Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 11 Jul 1962

Vol. 196 No. 12

Committee on Finance. - Local Government (Sanitary Services) Bill, 1962—Second Stage (Resumed).

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

During the adjournment, I had the opportunity of verifying the section I was trying earlier to trace. Under this Bill, power is given in Section 4 to a sanitary authority to make advances to a person who provides a private water supply and private sewerage facilities. There is no provision in that section stating that the sanitary authority can make such an advance to the owner of a vested cottage, a cottage which has been bought under the Labourers Act. I ask the Minister for an assurance that notwithstanding the omission of such reference, the owner of a vested cottage can obtain such an advance.

My anxiety in that respect was emphasised by the provisions of Section 10, subsection (2), clause (b) of the Housing (Loans and Grants) Bill which we are to discuss shortly. The clause in that Bill states:

Repayment of a loan under this section in respect of a cottage that has been purchased under the Labourers Acts may be secured at any time in the manner specified in paragraph (a) of this subsection.

But, as I say, in this Bill there is no such saving provision and in the circumstances, it would appear that there is at least the possibility that the overriding provisions of the Labourers Act, 1936, that a tenant purchaser of a vested cottage cannot charge his holding while the annuity remains, would prevent such a person obtaining an advance under Section 4 of this Bill. Unless there is something in some other part of the Bill which I am unable to trace at the moment, it would appear that there is this omission, an omission which I suggest very strongly should be rectified on Committee Stage.

In addition to that, at the time of the adjournment of the debate, I was mentioning the fact, as it is a fact, that subsection (11) of Section 7 appears to go too far. Under it, it is an offence, as I understand it, for a person to water his garden with an ordinary hose pipe as is done in every city and town in the country. To water the roses, or the lawn in front of a terrace of houses in any part of Dublin or elsewhere will, as I read subsection (11), be prohibited in future. That, surely, is taking things far too far.

The offending clause is clause (c). A motor car cannot be washed by means of connecting an ordinary piece of plastic hose pipe to a tap. You have to get a bucket, fill it in the house, take the bucket of water out and throw it over the car. As often as you walk back and forth to the house for the bucket of water, you are in order, but as long as you use a bit of plastic hose, you will be acting contrary to the regulations and in breach of the provisions of this Bill. If that is what the Bill means, it appears to me to be bureaucracy gone mad. It appears to me to be ludicrous that the ordinary amenities which have been available to any person owning a small town or city garden or owning a motor car should no longer be available under the provisions of this Bill.

I said in the beginning that in relation to the whole of this Bill, I am speaking entirely subject to correction because the Minister has neglected to furnish an explanatory memorandum. It is a technical Bill and even for those of us who are accustomed to reading Bills, it is one that requires considerable study before one can understand all its implications. We have not had an opportunity really to study the Bill because it was not furnished to Deputies as early as it should have been.

It seems to me to be nonsense to provide that a person living in Dublin who has a small, trifling garden, whether it is the garden in front of one of the houses in Crumlin through which I drive up and down each day, or a garden in Ballsbridge, should not be able to deal with the matter in a common sense way and that it should be necessary for him to cart buckets of water to and from the kitchen in the manner suggested. Obviously, that is a section that will have to be considered carefully on Committee Stage.

Section 8 of the Bill purports to deal with the problem which admittedly causes great anxiety and difficulty to local authorities. I know of cases in my own area of Kildare where the county council has, at considerable expense, put in a water and sewerage scheme for a village and where the people in that area have refused to connect. I can understand, therefore, the Minister feeling it necessary to bring in compulsory powers to enforce connection such as are provided in Section 8. But, at the same time, while such compulsory powers are necessary, I think the other side of the picture must also be considered.

