Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 29 Apr 1965

Vol. 215 No. 4

Committee on Finance. - Vote 27—Local Government (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That a sum not exceeding £4,633,600 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1966, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Local Government, including Grants to Local Authorities, Grants and other Expenses in connection with Housing, and Miscellaneous Grants including a Grant-in-Aid.—(Minister for Local Government.)

Last night when we adjourned, I was speaking on the development and planning of our roads and saying that in the next ten to 15 years we foresee the completion of these highways. I see them as a natural addition to the planning and development that has already taken place in the industrial field. They will be an aid to our ever-growing tourist industry. Indeed, I look upon them as highways to the future for this country and for its development.

When we enter homes today, as against years ago, we hear water flowing in taps, the quiet hum of refrigerators and washing machines and in many cases we find central heating in these homes. This, then, is the planning and progress we on this side of the House see for the future. Having listened to the Minister's speech, I am satisfied that he has all of these plans well in hand, but we must, however, be on our guard that we neither over-plan nor under-plan but that we plan in accordance with the financial resources of the nation and indeed the development of our gross national product, so that we shall build up and maintain a steady development rather than have a stop and start economy. This is the first Estimate presented to this 18th Dáil and I am pleased to know that it is in the hands of a competent Minister who has the foresight and the planning behind him to ensure that the social needs of his Department will be well and truly met. This being the case, we can look forward to the next four or five years as years of progress and development.

There are many aspects of local government to which I should like to refer but I shall confine myself to just a few points. One matter is the question of traffic in the city of Dublin. New regulations were brought in in the past few months and motorists have quite a nice time going fast more or less nowhere. You can fly around St. Stephen's Green at a good pace but if you want to get to the bottom of Grafton Street, it is not so easy to get there as it used to be. You get a great impression of speed from the new regulations and on the whole they are good, but one does waste quite a lot of time and petrol going places that one does not want to go to at all. One of the obvious defects of this new system which we are installing is that it is having an adverse effect on certain traders. Some streets are now cut off from the benefit of the flow of traffic and shopkeepers in whole areas are finding that the cash trade they once did is not there.

These things seem to be partly inevitable but I should like the Minister and his Department to consider very carefully how they can help the business community in the various cities, especially in Dublin. We must have better parking facilities; we must have buildings erected, probably multi-storey buildings, to house motor cars. Wherever possible, parking places must be made available. The city of Dublin will have to face the spending of large sums of money on facilitating traffic, on facilitating motorists, and thereby the whole trade of the city.

If we do not do that in Dublin, we shall find that we have deliberately created outside the city area large shopping centres which will be of no benefit to the city. That will happen inevitably if we do not put up buildings because even open spaces are not enough to contain the motor cars. It is not now a question of cars being luxury objects for the well-to-do to use. Increasingly, everybody is using cars in some form or other. We are only at the beginning of the development of the internal combustion engine and the reduction of its production costs and the layers of society it will reach.

Anybody going into Dublin between 8 and 8.30 a.m. meets a continuous flow of motor traffic from the city and in those cars are not businessmen and well-to-do people. You will find they are building operatives going to building sites in the outer suburbs. It is a grand thing to see these facilities spreading throughout the whole of our society. We have all seen that already very great numbers of the public are using cars and it is good to find the building operatives and many others are no exception. That tendency will continue and I suggest to the Minister that he should urge local authorities to provide parking facilities for cars. Otherwise, we shall eventually be compelled to spend millions in moving property and houses out of the city. This problem has hit Dublin and, I presume, to a lesser extent, Cork, Limerick and Waterford already but I am primarily concerned with Dublin. If we do not provide these facilities, the trade of Dublin and its employment will suffer much and we shall be left with expensive movements of population on our hands.

The cheapest way we can handle the situation is to put up these big buildings in the centre of the city. They will cost money but we shall have to face that in the same way as we now provide other amenities out of the rates and/or from central funds. In that connection I suggest that Dublin Corporation has done a wonderful job in building. Let nobody say that it has not done a great deal for its poorer inhabitants. We know it has not done enough yet but I think it has had a task in housing and rehousing its population which was not equalled in any other capital city in Western Europe. I think I am correct in saying that at present up to almost 40 per cent of the population of Dublin is housed by the Corporation and that has taken place in the past 40 or 50 years. That is a fine achievement for any local body. In the last few years we have not given it the attention it deserved as a Government. The building programme fell in Dublin and I am glad that steps are being taken, perhaps as a result of what some of us have said here and elsewhere, to remedy that position.

I think that not only in places like Ballymun but in the city proper we shall have to go up higher and install lifts in our flats. That will help to remedy the traffic problem which is a very serious one for Dublin. The business community hardly realises yet what it may mean but it can mean vast expenditure and terrible dislocation and unemployment unless the problem can be tackled very quickly and firmly.

I have been on Dublin Corporation for the past 22 years and I found it a most interesting and, on the whole, a very fine body but I have constantly been aware that it suffers from a lack of councillors with business experience. We have lived through an intensely political period and very few business people have had the time or the will—I was about to say the ability —to identify themselves with the purely political aspects of local government which was so necessary if a man wanted to be successful in standing for a body like Dublin Corporation. Most business people cannot do that. There used be a restricted franchise whereby business people through various organisations like the chamber of commerce had the right to elect a certain number of people in a manner similar to that operating in the Port and Docks Board with very great success. I would urge the Minister and the Government to consider very seriously the defects which arise in Dublin Corporation, in the council, through the lack of adequate business representation.

I should not like to see the body overwhelmed by business but while various sections are represented there, we do feel the loss of representation of the business community. I trust the Minister will give the matter serious thought because it is all tied up with what I have been saying about traffic and parking facilities and knowledge of what will happen to the city. The business community is not, and cannot be, in as close touch with the planners and what is going on as they should be. I hope the Minister will look into that and perhaps if the elections are delayed until 1966, there will be time to produce a scheme which will benefit that section of the community. Although I cannot speak for them, I feel that our friends on the Labour benches would have no objection to that because what helps the business community in the main can help those employed in the various manufacturing firms and businesses.

The debate on the Estimate for Local Government affords an opportunity to those of us who are members of public bodies to air the views of local authorities in the House and to get the ear of the Minister and the Government.

Of course, housing is the primary responsibility of local authorities. I can definitely state that over the last nine years since the present Government came into office, speaking for Kilkenny specifically, and for the country in general, practically no progress has been made in the matter of housing. The White Paper issued by the Minister showed that in 1962 the number of houses built represented only one-third of the number built in 1952. So that over the ten years there was a policy to reduce the number of houses built. I understand that statements were made in the First Programme for Economic Expansion to the effect that there was no further necessity for social investment in housing, that the demand had been met. It is noticeable in this debate the manner in which the policy of the Government has been put forward and the necessity for housing played down. The case has been put up that there was a tremendous number of houses vacant in Dublin city in 1958/59 and that that was one of the reasons why the housing programme was cut down. That is merely an excuse. If the Government were anxious to promote housing they would have continued with it. Apparently, the Government believe that housing is of secondary consideration to productive investment. We on this side of the House believe that housing should come first, that the people must be given decent houses in which to rear their families, if we want to make them reasonable citizens.

There are various ways by which a Government can hold up progress in housing. There is no need for the Government to state that house building will be discontinued. The Government had not the courage to rescind the Local Government (Works) Act but they provided no money to implement it. That was a way of killing it without rescinding it. In the same way with housing, the Government did not say that they would discontinue housing but they had ways and means of holding up progress in the Department. I remember deputation after deputation coming to the Minister seeking a full subsidy on houses in cases where we had provided new houses for persons who were in overcrowded dwellings. We felt we were fully entitled to the two-thirds subsidy. We were put off all the time. When we saw that the Minister was not inclined to be reasonable with us then we could not see our way to go ahead with building for fear we would not get the full subsidy.

Now the Minister has relaxed somewhat as a result of the crisis created in Dublin by the fact that houses were falling down. It was the panic created by that situation that stimulated interest in housing. The Minister has relaxed to the extent that he is now allowing local authorities in rural areas to rehouse persons out of county council cottages and will give the full subsidy in cases of overcrowding. That relaxation has not yet been extended to towns or to cities like Kilkenny. I would appeal to the Minister to make that extension. In the city of Kilkenny, conditions are worse than they are in Africa. In Africa, people have shacks in which to maintain their families. In Kilkenny, the people have not separate rooms in which to maintain their families. The Minister should relax the regulations in respect of cities as he has already done in the rural areas. What is the point of providing improved health services if we do not provide good housing conditions for those people who come out of hospital?

The case of a family in Kilkenny was brought to my notice. This family live in a damp, dark house. The husband, who is a very industrious man, is sick occasionally. One of the seven children is in hospital constantly. Consider the cost to the country. Would it not be much better if that family had a decent airy house in which to live, in which case they would not require this constant hospital treatment?

At the meeting of Kilkenny Corporation on Monday night, we were told that one small insignificant housing scheme of about six houses had been submitted and had been with the Department eight weeks and no decision had been taken. We find that happening all the time. One way of delaying progress in housing is to withhold decisions, when plans are submitted, to send them back to the local authority after about three months asking them to re-draft some portion or to review some other portion and when that is done, to repeat the performance.

Recently the Minister called in officials of Dublin Corporation to the Custom House with a view to having co-operation between the Corporation and the departmental officials so that there would not be continuous delays in respect of housing schemes. If that type of co-operation were extended to other local authorities, the local authority members would have more confidence in themselves. In the past nine years, only one scheme of houses has been built in Kilkenny. The site for that scheme was sanctioned by the Minister's predecessor, Deputy P. O'Donnell. It took two or three years of hard work to force the Minister's hand in order that those houses might be built. If the fact that houses have fallen down in Dublin has brought about a change in the outlook of the Government in the matter of housing, it will have done some good.

I am sure the Minister realises more than anyone that costs of housing have increased over the past number of years. Yet, there has been no increase in the amount of grants and the upper income limits for qualification for loans under the Small Dwellings (Acquisition) Act have not been raised.

We want to encourage people to build their own houses. It is a good thing that people should have a stake in the country rather than that the local authority should build houses for them in certain cases. A weekly income of £20 to £25 is not a wonderfully high income at the present time having regard to the high cost of living. What chance would a person on that income have of building his own house? He cannot get a loan from the local authority under the Small Dwellings Act. The Minister should be realistic. He should increase the grants and raise the upper limit for loans.

In certain cases when persons reconstruct their houses, they must cut their cloth according to their measure. They have only a certain amount of money and can do only a certain amount of reconstruction. In a few years' time a person may have been able to have saved sufficient money to enable him to do further necessary reconstruction. Simply because he has already received a grant in respect of the first reconstruction, he is debarred from receiving a second reconstruction grant in respect of the same house. The reason why the person had not completed the job in the first instance was lack of capital. He may get a grant in respect of a roof or some such work. Otherwise, he will not get a second grant.

I had a letter from a person complaining that work to her house needed to be carried out and she had not the capital to put in the various windows which were falling out. She went to the local authority who said : "You will certainly get a grant for that," and she had the work carried out. I was in contact with the Minister's Department last week and I was told that there was no hope of her getting a grant. She would get a grant for plastering the house in order to preserve it but surely putting in windows is preserving a house. I would ask the Minister to be a little more reasonable.

Deputy O'Connor yesterday asked the Minister to move around through the local authorities in order to speed up housing. There is no necessity for the Minister to do that. If the Minister does his duty in the Department, the local authorities will be only too anxious to do their part in housing the people. However, it is Government policy apparently that social investment and investment in housing should be cut down, as it has been cut down by the various means already mentioned.

