the interest of public health, amenity and safety. If he does not respond to the invitation to clear the site, the site will be examined probably by the local engineer who knows the district well. The manager can then, as a second resort, and under section 3 of the Bill, again send to the owner who has ignored his request to make a voluntary effort himself, a statement as to what he requires the owner to do in order that the objectionable site will be brought into proper condition.

Having had the requirements of the manager stated to him the owner may proceed to do what he is asked by the manager. If he does, the question of grants can be considered in respect of his case. On the other hand, the owner may decide to do nothing and again to ignore the requirements of the manager. In that event the manager may propose to acquire the site. On the other hand, he can do what he has asked the owner to do if the owner has ignored that requisition. If he has to do the work which the owner has refused to do on requisition, then that work will be done, and the cost, less the grant that might apply, will fall to be paid by the owner. The owner has recourse to the Minister if he feels aggrieved by the requisition of the local authority.

In any event, after unsuccessful efforts by the manager for some voluntary effort on the part of the owner with regard to a site which is unhealthy, dangerous or in any other respect injurious to amenity, it comes to the point where there is a question of compulsion. That compulsion, as I say, arises where the work required to be done is carried out by the local authority, the grant is deducted therefrom and the net expenses of the council are then claimed from the owner.

On the other hand, if the local authority cannot find the owner, if there is no one to serve notice on and if the site is dangerous or unhealthy, then it is open to the manager to acquire the site and have the job done that requires to be done. If, arising from such operation, any question as to ownership should arise, this Bill allows extended time in which, subsequent to the acquisition, claims by the owner, who might turn up out of goodness knows where, may be made. Hitherto, only three months were allowed for such claims, but under this Bill the period is 12 months after the actual taking over of the site. By and large, the whole point of the argument is that, under the 1940 Act, there was only one method open to the manager, that is, to acquire the site, whereas in this Bill every effort is made to get the owner voluntarily to propose what he is prepared to do, and if that is accepted, he is allowed to qualify for the grant.

The second point is that the owner, having voluntarily made proposals himself, may be required by the local authority, through the manager, to do specified works, and again he can qualify for a grant to help him. It is only at the point where he refuses to do either of these things that any question of compulsion enters into the matter. Compulsion or acquisition will be resorted to only if two abortive efforts have been made to get the owner to do something about the site in the interests of the community. Provision is now being made to give a grant of up to 50 per cent. of the cost of the job.

I do not think, in the overall context, that that is giving the manager undue power, as has been suggested here. In fact, I might also say that not every Opposition Deputy has the same views. The last time we discussed this matter, Deputy Coburn actually praised this idea and said that he saw the wisdom of leaving this matter in the hands of the county manager, rather than making it a direct responsibility of the members of the council. He felt that the manager was best fitted to deal with this matter.

Lest anyone has any fear that the manager might get out of hand, let us see what are the provisions in regard to the general behaviour of managers in relation to their councils. On this, as on any other matter, we find that there seem to be adequate safeguards to ensure that he will not really get out of hand, and there are ways in which the council members can keep him in line, if in line he must be kept. There are a number of safeguards open to the councils which, I think, are generally known to members of county councils or other local authorities. Undoubtedly where the council are doing work, there must be some expenditure and such expenditure will have to be included in the estimate provided for out of the rates. All relevant information in that regard can be acquired by the local elected representatives from the manager and they are entitled to that information. They must, in fact, get the information and they must be satisfied with it, and they need not provide any money if the manager does not satisfy them as to the purpose for which it is sought.

That is one point with regard to the general control of managers. It is the elected body only who can provide from the rates any moneys for expenditure by the manager or by the council through the manager. Section 2 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, provides that the manager must inform the members of the local authority before he performs any specified executive function. In other words, in relation to derelict sites, which are dealt with in this Bill, the members could require the manager to inform them of what he is proposing to do before he takes any irrevocable step. The normal procedure of question and answer at meetings of the county councils comes into the picture also. By way of question, any councillor can get from the manager information on any matter in connection with these derelict sites, as he may about any other matters, if he has reason to believe that the manager is about to do something which he feels the manager should not do, or that he is going about it the wrong way.