A person who has a small house in a village such as Leixlip, Celbridge or Maynooth may not have the money to enable him to instal a water and sewerage scheme and to connect to the local authority supply. On that aspect of the question, am I correct in thinking that the old distinction between an area where a public supply is likely to be provided and where there is not such a likelihood is now being abandoned, or is it still continued? Is there still the consideration that there used to be in the regulation that 30 feet, as I think it was, is the requisite distance? There is, under existing regulations, a distinction that if the individual has to pipe his water more than that distance, he qualifies as a person who is entitled to get the grant. I am not sure whether that distance is 30 feet and I should like some clarification on that point.

Though it is desirable and, perhaps, essential, not merely in the interests of the individual himself but in the interest of public health in a village or town, that he must take adequate advantage of the facilities provided, the fact does unfortunately remain that owners of some property may not have the money to carry out the work involved. There should, therefore, be attached to Section 8 a provision whereby, on consideration of the appeal to the district court, to which reference is made in subsection (4) of the section, the court would have authority to say to the sanitary authority: "We will give you the authority to enforce this connection but we will only give it to you conditionally upon the sanitary authority making available by way of grants the amount necessary to carry out the work." If a person on such an appeal can satisfy the district court that he has not the money to do the work, the district court can give the order but it must be accompanied by an advance or loan to the person concerned of the necessary funds.

Without that provision, Section 8 will create hardship in certain cases, particularly having regard to the limitations of the Rent Restrictions Act. There are many landlords of premises which are controlled by the Rent Restrictions Act who are in far worse circumstances financially than the tenants for whose protection the Act was introduced. I can visualise owners of such property not having the money to carry out what is required under Section 8 and therefore it should be provided that where there is the necessity for such financing, the financing must be done by the local authority as the continuation of the local authority's power to force connection.

I will admit frankly that though I have read Section 9 many times, I have failed to understand what it means. I cannot appreciate what the pipes are required for, for instance. It is a section which in its wording is clear enough but in its purpose is obscure to a very great degree. Again, I suggest that is another instance in which the shortcomings of the Minister in neglecting to provide a White Paper are so clearly shown up.

Most of us will agree it is desirable, stating it as a general principle, to do something to prevent undue pollution of the atmosphere. All of us have had experience of it in one way or another —sometimes driving behind a very dirty lorry when one's view is so obstructed by smoke and fumes that one cannot see clearly. On warm days when we have to keep our car windows down, we become almost choked by the fumes coming through the windows from such vehicles. How much worse then must it be for those who have to live in areas which are polluted in that way?

At the same time, while accepting the principle that pollution must be avoided as far as it possibly can, we must realise that the powers being taken by the Minister in Section 10 of this Bill are very wide and sweeping. I might say they are perhaps something of an experiment because as far as I know, this has never been tried before. These sweeping powers the Minister is taking to himself in Section 10 may very well close a factory, render it quite impossible for people to carry on their ordinary industrial work and certainly, in the beginning of this experimental field, the Minister should reverse the procedure he has suggested in this section and provide that the regulations to be introduced shall be brought to this House for positive approval rather than that there should be the mere negative power of annulment provided in the following section.

I can visualise the importance of the dissemination of public knowledge through a discussion in this House of an individual regulation. That publicity would probably do more than anything else to assist in the prevention of pollution; it would do a lot more than the bringing out of the big stick, in which case any discussion in the House would be only of an ex post facto nature as far as the effects of a regulation already made would be felt by an individual factory. The effects of these regulations could well mean that a particular industry would have to cease, that the employment it had been giving would be subject to interruption, that the industry might have to move to another area, and where the powers are as sweeping and as wide, it is surely desirable there should be something more than a mere administrative Order, subject to annulment. I suggest we should first have the positive approval of the House.

As I said at the beginning, all of us agree with the desirability of improving conditions of living in rural Ireland by the provision of proper water and sanitary arrangements. All of us agree it is desirable to avoid unnecessary pollution of the atmosphere. This Bill is, however, a somewhat complex way in certain respects of dealing with these problems. As far as the Bill itself is concerned, I think many people will be disappointed there does not appear to be in it any indication, as there is not in the following Housing Bill, of increased grants to meet the increased costs which it will involve.