In regard to roads, we were very much surprised at our county council meeting in Kilkenny on Monday to find that there is practically no increase in the county road grant. In 1962/63 the Kilkenny County Council were allocated £61,000 county road grant. In line with all the other counties, we had a five-year plan for the improvement of county roads. During the Emergency, nothing could be done with the county roads. We put aside 2/- in the £ each year for that purpose and that has been put aside up to date, with the result that we were making great headway with our county roads. However, in 1963/64 there was a complete change of Government policy and they closed down on the five-year plan. They switched the money over to arterial roads and allocated a lesser amount to main roads. There was a 33? per cent reduction in the county road improvement grant in 1962/63, in the following year and the year after that. This year there is an increase of only £790, two per cent, whereas the main road improvement grant has increased by ten per cent and the arterial road grant by 20 per cent. Therefore, the total amount of the grants has been increased by £24,600 but the county road grant has been increased by only £790 and has actually been reduced by £22,000 since 1962/63. A mere £16,000 is being spent on county roads as against £107,000 for arterial roads and £66,000 for main roads. It is grand to have roads like racetracks throughout the country and none of us objects to the improvement of main and arterial roads. I like to drive on a good road but the two things could have been taken together.

The county road grant was under discussion at Kilkenny County Council and every member there protested against its reduction, irrespective of his Party affiliation. One member there who was a member of the House up to a short time ago stated that the Fianna Fáil Party had raised this matter in higher quarters which, I take it, is their own Party meeting. He said they got nowhere with it and what he felt was that whatever Government were in office, these county road improvement grants would be cut. I disagree with that point of view, the point of view of Deputy Geoghegan and Deputy O'Connor, as expressed here yesterday. They maintain that the officials have the final say as to where the money should go, whether to county roads, main roads or arterial roads.

It is not fair to take away the blame and the responsibility in that matter from where it belongs. The Minister and the Government have the responsibility for forming policy. It is ridiculous to state, as the member from Kilkenny stated, that whatever Government were in office there would be no change in the county road grant. There must be some significance in the fact that Deputy O'Connor and Deputy Geoghegan appealed to the Minister here yesterday to review the allocation of county road improvement grants.

When the five-year plan was in operation, we went so far as to provide £90,000 over a period of three years for the improvement of lanes and culs-de-sac. The result is that we shall have our lanes and culs-de-sac completed in a few years' time but we shall not have our county roads completed. With the policy of this Government, we are losing people from the land every day. If we do not provide roads so that they will have reasonable means of communication, then the young people will refuse to stay in these backward places, going through water and mud to reach their homes in the wintertime. I appeal to the Minister to give a reasonable grant for the improvement of county roads. The protest made by the Kilkenny County Council in relation to this matter was unanimous. The Minister was a member of a local authority and he should appreciate the position. If he is being forced by the Government of which he is a member to have a Dublin outlook, to be city-minded, and to disregard the county roads, then he should be man enough, remembering his own experience, to insist on getting more money for the improvement of county roads.

With regard to town planning, we are all very confused indeed. Several references have been made to it here already. There is one point I should like to make. We are supposed to have a plan within three years of last October. Now no local authority knows what grants will be available or how they will be financed. No qualified personnel can be found. I believe the Minister is rather rushing the whole thing. Planning is necessary; planning is much better than haphazard building here, there and everywhere. We set up the skeleton organisation for planning in our particular local authority only last Monday. We were awaiting a direction from the Minister and his Department with regard to the contribution to be made towards the cost. The rates are already very high. There are no qualified personnel but, apparently, qualified personnel are not now necessary. Any civil engineer will do to fill the post. The Minister is putting the cart before the horse.

I mentioned rates. Rates are increasing out of all reason. I have been a member of a local authority for quite some time and I can remember when everybody would be thunderstruck if there was an increase of 6d on the rates. An increase of 1/- in the £ would bring an outcry. Last year our rates went up by 8/6 or 9/-. This year they have gone up by another 8/6 or 9/-. They are now 67/3d in the £. Consider what that burden means to some people. Take the case of a man who built a house with the aid of an SDA loan. The house was valued at, perhaps, £16 per year. With the rates as they are at the moment he must pay the Corporation £54 per year plus the repayment of his original loan.

Is it any wonder so many of these houses are coming on the market? People just cannot afford to repay the loan and pay the high rates as well. Deputy O'Connor commented on the increase in Kerry to £4 in the £. Land in Kerry may be valued fairly low and that may have something to do with the situation there. A man may have a very big acreage with a small valuation. People living in the city of Kilkenny in houses built with the aid of an SDA loan—these are not very big houses—find it impossible to meet their commitments.

I appeal to the Government to look into this matter. Some alternative method of financing these services— health services, roads and so on— must be found. Roads should be financed completely out of the Road Fund with, if necessary, a subvention from central funds. The rates should be relieved of the burden of health services. If the present position continues every small shop will have to close. The Government will have to review the situation to discover if there are other ways of financing local services other than through the rates. Town planning is now falling on the rates and that means another increase. That is one of the reasons why we delayed appointing staff to deal with planning. When the farmers marched in protest the Government promptly increased the grants so that farmers would have a greater relief of rates. Apparently the townspeople are not protesting. They are not organised. They have no organisation like the farmers have. The result is that the townspeople are slowly disappearing. They are stealing away in the night.

I wish to congratulate the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, Deputy P. Brennan, and the Department on what they have done in regard to housing, piped water, town planning and swimming pools. I shall confine my remarks to roads because other Deputies have dealt with other aspects of local government. As far as Galway is concerned, I have no complaint to make about arterial roads, main roads and county roads. There is a problem, however, in regard to link roads and culs-de-sac. We have a great number of these yet to be done in Galway. There are only two methods of doing them and, until recently, there was only one method. Now, under a new regulation made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Works in 1962, if a road is done under a rural improvement scheme—this applies, so far as I know, all over the country—and that road serves three or four houses, it can be taken over and maintained by the county council.

The other method we have of doing these roads in Galway is out of the rates. I have been a member of Galway County Council for quite some time; if I live, please God, until 29th June, next, I shall have completed 20 years as a county councillor. Now the second method is that each councillor is allocated a certain sum of money each year for his own particular area. It was £100 or £120 but, with the rising costs, it went up to £300 and last year we allocated £500 per councillor. With 31 councillors, that comes to a figure of £16,500. That is a heavy impost on the ratepayers of County Galway. Some of these roads connect county roads and are used by the general public. Several miles of these will have to be done. A road a mile or two long serving 14 or 15 houses will cost £2,000 or £3,000 to put into proper repair. There will be widening of the road. Corners will have to be removed. Fencing will have to be done. Sometimes land must be acquired. Five or six councillors may have to come together in order to reach agreement on how to allocate their money to put this road into proper repair so that the council would take it over and the Department would be satisfied it should be maintained for all time as a county road.

I am appealing to the Minister and his new Parliamentary Secretary to come to the aid of councils such as mine. If the Government are sincere in their interest for the West, they should allocate out of the Road Fund a special grant for counties such as Galway which have several miles of these roads yet to be done and not have an extra impost of 4d. in the £ on the ratepayers year after year—and it will be years before we can solve this problem.

Up to ten families are living on some of these roads. Out of those ten families you might have six or seven cars and two or three tractors paying tax to the county council. In addition to paying their rent and rates, they are paying tax on the cars and tractors. They are paying into the Road Fund but they get no benefit whatever from it until they go out on the main roads. These pothole-filled roads are used by the priest going out on sick calls or to the village station, by the doctor visiting the sick at all hours of day and night, and by the children going out to school. Sometimes their parents have to carry them out over the potholes and water. We have creameries starting in the West now. I know the milk lorries have refused to go into some of these roads. The people have to carry out the milk cans on wheel barrows for half a mile to the main roads.

We have some great roads in County Galway. If we bring up this matter at the county council, the county manager will say that the council are not responsible until these link roads and cul-de-sac roads are declared county roads. We cannot declare them county roads until they are put into proper repair. I drive over 100 miles to Dublin. I see millions of pounds being spent on the arterial roads. Why not take a little slice off that and spend it on these roads I am speaking of? There are 31 councillors in Galway County Council. If we got £1,000 grant for each councillor, in addition to what we get from the rates, for the next five years, this problem would be solved. I am appealing to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to do something on these lines. Let us go ahead with the work and take these people out of the misery and drudgery they have been in for years.

It is appropriate that this Estimate should be the first one to come before the new Dáil because it focuses attention on what is without doubt our most serious national problem—the problem of providing adequate housing for our people. There was some indication in the Minister's speech of new thinking with regard to housing. However, there was very little to indicate that we are now anywhere nearer a practicable solution to this problem. The situation has become so bad that nothing short of a crash programme can hope to alleviate the situation. Housing has come up for discussion on numerous occasions during the last Dáil. The Minister has been fully informed of the serious housing shortage, not alone in Dublin but in Cork, Limerick and other parts as well.

This situation should never have arisen. It is simply due to the fact that since 1957 there has been a substantial reduction in house building. In fact, I believe there was a deliberate cutting down by the Government. Statistics have been quoted during the course of the debate to prove this point. I am not going to bandy about any further statistics now. The figures for house output since 1957 are well known. The comparison between house building in the period from 1957 to the present and that of the inter-Party period from 1954 to 1957 is also well known. Suffice it to say that the situation has now become so serious that much more than the little bit of evidence of new thinking contained in the Minister's speech will be necessary. I look forward with some hope to the new Housing Bill to be presented in the near future.

I come from a constituency where, in the city of Limerick, we have the worst and most serious housing situation in Ireland. Therefore, it is only natural that I should refer again to the appalling conditions under which over 1,000 families there are compelled to live. A housing survey conducted a year and a half ago by Limerick Corporation indicated that about 1,350 families were in urgent need of rehousing. There were two financial years since 1957 during which not even one single house was built in Limerick city. One was, I think, 1959-60 and the other was 1961-62.

Over the past three and a half years I have seen some of the conditions under which these families are compelled to live. During the recent general election campaign I visited hundreds of those unfortunate people. I was horrified and shocked at what I saw. I saw three families crowded into a small two-bedroomed house. I saw a husband, wife and seven young children in a small single room where they live, eat and sleep. I saw families broken up, the wife going back to her parents, the husband to his, some of the children with the father, more of them with the mother. There are newly-married couples living in attics four floors up in single rooms for which they are paying exorbitant rents. It would be difficult to exaggerate the appalling conditions of well over 1,000 families in the city of Limerick. The reason for it is, simply and solely, that there has been a drastic decline in the number of houses built in Limerick since 1957.

A peculiar thing about the Limerick housing situation is this. There has been a lot of discussion, particularly by Limerick Corporation. Over the last year or so the tendency has been for the Corporation to blame the Department, while the Minister seems to blame the Corporation. I recall that about a year ago I tabled a question in the House to the Minister asking him if he was satisfied with the progress being made by Limerick Corporation towards solving the housing situation. The Minister said he was not satisfied.

On the other hand, we had the then Parliamentary Secretary, now Minister for Health, attacking Limerick Corporation a few months ago. He seemed to attribute to them most, if not all, of the blame for the housing situation in Limerick. We have had proposals going up and down from Limerick to the Department regarding various housing schemes for Limerick. That is the type of red tape with which we have to deal, and all the time these unfortunate people are waiting to be housed.

