The 1969-70 estimate of £9,883,000 is less by over £400,000 than the amount which the House voted.
Subheads A, B and C provide for the administrative expenses of the Office of Public Works. Subheads A and B are marginally lower by £29,000. The reduction results from the difficulties— which are not confined to my Office— in maintaining staff levels at the authorised strength, particularly technical and professional staff. The increase in subhead C arises from increased postal charges.
Provision is made in subhead D for the purchase of sites for new Garda stations and other public buildings and of some national monuments.
In replying to a Parliamentary question last week I dealt with the acquisition by the State of a new office building which is to be erected on the site of the former Church of Ireland Training College in Kildare Place. The acquisition of this building will have the very desirable effect of centralising all of the staff of the Department of Agriculture whose present disposition over several buildings is not conductive either to economy or efficiency. Generally speaking the problem of accommodation for Government staffs has for long been a very difficult one. It is, I think, generally accepted that the ideal solution to the problem lies in the erection by the State of its own offices. That, however, would be a task of very considerable magnitude and would involve the diversion of capital and manpower from more urgent projects such as housing. In these circumstances it has been unavoidable during the past five years or so to rent space in privately erected office blocks to meet the growing needs of various Departments. From my examination of the position since taking over responsibility for the Office of Public Works, I am satisfied that there can be no doubt that only what was essential to meet requirements was acquired and that the terms negotiated could not have been more favourable from the State's point of view. There are still numbers of departmental staffs who have to work in conditions which frankly are substandard and no Deputy could cavil at our doing what we can to improve those conditions—indeed the State would be failing in its duty as an employer if it neglected the working conditions of its staff.
In dealing with the Parliamentary question to which I have referred, the point was raised that when the Departments of Education and Lands were moved to Athlone and Castlebar the offices to be vacated should provide sufficient space for the Department of Agriculture. It would not be possible to house the Agriculture staff economically in the buildings to be vacated and, moreover, any attempt to do so would lead to administrative difficulties. I can assure Deputies, however, that these buildings will be put to the best possible use from the taxpayers' point of view.
Deputies have been given a list of the works contained in the bulk provision for New Works, etc., in subhead E. I will refer briefly to the more significant items.
Well over half the provision in the subhead is required for primary school buildings. Last year's allocation was £3 million, but we spent just over £3¼ million. Sixty-six new buildings were erected and major improvements were carried out at 47 other schools. A total of 19,540 pupil places was provided, apart from more than 11,000 places made available in prefabricated units. The allocation made for this year was again £3 million, but it seems from the latest returns of expenditure that we shall again spend about £3½ million.
Agitation about conditions in schools continues. I know that much buildings and improvement of schools has still to be done. We have not relaxed our efforts to deal with the situation but we cannot do everything in one year. With a view to expediting progress, the Minister for Education in September, 1967, authorised managers of national schools to make their own arrangements to install heating and sanitary facilities required in any school likely to continue for at least five years. The help and guidance of the local staffs of the Office of Public Works were offered to the managers. The arrangement has worked well, and improvements have been carried out or are in progress at several hundred schools. The local staffs have given valuable assistance to the managers, and in many cases have prepared the plans, advised on tenders and supervised work in progress. My Office will continue to co-operate to the limit of its functions and capacity.
The provision of schools for mentally-handicapped and under-privileged children is a recent addition to our programme. Everyone knows that these children's particular requirements call for schools designed and built with special regard to their particular needs. Thirty-four have already been built and contracts for nine others will be placed during the year. As examples I might mention that in Dublin, in addition to schools for the mentally-handicapped, we have a school at Drumcondra for deaf boys and schools for victims of cerebral palsy at Clontarf and Sandymount. There is also a fine school at Kylemore Road, Ballyfermot, for the children of itinerants.
The introduction of the Department of Education's new curriculum for primary schools will involve some replanning of school buildings. My Office is at present examining the matter in consultation with the Department.
The improvement works at Leinster House are completed except for some electrical re-wiring which is in progress. Provision is included for two additional items: an annunciator system in the Dáil and Seanad, and a sound reinforcement system in the Seanad similar to that installed in the Dáil a few years ago. Studies are still in progress to determine the most suitable type of annunciator system. The installation of the sound reinforcement system for the Seanad is in progress.