In so far as the Bill offers people in rural Ireland certain benefits, we in the Labour Party naturally welcome it. It is true to say, as Deputy Sweetman said, that the lack of an explanatory memorandum makes the Bill somewhat difficult to understand. What I have to say on it will be far removed from destructive criticism. Many of the sections are not as clear as I would wish them to be. For instance, I have read Section 9 without being able to understand it, so I will therefore be unable to discuss it now. I hope accordingly that the Minister will clarify this section when he is replying to this debate.

Subsection (1) of Section 9 says that a sanitary authority may, if they think proper, provide or contribute to the cost of providing, certain things. That is all right, but it pinpoints certain difficulties which are facing us in Cork at this very moment. I should like to say here that the Minister went out of his way to help us as much as possible in this problem. A very large sewerage scheme was provided for the western suburbs of the city. When the scheme was prepared, the late consultant engineer provided for all the necessary connections. However, when it was presented to the local authority, the then county engineer thought it necessary to reduce or save on an £80,000 scheme to the extent of a mere £400 by not providing what we term wide junctions and saddle junctions on the main sewer.

That was a case in which the local authority were taking advantage of the power "may or may not". Were it not for the co-operation of the Minister, the cost of providing subsequent connections to that main would have been prohibitive on the individuals concerned. The public main is at a depth of 18 feet and it would mean that people taking individual connections from it would be put to the cost of employing labour, getting permission to open the public roadway, opening it, lighting the excavation at night, taking the risk of breaking the main. In areas where houses are already erected and the local authority have provided a public main, it should be the duty of the local authority to provide a connection at the source of the main itself. That may sound like asking for too much, but I do not think so. The cost of the scheme I mentioned in Cork would have amounted to £400 but now, unfortunately, it would cost the local authority and the Government, by way of grant, a lot more. It is essential in all such cases, even where the local authority is prepared to co-operate, that their duty should be to provide for the connection to the public main itself. I should like the Minister, therefore, to eludicate subsection (2) of Section 9 for us.

In regard to Section 8, I appreciate the remarks of Deputy Sweetman, who says he is afraid the powers being provided in the Bill may put local authorities in the position of abusing their rights in regard to making people connect to public sewers. I do not think that will happen. I speak as a member of a local authority. In all cases where the members or officials of a local authority are satisfied that the owners or occupants of small houses in towns or villages where public sewers are provided are not able financially to provide for making the connection, I do not believe they would use the big stick and compel them to do so. It is well therefore to consider the possibility of the local authority coming to the aid of people unable to do the job, perhaps an old man and woman, doing the job for them and making some charge by way of annuity. I do not know if that is possible, but it may be a way out.

Nobody can suggest, however, that local authorities should close their eyes in cases where property owners who can very well afford to do so have for years failed to connect their property to the public sewer. Such sewers have been provided for the benefit of the community as a whole. In many areas in County Cork, a lot of money has been spent on providing public sewers; yet many houses have not been connected to them. Grants are being made available, and it is essential that we see to it that such connections be made.

I would draw attention to another point in regard to Section 8, subsection (7). I may be wrong in this and I should like to have it clarified. The subsection states that no appeal shall lie from a decision of the district court on an appeal under this section. If a person appeals to the district court and wins the case but if the officials and members of the local authority believe in all fairness that the decision was unjust, does it mean that the matter must stop there? If they believe the decision was unfair, not to themselves but to other people, for health reasons and so on, can they not appeal? I shall not say that all decisions by Ministers have been satisfactory but, strange to say, in this case I would prefer if the appeal were to the Minister rather than to the district court. Public representatives will be conversant with local circumstances and could put the case to the Minister as they saw it. Perhaps they might be helping an appellant or else doing the reverse and helping a local authority against an appellant. In any event, they would be doing what they believed was just and honourable. That may be a wrong approach, but I would like the Minister to give us his views as to whether it may not be better than the proposal before us.