I made this suggestion to the Minister before: if Limerick Corporation are to blame for this situation, then I would ask the Minister, as the man who has the final responsibility for the housing of our people, to get tough and to see that Limerick Corporation do their job. On the other hand, if his Department are responsible, he should take action. We in Limerick are so confused now that we cannot say who, in fact, is responsible, but we are concerned with cutting out the red tape, and with action being taken to get houses built.

About two months ago the Minister was in Limerick and he put forward the suggestion that perhaps the best approach to solving the housing situation was by means of system building. Quite a lot of controversy followed that suggestion. The trade unions are afraid that the introduction of this scheme of building might seriously jeopardise the livelihood of the building workers. I have spoken about this matter, and I have given it serious thought. I do not think there is any need for introducing any revolutionary or experimental type of house building system. In fact, I have no doubt that if the departmental red tape, and a lot of the talk and discussions, were cut out, the traditional methods of the building industry could be geared to solve this atrocious housing situation.

As I have said, I sincerely hope the new Housing Bill which will be coming before the Dáil shortly will go a long way towards solving the situation. I sincerely hope that I will not have to go again into the details of the deplorable and desperate conditions in which so many families in Limerick are compelled to live.

It is not my intention to delay the House very long on this Estimate. Deputy Crotty referred to the reduction in the grants for county roads. As a representative of the Tipperary County Council, I know that we have far fewer county roads to maintain now, and we can do a better job because we have less mileage to maintain. I think some counties are to blame if they have bad roads. If you want to have roads and services, you must increase the rates, and no one likes to see that happening. About a week ago we had discussions in our county council and a county councillor, who is also a member of the urban council, said that the people in his town were blaming the county council for increasing the rates. I do not think that statement is correct, because we contribute to roads and services.

The previous speaker spoke about the shocking housing conditions in Limerick. I can say that in my own county we have three or four important towns, and we have built as many houses over the past two years as ever, and we are still building. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot have good services and keep down the rates. Farmers get grants and relief of rates, but we must take into account that the farmer must spend about £500 or £600 on seeds and manures in the spring and he has to wait for a long time before he gets his money back.

As regards sanction for the building of cottages, there are applicants in my own area who have been waiting for six or seven years. They are living in bad and unsuitable conditions. The council say to them: "Can you get a site?" I do not think that should be the case. I think it is the duty of the officials to go out and select a site. A man living beside a farmer does not want to get on bad terms with his neighbour, although farmers do not begrudge giving sites because they get good payment for them.

I also heard people talking about delays, not so much in regard to new house grants but reconstruction grants. Deputy Crotty referred to the fact that if there is a small defect, the man will not get the grant, but I think it would be better if some small reduction were made. Deputy Crotty also referred to small farmers getting reconstruction grants and trying to carry out the work themselves.

The Town Planning Act was also discussed and there was some criticism of it. In my own county houses were built a few years ago and when the question of road widening and development came up later they had to be demolished and new building erected. That should not happen.

I should also like to refer to the voters list. I should like to bring to the notice of the Minister the case of the father of a family who had a vote for years, but his name was off the register for the last election and the names of his two sons were on it. In another case the name of the wife was on the register and the name of the husband was off it. I do not think that should happen. This is something that needs tidying up and the rate collectors, or whoever are responsible for the job, should do their work. They are paid for it as far as I know. It may be thought they are not getting enough but they should at least do their job.

I shall not delay the House much longer except to mention the big increase in the rates arising out of the Health Act. If there is such an increase, it is not going to the people. I, as a member of a mental hospital committee in Clonmel, found this year that we had an increase of £23,000 for wages and salaries. At any rate that sum was settled and nobody objected to it. It was sanctioned because it had to be sanctioned.

I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government on his appointment because I think this is one Department where a Parliamentary Secretary was badly needed. Thousands of letters come in every day and they all have to go before the Minister. Therefore, if there was a need at all for a Parliamentary Secretary, it was in this Department.

(South Tipperary): I am, in general, disappointed with the Minister's speech. I cannot say I see anything in it portending any radical departure or breakthrough in the housing problem confronting us all over the country. We are all aware that under the First Programme for Economic Expansion and under the Second Programme for Economic Expansion it was accepted Government policy to slow down social investment, and that applied to housing. Down through the years, every local authority has experienced difficulty in getting housing schemes under way. First of all, there was a question of assessment of means. This was applied in the most rigid fashion. There is an indication in the Minister's speech—and we shall wait with interest to see how it works out—of a certain amount of relaxation and rethinking on that matter. One really had to be in the most appalling conditions before being put on a waiting list for houses. The list was drawn up and the people came to the local council office month after month and year after year until inevitably that list became out of date and a new one was prepared because some of the original applicants moved away. The answer on all occasions was that there could not be too much building in case there would be unoccupied houses. It must always be recognised that there will be houses unoccupied. That is a risk which will always obtain. But the big difficulty which confronted every local authority is the rigidity in the assessment of housing needs.

The second difficulty which confronted every local authority was that of red tape. A kind of shuttlecock operation came into being, once a project scheme was mentioned. Plans, letters and correspondence passed between the local authority and the Custom House. There some minor difficulty was found and the application was sent back from the Custom House and the whole thing had to be reinvestigated locally. Everybody became worn out and eventually nobody knew what was happening. Then the most active councillor got tired asking interminable questions about the scheme. All this was not accidental; it was a deliberate delaying tactic. The Minister and the Department did not say that they did not want houses built at the moment—that be bad political tactics—but there was another way of doing it, this red tape method of delaying the initiation of housing schemes.

The third difficulty is a question of grants. Not alone were grants inadequate but in many cases there was delay and frustration as regards the payment of these grants. Again, one could not help feeling that this was a deliberate policy to slow down social investment in housing.

Fourthly, there was a final technique adopted liberally by the present Minister. It was adopted by him in his speech yesterday: blame the local authority. There is one Minister who has achieved fame by his invariable reply to parliamentary questions: "I have no function in the matter." Our present Minister for Local Government has achieved fame by saying: "This is a function of the local authority." I would say of local authorities that, by and large, they are not to blame for the present housing dilemma in which we find ourselves. Nor do I believe for one moment that the blame lies on the shoulders of the officials in the Custom House. If they are positively told to do a thing, they will do it for any Minister.

The position in my particular constituency as regards housing is bad. In all our towns throughout the county there is an amount of bad and substandard housing. Anybody who drives through this State and who perhaps drives on a holiday through England will at once appreciate the tremendous difference between the nice English villages and the poor dilapidated villages in this country. I cannot say our villages have improved very much in the past 20 years. In one village in my constituency, Mullinahone, there has not been a house built since the foundation of the State. I went into one of the houses there during the election campaign. It was a house of two rooms in which 19 people lived, a father and mother and a family whose ages ranged from six months to 19 years. The eldest son was in the Army, serving in Cyprus, and he was due to return home the following day. Probably he was sent off from this country with a flourish of trumpets. We all thought he was a wonderful chap. Ministers were out being photographed with this Irish soldier going out to Cyprus to uphold international honour and to raise our country's prestige. When he returned, he had to go back to this miserable hovel of two rooms with 18 other people.

In the town of Tipperary on the road from Cahir to Tipperary—a road some of the Deputies may have occasion to pass along—a whole street of houses is unfit for human habitation. I could go on and on listing the appalling conditions in this fertile county in the lush plains of Tipperary. This is the position we have arrived at after 40 years of native Government. It is not good enough.

During the election campaign, probably from political rather than humanitarian reasons, there seemed to be a change of heart on the part of the Taoiseach when he mentioned it might be undesirable that social investment was not proceeding pari passu with economic development. There is a certain relaxation here by the Minister on the part of housing. That may be a reflection on the Taoiseach's speech but, in general, trying to read between the lines of the Minister's speech, there has been no fundamental change on the part of the Government. I believe what they term capital investment or productive investment plays a predominant part in their minds and their hearts. I agree that, perhaps, certain desirable emphasis must be placed on productive investment but we do not live by bank books alone. We are dealing with human affairs affecting the lives and welfare of our people. It is no great satisfaction to badly housed families to know that our financial index in the stock exchange went up so many points or to hear of a very nice banking report. These people are not concerned with that. They are concerned with living conditions.

There is no point in saying to the people that everything will be all right in 1970 or that we must live in the conditions we are now living in until that time when all will be well. I believe we have gone too far in cutting down on social investment. We should step up that investment as every other country is doing.

I now want to refer to the question of county roads and roads in general. We have the usual grievance in South Tipperary which every rural Deputy has, that there has been a curtailment in our county road grant. Our county road grant has been progressively reduced over the past few years on the basis that we have a high percentage of our county roads dust free. I do not begrudge the other counties who are so lucky. I know there are many counties, where the roads are not dust free, which have got a ten per cent increase, according to the Minister's statement. That is all right for them but the people in South Tipperary, who have expended their own money to make their county roads dust free, are now being penalised for having a good county council.

The second grievance I have as regards my own constituency, South Tipperary, is that we have never received a tourist road grant, however small. I put a question down to the Minister to be answered next week— I am sure I will get a negative reply— asking him to give South Tipperary a tourist road grant. I cannot claim South Tipperary is a tourist county in the same sense as County Kerry but we have our tourist amenities and I consider we are entitled to an appropriate grant on that basis.

We are in the initial stages of town planning. Preliminary plans are being prepared. My particular worry here is the question of financing some of these planning schemes, when they eventually come to fruition. Cashel town, where I live, has a very low valuation —the second lowest in the country. It is a very old town and it will be desirable to do a considerable amount of work there as regards renewal work. A penny gives an extra £22 in the rates. The preliminary plan shown to us by the town planners envisages an extraordinary expenditure. It amounts to knocking down the entire centre of the town. I would ask the Minister how that will be financed.

How will our very small urban council finance the very expensive scheme which this Town Planning Act will eventually produce? It is quite impossible for us in Cashel, where we cannot even finance a sewerage scheme, to implement the preliminary plans already shown to us by the town planner and which we already knew, before he produced them, would be inevitable. I would ask the Minister, specifically, if he knows how these plans will be financed by the poorer urban bodies. The major urban bodies can look after themselves but there are many poorer ones all over the country and the plans will be quite beyond their financial means. So far the Minister has remained completely silent on this question. I should like to hear how it is to be done, if he knows himself.

There is another point I wish to mention—this should have received attention before now—and that is the question of an annual report from our county managers. The expenditure in every county is increasing year by year. The services given by every local authority are extending. Surely it is not inappropriate that we should now ask that the Minister would direct our county managers to prepare an annual report, not alone for the public, but for the various Departments of State for their own convenience. It is quite a simple thing to do. It would be a relatively simple matter for the Minister's Department to formulate a standard form of report to which each county manager could subscribe and which would give in a concise form, year by year, the financial and administrative activities of each county. When you consider £1½ million to £2½ million of public money is being spent, surely it is not unreasonable to ask that an annual report should be formulated so that the public might see how their money is being spent?

The question of rates is mentioned perennially here. Everybody deplores rising rates. I deplore it also not so much, although that is a factor, because of the enormity of the figure as because it is, as a taxation system, inequitable. Rates, by their very nature as a taxation method, are not based upon income and in that regard they are basically inequitable. When rates are small, the injustice is small, but, as rates get bigger and bigger, that injustice becomes more flagrant, more intolerable and merits attention.

