Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 23 Nov 1961

Vol. 192 No. 5

Adjournment Debate. - Rehousing of County Dublin Families.

The question to which I consider I received an unsatisfactory reply from the Minister for Local Government yesterday was:

To ask the Minister for Local Government if in view of the serious position in Dublin County where a very large number of families live with relatives in county council cottages he will give favourable consideration to the amendment of the existing regulations whereby the local authority could rehouse these families and at the same time qualify for the full rate of subsidy of 66? per cent.

I put down that question because I was seriously concerned about a longstanding problem which exists in County Dublin, a problem which I see no effort being made to solve. Recently, we made a survey in ten areas in which we proposed to build houses in the near future and, in those ten areas, no fewer than 83 families live under the conditions which I describe in this question.

In the Minister's reply he states that it is a breach of housing regulations to have this type of sub-tenant and that these people should be encouraged to rehouse themselves. I know it is a breach but I also know that it is the most natural thing in the world for a father to take in a married son or daughter with or without a family when they have no alternative accommodation. That is what has given rise to the deplorable position with which we are confronted in County Dublin. I know the local authority can house these people by accepting from the Minister a one-third subsidy in place of a two-thirds subsidy, but I should like to explain to the Minister that in County Dublin we have an enormous housing problem outside this special problem to which I have drawn his attention and we are doing what we can to solve it. It will result in an enormous increase in County Dublin rates if we are to solve it within a reasonable time and meet the reasonable housing needs of the people.

There are special circumstances here, as the Minister knows; we have a constant stream of people from the country into the Dublin area and it is my view that we shall always have a problem of housing the working class people in County Dublin. In view of the fact that the housing problem has been largely solved in rural Ireland, where I think the position now is that there are more empty houses than tenants can be found for, the Minister's Department has been relieved of the problem of housing people in rural Ireland, and in those circumstances I think he should consider the special position which exists.

I put it to him that a family living in over-crowded conditions in a council house as a sub-tenant is no less a housing need than a family living in similar conditions in a non-council house. Quite frankly, I find it difficult to understand why there is this discrimination of one-third and two-thirds. At present in County Dublin the Manager refuses to consider these people when new houses are built and the vast majority of members of the council are reluctant to house these people because of the enormous increase in the rates which would ensue. The result is that these people are left as they have been for years past. I know families with five sub-tenants and when new houses are built they are not, or cannot, be considered. We are told they cannot be considered as long as there are people living in other houses which are regarded as unfit. I know many of the houses that are regarded as unfit and they are palatial compared to the conditions in which some of the sub-tenants live in County Dublin.

If we say these people cannot be housed out of council houses and if we have not alternative accommodation for them, we are really telling them that they have no right to marry. There is not a week in the year that I have not had priests and other people coming to me about housing cases. I want the Minister, in the course of his reply, to say if he has any solution or in what way he proposes we should deal with the problem. Not only have we a very big housing problem apart from this in County Dublin but we have embarked on very expensive schemes of sanitary services and regional supplies and many other such services. These problems are probably peculiar to people in County Dublin at present.

Having heard Deputy Clinton, all I want to say is that Dublin Corporation had a very similar problem, identical with that which he has described in County Dublin, and Dublin Corporation decided by a very large majority of members to house these people where it could be shown that their needs were greater than that of people resident elsewhere. If Dublin Corporation can do it, I cannot see why Dublin County Council cannot do it. We have the same manager for city and county. Sometimes the elected representatives are unwilling to face up to their responsibilities.

Did you get the two-thirds subsidy?

I know that Dublin Corporation have gone into the county area to carry out work that, to my mind, should be properly carried out by the county council. I do not see why the county council should be making a case when Dublin Corporation decided to deal itself with a similar case. The Deputy is, I think, largely wasting the time of the House. Yesterday I spoke on Deputy Dunne's motion. The Minister has accepted that motion. He told us that the whole question of housing is under review. Yesterday I referred to subsidies generally. I am quite sure the Minister is fully aware of all the problems. I do not think the problem the Deputy mentions is the most serious one confronting the county council.