I should like to refer to subsection (11) of Section 7 and mention again the case of a man washing a car or a bicycle. It is all very well to say we believe such cases will not arise again. We may be placing a lot of responsibility on local officials if we pass legislation here which we believe cannot ultimately work in practice in our towns and villages. Deputy Sweetman drew attention to the effect of this on people living in the suburbs of Dublin and in Kildare. I can visualise the same thing happening in the small towns and villages where there is a water supply. It is rather ridiculous to suggest that if I or any other Deputy return home after a long journey and think it no harm to wash the car, I can draw bucket after bucket of water but, according to this subsection, under no circumstances can I attach a hose to a tap in the house or, worse still, in the yard and spray the car. Yet I might use much more water with a bucket than with a hose. It reminds me of that popular song "Dear Liza": there may be a hole in the bucket and there may be no water in it by the time it gets out to the car. I do not wish to belittle the measure in any way, but these are a few points on which I should like to have clarification. No Bill is so good that it cannot be made better by a little constructive criticism.

The one other point on which I should like information is the question of the vested cottage. I am not going to tie this up with the Bill that may be before us later this evening.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted, and 20 Members being present,

I am anxious that the Minister should clarify the position as to whether or not it is the tenant of the vested cottage who will gain the advantages under this Bill and, if so, when will he be able to avail of them? Is it during the period in which he is paying for the vesting of the cottage or will it be when vesting is complete and the last penny has been paid? If we have that information clearly between now and the Committee Stage, it may perhaps avoid a good deal of discussion.

I do not share the views of Deputy Sweetman in his criticism of the section dealing with the problem of air pollution. It may seem somewhat elaborate but it is, I think, about time we did something in relation to this problem. As Deputy Sweetman said, we all know the appalling experience of travelling behind some of these huge lorries with smoke pouring from the exhaust. What the pollution must be like in heavily populated areas is just something one cannot really imagine. The people living in these areas are in danger from the point of view of health. Unlike the people to whom Deputy Sweetman referred in relation to the disconnection of water supplies, many of these people never have a holiday. Credit is due to the Minister if, by the inclusion of this particular section dealing with air pollution, we can in some measure improve conditions for these people.

I do not for one moment believe the section might have the dire effect of closing factories. Public health is of such importance that we must be prepared not alone to debate it but to do our utmost to ensure that every endeavour available to us is used to improve conditions. I sincerely hope that the insertion of such a section in this Bill will at least mark a start in the improvement of conditions which badly need remedying.

Like Deputy Sweetman, I regret that the Minister did not furnish an explanatory memorandum. Such a memorandum would have made it easier for Deputies to understand exactly what the intention is. Even in his opening speech, the Minister did not succeed in clearing up certain matters fully. Under subsection (11) of Section 7, water cannot be used for certain purposes. I am interested only in clause (a) which prohibits the use of water for agriculture or horticulture.

The Minister has asked local authorities to embark on fantastic schemes of regional water supplies— fantastic as to cost. Where a local authority agrees to provide a regional water supply, under this Bill, none of that water can be used for agriculture or horticulture. In his opening statement, the Minister referred to the importance of water for stock purposes and its benefit in the rapid eradication of bovine tuberculosis. Perhaps the Minister has a perfectly sound explanation, but, in his opening statement he tells us water is most desirable for stock purposes, and then, under a section of this Bill, he prohibits the use of water. That is just one of the vaguenesses in the Bill and in the Minister's speech that I cannot quite reconcile.

With regard to the amalgamation of schemes under one Department, that is a step in the right direction. It is much better that these schemes should be administered by one Minister and one local authority. The regional water supply scheme mentioned some time ago here by the Minister is an excellent scheme but quite unattainable because of the cost. In County Mayo, a survey was carried out of a particular area, roughly elliptical in shape with the town of Castlebar at one end of the ellipse and the town of Westport at the other. That covered only a seventh, an eighth, or a ninth of the whole County Mayo. The cost of the scheme was £1,200,000, not to mention subsequent maintenance. That immediately ruled the scheme out. We would all like to see regional water supply schemes but the cost just prohibits such schemes.

