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.