Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 12 Jul 1962

Vol. 196 No. 13

Housing (Loans and Grants) Bill, 1962 —Second Stage (Resumed).

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

There is not much more that I wish to add. Indeed, most of the matters we have been discussing will, I am sure, be raised more fully on Committee Stage. I should just like to elaborate to some degree on what I have already said about this Bill and its purposes and to relieve the minds of those who feel it is intended to cure all the housing ills that exist, or that in some way it was related to the inter-Departmental report on small farms, or to the housing survey requested from the local authorities by my Department. As I said already, this Bill is not intended to be the answer to that particular problem, Consideration of that problem and of whatever legislation or assistance which may be required is under way at the moment. That consideration will continue and we hope it will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion in a matter of months.

If we find that these problems remain in regard to houses unfit for people to live in, particularly in rural areas, it is possible that we will be coming before the House with new or amended proposals. This Bill deals with the routine matters of grants and loans. For the first time, it introduces a few new features, none of which is earth-shaking, or intended to be, but nevertheless added to what exists already we hope they will prove beneficial.

In other directions, there is a certain loosening of restrictions on local authorities in so far as the drawing up of their supplementary grant schemes are concerned. As the House is aware, there were certain statutory regulations in the past that laid down a pattern within which a local authority might pay, for instance, a new housing grant to members of the farming community and a scale was laid down. Under £12 10s., they might give a full grant, equivalent to that paid by the Department of Local Government. The scheme was graded up to £35 and after £35, there was no grant whatever.

Now, instead of that graded statutory scale, there is just the one limit and that is not the £35 valuation limit but a new one of £50. Corresponding to that, in so far as the other classes of the community are concerned, the income level is increased to £832. Within those two limits, the local authorities, if this Bill is enacted, will in future be enabled to design their own schemes, regard being had only to the ceiling of £50 in the case of farmers, and £832 in the case of wage or salary earners. That would be of considerable advantage to the local authorities to make the best use of the money which they will put into supplementary grants and which in turn the ratepayers will have to pay. It is only right that they should be given this freedom and that they should be in a position to design their own schemes better than any central authority might design them.

The new grants which we have mentioned are those applying to the housing of elderly people, and I should like to add a little to what I have already said. We do not insist on the structure being newly built. It could be a good conversion job, the provision of a number of dwellings in the same building achieved by conversion. So long as the appropriate dwelling is provided, we will be quite happy to support and assist by way of grant those people who may be so minded.

It has been suggested in regard to these grants that there should be a definition of the word "elderly". Somebody suggested that people were regarded as elderly at 45.

If you are looking for a job in State employment, you are elderly at 45.

With different uses, there are different definitions, but to bring the matter down to a fine point is practically impossible and I do not propose to attempt to do it. I cannot see, except in exceptional circumstances, anybody becoming eligible under 60 years of age. Generally, it would be 60 and upwards, but not downwards. We will have to look at the matter and we may see something new in it, but to go much further than we have gone at present might be misleading. We must, of necessity, leave the matter somewhat vague, for the reason that we must attempt to suit the situation presented to us. The more latitude we have in the matter, the more help we can be, depending on the type of proposal that may come to us in the future.

There is also provision in the Bill, as some Deputies may have remarked, for storm damage grants. That permanent provision in the Bill will be a very useful one. It is useful in the sense that storm damage grants, if given, will not disqualify a person for a further grant for reconstruction or repair. Nor will the giving of a grant for a new house or for reconstruction and repair debar a person from receiving storm damage grants. It is only an emergency grant given in unusual circumstances and it has not got the tags attached to it necessary for grants for new houses and for grants for reconstruction and repair. It is useful that the provision should be in the Bill in a permanent way so that it can be used in emergencies.

