Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Swimming Pools.

23.

asked the Minister for Local Government if he will state his policy on the provision of swimming pools by local authorities.

I regard swimming pools as a highly important amenity and I know that there has been a growing public demand for pools in numerous areas throughout the country —a demand that local people are prepared to back in most cases with a substantial contribution towards the cost. I am anxious to encourage local authorities and other interested bodies to make good the lack of swimming facilities as quickly as possible, especially in areas of large population.

The terms within which I am prepared to consider proposals for pools are in general as follows:—

1. A ceiling of £50,000 on the loan in respect of any one pool, subject to review of this ceiling on the merits of proposals for pools in the large centres of population, loans normally to be obtained outside of the Local Loans Fund.

2. A minimum voluntary contribution of 20 per cent of the capital cost of the pool to be provided. This is a vital requirement.

3. State subsidy to be normally 50 per cent of loan charges on approved expenditure.

4. Pools to be designed to a minimum of 25 metres in length; the width to be 30 feet or 42 feet, depending on the extent of the population to be served.

At present over 40 swimming pool projects—including projects sponsored by voluntary bodies—are listed with my Department. Many of these are of a preliminary nature. A number of the projects are, however, well advanced in planning and design and have substantial voluntary contributions already available and I propose to indicate to the local authorities concerned that I would be prepared to sanction the raising of loans on acceptable terms to finance the work, subject to my being satisfied as to the adequacy of the standards in each case. The projects concerned are at the following centres: An Uaimh, Askeaton, Athlone, Ballina, Ballyhaunis, Birr, Cabra, Mullingar, Renmore (Galway) and Thurles.

A commitment has already been entered into for pools at Booterstown and at Salthill, Galway. As regards the remaining projects, I am having a review made to see what is the current position of each in the matter of design, local contribution etc. A list of these projects which comprise 31 pools in 18 counties or county boroughs was given in my reply to Question No. 46 on 21st May, 1970.

Provided the demands on public capital resources do not impede progress on essential services such as housing, water supplies and sewerage facilities, it is my aim to encourage the provision of as many swimming pools as possible of a proper standard, regard being had to the population to be served. Pools of less than 42 feet in width would be acceptable for the medium and smaller centres. In this connection, I regard the pool being provided in Tuam, County Galway, as suitable for medium sized centres of population. Wherever possible I would like to see adequate standards being observed in the design of pools, not alone in relation to the dimensions, but also in respect of the dressing accommodation and heating, including space heating. A very desirable feature would be ramps and other facilities to cater for persons confined to wheelchairs.

I want to add that I consider it particularly important that swimming facilities should be available to the younger generation and I would appeal to schools to organise the provision of swimming pools either individually or in co-operation with others.

The provision of a pool is, of course, only the first stage. The training of children in swimming and life-saving is the primary purpose for which financial assistance is given by the State towards swimming pools and I am anxious to encourage the provision of training facilities wherever practicable.

Unfortunately, as the House is aware, a number of drownings have occurred recently and I would like to repeat the appeal which I made some weeks ago, that is, that lives can be saved by the exercise of care and commonsense. Even good swimmers should remember that over-confidence may lead to tragedy. In particular, children should at all times be kept within sight of adults when playing near water. Parents should encourage children to join swimming clubs and undergo water safety courses sponsored by the Irish Red Cross Society or the Royal Life Saving Society, where at all practical. Simple rules which should be observed are not to swim too soon after a meal or bathe alone or on lonely beaches, or take a chance in strange waters. Swimmers should take heed of warning signs and always keep near the shore.

When boating, always make sure the boat is safe, wear a suitable life-jacket, wait for good weather, do not go boating in an isolated area, tell somebody on shore where you are going to and when you expect to return and carry red distress flares, if boating in the open sea.

I might mention that I have written to the chairmen of local authorities in the context of life-saving and swimming facilities and I have appealed for their help and co-operation in promoting water safety measures in all areas so as to prevent drowning tragedies.

My letter referred particularly to the importance of providing warning notices at bathing places known to be dangerous. It stressed the necessity to review regularly the adequacy, condition and proper location of life-saving equipment provided by the local authority and suggested that responsibility for the regular inspection during the holiday period of warning notices and equipment to ensure that they are in proper condition should be placed positively on a specified employee of the authority. The letter also emphasised the importance of employing lifeguards at all bathing places where conditions warrant.

While I can think of people who need a life jacket can the Minister tell me the number of pools that will be sanctioned this year? In Mullingar we have been collecting for the last seven or eight years but due to the fact that money is needed for housing we cannot even go ahead with sewerage and water schemes.

I am sorry if the Deputy was not listening.

I was. I heard exactly the same thing six or seven years ago.

The contents of my reply are of special importance at this time of year. The pools I am prepared to sanction immediately, provided I am satisfied as to the adequacy of the standards in each case, are: An Uaimh, Askeaton, Athlone, Ballina, Ballyhaunis, Birr, Cabra, Mullingar, Renmore (Galway) and Thurles.

