asked the Minister for Local Government if he will confirm that the figures given by the Central Bank concerning the reduction in the number of private building starts are correct; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Private Building Starts.
I presume the Deputy is referring to the figures in Table 42 of the statistical supplement to the Quarterly Bulletin of the Central Bank of Ireland which sets out economic indicators for building and construction and draws on my Department's Quarterly Bulletin of Housing Statistics for data.
The figures to which the Deputy refers do not, however, give numbers of private building starts but numbers of new house grant allocations. In normal circumstances such figures would be fair indicators of probable house starts, since it could be taken that builders would start building within a reasonable time of getting a grant allocation. However, as I explained to the House in a reply to Question No. 7 on 7th May, 1974, and in supplementary replies to Question No. 24 on 23rd May, 1974, last year's figures were distorted by the efforts of builders to have grants allocated for as many houses as possible before the introduction of price control in February, 1973. A large number of houses for which the 10,626 grant allocations were made in the first three months of 1973 probably were not commenced for a considerable time afterwards; indeed, some may not yet have been begun. If regard is had to the figures for the preceding quarters of 1972-73 and those for earlier years, the extent of the distortion will be clear.
I might add that new house grant allocations in April and May of the current year totalled 2,946 and exceed substantially the figure of 1,649 allocations in the same months of last year.
The statement that the Minister has made is not the statement——
Is the Deputy asking a question?
I am merely asking a question. Is the Minister aware that the Taoiseach, the head of the Government, had to apologise to the House here in relation to this statement by the Central Bank in regard to the statistics published about the building industry? The statement in the newspapers showed quite clearly that house building dropped by 43 per cent on the level of the previous year and starts by speculative builders and private houses generally dropped 60 per cent below the level of the previous year. We are talking about the current year, not statistics issued by the Central Bank. This was a statement issued to the Press and there was serious dislocation in the building construction industry and the consequences would be that fewer would be employed and there would be future unemployment in the industry.
The Deputy is making a statement. He is not asking a question.
I am sorry the House has to listen to the utter rubbish Deputy Timmons has been trying to put across here.
That is uncalled for.
Deputy Timmons does not understand what the Central Bank published. He comes in here and tries to put it across that the Taoiseach had to apologise. The Taoiseach had to do no such thing. All he said was that this was not an official Government publication; it was a Press statement issued by the Central Bank. Deputy Timmons puts down a question and he then objects to my replying to that question. The fact is that 10,000 people started building houses last year in the month of February in order to beat having to get the price of their houses approved by the Department of Local Government. There was one good thing the previous Government did, but it did tend to distort the number of houses shown for the first quarter of any year; they range between 3,500 and 4,000. That is the position for every year, except last year, for the reason I have given. They have now come back to the normal 3,500 this year. Those are the facts and, if Deputy Timmons does not understand them, that is not my fault.
The fact is that the Central Bank is a responsible institution.