The time has now arrived when rating as a system of taxation to the increased amount that is demanded from the ratepaying public can no longer be regarded as a just system. I would suggest to the Minister that services of a predominantly national character should suitably be integrated and made a national charge. I would mention particularly health and roads. As regards health, I would mention particularly institutional services which would benefit, from a functional point of view, by a closer integration and which, by the very nature of things, would lend themselves more appropriately to be a national charge. As regards roads, I would mention particularly the arterial roads system. It may be possible to devise some method by which arterial roads would become a national charge and smaller roads and county roads would still remain a county council charge.

One small point in conclusion is the question of water supplies. We were the pioneers in South Tipperary of the question of regional water schemes. One of the first schemes in the country, the Galtee Regional Water Scheme, was proposed by me at the Tipperary South Riding County Council some years ago. Since then, we have inaugurated a number of very worthwhile water schemes. Deputies will appreciate that where any scheme is laid down there are demands immediately from the public all over for branch extensions. Sometimes these demands go outside the geographical limitations of the scheme drawn up by the officials. All Deputies who have regional schemes in their counties will have experienced that. Up to the present, in my constituency, a fairly reasonable attitude has been adopted by the officials. If they are pressed for a branch extension outside the boundaries of a particular scheme they do their best to meet the wishes of the local councils and of the people who come in deputations for that purpose. But, lately, there seems to be a tightening-up in this matter and they are inclined to adhere more rigidly to the boundaries laid down by the scheme. I can appreciate that with inadequacy of supply and interminable extensions, the efficiency of the scheme might be curtailed. Unfortunately, there is always a cleavage between the nice, tight, compact way the official mind works and the position of the unfortunate person who is pulled and dragged by the public to get a branch here and a branch there.

In Tipperary, I was personally interested in one small extension from a supply scheme and the county council agreed to this. However, the officials decided, at this stage, that they would have to put some limit to these extensions and they took legal opinion. We now find ourselves in the position, if this legal opinion is correct, that we have been rather constrained to adhere to a rigid boundary. It seems, on the face of it, that at times it can be very unfair. Suppose a water scheme passes by a bunch of houses perhaps 100 yards away and the people are anxiously looking for a branch extension. They would be happy to take it even for limited periods. The alternative is to wait perhaps 10 years for another regional scheme to supply them. They would get it in 10 years even for limited periods. The alternative is to wait perhaps 10 years for but in the meantime, the unfortunate local representative has to live 10 years of torment from the people looking for that extension. I would ask the Minister to give sympathetic consideration to the position of local representatives who have to try to bridge the gap between the rigidity of officialdom and the demands of the public.

I should like to say a few words about the housing situation and the plans which the Minister has proposed. As a new Deputy, I was inundated with requests from the people in Dublin for houses. In one week, I have had 237 requests. These are from people in the constituency of Dublin South-West. It is typical of what occurs throughout the city. Most of these families are living in small rooms, by the good grace of relatives. The situation is deplorable in Dublin city and it is no use explaining to such people that the situation will be resolved in 1970.

The point is that we have overcrowding. Families of four are living in one room. I remember one case I visited as a doctor where I had to squeeze my way in between a cot and a bed and a woman was trying to wash nappies. There was sickness in the house, infectious jaundice and upper respiratory infections. There is no use in telling such a woman that the plans proposed by the Minister will solve her difficulties in 1970. She wants something constructive done now. The plans in the Minister's paper do not indicate any effort at solving the problem radically and soon.

There are literally thousands of cases where husbands and wives are living apart. I have seen them, as a doctor, and, just lately, I have seen them as a Deputy. As a doctor, I must visit the house where the mother is and then report on the health of the children to the father who may be living on the other side of the city. That is not good enough for a Christian country. Couples planning marriage are deterred from entering matrimony because there are no prospects offered to them by Dublin Corporation. Many of them have managed to save up the deposit only to see that the price of the house has gone up and consequently that the amount of the deposit has gone up and they must start again to try to save up enough to achieve the new deposit figure. At the rate the prices of houses are going up, they can never hope to achieve the deposit.

I do not agree with the Minister that the building societies are doing a very good job. They are charging colossal interest. The interest is not as they say. There are extra charges— charges in respect of insurances on the houses, pass book charges—which all mount up. They mount up so that the ordinary working man can never hope to avail of the building society because the repayments would take away almost half of his wages. The societies are not catering for the working man and the working man is the major person in this country.

The question of the health of the people enters into this. In many places the people's health is gravely imperilled. There is danger of chronic bronchitis, recurrent bronchitis among children, infectious jaundice, upper respiratory infection, resulting from large families living in one room. The Minister has not offered any proper proposals for dealing with this. His proposals would not bring help to those people by 1970. They should be helped now, within the next year, by proper proposals. The Minister's proposals are not specific. They are too vague, but the situation is critical. The measures which are needed should be critical measures

Fianna Fáil Deputies by their speeches have inferred that conditions regarding housing in Dublin are good. I honestly believe their speeches have been prepared for them, by the Minister, I think, because I know the particular Fianna Fáil Deputies are themselves trying to deal with the numerous cases that come before them and that they are not able to do so. In all honesty they could not say the situation in Dublin is good. They themselves know it is bad because they are trying to provide houses for the people.

The moral aspect must also be taken into consideration. In thousands of houses in Dublin you have men and women living in one room, men and women who are not of the one family, compelled to live in one room due to circumstances in regard to Dublin Corporation housing. This is one of the most important aspects we have to face up to if we are to achieve anything with regard to housing in Dublin.

(Cavan): The Department of Local Government is one whose policy and activity, or inactivity, affects in a very intimate way the lives and the enjoyment of life of practically every citizen in the State. It is therefore very important that the thinking of the Department and the skills of the Department should move with the times, that they should in fact keep right up to date. I feel that in many respects the thinking of the Department of Local Government and indeed their policy in several matters lag very far behind.

The Minister and his Department are responsible for local taxation. The rates at the present time have reached a stage and a figure when they are a terrible burden on the occupiers of property throughout the country. In 1898 it might have been all very well to raise the necessary finance to run local services by a levy of rates on occupiers of property because then, by and large, it was only people who owned property who boasted wealth. Times have changed and changed considerably and I think the system of local taxation is in bad need of revision immediately.

The fact that certain things such as health and main roads are still the liability of the local authorities makes it utterly impossible for local authorities to finance properly such things as housing, by-roads and lanes which could be properly described as being within their sphere of activity. Therefore, I would appeal to the Minister as a matter of urgency to use his influence to have the present system of local taxation changed. In particular, this affects householders and shopkeepers in small urban areas where at the present time a man with a valuation of £20 may be called on to pay £60 to £80 a year in rates without any relief whatever.

The Minister and his Department are also responsible for housing. I think the record of the Minister and his Department during a number of years past in this respect is far from satisfactory. Dublin Deputies have dealt very adequately with the position in Dublin City and I do not propose to labour that argument or to repeat it. Throughout the country the housing problem is far from solved. In every town in Ireland there are people badly housed, inadequately housed or not housed at all.

In the urban district in which I live 80 houses were built or completed by the local authority between 1948 and 1952. Since 1952 there has not been a solitary house built by the local authority in that urban area, notwithstanding the fact that there is an urgent need for houses. The Minister may say that is a matter for the local authority. I do not agree with that. There is not sufficient co-operation from the Minister and his Department. The Minister and his Department do not say specifically: "You are not to build any more houses", but they in fact attain that situation there by saying sites are unsatisfactory, by returning the plans for modification and alteration, by saying tenders are too high, by asking the local authority to readvertise.

Surely it should be apparent that if tenders are high this year they will be higher next year. Therefore, I would appeal to the Minister, again as a matter of urgency, to cut out this red tape and allow the local authorities to get on with whatever building they want to do. If it was not for the amount of private building which has gone on over recent years I hate to think what the housing situation would really be like. However, I am afraid that private building has reached its peak and if something is not done about it it will soon come to a halt. There are not sufficient incentives being given to individuals to build their own houses, particularly to individuals in receipt of modest incomes. I am speaking of the middle income group, the white collar workers and such types of people.

The grant for a new house payable at present to that type of person is £300 and it has been £300 for several years, notwithstanding that in the meantime the cost of building has increased, I would say by 100 per cent, and the purchase price of houses has certainly gone up by about 100 per cent also. A grant that remains at what it was several years ago is not an encouragement to build your own house now. There can be no doubt that we are in the middle of a credit squeeze as far as finance for house building by private individuals is concerned. We were told yesterday by the Minister for Local Government in reply to a question that it was normal practice for building societies to ease off for a few months now and again. I am afraid that I cannot accept that it is normal practice, or that it has been normal practice for building societies to suspend operations for six months in any year. I never heard of it until this year. The fact that the managing director of one of the largest building societies has appeared on television within the last few months to announce that his society is not prepared to entertain any further loans for several months is adequate evidence that it is something new.

Telefís Éireann regarded it as news; if it was an annual happening, nothing would be heard about it—it would pass unnoticed. The fact of the matter is that it is unique and the fact of the matter is that this same gentleman said on television that what was required was more encouragement for people to invest their money with his society so that they could lend it. I think those were his own words. He referred to the necessity for less taxation so that people could invest more. On the last occasion this gentleman appeared on television the Minister for Local Government, the very same day, announced that there was no curtailing or cutting down in lending by building societies. But that same day this gentleman announced that his society, which as far as I know is one of the largest in the country, was suspending operations. If something is not done about this it will affect building contractors adversely, create unemployment and affect young people who have planned to get married and are waiting to have houses built. This is something on which the Minister must act and act quickly.

In my opinion, the next most important item after housing in rural Ireland is access to houses. I wholeheartedly agree with Deputy Kitt and with the other Deputies who appealed for some action to improve byroads and laneways. Government Ministers tell us from time to time that the flight from the land is not peculiar to this country but that it is taking place all over the world. I think it is being greatly accelerated in this country by the fact that young people, and, indeed, people who are not so young, are not prepared to continue travelling over lanes which are full of potholes, water and mud for a distance of, perhaps, a mile. That is not an exaggeration. Within the past twelve months most Deputies have had an opportunity of inspecting lanes in various constituencies from East Galway to Cork. It cannot be denied that they are in a deplorable condition. Nothing has been or is being done about them.

When you raise this point, you will be told two things. You will be told that these—I am speaking now about lanes—can be repaired by a rural improvement grant. I know that a rural improvement grant is not the responsibility of the Minister for Local Government, but the difficulty about such a grant is that there may be several people living in this lane and three may be prepared to make the necessary local contribution but the other four for some reason or other, they may be on bad terms with their neighbours, are not prepared to do anything. Therefore, the grant as at present operated provides no answer to the problem. When a rural improvement grant is sanctioned for the improvement of a lane, subject to a local contribution, the local contribution should be raised by the local authority by levying a rate on all the people living in that lane. That would not be unreasonable and it would get over this dog in the manager attitude of people who will not act.

Again, when you complain about the conditions of these lanes you will be told it is a matter for the local authority, that the local authority can raise money to repair these lanes, but the difficulty is that the local authority is struggling under an impossible burden at present because it must find money for health charges over which it has no control and because it must apply the major portion of the road grants to the main roads. When it comes to striking an annual rate the only items on which the county councillors can effect a saving are on by roads and lanes or things like house repairs. That demonstrates the urgent necessity for a change in this system. It cannot be denied that these lanes are impassable and I can find no language which is too strong, and no adjectives which are adequate, to describe the conditions under which these people have to travel. I would appeal to the Minister to take up this matter with the local authorities and to co-operate with them in having these lanes repaired.