Another matter that is somewhat changed in the Bill is that up to the present the certificate of suitability was issued by the local authority. The proposal in the Bill is that in future the procedure with regard to the equivalent of the certificate of suitability will be that the Minister shall be satisfied that the house is suitable for repair and not the local authority. We found in the past in regard to this matter that you have to apply to the local authority to get a certificate that the house is suitable for repair at a reasonable and fair price. If that certificate is refused, there is an appeal to the Minister, so that where there was any doubt, the Minister had to deal with the matter anyway. The Minister has been dealing with those cases in which there may have been a doubt and it should be fairly easy for him to deal with those in which there is no doubt. This proposal may cause a quickening of the procedure in regard to applying for these certificates.

It will mean an extra inspection by the Department.

I would not call it an extra inspection. Somebody did advocate strongly that there should be an extra inspection in order that instalments of repair grants might be paid. One of the difficulties which that proposal would cause is the enormous number of inspections over the whole country which it would mean. I feel it would represent the full time of four to six inspectors which would be taken up simply and solely in inspections in order to verify that a sufficient amount of work was done to justify an instalment being paid. We could not think of doing that up to the moment because we did not have the inspectors, but if we find that we would have sufficient staff, we could take another look at it. I would not like to make any promise on the matter.

What about the fields full of inspectors the Minister for Agriculture had?

They were not trained in these housing matters.

He had a special type of inspector.

I think there are some of them about still.

There are thousands of inspectors perspiring for work in the Land Commission.

We had in the past and up to the present a minimum floor space of 500 square feet in the case of Section 16 which deals with farmers' reconstruction grants. Otherwise, they had to go into the less attractive category of Section 12. There was no such minimum floor space set out in Section 12 and it is now proposed to wipe out the minimum floor space provision entirely in regard to all classes of reconstruction work but not in so far as new houses are concerned. The 1,400 square feet is still the upper limit and the lower limit of three rooms is still required for new houses.

Would the Minister not take the right to deal with appeals where it is marginal at the 1,400 feet?

I think you are doing all right without having that written into the Bill. I have heard it said that inches in measurement have put people out of the receiving of grants, that people have been put out of their grants deliberately by inspectors on that ground. I do not believe that is so. It may have happened but I do not believe that it was designedly done in any way. I should be surprised if it did happen and I should like to get particulars of any such case because I would not tolerate such action by any official.

A second inspector passed it by measuring to the inside rather than the outside walls. The grant was paid in the end but the first inspector turned it down because of a matter of inches.

That is not a general thing?

I would ask Deputies to bring to our attention any isolated cases of that kind that might arise. I should be surprised if, as a matter of general practice, our inspectors were anything but helpful to applicants. That is the way they should be, and if there are suggestions they are discouraging applicants, we would like to know about it. It might only be a case of somebody having to be told that he should take a more sympathetic line. Deputies could give me such information without fear of any repercussions on the inspectors concerned. All that is needed, perhaps, is a little straightening out of their approach.

Several Deputies dealt with matters which would be more appropriately dealt with on Committee Stage. I commend the Bill to the House. It is not an answer to all our ills and difficulties. It consolidates portion of our housing legislation and provides for a permanent system of allocating grants instead of the temporary arrangements in operation for many years. In future, we shall not have to be coming back to the House and it will not be said there is a holdup because our housing legislation is out of date. If it is desired to increase the amount of grants or make other improvements at any stage, that can be done by the enactment of a simple amendment to this Bill. When that time arrives, I am sure everybody will be agreeable to do it.

In the meantime, the outturn of applications for grants is running at such a high level that there can be no suggestion that the grants offered are not an incentive and are not generous. The Bill, with the improvements contained in it for the slackening of the law that has hitherto fettered local authorities in regard to grants and loans, will help to stimulate an increasing number of applications from people to improve their homes by repairs or the installation of water and sewerage and will also further the building of new houses.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage?

Next Tuesday.

That does not give a lot of time for amendments. Up to what time will amendments be taken?

I do not know. If I knew what they were, I might be able to tell the Deputy.

Has the Minister any amendments himself?

Amendments could be taken up to Monday morning.

Is it correct that the Minister has no amendments of his own?

None has come to my notice so far.

The Minister is the most impeccable legislator who has come in here for many years.

Thank you.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 17th July, 1962.