A scheme that has never been properly availed of is the group scheme. There are two reasons for that. First, the grant is not sufficiently attractive to induce people to avail of it; secondly, there is need for technical advice, either free or at a reasonable charge. Such group schemes would not be a recurring cost on rates because those concerned would have to maintain them or do without them. I appeal to the Minister to push the group scheme because I fear regional water supply schemes will not be adopted except in very few areas. The cost is prohibitive.

I know areas in Mayo which are very prone to flooding and where the land is waterlogged. There are other areas where water is very scarce. Because of the dry spring and summer, people in these areas have had to bring water for stock two and three miles. Yet there are lakes in the areas which could supply water, but the people do not know about the group scheme or, if they do know, the grant is not sufficient and they have not the capital to undertake a scheme for themselves.

I know one area where there are 50 or 60 houses and where there is a short distance from them a spring that would be ample to supply a small town. There is another area with 22 houses. Not one of them has water. A further area with five houses quite near myself, an area roughly two miles long and about a mile and a half wide has not a single drop of water whereas a few small lakes near at hand could supply them. I know there are group schemes but these people are afraid of the cost and there is no one to advise them. I hope the Minister will do something for such people.

There is one point I want to clear up. We shall have a Housing Bill perhaps this evening or at least before the Dáil rises for the summer recess. The scheme of grants is the same as usual, and the same conditions attach. For a five-roomed house not more than 1,400 square fleet floor area and where a sewerage and piped water supply are provided in an area where a pipe supply is not available, the grant is the same at £300. Does the Minister or the local authority pay a grant to a person building a new house over and above the grant in the Housing Bill? I have tried to find out exactly what the position is and have not succeeded. Would the Minister clear up the point as to what grants are available or does the Bill before the House propose to pay grants only to those who are installing water and sanitation in their houses?

The only other point I want to make on this Bill is this: It seems daft to me that in the case where water supplies are brought along the main roads into a town, houses along that road cannot be supplied with water and have to get a supply from two, three, or ten miles away. I have asked on several occasions that these people should get a supply from the main but the only answer I got is that it will not be done. Perhaps there is some technical difficulty of which I am not aware but it should not be beyond the power of the engineers to overcome that. I cannot help asking myself what these people must think of the proposed regional scheme when a proposal to give them a supply from along the road cannot be entertained.

Taking the Bill in general, I am very glad the movement is towards bringing ordinary civilised amenities into rural homes. For too long the badge of slavery of drawing water has been attached to rural homes. If we are to induce people to stay in rural areas, we must give them the amenities their sisters and brothers have in the cities and towns. In taking any step in that direction, the Minister certainly has my support and my commendation. I hope the Minister will clear up these points I have mentioned when he is replying.

(South Tipperary): In general, the intentions behind this Bill must commend themselves to everybody in the House. I would take issue with the Minister on one small point, that is, if I have interpreted him correctly. In the first page of his statement, he says:

My principal concern since the inception of the rural water supplies programme in 1959 has been to foster co-operation between the various interests involved.

I do not know exactly what he means by "the inception of the rural water supplies programme" because the attempt to introduce rural water supplies and to propagate the idea is not of recent vintage. In fact, the late William O'Donnell, a former member of this House from South Tipperary, 20 years ago was speaking extensively in favour of establishing the principle of rural water supplies up and down the country. A good number of years ago, I was the county councillor at the time who proposed the establishment of one of our area regional schemes, namely, the Galtee regional water scheme in South Tipperary.

As Deputy Sweetman remarked, a measure of this kind presented to us in the technical jargon of the Parliamentary draftsman is sometimes confusing to a layman like myself. It is a pity that an explanatory memorandum was not issued with this Bill. Furthermore the Minister could have left out the section in relation to pollution of the atmosphere to be dealt with as a separate measure. This is largely a service problem, a public health measure. As such, it is a restrictive measure and it would have been simpler if he had left air pollution out of it, to be dealt with at some later stage in a smaller and single measure.

Debate adjourned.