Finally, on this point, when these lanes are repaired in 1965, they should be tarred and not merely steamrolled so that in a couple of years they will be cut up and useless. It is really a waste of money in 1965 if, when the roads are attended to at all, they are not tarred so as to make a lasting job.

I want to refer generally to the Town Planning Act, which is also the Minister's responsibility. Everybody agrees that planning is necessary in this age but I urge the Minister to see that local authorities and county managers operate this Act in a reasonable way and do not use it to harass owners of property who want to erect or improve buildings. There is a danger that that will happen and I fear in some places it is happening. Perhaps, it is that the officials have newly received these powers, but if a circular has not already gone out it should go out immediately to say this Act should be operated in a sensible and moderate way.

The Minister is responsible for the important business of conducting elections, local, general and presidential. For the first time, I think, at the last general election polling booths were provided in mental hospitals and patients were registered as in the mental hospitals. That is unfortunate because it is not good enough that these unfortunate people should be subject, on polling day and before it, to pressure from any side to vote for any side. These people are mentally ill; if not, they would not be confined in mental hospitals. They are not allowed to transact their own legal business except under the strictest supervision, practically under doctors' certificates. Yet we know that at the last general election these people were pressurised into going to vote for certain candidates. That is not good enough. With transport as we have it today, these people should still be registered as at their home addresses. If they are able to go to vote and want to do so, they should return to their home booths to exercise the franchise.

I am told that under the present system the stage is reached where in some towns the inhabitants of the local mental hospitals will be able to elect a considerable number of the members of the local authority. If that is so, it speaks for itself. A Deputy on the opposite side dealt with the fact that people who have been on the register for years suddenly found they were cut off. We all had experience of that in the recent election, of cases of people in middle age who had not changed their residence and had been on the register for several years finding that this year they had been dropped off. I do not know whether that is the fault of the rate collectors or the office staff but it is obviously something that should not happen, something that causes irritation both to politicians and electors.

Mr. O'Leary

The difference between what is the reality of the housing situation and what officially we would like to think is indicated in the actual figures given in the material supplied by the Minister where he said that for last year the actual number of houses built was in the region of fewer than 2,500. Yet, we are told in the White Paper that we will need over the next few years, if we are to make any progress towards solving the problem, between 12,000 and 14,000 new dwellings per year. That indicates the difference between the actual building position and what the official reports would have us believe. There is an idea current and apparently in the main among those who support the Government—it is also becoming more or less the practice throughout the country—that if you write enough reports and make sufficient surveys about any problem that problem will, in the course of events, disappear and no longer trouble our conscience. We have had a White Paper on housing; this brief from the Minister is a notice of good intentions but the housing problem is still with us and very much so.

The material we have from the Minister is well intentioned, I think, but it is very vague, as we have pointed out from these benches. I know all the obvious nails have been driven home in this debate over the past few days but I think the problem is severe enough to continue to trouble our conscience and upset our composure so that we must continue to try to get beneath the thick skin which appears to cover the official mind on this matter. The Minister's report appears more or less to approach the overall housing situation in the country in the light that it is good: the building societies are doing a fine job; building costs have gone up unfortunately, due to an unfortunate labour dispute last year in which obviously the culprits were the trade unionists.

If the Minister or the people responsible for drawing up this report were to read the speech made by the Director General of the Allied Contractors of Ireland last week, they would find he admitted that the contractors could have paid the cost of the building dispute, could have met the just demands of the workers, but that their idea of the National Wage Agreement precluded them from doing so. In other words, he tells us they could have met any extra cost involved and it would not have put them out of business; they were well equipped to meet it but, unfortunately, they believed that in meeting this demand they would be harming the National Wage Agreement. That was their conception of the agreement but at least it does get rid of the bogey that the increases in building costs are the result of the workers' demands.

The Minister, in this brief, refers to the traditional methods of building and stresses the new building methods, the new industrial sites idea. In fact, this will never solve the building problem unless the Minister and all his enthusiastic planners who are ready to plan anything predictable, realise that the real problem as regards housing in Dublin or in any other large centre in the country is inflated land values. If the law of supply and demand is allowed to operate in the case of land purchases in the city of Dublin or any other city, we can say goodbye to a solution of the housing problem in those areas. We can produce White Papers year after year; we can have surveys year after year; we can have specialists from the United Nations to tell us what to do; but, unless we have the courage and good sense to realise what is the main factor contributing to the housing problem, there will be no solution. If we do not compulsorily acquire land, if we do not make sure that the law of supply and demand will not operate to increase prices of land, housing costs will soar and we will not be able to solve the problem.

Dublin Corporation have been lucky in years past in that they have been able to buy land and to reserve it in advance of need. On the periphery of the city at the moment there are farsighted people buying up land right, left and centre. They will be able to sell this land at an enhanced price to the Corporation when they require this land in the future. They will be able to buy land at the expense of ordinary people who need houses. Unless land for the provision of houses is removed from the ordinary laws of the market place we will not solve the problem in the main city areas. We can play around with landscaping and these ideas but unless we can get down to the main factor contributing to the cost of building in Dublin and other centres the problem will not be solved.

It has been stated that the density of population in the centre of Dublin is higher than in cities in Europe. If these European cities are to be taken as a guide line, they have allowed speculators to take over the centres of the cities. The trend is already commencing in Dublin where there are office blocks in the centre of the city which are empty at week-ends. Our idea in the Labour Party of the planning of a city is that it should be a mixture of residential, factory and industrial places, that a city should not become as silent as a morgue at week-ends, that a city is for the convenience or all the public. This is our attitude to city planning.

In his brief, the Minister says that if we are to provide the cash for future expansion in housing we will have to have a rational rents policy. Again, we are going to have a rational rents policy for people already burdened under heavy rents. At present so keen is our sense of what people should pay in matters of rent that there is a differential rents system in operation in Dublin under which old age pensioners are asked to contribute. Yet, during the election campaign we heard that all these people are due for early attention in the Government's social programme. Members of all Parties know that the social welfare payments available to these people are extremely low. None of us need make political capital out of that situation.

The fact is that these people, under the differential rents system, must, in fact, pay towards their rent. Yet these people and the others—the 20,000 people in Dublin—are the very people to be told that the financing of housing in future depends on them. The people in the background, building speculators, speculators in land, are vindicated by the Minister and we are told that building societies and all the other elements involved in house purchasing are doing a very good job.

It is of a kind with the rest of Fianna Fáil economic planning, which is sounder in advertising than in content. It is of a kind with the rest of the programme which says that what is of its nature good and must forever remain so. The kernel of Fianna Fáil planning in local government and other spheres is: "We predict what is predictable. We do not try to change." Our attitude in the Labour Party is that we look at the priorities and plan on that basis.

Since June, 1963, 1,000 buildings in Dublin have been demolished. In his brief, the Minister refers to a survey which he started in 1960. I wonder to what extent the White Paper and the rest of the official concern about the situation in Dublin and elsewhere are due to the Fenian Street tragedy and the fact that houses fell in Dublin during rainstorms and so on. Before that occurred, Government Ministers had gone on record as saying that the housing problem of this country had been solved. Now we know that it has not been solved and there is a flurry of White Papers and reports stating what will happen in future.

If, last year, the total number of houses built in the entire country was less than 2,500 and if we are now to provide the number indicated in the White Paper, that is, 12,000 to 14,000 new houses per year, I do not see how the problem will be solved. Tinkering with traditional methods and adopting streamlined methods will not make that much difference unless costs can be reduced. I have indicated a way in which costs can be reduced. The question of land values cannot be avoided.

There is no control at the moment in Dublin or other cities of rents charged by private landlords. These are subject to no control. We in the Labour benches have made reference in the last few days to the question of exorbitant rents. In my constituency, Dublin North Central, I have come across a young married couple living with a young family in one room, paying £3 10s. per week. They have no relatives anywhere. One wonders if the Minister or other planners involved could do something about bringing in some form of control on the actual payment of rents. On Tuesday of this week I was present at an eviction in my constituency in Mountjoy Square. I know that that eviction took place because the building was condemned but you cannot tell the people involved in an eviction that the building has been condemned and that an all-wise official in Dublin Corporation has investigated the needs of the persons and has declared that they are now ready to take the road to Finglas or some other point west or north.

The fact is these people grow attached to their neighbourhoods. We must avoid the temptation to consider them as mere ciphers in a book to be transferred wherever the Dublin Corporation official thinks they should go. I know that these officials are over-worked. Use will have to be made of the social welfare committee. There is one attached to Dublin Corporation and more attention should be paid to their advice when people are being transferred from one house to another. I hope there will be some provision to that effect in the new housing legislation.

We all know the history of eviction in this country. It is a difficult thing to tell people that they are being evicted for humanitarian reasons. In the case I have in mind, there was one couple, a man of 38 years of age and a woman of 35 years of age. No accommodation was provided for these. Neither of them had a relative with whom they could live. We cannot have evictions going on unless suitable alternative accommodation is provided. It is no excuse for failure to provide suitable alternative accommodation to say that the persons concerned refused a house which was unsuitable to the man, perhaps, because it was too far from his job or for some other reason. We can all appreciate the inconvenience it must be to be removed from one's house to another house a couple of miles away. This matter must be considered more fully. Regard must be had to the problems of the individual. Alternatives must be provided.

There are many priorities in the social programme which Fianna Fáil now tell us they will take up. There is to be a social as well as an economic programme in connection with the Second Programme for Economic Expansion. I would suggest to the Minister that he has the most important job of all in trying to ensure that in any social programme priority is given to the matter of housing, that there can be no talk of industrial progress unless people have decent living accommodation.

Unless we rescue housing from being a source of profit to some people, unless we make it an essential matter that suitable housing be provided for all citizens, unless we make this the first priority in the Eighteenth Dáil, I cannot see how the Minister or any other member of the Government can go with any integrity to the electorate in the next election and say they have advanced with a social programme. Housing is the most important matter before us and if the Government are serious about their intentions in the social field then I would say this is the point they should attack first.

There has been a great deal of talk from many Deputies about housing and the first thing I should do is to put it into proper perspective. The initiative and responsibility in respect of local authority housing, by its very name, rests with the local authority. As far as the Minister for Local Government is concerned his main duty in regard to housing is to provide the facilities to the local authorities and help the local authorities in every way to reach their goal in relation to their needs.

I shall not go back on the history of housing for the past ten years but just go back a little way to the point where as Minister I have had to depart radically from what has been the normal role of the Minister for Local Government in relation to local authority housing. Since 1960 I have endeavoured to get from the local authorities an assessment of their requirements. In the majority of cases we have got returns but the greater part of these returns are merely pilot surveys and are not full surveys in any sense. Despite the fact that each local authority is obliged by law to provide such a survey, down through the years it has failed to do it. I have spent these years persuading and cajoling the local authorities to provide even an outline of what they want. While it has not been provided to the degree of being fully reliable in all cases, we have, for the first time in the history of this House, got a general outline of the national requirements for housing.

The reason for this assessment and survey is to enable the local authorities not only to know what they need but to plan how they will provide these houses over a short period as well as on a long-term basis. Deputies who are members of local authorities and who have been complaining here about how the Minister is holding up housing ought to go back to their local authority and find out how many times they have been asked what they want, never mind how they are to provide it. The building industry, workers, contractors and all others involved, should have a projection into the future, even to three or five years, as to the demands that are likely to be made upon their industry so that they in turn can gear themselves for the work that lies ahead.

