Dáil Éireann - Volume 304 - 15 March, 1978

Vote 29: Environment (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:

That a sum not exceeding £201,684,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st day of December, 1978, for the salaries and expenses of the Minister for the Environment, including grants to Local Authorities, grants and other expenses in connection with housing, and miscellaneous schemes and grants including a grant-in-aid.

—(Minister for the Environment.)

Mr. Tully: Before the adjournment I was referring to a number of things in the Estimate which I thought needed explanation and I should like now to continue in that vein. The number of houses built must be continued at around 25,000 level for a number of years to come and in order to achieve that level, it will be necessary [1658] to have the local authority schemes kept up to somewhere between 6,500 and 8,000 houses per year.

One of the biggest problems facing the Minister will, of course, be the provision of money. While I know the present Government have increased the qualification limit to £3,500 for SDA loans and the amount which can be borrowed to £7,000 I believe they are miscalculating when they suggest this will solve all the problems. To give that as a reason for reducing the number of local authority houses being built is, to say the least of it, a bit ridiculous and I would ask the Minister to look at it again because, if he follows that line, he will find before very long what I found, namely, that there is no point in increasing the amount of the SDA loan for someone who cannot afford the repayments. This is a very significant point and I am afraid that in the efforts to give the impression that something big was being done for the building industry the publicity attached to the increase in the amount for SDA loans was blown up and the mechanics of it were obviously not properly examined. Someone on an ordinary week's wages will not now apparently be considered for rehousing and he will find it extremely difficult to borrow £7,000 or, if he does succeed in borrowing it, he will find it extremely difficult to repay it. This is no substitute for local authority houses and I would appeal to the Minister to continue building local authority houses and to expand the low rise mortgage or in some other way ensure those at the bottom of the income scale will not be left out in the cold. They were left out in the cold by a Fianna Fáil Government before and I would not like to see that happen again. I ask that the matter be well examined and some effort made to ensure that this policy does not work out in that way.

The reduction of the interest rates on a local authority SDA mortgage is something which all of us who held ministerial office had to look at from time to time. It is always necessary to remember the high interest rate being paid by the State in borrowing the money but that is cold comfort to the [1659] people who have borrowed and are repaying it. While the amount has been reduced following a very substantial reduction in interest rates generally, the interest rate on SDA loans has not been reduced sufficiently and I ask that this matter get immediate attention and a further reduction in SDA interest rates be considered.

I come now to one of the main ways of financing housing, namely, the building societies. It was my privilege to put through this House, with the assistance of Members on both sides, the most recent legislation dealing with building societies. There was a feeling at one stage that the Bill should simply and solely look after one or other sectional interest, but that was not my idea, the idea of the Government or of the House so, when the Bill went through, it took into consideration a number of aspects which made good sense. At the moment the interest rates paid on building society loans is fairly low and the interest paid on building society investments is still lower. The building societies, with the immense amount of money they are now taking in, might have another look at the interest rates they are paying because it is the small investors from whom they are getting their money and those small investors should, in my opinion, get more than they are getting at the present time. I believe this could be done without increasing the rate to the borrower. Again, if they are not prepared to do that, they should have a good look at the rate they are charging the borrower. Perhaps the gap between the amount they are paying and the amount they are getting is a bit too small. Building societies borrow short and lend long. That is one of their big problems but they have now got security—thanks again to the activities of the previous Government and to the officials of the Department who carried out negotiations and finalised matters before the change of Government. There is now greater security in investing in building societies but a tight watch must be kept on the way building society funds are handled. I am not saying that those [1660] who run those societies are not honest, reliable people, but they have their own interests and the interests of the societies to think about and it is from that point of view they will deal with their funds.