Under the general heading of the Department of Finance, a total of £238,000 is provided for architectural works. This includes, in the main, new or improved office accommodation. The major item is a new building in Dublin Castle for the Stamping Branch of the Revenue Commissioners. The work began a few months ago and should finish in 1973. The inadequacy and unsuitability of the existing accommodation has to be seen to be believed, and I am glad that it has now been found possible to begin replacing it. The Finance group also contains provision for three memorials—a memorial sculpture for the Garden of Remembrance at Parnell Square, a memorial to Roger Casement in Glasnevin Cemetary and the President John F. Kennedy Memorial. A quarter-size model of the sculptural feature for the Garden of Remembrance has been prepared, and is being enlarged to full-size before being cast in bronze. A quarter-size model of the statue of Roger Casement and a sketch layout for the memorial has been approved. The plaster cast is being prepared. The money provided for the Kennedy memorial is needed to pay the fees of consultants engaged on the planning of the project.
A sum of £265,000 is provided under items 26 and 28 for the erection of new garda stations, improvements at existing stations and the provision of houses for married gardaí. New stations are in progress at Kilrush and Ennistymon, County Clare, Dungloe, County Donegal, Portroe, County Tipperary, and Aclare, County Sligo. Tenders are under examination for new stations at Kiltyclogher, County Leitrim, and Birr, Offaly. I am happy to report also that new stations are in progress at Ballyfermot, Coolock and Dundrum in the Dublin area, and that a contract has just been placed for a new station at Raheny. I have been particularly concerned with the need for the new station at Ballyfermot which is in my own constituency. At present the area has to be policed from the Chapelizod station, an arrangement which involves hardship for the gardaí and inconvenience for the public. It is pleasing to know that the new station will be completed within 12 months.
The Government's decision to transfer the Department of Education to Athlone and the Department of Lands to Castlebar will require the building of modern offices in those towns. Sites have been obtained, sketch plans have been agreed and detailed drawings are being prepared. The amounts in the Estimate are for consultants' fees, with provision for tree planting which it is desirable to get done at this stage at both sites.
A sum of £203,500 is required for new works for the Department of Education, apart from primary schools. Two major items are included. One is the Dublin Preventive Centre at Finglas, which will replace the present Place of Detention in Glasnevin. Work began last year and it ought to be finished by the end of next year. The second major item is additional accommodation for the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in Burlington Road. This work began recently and it should be completed before 1971.
I am proposing £348,500 for 17 architectural projects for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to provide facilities for research, training and advisory services.
A sum of £120,000 is required for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. As well as the important new sorting office to be built at Ballyfermot, Dublin, the works include new post offices in Cahirciveen, Cavan, Claremorris, Portlaoise, Nenagh and Mullingar, and extensions of post office at Clonmel and Waterford. The Office of Public Works erects buildings for the telephone service also. The cost of these in 1969/70 will be about £250,000 payable from the telephone capital account.
On the engineering side, I require £75,000 to meet final payments on the car ferry terminal at Dún Laoghaire. Now that the permanent terminal is working satisfactorily, I am making arrangements to have work on the restoration of the east pier put in hand next spring.
Major fishery harbours, or fishery harbour centres as they are now named under the Fishery Harbour Centres Act, 1968, will need £473,000. The main work at Dunmore East should be finished before Christmas with the exception of the boat lifting and repairing facilities which will not be available until about May, 1970. The harbour buildings should be finished by September, 1970. Progress on the schemes at Killybegs and Castletownbere is being delayed owing to difficulties in acquiring the necessary land.
Works of economic development consist of improvement schemes at a number of harbours including Skerries, Kilmore Quay, Burtonport, Reen, Co. Cork, and dredging at Howth. A sum of £247,000 is provided for these schemes.
The F series of subheads provides for the cost of the upkeep of State premises and property, for the supply of furniture to State establishments and for rents payable.
The maintenance of State buildings is a task of considerable magnitude. This is particularly the case in the Dublin area where there are so many large and important buildings to be maintained. Here I should like to pay tribute to all of the commissioners' maintenance staff, both skilled and unskilled, for the first-class work which they do.
The Commissioners take pride in what they have been able to achieve through effective maintenance in the preservation of the many 18th century buildings which they own in the Merrion Square-Upper Merrion Street areas. This work of preservation, like the very fine restoration work which was carried out on the Cross block and the State Apartments block at Dublin Castle has been very costly but has been, I consider, well worthwhile. This, of course, does not mean that we could justify the devotion of public funds to the preservation and restoration of every 18th century building in the commissioners' possession which might at first sight appear to be worthy of such treatment.