Again, of course, county councillors are fully aware that if a person is being pressurised by the manager on this, or indeed on any matter, it is most unlikely that the local representatives — assuming information was brought to them by the aggrieved party at an early date—could not take effective action at council level. Any undue hardship which they might see in a case, as presented to them by their constituents, could therefore be avoided.

For the life of me, I cannot see how any manager can, in fact, do anything under this Bill, if it becomes law, that could be regarded as an injury to any property owner, without the knowledge of the local representatives. They believing it would do some injustice to an owner, can, in the last resort, have recourse to the powers of Section 4 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, and requisition the manager not to do the particular function.

Those are the safeguards. We are talking, in the main, about derelict sites, sites which have become a nuisance, a danger to the public, either to their health or to their amenities or to their actual bodily safety, all through neglect in 99 cases out of 100. That is the type of task we envisage in this measure. Lest there should be any fears or doubts, I think there are adequate safeguards to ensure that the elected body are, in fact, the effective, controlling people in this matter because the manager, without their co-operation at various stages, cannot do anything under this measure. He is absolutely powerless to do anything by compulsion or to compel anybody to do anything or to carry out anything which involves the expenditure of council funds without the council's co-operation. If they do not provide the money, I am quite sure that the manager is not going to do it out of his own pocket.

Deputy Esmonde, who resumed the debate here tonight, seems to have various misapprehensions, particularly about the scheme of grants outlined in the introduction to the Supplementary Estimate here. He said that this scheme of grants was merely a sugar pill which is to be swallowed with this objectionable Derelict Sites Bill. For the information of the Deputy and that of the House generally, the fact is that the Supplementary Estimate and the scheme of grants is not dependent on the passage of this Bill through the House.

The scheme of grants will, in fact, be used independently of the Bill. The powers to make grants and the terms on which grants may be made are wider than those associated with works within the scope of the Bill now before the House. They may be used not only for the clearance of derelict sites but for providing certain amenities on such sites. Deputy Esmonde and a number of other Deputies seem to have the general idea that we are trying to put something across, to blind the House to the implications of the Bill by holding out grants under the Supplementary Estimate which is being taken and discussed simultaneously with the provisions of this Bill. It is undoubtedly true that with the terms of the Bill and the grants, we hope to make a greater impression on the derelict sites problem in the future than we have been able to do in the past by encouraging, through the grants and by the new and extended procedure under the Bill, more voluntary effort and a greater clearance of these eyesores.

As things stand we can merely use the limited compulsory powers which are the only thing available under the 1940 Act. This new scheme of grants is not a sugar pill, as has been suggested. These grants are to help in a material way to encourage the clearance of these eyesores, to encourage the provision of amenities and to encourage local development committees, parish councils and such like to do certain local works for the good of the community. That is the underlying principle and motive of this scheme of grants. It is far from being what was described by some Deputies here.

Another point made in regard to these grants was: what is the use in providing even for this year up to 31st March a sum of £5,000? It is suggested that it is completely misleading in that no part of it will be used and that it will not be called upon. The fact is we are putting it there. We could be wrong either up or down on that £5,000 estimate but that it is no mere shadow and no mere misleading figure is what I wish to explain to the House.

We have in the Department, arising from the announcement of this scheme of grants, various inquiries seeking fuller information. Arising from that, we hope there will be utilisation of some of that money before the end of March. The fact is that if we provide it, we will be in a position to pay it out, if called upon. We believe we will be so called upon. If we did not provide it and if we were called upon, we would not have it. Which is preferable? Which is the sensible course? We have announced a scheme of grants. We are providing an estimated figure of £5,000. Surely that is a sane and sensible thing to do? From inquiries we have in the Department, some part, and possibly all, of that £5,000 will be called on before the end of March. It is for that reason, and not for the reason of trying to get a Bill across the House that might otherwise be objectionable, that this Supplementary Estimate is, in fact, being discussed at the moment.