What Deputy Clinton has said is quite correct. I should like to take this opportunity of complimenting him on his maiden speech. Some time ago either the Minister, or his predecessor, stated that, where there was more than one family living in a house, that house could be considered as overcrowded and, if that were so, it would qualify for the two-thirds subsidy. I should like the Minister to tell us now if that is correct because, if it is correct, it will remove a great many of the difficulties confronting Deputy Clinton and Deputy Lemass.

The trouble is that managers have a nasty habit of interpreting orders to suit themselves. It is not correct to say that the housing problem has been dealt with completely in the rural areas. The position in some areas is almost as bad as that in County Dublin. I should like the Minister to state clearly whether he considers a house in which more than one family is living—I refer particularly to council houses—is overcrowded and the tenants eligible for a two-thirds subsidy house. Another problem to which I should like to refer is that of a tenant living in a good house where there is no security of tenure and where they are plagued by this one-third subsidy. Perhaps the Minister would look into that matter also.

Deputy Clinton outlined the situation as he knows it in County Dublin. One very definite opening remark he made was that this is a long-standing problem in County Dublin. Up to 1958 there was a 60 per cent. subsidy available, almost indiscriminately, to every county council, including Dublin County Council. That 60 per cent. subsidy was introduced in 1932. If from 1932 to 1958 that subsidy was available and the problem is today of the magnitude that Deputy Clinton would have us believe, candidly I cannot see how increasing the subsidy by one-third or two-thirds will make the slightest difference.

There was an enlargement of the definition of agricultural worker to the point where everyone who worked for hire in rural Ireland was brought within the scope of that 60 per cent. subsidy. So wide was the application that county councils in many cases built more houses than were necessary to meet the priority classes for which this 60 per cent. was first instituted. They gave those houses to people who were better off and who were, perhaps, in a position to house themselves. It is only since this high rate of 60 per cent. subsidy ceased that we find this problem presenting itself. If county councils failed to take advantage of that high subsidy from 1932 to 1958 I fail to see how it can be contended now that an increased subsidy will make all the difference.

It has also been said that a survey was made in ten areas in County Dublin and 83 families were found to be overcrowded because of subtenancies. I should not like Deputy Clinton, or any other Deputy, to take anything that I say as a reflection on him, or anyone else. I want to encourage him as a county councillor to do something that I have been trying to get done for the past 18 months. I want Dublin County Council to complete the survey I have been seeking since the middle of 1960. Dublin County Council are not the only offenders in this regard. We must have a complete picture of the situation so that we can assimilate the facts and assess the position with a view to finding a remedy. We are anxious to get rid of all bad housing conditions in the country. Legally every housing authority should keep the survey up-to-date annually.

Is that a managerial responsibility?

I am not quite sure whether it is a reserved function. Despite what some allege, the manager is the servant of the county council. That is how I regard him. If he is not doing the work that should be done, it is up to the county council to take steps to ensure that the work is done. The fact is this survey has not been done for years. Eighteen months ago we asked for it. We have not got it yet. Some of the urban authorities have made the survey. I admit the task is somewhat easier in their case. The worst offenders are the housing authorities which appear to need some new departure in their housing programmes. I appeal to local authorities generally to give us this information. It is ludicrous to expect a solution to be arrived at until we know exactly what the problem is. We can only know that when we get this survey.

It was mentioned that it is a breach of regulations for council tenants to take in sub-tenants. It was said that there is nothing more natural than for a father to take in a married son or daughter. I do not disagree that that is a natural tendency. It is also a flagrant breach of the letting regulations. The fact that this breach is permitted is a reflection on county councils and housing authorities. They make the regulations. If they do not ensure that the regulations are kept and, by their neglect, allow a problem to develop to the point at which it becomes a matter of public outcry, then the responsibility is on their shoulders. The only remedy suggested is to turn to the Department of Local Government and say: "Give us higher subsidies and we will do the job." My natural answer to that would be that if you cannot do it with 60 per cent., what can we expect for 66? per cent.?