A case in point is that of Nos. 1 Hume Street and 46 St. Stephen's Green. These buildings are now about 200 years old. Although over the years a high standard of maintenance has been applied to them it has not been sufficient to prevent the effects of age. A recent examination by a structural consultant has revealed that the fourth storey of each building is seriously defective, that the chimney breast and gable wall of No. 1 Hume Street, down to the level of the second floor window sills, the wall facing St. Stephen's Green down to the level of the third floor windows, the back wall of No. 46 St. Stephen's Green down to the sills of the second floor windows and some of the internal walling would all have to be rebuilt. In addition, extensive repair or replacement work would be necessary on the roofs. It is estimated that it would cost upwards of £40,000 to carry out the necessary remedial work, including the treatment of dry rot which is present in the buildings, with re-wiring for heating and lighting, redecoration,et cetera. Even with an expenditure of that order the buildings, because of the nature of their lay-out, would be below accepted standards for modern office requirements.
The Government, having very carefully considered the whole matter including the fact that they have only a shortlived interest in No. 46 St. Stephen's Green, have come to the conclusion that it would not be in the interests of the taxpayer if the State were to commit itself to such an outlay and that those interests would best be served by the sale of the State's interest in the buildings. They will accordingly be put on the market early next year. It should be clearly understood that the buildings would be offered for sale even if no proposals existed for the redevelopment of the adjoining privately owned sites, that the State is under no commitment whatsoever to the developers concerned and that it will be open to all interested parties to compete for the premises.
To meet the need for more efficient office furniture a small unit has been set up by my Office, mainly for the production of prototypes of good quality standard articles of new design for use in Government offices. The production of furniture to the new designs will not present any problems for Irish furniture manufacturers and native materials will be used to the greatest possible extent. To start with, new designs in the office desk and table range are being introduced.
When the Vote for the Office of Public Works and Buildings was last discussed in this House, my predecessor announced that a separate parks section would be established in the Office of Public Works. The section was duly established. Its primary purpose was to enable a positive approach to be made to the administration and development of the four parks then in the commissioners' charge, the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park, Phoenix Park, St Stephen's Green and Garnish Island.
As Deputies know, the Office of Public Works is also responsible for the national monuments service and for the management of the Shannon navigation. These services together form a national resource, the value of which from a cultural, educational and recreational point of view, it would be difficult to exaggerate. We plan to manage and to develop this resource so that the present and future generations may enjoy it unimpaired by the less desirable effects of modern progress and development. This cannot be accomplished in a year, five years or even ten years but there is no better time to begin than the present.
It has been decided, in order to emphasise their status and importance among the activities of the Office of Public Works, that the three services, parks, national monuments and Shannon navigation, will merge in what for the time being shall be called the National Parks and Monuments Branch. A director has been appointed and desirable organisational changes have been made or are being prepared. Amending legislation will be necessary to enable the branch to carry out its functions in the light of modern requirements and developments. I have no doubt that the proposals I will make will commend themselves to the Oireachtas. It will be the desire and the intention of the branch to co-operate with other organisations, both public and private, which have similiar interests and which could effectively contribute to the attainment of the objectives.
Last year the gardens and pleasure grounds attached to Kilkenny Castle were presented to the nation for development as a public park. They are now administered by the Office of Public Works. Development works are well advanced and it is hoped to have the park opened to the public by next summer. Hearty thanks and commendation are due to Lord Ormonde and to the people of Kilkenny, who co-operated in arranging the gift.
Lord Ormonde sold Kilkenny Castle to a local committee for a nominal sum. With the help of a generous gift from Mr. C.J. Lytle, some works were carried out towards the eradication of dry rot in the castle and to halt further deterioration. It quickly became evident that the further restoration of the castle would be beyond the resources of the local committee, and following an appeal from the committee, their offer to place the castle in the State's care was accepted. It will be managed in association with the park. A scheme for the restoration of the castle and plans for its future use are being formulated. Work will begin this year on the restoration of the very fine picture gallery in the west wing which it should be possible to open to the public by the end of 1970. It is intended that the park and castle, at a later stage, will provide a focal point where, through the medium of a visitor information service, visitors may be guided to derive the utmost in understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the historic, architectural, archaeological and scenic attractions of the city of Kilkenny and the surrounding area.
As Deputies are aware, the Government, in 1963, assumed responsibility for Derrynane Abbey, Co. Kerry, formerly the home of Daniel O'Connell. Restoration works were carried out and the abbey was opened as an O'Connell Museum in 1967. With the abbey an area of about 9½ acres was transferred to the commissioners. The remainder of the estate, some 300 acres, was purchased by Bord Fáilte Éireann. This area was recently offered by An Bord Fáilte to the commissioners so that the whole area could be maintained and managed as one unit, as a public park. The gift has been accepted and Derrynane Abbey Park has been added to the others for the maintenance and management of which the Commissioners of Public Works are responsible. Arrangements for the development of this park, which will be the first "seaside public park" under the auspices of the Office of Public Works, are being pressed forward as speedily as possible.