With regard to the guarantee given by builders on the completion of houses, there may be a great deal of misunderstanding about this. This guarantee was sought over a number of years. Negotiations were carried out by officials during the period of the last Government and they were finalised with an official of the federation before the change of Government took place. That should be on record. The construction industry federation were very anxious to ensure they would have a big say and, while they have a say, it would be wrong if they had the entire say. The Department must look after this aspect. I believe this will do a great deal of good. It should not be a political football and it was a mistake on the part of the Minister to give the impression that this was something he thought up and put into operation in a matter of weeks. This is the result of a great deal of hard work over a number of years. A number of speculative builders had no regard for anybody and the time had come when something had to be done to ensure these did not continue to operate in the way in which they were operating. Most builders are decent, reliable people who do a good job and these others were dragging their name down into the mud. I am glad this is now in operation but I repeat it was not something just thought up overnight.

Two of the things the Government have done, things they made a song and dance about in their election manifesto and things which had a great deal to do with the result of that election, are the abolition of rates and tax on motor vehicles up to 16 horse power. One of the things that should be remembered in regard to rates is the fact that rates generally were affected by the activities of the previous Government who took health and housing completely off the rates. Rates this year would be approximately £8.50 in the £ more than they would [1661] have been but for the fact that health and housing were removed from them. They were taken off everything, including all kinds of land and industry. This was the difference between the previous Government and the present Government.

Last year a decision was made to take one-quarter of the rates off housing and this made it much easier for the Government to complete something that had been started by their predecessors. I am not quarrelling with the decision made but there is one aspect about which I am not happy. This year we had intended to take the remaining three-quarters away. The present Government have taken away the full amount, and good luck to them. However, they are claiming credit for something for which they are only partially or marginally responsible. If health and housing charges had not been taken off the rates by the previous Government, the job of taking the entire amount away in one fell swoop would be very much greater. In fact, it would be almost impossible. They would not be able to find overnight another £8.50 in the £.

I am not sure if local government reorganisation is going ahead. Is it intended to take into consideration the fact that rates are not now the big source of cash for local authorities as in previous years and will this have an influence on the effectiveness of local authority elected representatives? It should not, but there is a grave danger that people at the top will take the attitude that as they are not paying the piper now they may call the tune to a much lesser extent. This is something that would be opposed not only by those people opposed to the Government but by their own local representatives. I shall never forget when I took over in the Customs House the number of Fianna Fáil councillors who told me that they were in complete agreement with my decision not to do away with the 42 small local authorities as my predecessor had proposed. Those representatives will not have changed. They are honoured that they are elected to represent their area on the local authority and that honour [1662] and responsibility should be left with them.

With regard to the matter of car tax, on one occasion I attempted to get the car tax from payment for petrol. The reason that attempt foundered was that at the same time I wanted to have included third-party insurance. If the Government stipulate that every vehicle on the road must have at least third-party insurance, the onus is on the Government to ensure that such insurance is available. This Government, or some future Government must adopt that course. At the present time there is a £5 charge on cars up to 16 h.p. which is a relatively small amount of money, but when one considers the cost of insurance it is obvious that many vehicles are neither taxed or insured. That is entirely wrong. There is the possibility that there will be many vehicles on our roads that will be a grave danger to the public because not alone do drivers not have a licence but they also do not have insurance.

There has been much talk recently about insurance and the cost of full comprehensive cover. I had full comprehensive insurance for a car for £87 with a certain insurance company. When I got a new car costing £3,000 and asked for additional cover for it I was quoted what they considered to be a reasonable sum—£400.75 per annum. If they would do that to me who had a no-claims bonus, what would they do to a young person who buys an old jalopy? The whole question of insurance is more important than road tax and I would ask the Minister to examine the situation seriously before it gets any worse.

An extraordinary thing has happended quite recently. The change of Government had nothing to do with it, but since the middle of last summer the number of road fatalities has increased out of all recognition. For a period of three years there was a gradual decrease in the number and we were delighted that the efforts of the Road Safety Association and others were having some effect. However, the graph has gone in the other direction. I do not know why, but for some extraordinary reason the number of [1663] people killed on the roads is growing daily.

A definite effort will have to be made to prevent this slaughter. We talk about what is happening in Northern Ireland but there are far more people killed here every week than are killed in a month in the troubles in the North. The Road Safety Association are doing an excellent job but they must get more assistance. However, one thing has happened with which I disagree and I cannot see why it was allowed. I am referring to cases of drunken driving. I do not understand why the tests carried out in such instances were abandoned. There is some talk that they may be introduced in a stronger way. Talk will never stop drunken driving. The only thing that will stop it is a stringent application of the law and I would appeal to the Government to reintroduce the tests. A life lost cannot be replaced and there is no use in saying we intend to do something about it if we do not take action.