The assertion has been made by many people, not only Deputy Clinton —I am glad that Deputy Tully does not agree—that the housing problem in rural Ireland is practically solved. Its back has been broken but it is far from being solved. Because of my conviction that that is so I have sought—and I am still strenuously seeking—this detailed survey which has yet to come to hand. We want to have a complete look at the entire picture to see whether our building policies are sufficient to meet the need or whether some new device of policy must be brought into being in order to solve the entire problem in the years ahead.

It is also remarked that a family living in a council house would seem to have no less a claim for a house of their own. That is, a family living as sub-tenants in a council house would seem to have no less a claim for a new tenancy of a house for themselves than if they were living as sub-tenants in a private house. Private houses and their owners are controlled. Unfortunately, the housing authorities are uncontrolled. When I say that, this is what I mean. If a private house is being let and sub-tenanted by a family or a number of families and is at the point where conditions are bad, then the families or family from that subtenancy may be rehoused in a council house on the higher rate of subsidy but there is this difference. Action can then be taken and is taken by the local housing authority to ensure one of a number of things—either the house is no longer so let in future, it is closed up or is demolished. Therefore, there is no continuation of the conditions which up to then existed in that private house but the local authorities themselves who operate these bye-laws and laws in respect of preventing overcrowding and bad housing conditions in private houses will not and have not—and quite rightly so—operated in the same manner in respect of their own houses.

One should ask why that is so but it is a fact. That is the difference between sub-tenants in private houses and sub-tenants in council houses. We can and we do control the private houses and the owners are amenable to control but, in so far as our own housing is concerned in our housing authorities, we do not control ourselves as housing authorities and local authority housing is not amenable to the laws we apply ourselves in respect of the owners of private houses.

The last question which Deputy Clinton asked is the one which is really relevant. He asked if I had any remedy for the situation. I cannot say at this stage that I have but, when I have got from our housing authorities throughout the country the complete survey that we are so eagerly and earnestly seeking, then and not until then will anybody in my position be placed in a situation in which it will be possible to give a direct answer to that question. I hope to be in that position in the not too distant future. With the co-operation of the Deputies who are on the local authorities and housing authorities, possibly that survey can be completed more readily than it appears to be going to be completed at the moment. When we have that survey, then and not until then can we get down to the matter at issue.

Despite what I say in justification of some of the developments that have taken place, I am not unsympathetic at all to the situation as I know it to exist. I have given some reasons as to why it came to exist as it does and I have placed some of the blame but, while I have done that, I would be very sympathetic to this whole question of completing our housing programme and being in the situation of having all of our people finally in the position when it can be said that they are all properly housed under proper humanitarian conditions. That is the only thing I can say in answer to the final matter in the Deputy's mind, which is the only matter of real importance at this stage.

The Minister is aware that in the case of Dún Laoghaire Borough a similar amendment was permitted in the past to meet a similar situation?

I would not go so far as that with the Deputy. In fact, I am not quite clear on the circumstances adverted to by the Deputy. I am quite satisfied that they are not similar to the problem we are discussing at the moment. We want this survey done. I think any reasonable person will agree that in the absence of the details of what that survey is, no real assessment of the position can be undertaken and no real worthwhile policy can be evolved. I wish to have the facts. I should be happy to be in the position, when I have got them, to come here and say: "Here is the remedy." I hope to be in that position and, when the time comes, I hope to have the co-operation of people like Deputies Tully and Clinton to bring a measure through the House, if necessary, to solve the problem.

Would the Minister or the Department agree that, where there are two families in a council cottage or in any three-roomed house, it is overcroweded for the purpose of assessing? I think the Minister's predecessor said that that was so.

The answer there would depend upon the number of the families. I do not think that would get the Deputy the information he wants. It is the consequential operation that would take place that is of essence in this question. To say whether or not the house would be overcrowded is immaterial. That does not determine whether the higher or the lower subsidy is payable.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 29th November, 1961.