Is the Minister prepared to give us the green light to go ahead with the swimming pools?

I am prepared to sanction those swimming pools that I have mentioned.

(Cavan): Is the 20 per cent local contribution to which the Minister referred a voluntary contribution outside the local authority?

Yes, the 20 per cent is a voluntary contribution.

(Cavan): As I am personally interested in this at the moment, can the Minister give us any indication when an application received now will be likely to receive sanction and payment?

All the applications before the Department are being reviewed by me at present. Many of them have not been activated at all recently and we are not too sure what the present position is locally. If any new applications comply with the terms I have outlined they will be considered favourably.

Can the Minister tell the House how many of the 40 projects he has mentioned are from voluntary bodies?

That is a separate question.

I have not got that information with me.

Arising from the Minister's reply, which we all welcome, will he indicate whether the pool at Cabra is to be a municipal pool or a pool for the school for the deaf?

The swimming pool at Cabra is for the school for the deaf.

Considering the lack of swimming pools in the country would the Minister not consider erecting simply constructed pools instead of elaborate ones? Would the Minister ensure that the swimming pool which it is hoped to construct in the Phoenix Park extension will be of Olympic standards?

The Deputy asked about pools of a simple design. The dimensions I gave in my reply are indicative of a reasonable standard. I am not too keen on having cheap or shoddy pools constructed. I believe we should maintain a proper standard in buildings of this nature. The dimensions I have mentioned are reasonable and they can be varied depending on the population to be served. I am however keen to maintain an overall minimum length of 25 metres, but the width may be varied.

I did not hear the areas of Ballyfermot, Crumlin or Coolock mentioned.

They spend their time drinking brandy.

Over the years we have got assurances from the city manager that pools would be built in Coolock and Ballyfermot areas and that plans were before the Department of Local Government for a considerable time. I should like to know if these plans are now lost or if the local authority are pursuing them? Will the Minister give immediate consideration to plans for swimming pools in these densely populated areas which are in immediate need of such accommodation? If the plans are still before the Department and are not being activated by the local authority would he communicate with the local authority to ensure that they do their job of providing necessary swimming facilities for the children of Ballyfermot, Crumlin and Coolock areas?

I think I had the pleasure of opening a pool in Crumlin in the presence of the Deputy. In regard to other Dublin areas I am anxious that the corporation should produce positive proposals. These will certainly receive my support.

(Interruptions.)

(Cavan): Is the Minister now in a position to say when the present list may be cleared?

This present list is cleared as far as I am concerned. I have given an indication to the local authority that I am prepared to sanction the loans requested for each of the pools I have mentioned, all ten of them. Any delay will not be in the Department of Local Government.

(Cavan): I am not a bit interested in the ones the Minister now has——

If the Deputy has fallen asleep on the matter of bringing his proposal for a swimming pool before the Department of Local Government, then on his own head be it. I am disappointed that he has not put forward his proposal before now. He is asking about a pool, a proposal for which is not before my Department and I am not prepared to give any information about something that has not yet come before me.

(Interruptions.)

Throw him a lifebuoy.

(Cavan): We had great hopes that the Minister would not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor. I sincerely hope he will not disappoint us. I am not interested in the proposals the Minister has at present in his Department beyond the extent to which they might hold up new applications. Could the Minister give any indication of when he thinks an application presented now could be dealt with? I think that is a reasonable question.

I do not think it is a reasonable question.

(Cavan): The Minister does not know.

In the Minister's lengthy reply he said that where there is a 20 per cent contribution locally the Department are prepared to make a grant available. Does this apply also in the case of toddlers' pools? In Carlow we have got the grant for the championship pool but there is a toddlers' pool which was an afterthought. Since the 20 per cent has been subscribed locally would the Minister be prepared to sanction a grant in this case?

That is a separate matter but it is under consideration.

In reference to the swimming pool at Cabra, is the Minister aware that this pool will be of therapeutic use for deaf children and of course will be very welcome from this point of view, but could the Minister tell us whether children in the Cabra area will be able to use this pool?

The pool is specially designed for theapeutic use, as the Deputy has said. There was also a contribution from the Department of Health towards the provision of this pool and it would not be reasonable in this case to expect the authorities to make the pool generally available to the residents in the area.

If we have two pools in this area, one in St. Mary's Hospital in the Phoenix Park and the other in the Cabra hospital, both excellent, and none of which is available for the use of the children of the area, would the Minister not give consideration to the application from the Finglas area for a swimming pool?

I stated in my reply that I am particularly anxious to see pools built in areas with large populations. I think the primary consideration should be to serve the greatest number of population and ensure the greatest usage. I would ask the Deputy to direct his attention to Dublin Corporation and ask them to bring firm proposals before my Department. I could not make any decision on the application before the Department at present.