I should like to compliment the Minister on increasing the improvement grants for houses and also for the provision of water and sewerage services. This is something I would have done if I were in the Minister's place. I am glad the Minister has taken action and that he has been able to get the necessary money. It is extra-ordinary in this country that people tend to leave a relatively good house and build one that may cost the earth but which will not be a patch on the original dwelling if a few pounds were spent on it. The Department should encourage people to keep their old houses in repair and should give grants for this purpose. There are a number of charitable organisations in this city who are working on this aspect. I had discussions with them and with the Archbishop of Dublin. These people should be given financial assistance to help in this matter.

The question of the inner city housing is tied up with keeping reasonably good houses in good repair. It is no use in saying they have gone beyond repair or that they are quite old. Some of the houses throughout [1664] the country have been built for very many years and yet they are much better than modern ones. Every encouragement should be given to local authorities and private individuals to help in this matter. Similar assistance should be given for the provision of water and sewerage schemes. I do not think it was a good idea to centralise the administration of water and sewerage schemes, reconstruction grants and new housing grants. I wanted them spread out throughout the country. A number of local authorities took on pilot schemes and they did quite well. A person examining a house for the purpose of a loan could also examine it for the purpose of finding out if it qualified for a grant. The Minister would be well advised to have another look at this because that is real local government.

We have heard a lot about house prices. House prices again seems to be going out through the ceiling. I was rather amused to see the document produced showing the index of house prices for the past month. It showed no change from February to March. I presume that is the correct situation but, if you go out to buy a house, that does not appear to be so. I am well aware that the certificate of reasonable value should not allow the price of houses to be exorbitant. I imagine the reason why the price of houses is going up so quickly is that the costs of the materials which make up the house have gone up. A builder is blamed for increasing the price of his house by £1,000 at the same time as the £1,000 grant came into operation, but he is only reflecting the additional cost of the materials he is putting into those houses. This has to be faced up to. It is certainly not the fault of the Department that these things are happening.

Those are the points I wanted to cover. I wish the Minister well. I am quite sure he is as anxious to see the Department properly run as I was. I am quite sure he will get the same excellent co-operation from his officials as I got. I am quite sure when he puts something before the House it will be based on the best possible advice. I should like to warn him that [1665] he should not attempt to give the impression that he can press a button and produce endless amounts of money to do things which are necessary but for which the money is not available. I would have done them, and my predecessors would have done them, if the money had been available, but it was not there. An impression builds up in people's minds that if they shout loudly enough they will get what they want.

I will finish on the question of the planning board. They are doing a good job. They may be tied up because the technical advice in the inspection system may not be available as quickly as it should be. Unfortunately, over the past five or six years, or perhaps a little bit longer, we have had professional protesters who protest against everything under the sun. Nothing makes me so mad as when somebody buys a house in a new housing scheme and sees green fields all around him and wants to retain them. That is not possible. These people should catch themselves on and allow progress to be made. The position is the same in regard to industry. These people impede industrial progress. I would ask them to be reasonable and see that it is not in the best interests of the country to do what they want done.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. J. O'Leary): The speech of the Minister in opening this debate shows the scale and range of the activities of the Department of the Environment. The Department are involved in the implementation of many of the main planks of the policies of the Government as enshrined in our election manifesto. Rates on domestic and certain other properties have been abolished and alternative arrangements have been devised to finance the operations of local authorities. Road tax on private cars up to 16 horse power and on all motor cycles has gone. The scheme of £1,000 grants and the improved housing loans scheme are putting new life into the private housing sector. The substantially increased house improvement grants and the broadening of the field of eligibility for those grants are providing [1666] a major spurt to this important facet of our housing programme. The additional financial allocations provided by the Government for roads, water and sewerage schemes, environmental works, and so on, are providing the extra jobs to which the Government are so much committed.