The possibility of flood-lighting the northern perimeter of St. Stephen's Green is being examined. I am having examined also the feasibility of a blind people's centre in one of the Dublin parks. An area would be set aside where blind people could move at ease: there would be special seats and amenities: there would be special flowers which could be identified by their smells and for the other flowers there would be name plates in braille.
As the Office of Public Works wishes to make a practical and effective contribution to European Conservation Year, 1970, it has been arranged for a scientific research project to be undertaken in the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park, Killarney. The subjects to be studied include the scientifically unique plant communities in the park, the infestation by rhododendron ponticum and measures for its eradication and control, the feeding habits and requirements of the deer in the Killarney valley and park conservation generally. The project will aid in the selection of one or two nature trails which it is hoped to establish in the park in 1970.
The reception which the Holy Cross Abbey Bill received in the Dáil and Seanad earlier this year reflected the high regard and concern of our people for the relics of the history of our country and the people who inhabited it since man first set foot here. The State can accept direct responsibility for the most important monuments only. For the preservation of monuments of lesser importance and of mainly local interest, we must rely on the use by local authorities of the powers granted to them by the National Monuments Acts and by the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, on the activities and vigilance of local historical and archaeological societies, and on the goodwill of people generally. While the economic value of our monuments is not the primary consideration in our activities, it is no harm to remind the House of their value and growing importance as an attraction for visitors.
There are two facets of our activities in relation to national monuments. One is the work of maintenance, conservation and, occasionally, full restoration on an agency basis as in Bunratty Castle, Ballintubber Abbey, Rothe House and now Holy Cross Abbey. The second is the matter of presentation and interpretation to enable visitors to obtain the maximum benefit from their visit.
In the past the commissioners have been hampered by lack of adequate professional staff and clerks of works and craftsmen experienced in monuments work, which requires special skills. Their efforts to keep abreast of maintenance of monuments, not to mention major works of conservation, have suffered. Every effort is being made to recruit more staff and if it is successful a worthwhile expansion in our works programme should be achieved.
In the matter of presentation and interpretation of monuments there is a very wide field awaiting development. I am thinking of the improvement of the surroundings and access to the monuments, the erection of information plaques, production of booklets, post cards, and perhaps the provision of guides. Last year when Newgrange was reopened to the public, we introduced guided tours. Since then over 40,000 persons have visited the monument. This year, in response to local demand, we provided a similar service at the Rock of Cashel. In consultation with the National Monuments Advisory Council and An Bord Fáilte we are drawing up a list of major national monuments for special attention in this field. By this time next year I should be in a position to tell the House more about what we plan to do.
Some years ago when commercial traffic had declined on the River Shannon, it was generally felt that the cost of maintaining it as a navigable waterway was no longer justified. Things have changed since then. Today the Shannon navigation and its link ways promise to become a first class recreational centre. The unspoilt and uncongested waterways are being discovered by people who have been using the overcrowded cruiseways of Britain and the Continent. Considerable sums will be necessary to develop the navigation to meet modern requirements.
A joint development committee, representative of the various Government Departments involved and An Bord Fáilte, was set up in June, 1967, to consider and make recommendations for the development and control of the River Shannon navigation. Arising out of the committee's recommendations considerable improvements on the navigation have been completed, and others are being pursued.
New quays have been constructed at Knockvicar, Albert Lock, Roosky, Tarmonbarry and Victoria Lock. Additional safety devices including chains, ladders, life-belts and telephones have been installed at all locks. Public lighting has been provided on all quays north of Roosky. In the interests of safety of navigation, all buoys in the upper Shannon are being replaced by perches and electricity transmission wires have been raised to a minimum height of 35 feet over navigation level. The lock gate renewal programme is more than half completed and by the end of the year all gates north of Athlone will have been renewed. The restoration of Richmond Harbour—financed by An Bord Fáilte and carried out by the Office of Public Works at a cost of over £13,000—is now virtually finished. Berthing facilities and a dry dock are among the works completed there.
The fact that over 150 extra pleasure craft will be available for hire on the river next year, involving an investment of over £600,000 indicates the rapid expansion of the navigation for recreational purposes. To keep pace with the growth in traffic we must accelerate the programme. Towards this end a second work boat will be operative on the navigation next spring. I am aware of the need for a handbook on the Shannon containing safety regulations, maps, etc., and I have had its preparation put in hands.