I want to put it on record lest it might be overlooked, as it apparently has been by those who have been criticising here, that no Minister in this or any other Government over the past 40 years has gone into the local authority field of house building as I have done in order to have houses built, because I believed they were so badly needed. I have now been responsible for a project in Dublin City which will add considerably to the efforts being made by the Dublin Corporation and which will help to liquidate at a much earlier date the requirements of the citizens here. I have also over recent years offered to all local authorities my best efforts on their behalf, down to the point of offering to build houses for them either through the National Building Agency or some other agency, if I felt they were not capable of doing it themselves. That offer is being repeated here publicly today. Deputy T. O'Donnell is on the same note as many others in the Opposition benches. They tell us that the housing situation is deplorable and in the next breath that no radical changes in our approach to building are required in Limerick, that it would put the employees out of work. Then the Minister for Local Government is blamed because the Limerick Corporation have not planned far enough in advance or positively enough to meet the people's needs. Like many others in the country, they want to blame somebody else and I will not accept it. I have given them every possible encouragement and what more any Minister for Local Government can do I do not know.

I want to kill straight away this talk that has been reiterated parrot-like by several Fine Gael speakers that Fianna Fáil set out to depress building, to depress social spending, and that this was outlined in the First Programme for Economic Expansion seven years ago. That is not so. The figures of the availability of money under Fianna Fáil are there on record to be seen. The pronouncements are there to be read and nobody can deny that money has been available to all local authorities for their house building programme at all times during those years and that encouragement has been given to them on many occasions to get on more quickly with the job which we saw growing upon them but which they themselves did not seem to appreciate.

The people on the Labour benches want to have it not both ways but three ways. They want to have cheaper houses, more houses and more quickly. They want the people who are in houses and have large incomes to be subsidised by those who have smaller incomes either as taxpayers or ratepayers and, at the same time, to leave unhoused, as they left unhoused in this and every other city, quite a number of people who for many years were in hovels that could not be described as homes. We were told that these people were offered houses and they would not change, but when the matter is pursued further, we discover that they did not take the houses because they could not afford to pay the rent.

I want to say this about the rationalisation of rents. The rents they are paying bear no relationship to the value of the houses they occupy. These houses should carry a higher rent to enable the Dublin Corporation and other local authorities to provide homes at rents suited to their incomes for those still unhoused and those living in unfit dwellings or in overcrowded conditions. Where necessary, houses should be provided for people at no rent at all. If there is anything wrong with this from the point of view of Labour, or anybody else, I shall be delighted to hear it.

It is a fact that our local authorities have been neglecting those who are in the worse possible conditions from the point of view of housing. They are neglected on the basis that the local authorities cannot afford further to subsidise the rents from the rates and they are apparently not prepared to take the unpopular step of charging those who are well able to pay more a proper economic rent for what they have so that those who have not got houses at rents they can afford, or at no rent at all, if that be necessary, can be accommodated. There are too many of these in the country and too many will remain until we reach the point at which local authorities will be prepared to do the unpopular as well as the popular thing.

There is no point in Labour Deputies, or any other public representatives, saying that rents must not be disturbed and that they must not be increased. At the moment houses are rented at ridiculously low figures to families with ridiculously high incomes. If local authorities are not prepared to increase rents, then they will have to add sufficient to the rates to carry those who cannot afford to pay even the minimum rent at the moment. I do not mind which choice local authorities make, but they will have to make a choice, if we are to bring the housing programme to a final conclusion by housing those who have had to refuse houses in the past because they could not afford to pay even the minimum rents.

This is what I want to bring home in relation to a rational rents programme. It is not for the benefit of the Government. It is not for the benefit of local authority finance that I wish to see a rational rents system. It is because over the years this residue of the poorest of the poor in the worst of our worst houses still remains. If we are not prepared to face up to solving the problem by increasing rates, then we must face up to it in the only sensible way that I can see, namely, by inducing those who do not now pay really economic rents for the accommodation they enjoy to pay some more, making it clear that nobody will be asked to pay more than what could be regarded as the economic rent of these houses. If there are people who are already paying the full economic rent, then I suggest—this probably has occurred to these tenants themselves—that they should be encouraged to acquire their own homes and leave these houses for those who are less well off.

So long as we continue to encourage the payment of ridiculously low rents, subsidised by both ratepayers and taxpayers, by people who are better off than the average ratepayer and taxpayer, so long will we have people occupying local authority houses who could well afford to provide houses for themselves. That is the point I want local authorities to consider. That is why I advocate a change, and not just for the sake of raising rents. If local authorities are prepared to add the burden to the rates, then let them do so. They have in the past shown that they are not prepared to do that. If by increasing rents they can avoid a further increase in rates, then surely that would be much fairer, more just and more equitable than leaving the poorest of the poor in the very worst of our houses. It is no excuse to say that these people were offered houses but would not take them.

I should like to clear the air now in relation to the programme. Deputy Jones, because of miscalculation on his part, stated that we would need 67,000 houses per year in order to implement the building programme and take up the obsolescence that will occur annually. That figure should, of course, read 6,700. That figure plus the calculated 1,500 additional new homes, together with the liquidation of the backlog, which from the returns furnished by local authorities, brings the figure to 12,000 or 14,000 houses as the target within the next four or five years. The Deputy, who miscalculated the figure, said that there was little hope of reaching 14,000 or 15,000 houses in three, four or five years. That does not take account, however, of the number of private houses. The total figure for completions during the past year is 8,850 houses all told between private building and local authority building. By far the greater part is made up of private building. Since we anticipate the programme of 14,000 to work out roughly about half local authority and half private building, one can readily see that private building is not far from the point we hope to reach under the projected plan. The number of houses built by local authorities will have to be raised, of course, two or three times if we are to reach the figure of approximately 14,000.

We need these houses urgently. so far as I and my Department are concerned, we are ready, willing and waiting for proposals from the local authorities to get on with the job. I am not the person who said at any stage, or can be found on record as having stated, that the housing problem was solved. Not only have I not said that but I have said, and I am on record as saying, that the problem of providing houses will never be solved while the economy of the country continues viable. So long as there is viability, the housing problem will not be solved. It will not be possible to reach saturation point because obsolescence will mean that at least 6,700 houses will be needed every year, if only to keep numbers at the proper level. We hope to have an increased need for houses as a result of increasing prosperity, as a result of earlier marriages, the earlier formation of families and the increase in the population. This will add anything from 1,000 to 2,000 houses to that figure of 6,700.

Our programme, therefore, will be a minimum of 10,000 houses, even if we wipe out the entire backlog in the morning. I am putting that figure as the minimum we will be called upon to provide in the foreseeable future, even if the entire backlog were wiped out. We will never solve the housing problem completely unless our economy reaches the point of stagnation it approached in 1956-57. It would be true to say we had our housing problem solved then, but with what results? We are planning for the future to ensure this never happens again.

The Ballymun project has been talked of, critically and otherwise. This is not alone a question of providing 3,000 dwellings; it is also a question of providing all the ancillary services necessary for a community of that kind. We were not deputed by Dublin Corporation to do all this. That was neither the fault of the Corporation nor of the Department. We put the stress on what was most necessary, the dwellings. However, the shopping centre, schools and other facilities have not been neglected. In fact, we hope the agency now doing the houses and flats will also provide these other facilities, within the same period or shortly after the completion of the dwellings. The Corporation wishes us to pursue this and already a great deal of the preparatory work has been done. We are looking forward to being commissioned by the Corporation to provide not only the 3,000 dwellings but all the other amenties for those who live there.

This is not long-term planning. The idea has been flaunted around that what is said in an Estimate speech is just a lot of pious resolutions and wishful thinking. How much more positive does the House want the Minister to be? Less than 12 months from the commissioning of this work on 3rd July last we have moved into the site and the factory for the production of the components is under way. In the past the Minister never had to consider going out and doing work for a local authority, but we are doing that today. That is not wishful thinking. We are on the job.

This project is going to cost around £9 million for the dwellings, plus the ancillary services. The first house will be occupied this year. I only wish the performance of those who talk here could match that. If it did, we could look forward to the solution of our problem in the next couple of years. If those people had acted three or four years ago when urged to get on with the work, there would not be any back-log today. Vagueness has never been the hallmark of my Department and will not be in the future.

I have offered Limerick, Cork and the other towns generally every facility available to me. I have gone so far as to suggest that, if the combined needs of any of these local authorities exceed 2,000 dwellings as urgently required, which cannot be met by conventional means, I would be prepared to come in and, by agreement with the trade unions and building organisations, find a speedy solution to the problem, if necessary through system building. I have discussed this in detail with Limerick Corporation. There are few people interested who are not fully aware of what I have offered to do. They have only to pass a special resolution requesting me to act. I have not the power to initiate these things, but I have taken every opportunity to encourage local authorities to ask me to do the job for them. That offer is being repeated today. I shall be only too happy to take on further work on their behalf if they pass a resolution requesting me to do so.

There will be a provision in the new Housing Bill whereby the Minister for Local Government need not wait for a request from a local authority to do work. If the Minister considers a local authority are not doing their job, either in respect of house building or otherwise, he will be empowered to go in and do it for them, with or without a resolution of the council. I do not believe this power may ever be necessary, but it is necessary it should be there in order that its need should never arise.

I should like to nail the assertion that group water schemes are not a success. I do not believe this. While I have no doubt that Deputy Jones who made the assertion was talking in all good faith, I do not agree that they have not been a success. I admit that, as in the case of any worthwhile project, mistakes have been made at the start which only experience can teach us to avoid. I believe that any mistakes made in regard to the inadequacy of supply are now being avoided. Apart from a few such cases at the beginning, little or no trouble is now arising. Indeed, generally the first cases that came to our notice have been rectified and proper sources of supply or supplementary sources obtained. We are as enthusiastic about these schemes today as we were five years ago, and we wish them to continue. There is scope for much more activity under this heading than has been in evidence. We in the Department are looking at our own organisation to see if we can give further impetus to these group schemes throughout the country. In many cases they are the ready answer to the problem of lack of water which obtains in far too many places throughout the country. They are the obvious answer for an early easement of that situation.

In regard to the isolated houses that cannot be served by a public scheme or a group scheme, then the private scheme also falls into line. So we have a pattern of the background and the blueprint and the overall public schemes being constructed at the moment, or projected for the future. It is then that we would hope to infill it to a much greater degree to the more remote communities, and to make it possible for them to bring this service to their homes without any undue cost to the taxpayer or the ratepayer, and without any undue cost to the householders themselves. In addition, there will be the odd houses—probably running into thousands—which neither the group schemes nor the public scheme can serve at anything like a reasonable cost. In those cases the help of my Department is freely available by way of grant, guidance, assistance and encouragement.

The service of a piped-water supply, particularly in the remoter areas, in the rural areas and on the farmsteads is something which people are really only beginning to appreciate. As they do so, this growing demand will continue to arise for assistance by way of grant and a clamour to public authorities to give extensions to particular areas. I do not disagree with the statement that there may be some faults and some flaws still in the whole system of the group schemes. I should like to say to Deputy Jones and others that if they find such flaws I should be glad to have any suggestions from them to remedy those flaws and if we think what they suggest is an improvement we will be happy to implement it.

There is no doubt whatsoever that activities on the private housing side are running at a very high level. In fact, our allocation grants in the 12 months up to 31st March last have reached an all-time record. There were 7,800 odd allocations, and this continued to show an upward trend. There was a record last year and this year, and I would say that the allocations in the present year will probably constitute a further record. In so far as private house building is concerned, there is no doubt that while we would like to see more, it is running at a comparatively high rate, at a rate never before experienced on the private building side. Naturally, we are all glad to see that, and to encourage it, in any way possible.

