I am glad to note from the last speaker that it is not beneath him to express in regard to his colleagues in the Seanad the view which I expressed as to his motives in some of the things he said earlier. However, that is only by the way. I have sympathy with Senator Sheehy Skeffington in that I believe, as distinct from his colleagues' expression, his enthusiasm for the operations which he can foresee under this amendment tends to run away with his possible good sense in dealing with those who have brought about the situation wherein this derelict site business has become almost a national disgrace.
The question of the value of a site and the compensation to be paid is one which I would agree should not be treated in a mere amendment or part of an amendment because of the fact that you would be undervaluing it in some cases and, in fact, overvaluing it in other cases. The alternative of the 20 years'purchase would have an adverse effect. I am not stretching my credulity to the point which Senator Ryan mentioned of a mine becoming a derelict site and his point in relation to the criterion whereby compensation would be paid by the local authorities.
It is quite possible that the 20 years' purchase idea could be an extremely costly and very over-exaggerated compensation for a relatively unimportant site of little value. I think the system proposed in the Bill is the in-between. It is neither the one extreme nor the other and it has the merit of dealing with all these sites regardless of whether the person who owns them wilfully, positively or negatively brought about their state of dereliction, as it were. They will be paid compensation, if any, on the basis of the value of the cleared site, less the cost of clearance. I do not think anything could be more straightforward than that—the market value of the cleared site, less the cost of clearance. let that value be high or low. The fact that it was a derelict site and that we had to bring in this new enactment to clear it and improve conditions in general for the public amenity, the public health and the public good does not mean that, having taken power to clear it by compulsion, if necessary, all else having failed, the person who owned the site should, in fact, be blamed and punished because he has allowed it to get into that condition.
Immediately we start thinking in those terms, we must examine, possibly in detail, the long history up to the present day of how each and every derelict site came to be in its present condition. If we were to be fair and follow that approach, we would have to make the punishment fit the crime and the greater the offender and the longer he has retained a site until it has become injurious to health, the greater would be the punishment of giving him nothing, although it now had reached the state of having a very considerable value.
Today's market value of the site as a cleared site, less the cost of clearance, is far and away the least objectionable manner in which this matter can be dealt with. The owner of a derelict property, if it is valued, must be in very difficult straits, indeed, if he has allowed the site to fall into the hands of the local authority, considering that he will have got, under the terms of this Bill, various opportunities of doing the work himself and it must be that purely from a financial point of view he will have failed to do the work and retain his own site. If it is of considerable value, which, Senator Sheehy Skeffington complains should not be given to him in compensation because he allowed it to become derelict, why has he allowed it to become derelict in a positive way? Certainly he will not have allowed it, as a valuable site, to fall into the hands of the local authority by default of his doing anything with it, if it were more profitable to retain it and clear it himself.
It may be because of his inability, financially or otherwise, to do anything with this site. Therefore, it comes into the hands of the local authority. Suppose the site cost £5,000 or £6,000, why should the local authority come to reap the benefit to the tune of £5,999 19s. 11¾d. with the farthing out for the site? Why should they be given, by virtue of legislation here, even though it is for the good of the ratepayers, the benefit of the values of the sites which they declared derelict and which have fallen into their hands through Acts of the Oireachtas? Why should they be allowed to make money on sites, the value of which is the property of the person owing the site? That is where the money value comes in.
The suggestion by Senator Sheehy Skeffington is that compensation for loss of value, which a person has done nothing to create, is a scandal. I wonder how many people here this evening in their present position—I do not mean in the sense of membership of the Seanad but in the ordinary material sense—can be said to have attained that material state without any particular effort on their part? Is it to be taken that if that is so in the case of a number of people, their material goods could and should be taken from them and that no compensation should be payable to them?
That, to my mind, seems to be Senator Sheehy Skeffington's trend, but, as I say, I do give him credit that his approach to this matter, in both his amendments—both extremes, as I regard them—has arisen from the enthusiasm he feels for the job which he thinks can be done under this Bill, that that job is well worth doing, that it is crying out to be done and that the sooner it is done the better. But I do not think we need be so drastic in our approach nor that we should be punitive in our approach to neglectful owners of derelict sites. Let us hope that the terms of this Bill will be quite fair to all concerned and that despite that fairness, even to those who have been neglectful in the past, over the years its operations will ensure that derelict sites will not abound and spread over the country, over the towns and cities as they now do, to the detriment of the appearance of these areas and, indeed, to the economy of the country.