The provision for rents and rates shows an increase of £75,000 owing to the renting of additional new office accommodation and to the fact that rates have also increased.
The G group of subheads contains provision for expenditure in connection with the programme of arterial drainage undertaken under the Arterial Drainage Act, 1945. The most important of the group are G.1, G.2 and G.5.
Subhead G.1 provides for the expenses of field and hydrometric surveys which must precede the preparation of drainage schemes. The amount requested is £50,000, which is unchanged from last year. The trial borings on the main Shannon river between Meelick and Lough Forbes have now been completed and the engineering study of the Shannon flood problem is continuing.
The preparation of schemes for other catchments on the major and minor priority lists is proceeding. Among them are the major catchments of the Erne, Corrib-Mask-Robe, Boyle, Mulkear and Suir. A scheme designed for the Bonet minor catchment in County Leitrim is under consideration. In the current year field survey work continues on the Owenmore major catchment in Sligo and on the Dunkellin and Lavally minor catchments in Galway. A survey of the Nore, which is the next major catchment in the order of priority, has begun. The possibility of a scheme for the Finn sub-catchment of the Erne in Counties Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh, is being examined in co-operation with the northern authorities.
Subhead G.2 provides for expenditure on work in progress on arterial drainage schemes. The amount is the same as for each of the last two years. Work is proceeding on two major catchments, the Moy and the Corrib-Headford. A number of important schemes finished last year, the Inny, the Deal and the Killimor-Cappagh. The Boyne, which is the biggest catchment so far to reach the works stage, began this year. Provision is included for early work on the Maigue, another major catchment.
The embankment work provided for in the subhead is all in the Shannon estuary area. Three stretches of the south bank from Ringmoylan to Foynes, from Newtown to Tervoe and in the Polefield near Limerick city, are at present being worked. These operations will virtually complete the restoration of embankments in the Shannon estuary which had to be undertaken after the widespread damage and flooding caused by the storm of October, 1961. The works will have cost about £1 million and will protect and drain over 10,500 acres of land.
A third item in the subhead is the sum of £222,000 for additional minor schemes. The bulk of this sum is wanted for five small schemes, already in progress: the Carrigahorig in Co. Tipperary and Offaly; the Owenavorragh in Co. Wexford; the Creagh in Co. Clare; the Burnfoot-Skeoge in Co. Donegal, in which the Northern Authorities are interested, as it will permit of the development of land for housing near Derry city; and the Kilcoo flowing between Fermanagh and Leitrim. That scheme was prepared by the Commissioners of Public Works in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture in Belfast; it will be carried out by the Commissioners and the Ministry will contribute to the cost. It is hoped to start some other minor schemes too.
Subhead G.5 provides for the maintenance of completed schemes. Maintenance is a continuing work, and the number of schemes to be maintained is growing. Last year seven more schemes were brought to completion and are now on maintenance. The amount being provided this year is slightly increased at £227,000.
£318,000 is asked for under subhead H for the purchase and maintenance of engineering plant and machinery and stores and payment of wages to the workshop staffs. Extensive and valuable engineering plant is repaired and maintained at the Commissioners' central engineering workshop at Inchicore. A labour force of nearly 100 tradesmen and labourers is permanently employed.
The provision for coast protection work has been increased to £45,000. It includes £5,000 for the maintenance of the works successfully completed at Rosslare Strand. I hope that the requirements of the Coast Protection Act can be complied with in time to allow us to start this year on schemes at the front Strand, Youghal and the Murrough in Wicklow. As Deputies know, the procedures under the Act are protracted and delays are liable to occur.
As last year, provision of £25,000 is made for minor marine schemes sponsored by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
I have already referred to national monuments. Subhead K provides for expenditure on that service. The provision this year has been increased by 25 per cent. Last year there was considerable expansion in archaeological excavation and Deputies may recall the important discoveries at Knowth, and the excavation at High Street in Dublin. Work is continuing this year at Knowth, Newgrange and at Winetavern Street, Dublin.
Subhead L covers the annual grant-in-aid for the operation and maintenance of the yachtAsgard. The Asgard has been completely overhauled and fitted out and was officially commissioned in March, 1969. It is in the charge of a committee and is being used for training young people in the art of sailing.
I have dealt with the principal activities of the Commissioners of Public Works. There may be items which I have not specifically mentioned in which Deputies may be interested. If any Deputy desires further information on any item I shall do my best to meet him either in my reply or later on by correspondence.