In addition there is the new grant scale for land holders and small farmers. It may well be that there will be further building under this head because we must remember that a great deal of bad housing in rural Ireland is, in fact, on our farms and small holdings throughout the country. Therefore, we can expect to see quite an upsurge on this side over and above that which has made itself evident during the past 12 months. There has been some criticism of the fact that the £5 limit for the local authority special small farm house subsidy scheme does not apply to all of the country. In fact, it does not apply in many counties. Let me say that it does apply to a very considerable degree in the western counties where there exists today probably a higher percentage of bad housing in the farming category than in the country as a whole. They have more than their proportion of these bad houses on small holdings of under £5 land valuation and the scheme is directed to those whose need is greatest, without adding an undue burden to the local rates. It works out at the equivalent in loan charges of £100 in respect of each house.

May I ask the Minister a question? In regard to the western seaboard I can understand that the Gaeltacht services apply, but there are quite a share of counties in which the valuation of under £5 would not apply. Would the Minister consider raising the limit to £7 10s. in the new Housing Bill? Even that would be very small.

This is a very special scheme for a class who are very badly housed at the moment, and it applies mainly to the counties on the western seaboard. To add to it the normal housing arrangements would be too much. For some reason it is obvious that there is some flaw in it because they have not done the building. There is no question but that they have not been tackling this problem. For the other counties there still remains the existing subsidy arrangements.

We have also in operation what we call the specific instance housing scheme where a local authority build on a specific site on a small farmer's own land. My own county is one of the western counties and our valuations are generally very low. The actual valuation limit adopted by my county some years ago is £15. They apply the specific instance procedure to farmers needing houses with a valuation of up to £15. That accounts for over 90 per cent of all the farmers in my county.

If other counties want to approach it in the same light and with due regard to the general average level of valuations, there is nothing to prevent them doing so, because the scheme adopted by my county council or any county council is up to themselves. While they submit their scheme to us we do not lay down any hard or fast rules, or stop them from going to £20 or, in some cases, as high as £25 land valuation. This is a special scheme which we are trying to aim at those with the worst housing conditions and, at the same time, not add too heavy a burden to the local authority. I think the House will agree that if £100 per house were the equivalent in land charges we could not charge the local authority any less. Otherwise it could be said we were giving the houses entirely, and there would not be a great deal of sense in that since the house will be the property of the local authority until they have made arrangements for the smallholder to purchase it, as he is entitled to do immediately after the house has been provided.

Many electoral matters were raised. I suppose if there had not been an election so many would not have been raised. All I can say, talking about the accuracy of the register, is that there are various people who enter into this in the country parts, the rate collector and the local gardaí. I would say, from quite a number of years' experience, that our gardaí and rate collectors in my constituency do their job as well as anybody else. If it were not for the demands of the various political Parties in claiming, submitting and objecting, the register would be much worse than it is today. That is no reflection on those instructed to compile it.

Anyone who has had experience of checking the register annually, as many do, cannot but realise that there is no one person, even in a small community, who can be sure by checking a register, or a long list, as we call it, even though he knows everybody personally and intimately, that somebody has been left off who should be on, or somebody included who should not be included. This is a human factor in the compilation of the register in the rural parts and the more it is checked the more accurate it will be. The rate collector and the gardaí do their job as well as is possible for them, and political Parties who have undoubtedly quite an interest in it can add very substantially to the accuracy of the register. Where they are active under this head, we have substantially correct registers at all times.

It may be said that is not the job of people in politics but then how many jobs do all of us have to do, now that we are in politics, which truly are not jobs for politicians That is how it goes. I am afraid I cannot do other than contact the local authorities and those now responsible for compiling a register and bring to their notice the many complaints which I know exist at the moment and urge them to take more care to make a better job of it in the future.

If there are suggestions from Members as to how we can improve the system of electing, I would be only too happy to operate them. I do as much checking of registers every year as anybody else and I would be quite happy to be relieved of it, if it were possible. So far, I have not found a way. If Deputies want to see that the register is, in fact, fairly and properly compiled, if for no other reason than a purely vested interest, they should make suggestions for we never know the hour or the day a particular register will be used.

Mention has been made also of the State paying more of the cost. We pay an amount of the cost as it is at the moment. These registers are not used solely for the Dáil elections. They are used, as they must be, for local elections and, since they are in fact in that way used, I do not see that we should be pushed to the point of being called upon to provide all the cost of the register.

A matter which undoubtedly gives cause for concern is the making of official marks, and such things, by presiding officers at elections. We all suffer from it or gain by it, depending on how the cat happened to jump at different elections. When we take into consideration the total number of ballots put into the hands of our presiding officers, who incidentally in practically all cases are just in this position for one day only and may not repeat the job for another three or four years, or may not in fact have done it before, and also the thousands of people who have to be procured on short notice by our returning officers and the total number of votes cast, together with the overall total spoiled as a result of lack of knowledge or ignorance or negligence, the total number of errors by the presiding officers is very small indeed. If it emerges in a close count that there are numbers of these, it can make a difference between the election of one man and another and surely this highlights beyond all recognition the few faults that may be made by these people.

That is not to say I condone any negligence on the part of these people but I think we should keep properly in perspective just how few real errors are made when we consider the total number of ballot papers handled by the thousands of people concerned who are picked at short notice by returning officers and put into the job at the last moment. Indeed, perhaps for a reason of illness or otherwise, the appointed presiding officer cannot attend and at the last moment there may be changes which neither the returning officer nor those associated with politics wish to have.

It will be appreciated that, at times, we have to have people who are not 100 per cent up to the mark. We must remember this is not possible to avoid in some cases and, overall, the performance of these people, in all the circumstances, is extraordinarily correct. Where there is an error, it is brought into sharp focus in a close count where there are a number of spoiled votes and the result of an error like this would make the difference between election or elimination.

I can only say that the instruction issued by the returning officers to these people is full and comprehensible. The question is whether it is comprehensible to all those who are expected to put it into operation. That is something we must be sure is always there. In addition to that, all the other matters raised and highlighted during the recent long count are laid down. Returning officers have their guide lines and their experience. In many cases they have this experience as assistants or enumerators, if not as returning officers, or in some cases they may have participated with people who were experienced in counting over the years. The things they are to do and the methods by which they are to do them are fairly clearly laid down. If there are departures, I am not aware of them.

If I am made aware of such departures in more detail than they have been referred to here, I will be most interested to make enquiries in order to find out the basis for the charge and whether it is well founded or not. I will possibly be able to clear the air and discover whether the charges are correct or not and then do something about them. I am not aware that the things stated have taken place. I would appreciate information from Deputies on any errors in the manner of counting, the process of elimination and the distribution of surpluses. If Deputies will give me details, or refer me to different counts and I can readily get the details myself, and if there have been mistakes which are manifest to me, I will try to ensure that, in future, such errors will not recur.

One of the criticisms I have heard here also refers to the voting by mental patients at the recent election. I should like, first of all, to say, as I already indicated the other night, that these were just not my own idea. A Committee on general electoral law reform in their recommendations stated that they did not feel that, in future, there should be any differentiation between mentally and physically incapacitated persons and that the matter in relation to the electoral law should be changed so as to bring mentally and physically diseased or incapacitated persons into line. We should not have one approach to the mentally ill and another approach to the physically ill.

One thing I would say is that when the first lists were compiled of people's names in the mental hospitals, in some cases if not in all, what happened was that the entire number of inmates on a given qualifying date were all just put on the register. What happened was that the entire number of inmates on a given qualifying date were just slapped on the register. That is not what was intended; it is not now intended and further instructions for this year's new register will go out to the people responsible indicating to them that by and large the approach to the mentally ill and the placing of them on a register relating to their mental hospital should apply roughly in the following way. The patient will be placed on the register if he has been 18 months an inmate of that particular institution or, in the opinion of the medical authorities therein, is likely to be there for 18 months. In other words, you think into the future.

It is really intended that this register will deal with long-term mental patients, who are there or are likely to be there in the future. All other patients of a short-term nature, who are likely to be in and out of the various institutions, will, in the normal way, be registered at their normal place of residence. It is more likely that they will be there than in the mental hospital 12 months later or at the time of an election. This has been conveyed in a specific way to those responsible for compiling registers. It is likely that quite a number will appear on the list for a mental hospital register who are not there as happened in some cases during the recent election.

In the case of patients who are going to be long-term mental patients, my recollection of the committee at the time this was being discussed—I say this subject to correction —was that it was felt that such people ought certainly to have an opportunity of voting within the precincts of the home where they are. I put it to the Minister and the House at that time that a person who was incapable of transacting business in the ordinary way was also incapable of casting a vote, that is, that mental patients should not have the opportunity of deciding an issue when, in the ordinary way, they would be deemed incapable of transacting ordinary business. I think Ennis is one place quoted to me where of nine members of the district council, the inmates of the mental hospital could on their own elect two.

I am fully aware of what the Deputy says but it is also true to say that not all long-term patients can be said to be in a condition which would leave them unfit to mark a ballot paper at all times when they are there. In talking to some of these people, I am very often surprised. They make me wonder whether the right people are there. They have all good and bad days and these bad days may be very casual but it is not unknown that the bad days can keep recurring. Therefore, they cannot be released or let out for any long time and the mental institution almost becomes a home for them. They grow old there. So far as knowing what they are doing, they know very much better than a whole lot of people who have never been in there. That is not a reflection on those who are out any more than it is on those who are in.

Can they nominate somebody for election?

Is the Deputy stuck for a nomination?

I was thinking, looking around me, that they must have succeeded in getting a few on the Minister's side.

If that is the way it happens I am not responsible for what the Deputy sees or thinks at all times. There is an amount to be said for and against this thing. There is quite a responsibility placed on the medical people in the hospital because they have got to determine on the day of an election whether particular patients are fit to vote or not.

(South Tipperary): How could they determine, in one morning, whether 600 were fit or not?

The Deputy should be aware that the people in charge of these institutions know their patients very well. These patients are not strangers to their doctors. It is part of the doctors' job to know them very well as Deputy Hogan should know.

(South Tipperary): They have to judge them in hours.

I know from experience that the RMS in these institutions know these people very well. They know when these people are likely to be ill. They know whether it is likely to happen on a particular day.

(South Tipperary): They have to certify 600 in one morning.

The people I have heard saying this are in a position to know. If the House wishes to pursue this matter in fuller detail, then I would suggest they use the normal channel to do so and it can probably be gone into in the fullest possible way. With regard to this whole matter there may be reasons why we should think again about it but I am quite prepared to concede what was done was right. I should be glad to hear more about whether these people should vote. As I say, my mind would be open on it. I would say, from my association with mental patients, as a member of a visiting committee for nine years, the majority of the inmates are far more sane in their outlook than many people outside.

Could this matter be discussed under some regulation or something like that?

I do not know. Probably the best thing I can say is that I shall have a look and see if there is something coming along under which it would be possible to have a general discussion on this matter.

The Minister has tabled electoral regulations. Could it be discussed under those?

Probably it could but that would depend on the Chair.

I do not think you can change what is actually in the law.

I am not suggesting changing what is in the law. All I want to say is that if a detailed discussion is required I would see some opportunity were given for it. I would see that some steps were taken to create that if it is the desire of the House to have a detailed discussion on it. I am not terribly concerned as to the way we have it, or whether we have it. I am not unhappy about the situation.