In this contribution to the debate on the Environment Estimate I shall for the most part be concentrating on the particular areas of the Department's operations with which I am concerned. To that extent, what I have to say will be selective. This may be all to the good. The Minister in opening this debate demonstrated the range and scope of the activities of the Department of the Environment. He necessarily had to curtail his review of certain aspects of what the Department do. I hope to deal somewhat more extensively with a number of important items.

Deputy Tully expressed concern that the Government's action on rates would erode local authority powers. This fear is entirely unfounded. In his opening speech the Minister made it clear that the arrangements proposed would not interfere in any way with the discretion of local authorities to determine priorities within the rate in the £ they strike. Local authorities will continue to exercise their best judgment on local priorities.

The Government since taking office have demonstrated the sincerity of their intentions on job-creation. No-where has this been more apparent than in the building and construction industry. The prosperity of the industry is vital for the economy as a whole. The chronic unemployment situation inherited from the previous Government was worst of all in the building sector. In the early part of 1977 the number of unemployed building workers reached a peak more than twice the level for 1973. Once the new Government had taken office action was speedily taken to create jobs in building and construction.

Additional financial allocations were made last July for roads, water supply and sewerage schemes, and for environmental works, local improvement schemes, as well. This approach has [1667] been reaffirmed by the further substantial allocations announced in the budget for 1978. Opposition Deputies like to give the impression that the Government's measures on job-creation simply look good on paper but have no effect whatever on the ground. Unfortunately if they say this often enough, some people will be foolish enough to believe them. This is why we on the Government side have to keep on putting the record straight.

I am concerned in this debate with the job-creation record for the area for which I have responsibility, that is, the building and construction industry. The measures taken by the Government specifically to create jobs in building and construction have meant the creation of 1,670 new jobs up to the end of December 1977. The vast bulk of these jobs were in areas for which the Minister for the Environment is responsible. Road works alone accounted for 700 workers. There are two points I should like to emphasise here. First, all these 1,670 jobs are direct on-site jobs. Consequently, they do not reflect the full extent of the employment created.

There has been estimated spin-off employment in the building materials industry and elsewhere of about 500. Secondly for those of a doubting disposition these figures are for persons actually working. They are based on returns supplied by local authorities.

Apart from the specific job-creation measures, other steps taken by the Government have given a boost to employment. Here I refer particularly to the introduction of the £1,000 grant for the first-time owner occupiers of new houses and the increased loan and income limits for housing loans from local authorities. The resulting increase in employment on house-building cannot be quantified in detail. Past experience indicates that the increased activity in the private housing sector has meant about an extra 1,000 jobs by the end of December last.

The initiatives of the Government in the early weeks of office were, of course, only the beginning of the Government's job-creation programme for [1668] the building and construction industry. The real impact will be seen this year. Public capital expenditure allocations affecting the building and construction industry in 1978 amount to £458 million, an increase of £86 million or 23 per cent on 1977.

This represents a substantial increase in real terms. It is expected that it may be sufficient to create up to 5,000 further direct jobs. As with the additional jobs created in 1977, careful records of the new jobs will be kept. Any critics of the programme can rest easy in the knowledge that when we claim jobs have been created we are speaking of people actually working and not simply of jobs on paper. While remaining sensitive about the job-creation programme and consequently ready at all times to defend it against ill-informed criticism, the Government are not foolish enough to believe that the programme of itself is solving the unemployment problem. What has been done shows a commitment to fighting unemployment in the building and construction industry. By making a start we are creating an atmosphere of confidence in the private sector. Evidence of confidence being restored has been there since the autumn of last year. I am sure the Government's belief is justified and will be vindicated by the increased building and construction output this year. On the basis of the information available to date, output this year will top the £900 million mark. This would see the industry back on the road to prosperity.

When speaking about the construction industry Deputy Keating mentioned the position along East Wall in Dublin. He told the House that children living in that area must play on the railway line. My information is that children do not have to play on the railway. I am told that immediately beside this area Fairview Park is located, a large and well laid out open space. The well laid out Clontarf promenade is also adjacent to East Wall.