A few Deputies also expressed the fear that acquisition of land without buildings could, in fact, develop into the acquisition of a small farm and that a weed-covered field would be fair game for the operations of the county manager, that an avaricious county manager would see in the weeds in that field a reason for his using his powers to acquire and take over the field and use it for any purpose thereafter. Weeds, as we know, in the normal course of events, are dealt with under the Noxious Weeds Legislation. That, I presume, is still the case. There is no question whatever of the fact that there are weeds in a field in itself inducing the manager to invoke the powers under this Bill to acquire the land—always assuming he would have the co-operation of the elected members in any such action and that it was possible for him to carry it out.

The question was put as to what type of land without buildings could be a derelict site. I think that is what has given rise to the fears expressed by some Deputies. A very typical example of land without buildings which could be described as a derelict site would be a dump in a field or a field adjoining a public roadway or laneway which was causing damage to the local amenities by unsightliness, odour or rat infestation which would be very injurious to the health of the community. That would be a good example of land without buildings which could be regarded as a derelict site. I think everybody appreciating that will agree that that type is something we should have adequate powers to deal with. It is in the context of the Bill that land, misused in that manner, will be dealt with under the powers we hope will be given to our local authorities if the House agrees to pass this measure.

A matter that was mentioned by more than one Deputy was that the Bill should not be solely for the benefit of the tourist. I have not suggested that the Bill is merely for the benefit of the tourist. I appreciate to the full that a large volume of our people are concerned about the appearance of their towns, villages and the countryside in general. To suggest that the clearance and improvement of derelict sites should be dealt with merely from the tourist point of view is entirely wrong. It will be good for the country generally. It will make our countryside, our towns and our villages more pleasing to the tourist. That is all to the good. It should remove some of the complaints which very often are the only complaints by some of our very satisfied tourists when departing from our shores. Very often their one and only complaint is that they have seen these broken-down, derelict and unsightly buildings, and unsightliness in a general way in and around our towns. We should remedy that position and at the same time beautify our countryside or make less objectionable some of its features for our people as a whole and for the tourist. To do such work in the context of tourism is good business. Anything which improves our economy is directly to the benefit of our population as a whole and to our country in general. In addition, our young people will come across fewer of these eyesores which sometimes they cannot avoid seeing daily.

A matter raised by Deputy Coburn and possibly other Deputies was the point, rather than the accusation, that big businessmen may now get grants for demolishing old buildings. Big businessmen or small businessmen will get the grants if the sites are derelict and injurious in any of the aspects I have mentioned. Whether the man is big or small in business or whether he is a businessman at all does not materially alter the case. Anything we can do to encourage people to improve unsightly premises or buildings applies to big and small alike.

We are not giving the grants as a payment to people but as an encouragement to them to remedy defects in their property which have occurred through neglect over the years, which neglect is now an injury to the general public amenity and possibly to the health of the people and a danger to their safety. We are not paying a man because he lets his place fall into disrepair but rather to encourage him to remove unsightly buildings and to provide an amenity on a site which is otherwise dangerous to health. Whether a man has a large or a small derelict property, whether he is a big or a small businessman or is not a businessman at all is beside the point. We want to clear these places. We are giving encouragement by way of grants. It is not a question of who owns them or how well or how badly off he is.

If he intends to build on the site he will get a double grant.

He will, provided the site is declared derelict. We give the grant to clear it. He or anybody else who so clears it and thereafter conforms with the provisions of the Housing Acts will be given a grant for the house. I do not see why we should not encourage the building of some useful dwelling thereon by giving to the person concerned as good a grant as we would give if he forgot about the derelict site and built on a new site.

