Adjournment Debate. - Water and Sewerage Facilities.

The matter I wish to raise relates to the provision of water and sewerage facilities in dwellings which do not have such facilities at present. While they can be provided under the housing aid for the elderly scheme, an allocation of £4 million is rather small when spread throughout the country. Grants for the disabled covers such works but the county council essential repairs service does not.

It is a disgrace that in 1996 some houses do not have basic water and sewerage facilities. While most council houses have such facilities many old age pensioners in private houses do not. Will the Department provide grants for the installation of such facilities? The reconstruction grant, which was approximately £1,000 per household, was abolished a few years ago. The housing aid for the elderly scheme is operated by the health boards and work is carried out by FÁS.

This is the best value for money scheme that has operated in my constituency in my political career. In 1994 the North Eastern Health Board received £312,000 for counties Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath and 736 jobs were completed. In 1995 it received £303,000 and 844 jobs, which consisted of draught proofing, fitting windows and doors, replacing slates, painting and so on, were carried out. Due to a backlog of other work, it is difficult for the health board to devote sufficient funding for the provision of water and sewerage facilities. In 1994 the allocation for the Cavan-Monaghan community care area was £123,000 and 241 jobs were completed, at an average cost of £500 per job. Running water was provided in 21 houses, toilet facilities in 33 and baths and showers in 21. Surely that is value for money. In 1995, 208 jobs were completed with a water supply provided in 16 houses, toilet facilities in 22 and baths and showers in 24.

A different system is operated in County Meath. In 1994, 372 jobs were completed in County Louth at an average cost of £300 per job. Water facilities were provided in seven houses, toilet facilities in 31 and septic tanks in the case of 12. Some group water schemes have provided cheap water connections for old people with scarce resources. Fibreglass septic tanks are easier to install than the older models.

If additional resources were allocated to the housing aid for the elderly scheme these facilities could be provided. I am not raising this matter merely because I am in Opposition: I raised it on many occasions when my party was in power and I have strong feelings about it. Under the programme, A Government of Renewal, all local authority housing must be administered by the local authority. A survey should be carried out to determine the number of houses requiring such facilities and the necessary resources should be provided.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and I know his concern is genuine. Substantial progress has been made in improving the condition and facilities available in the housing stock over recent years. In relation to water and sanitary facilities in particular the 1990 survey of the housing stock showed that between 1980 and 1990 the proportion of dwellings without an internal water supply fell from 4.3 per cent to 2.3 per cent, dwellings without an internal WC fell from 16 per cent to 6.4 per cent and dwellings without a fixed bath or shower fell from 19.5 per cent to 8 per cent. The position with regard to basic sanitary facilities in the housing stock has further improved significantly in the intervening period.

A considerable number of private dwellings have been improved under the range of measures which are currently available to improve substandard housing, including the provision of adequate bathroom and toilet facilities. In addition, some 4,500 local authority dwellings have been provided with bathroom facilities under the remedial works programme and the bathrooms sub-programme. The loss of older and substandard dwellings to the housing stock through the normal rate of obsolescence has also meant that the number of dwellings without water or sewerage facilities has reduced significantly since the 1990 survey of the housing stock.

The range of measures currently available to assist the provision of water and sewerage facilities includes group water scheme grants, the disabled person grants scheme, local authority house improvement loans, the scheme for improvement works in lieu of rehousing, the Task Force on Special Housing Aid for the Elderly, and income tax relief on the interest payable on borrowings for the purpose of improving the principal residence. Some of the measures I have just mentioned, such as income tax relief on borrowings, are available generally. Others are specifically designed to assist particular needs, such as persons with a disability. Other cater for the needs of persons who cannot afford to have necessary works of improvement carried out. All can assist the provision of adequate water and sanitary facilities in houses which lack them. There is, therefore, a range of assistance available to persons who wish to bring their dwellings up to a reasonable standard, particularly in the case of elderly or disabled persons.

While I recognise that a grant scheme such as the Deputy suggests would help to promote the conservation and improvement of the housing stock, I must also remain conscious of the potential cost. The Government's priorities in the housing area, as set out inA Government of Renewal, are to expand the local authority and other social housing programmes and to upgrade deficient local authority dwellings. As the available resources will, accordingly, be concentrated on these programmes, I have no proposals at this stage to introduce a house improvement grants scheme for water and sewerage facilities or generally.