The Supplementary Estimate to be moved at the conclusion of this debate provides £4.2 million for two schemes to stimulate employment among young [1669] persons. The two schemes involved were put forward by the Employment Action Team set up by the Government to devise schemes for youth employment. The major scheme is for a programme of environmental improvement schemes to be carried out by local authorities. I would not like persons to believe that this is, as one Deputy said, a “sham”. This is an entirely new scheme. The programme is expected to provide employment for young workers equivalent to 1,000 jobs of one year's duration. Secondly, the works to be undertaken will have considerable environmental, recreational and amenity value to the community. The second scheme is somewhat more modest in its employment potential. It envisages the employment by local authorities of 150 first-year apprentices to construction. Nevertheless, it will afford an opportunity to young persons to learn worth-while trades like carpentry, plumbing, plastering, blocklaying and so on to meet the problem of shortage of certain skilled tradesmen in the construction industry.

The Minister when introducing this estimate dealt at some length with the scheme of £1,000 grants for first-time owner occupiers of new houses. I do not intend to go over the same ground. I would however, like to comment briefly on some recent spurious suggestions that, because all or most of the grants applied for have not already been paid, the scheme is of no benefit. This puerile attempt to discredit the scheme cannot succeed. Everybody knows that, on average, it takes six to 12 months to complete a house. The grant is payable only on completion and occupation of the house. Bearing in mind that the earliest starting date under the scheme was 26 May 1977 it is only from now on that the grants will be maturing for payment in any number. I know that the existence of a decent grant has been a tremendous help to young couples in buying their own homes. In many cases it has meant the difference between being able to buy a house around the time of their marriage and having to wait to scrape together a deposit. The trouble about waiting is that additional savings can very easily be eaten up by [1670] higher prices. The result then is that many couples would end up never being able to achieve the goal of owning their own house. The grant can be approved as soon as purchase has been agreed or before building commences, as the case may be. By authorising the payment of the grant direct to their bank account, applicants will often be facilitated by the bank as far as a deposit or building finance is concerned. The same applies in relation to bridging loans while people are waiting to have local authority loans approved.

There is always a danger that the additional demand for new houses created by the Government's measure, combined with the additional money being injected into the private house industry, could result in increased prices of houses. Such a development would ultimately tend to defeat the very purpose of the Government's measures. I appreciate that new house costs will have to increase to reflect increased labour and material costs. We must do everything possible to ensure that prices are not increased further to facilitate excessive profit taking by builders, developers or speculators by exploiting what is a basic human need. This is why I am very anxious to ensure that we have an effective form of control on the prices of grant-type houses and flats. These dwellings are benefiting substantially from State aids, whether by way of grants, loans or stamp duty exemption. It is only just that the prices charged should be seen to be reasonable.

As the Minister mentioned, the system of certificates of reasonable value was extended last July to cover all grant-type houses and flats built for sale. It was made a condition of payment of these grants that the builder of a house or flat should have obtained a certificate of reasonable value in respect of the price being charged. Since taking up office I have studied the operation of these controls. I am satisfied that the method of assessment of reasonable value for the purpose of issuing certificates is a fair one and that it strikes the right balance between the interests of both [1671] builders and purchasers. It is inevitable that there are some builders who do not welcome any form of control on house prices. It is, however, clear that if they are building houses which are benefiting from public funds they must accept some degree of control. Many purchasers although embarking on the major financial transaction of their lives very often have little experience of house prices and no knowledge of building costs. It must be comforting to them to know that a particular price has been accepted by the Department as representing reasonable value. The issue of a certificate also means that the plans and specification comply with the Department's standards. It ensures that inspections will be carried out to check that the houses or flats are not being built to an inferior standard. This is of particular importance in the case of any dwelling which is not guaranteed. I will be returning to this point again.

I mentioned earlier the fact that the scope of the controls had been extended to take in grant-type flats. I am pleased to say that we have just recently issued the first certificates of reasonable value in respect of a flat development. First-time purchasers of these flats will now be eligible for the £1,000 grant and they will all qualify for stamp duty exemption. I trust that this refutes allegations and suggestions which have come from certain quarters that the Department are not serious about giving CRVs and consequently grants for flats. As far as I am concerned there is no bias whatever against flats or in favour of houses. I think that flats have an important role in the private building sector particularly in the larger urban areas. There are a number of other flat projects for which applications have been received and examination of these is proceeding as quickly as possible. These will also be considered on their merits. Certificates will issue if they are regarded as representing reasonable value at the prices proposed.