In towns where sites are derelict and may be cleared in a voluntary manner with the aid of grants as a result of this provision it is necessary that further encouragement be provided and that the owner will get a grant to build a proper house on such a site. The result will be good not only for the appearance of the locality but it will serve a useful purpose in the life of the community either as a dwelling or a business premises. In so far as dwellings are concerned, the Housing Acts facilities and grants will be available for building on a site which may have been cleared as a result of a scheme of grants for derelict sites and under this Supplementary Estimate.

Can a local authority qualify for these grants?

Yes. The local authorities will get the grants in like manner as will the individual or the local development association or the local parish council. An individual owner or a local group in the form of a development committee or parish council cannot have access to any of these grants without first going through their local authority. They make their application to the local authority who, in their knowledge of and general interest in the locality, will pass on information with regard to whether or not it is a proper proposal. The local authority will have control in that matter. It will not be a question of the individual or the local group dealing directly with the office in Dublin. They will deal through their local authority with the office in Dublin so far as these grants and their availability are concerned.

A great deal has been said by a number of Deputies by way of what I might call criticism of having appeal procedure to the Minister rather than to the courts. While the proposed procedure was criticised, at the same time there were other Deputies who disagreed with the criticism and felt that recourse to the courts was not a very wise suggestion, that costly court proceedings could be involved in a dispute regarding a derelict site, that the value of the matter being contested in court might not be very great and that, in fact, the cost of the proceedings might exceed the value of what was in dispute. Recourse to the Minister is not in any way a new departure. It applies in many other important matters and we feel that the proper line is that it should be so in this not-so-important matter. As I say, Deputies have spoken with divided minds on this matter. Some advocated that we should stick to the idea that appeals should be to the Minister and that in this Bill we should not be the cause of bringing about court proceedings which could be costly and the cost of which could outstrip the value of the property in dispute initially.

Deputy O'Malley raised the question of the extension of time for claims for compensation and he wanted to know whether or not the extension from three months, as in the present law, to 12 months in the new Bill would mean the hold-up of operations under this measure. The answer is that no such effect would ensue and that the question of extending the period for claims does not in any way mean that an owner could hold up operations in a particular case for 12 months. The fact is that the ownership of the site would be vested in the local authority and it would be only after that that the claim would arise. Twelve months is given as the time in which the claim may be made rather than three months because, even in the limited operations which have taken place, certain cases of hardship have arisen where an owner might have been at the ends of the earth and did not realise that a certain action had been taken and the three months having expired, his claim was out of court. We are extending the period to avoid such cases of hardship in the future and in these days of ready communication 12 months is a fairly satisfactory period. We do not feel that any cases of hardship should arise.

Deputy Cunningham raised the question of railway embankments and abandoned railway stations and he wanted to know whether these were matters which came under this Bill. The fact is that embankments and long stretches of property, which in the main could be said to be derelict, are not provided for as such in the Bill but undoubtedly within the Bill there is power to deal with various points along such embankments, each one of which although not connected can be regarded as a separate derelict site. Appropriate action can be taken in regard to each individual case, but not in regard to a length of embankment of two or three miles. It means that the powers of the Bill are capable of dealing with what I think the Deputy had in mind when he raised this instance and named railway embankments and derelict railway stations. These will undoubtedly be covered by this measure if the House agrees to its passage.

Deputy Sherwin mentioned the question of water and referred to the canals in Dublin in particular. The fact is that, for the purposes of the law, water can be regarded as land and just as in the case of railway embankments and long stretches of property, while they may not be provided for as long stretches of canals, the portions giving offence can be regarded as separate cases and dealt with separately as eyesores or dangers to the public, or whatever the complaint may be. I want to assure the Deputy that this matter of the canals can be dealt with under the Bill.

The Minister means that water is land?

That is so far as the law is concerned.

Is land water?