There is a remark I could make but I shall not.

The Deputy had better not because he might get an answer he does not want. He should not believe all he hears. Leaving aside electoral matters there are some other things which were mentioned. Many Deputies mentioned traffic matters and spoke about them in some detail. This is a very good thing because it shows there is a great awareness on the part of all members of the House with regard to it. It reflects the awareness of people outside the House of the greater need there is for all of us to have more regard for safety on the road as a whole.

Criticism was expressed that the speed limit signs were placed, in many cases, too far outside towns and that instead of lowering the speed, they are the cause of increasing it. At the same time, I hear the criticism made: "Why did you not leave these things alone; why did you not leave them with the local committees, as the engineers and the Gardaí, with their local information, know so much more than you do?" The unfortunate thing was that I had not the last word because I believed what was put to me here. Originally, I agreed with the recommendations of the people on the local committees—I do not know how they knew more than I did—and now I find them wrong. The result is that we have had to sit down and do the roads, mile after mile of them. Having started that job, we found that it would not be capable of being done for a number of years yet if we were to deal with all the roads. Therefore, we had to confine ourselves to the more heavily trafficked roads, the main roads and the arterial roads that are now so described.

I have just to-day signed the amended regulations for the re-siting of all the signs that have probably been a cause for complaint. The one reason for the time taken is that each and every one of those changes had to be visited, examined, seen and decided upon and then, for the purposes of the law, absolutely and without question there has had to be clear identification of where the new site will be so that if anybody is pulled up within that sign or the other sign the law will be able to stand up and somebody will not be able to come along and to say: "That was changed a few weeks ago. Is there any law to cover it?" We have had to change it down to the finest detail. This has caused a considerably longer delay than I thought it would take.

We did get these signs up. We made our mistakes and now we are trying to rectify them. It is taking us longer to rectify them it did to put them up originally. You can often do a job wrong at the outset and correct it later but the point is that we did try. In the Six Counties lately, the Minister concerned, I think, was interviewed on television in regard to the introduction of these new signs and the new international signs we have been erecting and have in operation in this country for a considerable time. His estimation of the time it will take in the Six Counties, as against the Twenty-six, is five years—and we have not been five years on this job altogether, including the mistakes, and so on. We hope to go on from there, once these come into operation on all the main heavy traffic roads. We intend to continue from there and are at the moment investigating all the other complaints—probably thousands—about all the other roads and as soon as we can bring them into an amended regulation I shall be happy to sign it. They are annoying and I think defeating the purpose of inducing people to keep the law by being too far away from any danger—and once people get the habit of breaking the law they are inclined to continue with that habit.

Deputy P. O'Donnell talked at some length. He castigated the law as it now stands because a new recruit from the Depot having spent three months there and three months out of school, goes into court and says that because he saw somebody staggering, and so on, he was incapable of driving because of drink. I do not drink. I agree with Deputy P. O'Donnell that that sort of situation does not commend itself to me as a just way of doing things. However, it has been in practice for a very long time and, pending the changing of the law to bring in some more positive practice, that is what we have to operate.

Apparently, these new fellows and the older fellows do not see enough of the people often enough that I see who should be described as incapable of driving because they have had too much to drink. Only a very few are brought to book in proportion to the number using our roads, particularly after closing time or around built-up areas. Deputies will have an opportunity here, in the not too distant future, to discuss the other more fair and equitable and just way of determining in a really scientific and precise manner, through blood tests and otherwise, the position in relation to alcoholic consumption. I only hope that those who criticise the present rather imprecise method of approach will throw their weight behind a positive approach on a scientific basis which I feel is required if we are to deal with this growing problem. It is not just a problem of drunken driving: that is the wrong way to describe it. We do not have all that much drunken driving. The trouble is that we have far too many people driving in rather difficult traffic conditions to-day who, though they have had only a few drinks, are not as alert or capable as they would be if they had not taken those few drinks. This is the real approach to the matter and not a condemnation of everybody who takes a drink as a drunken driver.

I thought lack of medical evidence was considered a defence in drunken driving? Therefore, the Gardaí would not have the last say.

I am quoting what Deputy P. O'Donnell said. He has some experience on the other side. It merely brings to my mind this possible discussion that we shall have I think in the not too distant future and which will be very important as it will affect a great number of people in a vital and particular way. There will be opposition to it, I have no doubt whatsoever. I do not know what will finally be determined but we are not out to condemn everybody who takes a drink as a drunken driver. Certainly, I am not of opinion that anybody who takes a drink should not be allowed to drive but no person, no matter who he may be or what his capacity or experience or how long he is driving, after a not very great number of drinks, is as good a driver as before he took the drinks. This is the real approach we have to make. If we can improve safety on the roads by inducing people not to have those few drinks which leave them less good drivers, then anything we can do in that direction will be not only in the interests of the community but undoubtedly in the immediate interest of the persons concerned themselves.

Would the Minister make a comment about some of the criticisms of the new planning legislation, especially as county councils do not now seem to be able to take over unfinished estates? It is a cause of great anxiety.

The more I hear about what county councils cannot do, the more I am convinced that either they cannot do it or, having learned what to do, are not prepared to do it. I do not know which it is. I would point out, in regard to the planning which has come to my own notice through appeals to my Department that exempted developments which would not require permission have been refused permission and thus they have come, on appeal, to me. If that is indicative of the manner in which local authority officials have approached the matters contained in the Planning Act and the regulations and schedules that have gone out to them, it is no wonder that there is confusion in many parts of the country today in the minds of the public as to how this Act should or should not work.

The Minister will have to bring in the law agent for briefing.

I have had appeals, where local authorities turned down applications which were, in fact, exempted and required no permission whatsoever. What can you do with people like that? I just do not know, because they are the people who should be guiding the councils who, in turn, should be guiding the local people by furnishing them with information from the regulations. The people dealing with this obviously have not bothered to read the regulations or else, having read them, did not understand them, and this I find hard to believe. In regard to the difficulties Deputy Clinton mentioned on the question of unfinished estates——

And open spaces.

——the suggestion is that because of the Planning Act or in spite of it, the local authorities still cannot do anything about unfinished estates. I am surprised to hear that because it is not borne out by any information I have here. Section 35 and another section——

Section 89 (2).

That one is not mentioned here.

It is in relation to retrospective application.

The difficulty is about retrospection.

Section 35 gives to the authority the power to enforce completion of development work but this is in accordance with the terms of the permission granted, and I take it that in most cases the permission granted for these estates, or the terms of it, are not fulfilled when these estates are left in an unfinished condition. Whether there is any loophole in the section I have no real knowledge. On the other hand, the local planning authorities have not absolutely arbitrary power. None of us has, when it comes to the final point: there is a power over us which can determine these things. As far as I can see, section 35 would apply to these cases. Indeed we had hoped it would apply to cases where the terms of the permission given have not been complied with and are now the cause of complaint. I take it the Deputy has some specific cases in mind.

I have a number of cases. The law agent advises us that these cases have all to be brought to the court to be decided and it takes time to prepare a case. It will be 12 months before we have our cases ready and listed.

What I shall do is get Deputy Clinton and other Deputies to let me have specific cases. Then we can start to do something about them. When we begin to talk about law agents' advice, we shall get nowhere. When Deputies have submitted specific cases to me, I shall try to find the actual problem and work it out as best I can. Some cases are quite old; some are different from others in that there is now no responsible person, whereas in some cases it may be possible to identify the person who is responsible.

We are able to identify the people responsible.

There are two or three different categories and the best thing is to get the detailed, specific cases and try to sort them out.

Thanks very much.

On the question of sanitary services, one thing more than another deserves mention. Swimming pools were mentioned by a number of Deputies, particularly Deputy Donegan. I should like to say that, not only for the healthy recreation they provide but also for the useful part they can play in preventing drowning accidents, swimming pools justify their place in our amenity priorities. The new plan in my Department has been costed at a figure less than half the lowest we could get for the same job in the past. It means we can attempt the construction of 25-metre four-lane pools, heated with showers and toilets laid on for £16,000. This is less than half the lowest cost that has come to us from any local authority in recent years.

We are not tied to a 25-metre pool. As circumstances demand, we can construct 30-metre or 50-metre pools and they still would not cost anything like the exorbitant figures we have had. This happened in the past not through anybody's fault but because we had not got around to studying how cheaply the thing could be done instead of drawing up plans, specifications, costings and so on.

That is the best news and I congratulate the Minister.

The Deputy was very busy during the election when I let it out. It is very good news, a very good breakthrough. We are not tied to our plans: we have asked for variations and they have been coming in—variations in structure and design but not in the basic size of the structure, which still can be provided at £16,000 for the smaller type of pool, covered in but with no frills or fancy work. If any local group want to do the fancy work, let them, but we do not intend to encourage this until we have a sufficient number of pools with basic requirements. Thereafter, if we are to have frills, perhaps we can contribute to them For the moment we shall stick to the utilitarian structures so that we do not dissipate the money from the Vote in my Department on frills and flounces. If they want these things, they can pay for them after we have got the basic requirements of ordinary pools.

That is the situation. We can do this. We have offered to the local authorities and to local groups to have it done for them through the National Building Agency. The price I have mentioned can, of course, be beaten because we shall try to get a bulk number out for tender. We could build five, ten, 15 or 20 and see what the reduction would be. Some startling reductions have been disclosed in the tenders so far received. All of these prices, of course, are still subject to scrutiny but over all I can stand over what I projected already that the pool can be built for under £16,000.

This is probably the biggest thing that will have happened in the swimming pool business in this country in all these years. It gives me hope that we can, in built-up areas such as Dublin or other large centres, have not just one large pool with everybody scrambling to get into it at the same time but other district pools in the area, probably serviced for competitions and other uses. In the large provincial towns, there are few places which could not support a pool of this size and which would probably repay their share of the moneys after the subsidy we allow has been taken care of. There should be, to my mind, a real jump forward in the matter of providing swimming pools at very good value, a value we had not dreamt of six months ago but which we now find is a reality. In these days it is good to find that we can get something for half what we thought we would have to pay for it six months ago.

I invite local authorities to have another thought about this, particularly those with plans already passed and costing much more than £16,000. In the light of what we know, we will have to ask them to think again because clearly it would not be possible for my Department or myself to go along with them in view of what we now know and after our investigations and after getting these plans drawn up, costed and specified and it would not be possible to OK a pool in any part of the country that is obviously costing far more than it necessarily should.

While we invite newcomers who hitherto have been scared away by the anticipated high cost to come along and at least talk to us about the matter, I would also say to those who have high cost projects at an advanced stage to keep in mind that it is unlikely that they are going to have a straight run through on the basis of our concept of costs as we will have to go through their plans to reduce them to their own advantage and to our own.

Could I get the information the Minister has? I want to bring it to the notice of our local authority.

I am offering the information to all and sundry.

Will you send me a copy?

Surely. On that note, somebody, I think, Deputy Donegan, suggested last night that if we filled this House with water, half the Deputies would drown if they had to swim for it. Let us hope with this new breakthrough that at least future generations of Deputies will not find themselves drowning if they found this place flooded some day. Finally, I hope to hear from all who are interested in swimming, either from the safety point of view or from the point of view of sport, because if we can get a considerable number of projects going, we can obtain a cheaper price than the £16,000. Therefore, in order not to hold up those who are ready to go ahead, any who want to do so should come along so that, by ordering through the Building Agency they can save themselves further money in this regard.

Vote put and agreed to.