Not necessarily. The fact is land includes water and the answer which I know the Deputy wishes to have, regardless of the seeming inconsistency of saying land is water for the purpose of the law, is that this measure will cover the type of thing which he raised and its provisions are capable of dealing with the difficulties there.

Deputy Esmonde dealt with a matter on which, lest it might lead to some confusion in the minds of Deputies, I think I should comment. He was taking, as he said, an extreme case. He took the case of a house occupied or owned by people who were growing old and which, due to the rents they were getting, they were not able to maintain in a proper state of repair. He more or less expressed the fear that those houses, although occupied, because they were in a bad state of repair and had a derelict appearance, could be acquired compulsority, by the manager, under this measure. Actually, such dwellings are excluded from the definition of derelict sites. Derelict buildings, as we might describe them, which had fallen into that state would be dealt with possibly by one of the provisions in the Housing Acts but would not come within the definition of derelict sites. Any fears he may have that this could work to the disadvantage of that type of person in those circumstances are not justified; he need have no fears in that regard.

I should say that, as a whole, the Bill before the House was brought into being initially by virtue of the fact that the definition of derelict sites in the 1940 Act was found to be defective. That Act was not, in fact, capable, because of those shortcomings, of making any appreciable contribution to the cleaning-up of our towns and countryside. It was to remedy that situation that the new measure was brought in and the opportunity was availed of to make other changes here and there that appeared to be desirable as a result of the experience of the present law over a number of years.

The idea generally is that we should clean up our towns, villages and countryside wherever possible so as to lessen the danger of injury to the health of our people and to remedy the general neglect which there has been for a long time. Somebody has mentioned that that neglect was a legacy of our history. Be that as it may, the fact is that we have quite a legacy of unsightly buildings. We have not the appearance of having any great taste in these matters in general. It is a disgrace that this should be so. It is worse if the health of our people is undermined and it would be worse still if, as a result of the dangerous condition into which many of these buildings have been allowed to fall, injury or damage were done to some innocent passerby.

All these dangers are there and we know it but if this measure is utilised by the local authorities, through the instrumentality of the county managers but always under the effective control of the elected representatives of the people, we can go a long way towards removing those blots on our landscape for the benefit of our own people, for the improvement of the amenities of the country and for the benefit of the tourists who come here and who contribute so much to the well-being of our economy. The grants which we are providing should be an added encouragement and give an impetus to the whole drive. While we may have to pressurise in certain things, it will be admitted that in pushing on in this matter we are pushing something which the vast majority of the people wish to have done.

We are making a serious effort by way of these grants to make a worthwhile contribution to the cost of doing these jobs, of doing this backlog of clearing-up which is so badly needed throughout the country for the benefit of our own people and the tourists who come to it. I feel that the provisions of the Bill are necessary and that it is a desirable form of legislation. I feel that the provision of money by the proposed scale of grants is a very desirable encouragement in order that our countryside may be cleared up.

Perhaps the Minister could tell me whether in this matter of the improvement of derelict sites the local authority will be liable for 50 per cent. of the expenditure and whether they are empowered to remove hulks and other eyesores of that kind?

They will be empowered to remove anything that comes within the terms of the Bill and anything that comes within those terms will be eligible for the grants.

Is there no limit of time in which these derelict sites may be removed? Suppose that a very ambitious local authority decided to make a list of all the sites and decided to have them removed. That would impact heavily on the rates and on the central authority. Perhaps it could be done over a period of years.

I cannot give the Deputy any indication there but I might say that while we hope that local authorities will do as the Deputy has said, we would listen in a sympathetic way to the various matters they might put before us. It does not follow that a heavy burden would fall to be borne by the ratepayers. It is only the residue that will come to be a burden on the rates. In the case of sites that are of some value to the owner, even if up to the present he has neglected them, he will avail of the grant and the suggestion of the local authority to do the job. We are hoping that that will be so.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 13th December, 1960.