Over the past three years reductions in prices of houses for which CRVs were originally sought amounted to more than £1½ million. This is an in-controvertible [1672] reply to anyone who questions the value of the controls. It is, however, by no means a full measure of the benefits to house purchasers. Indeed it could be said that they have most effect before the builder submits his price for examination. I think it would be generally agreed that the system has been responsible for a much more logical and disciplined approach to pricing on the part of builders than was the case previously.

Experience has also shown that there are a number of areas where the existing system should be tightened up. It is intended to do so in the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 1977, which, as Deputies are aware, has already been introduced by long and short titles. These amendments to section 35 of the Housing Act, 1966, will not involve any fundamental change in the operation of the scheme. Rather they will be aimed at preventing any abuses of the system such as builders misleading purchasers or taking unfair advantage of them under price variation clauses.

Earlier I referred to standards of building in the context of CRVs. I would now like to expand on this aspect in the light of the new structural guarantee scheme which was referred to earlier by Deputy Tully. It has long been recognised both among house builders and among the general public that there was a need for some system of guarantees on privately built houses and flats. This need arose from the point of view of both protecting the purchaser against irresponsible builders and faulty workmanship and protecting the reputation of house builders in general. The unscrupulous activities of a small number of dishonest operators which have been highlighted from time to time serve to reinforce this conviction.

Therefore it is clear that the Department and the Construction Industry Federation as the representative of house builders had a mutual interest in developing a satisfactory guarantee scheme. Such a scheme has been in operation since the beginning of this year and it is a tribute to the results of close co-operation in pursuit of a common objective. I am confident that [1673] this spirit of co-operation will result in worth-while benefits to house purchasers.

The scheme as announced last January provides for the preparation by the guarantee company of a register of builders who are qualified to participate in the scheme. Before being admitted to the register, builders' financial and technical capacity to build houses or flats of a good standard is vetted. I understand that the level of interest already shown by builders is very encouraging and that a total of 176 building firms had been registered by 22 February 1978. I would expect that many people providing new houses for themselves will now, before committing themselves to a contract for the purchase or erection of a house, check whether their builder is registered under the guarantee scheme. Similarly, it is to be hoped that the various lending agencies will give all possible support to the scheme. This is most important.

It should be clearly understood that the Department accept no responsibility for any guarantee given by the company. Nevertheless the Department have, through their housing inspectorate, a vital role in the operation of the scheme. Each house for which a guarantee is sought will be inspected at three stages—foundation, roofing and completion—before a guarantee certificate is issued. The Department will monitor closely the operation of the scheme by the attendance of two officers as observers at all meetings of the company.

The guarantee covers any major structural defects arising within a six-year period after completion. It is the builder's responsibility in the first instance to make good any structural defects. In the event of default the guarantee company will honour the guarantee and may remove the builder from the register. I want to stress that this scheme will be fully reviewed after two years of operation to see if it is fulfilling the need for which it was established. If it is, then perhaps we can talk about expanding its scope— for instance, to cover a greater range of defects or to extend the six-year time limit. But if, on the other hand, it is not proving satisfactory we will have [1674] no alternative but to consider other solutions.

Before departing from the realm of private housing, I should like to refer to the present indications of the vastly increased activity generated by the house improvement grants scheme announced last December. This is evident from a look at the volume of applications coming into the Department.

In the period 1 January to the end of February 1978 we received 5,200 applications for reconstruction and water/sewerage grants whereas in the same period last year only 2,778 applications were received. It was essential that the former Government's tendency not to encourage the conservation and improvement of existing houses should be halted. Our housing stock is an enormously important national asset and not to encourage the conservation of such an asset was surely economic lunacy. It was bad business and bad management. In January 1977 instead of increasing the construction, water and sewerage grants to allow for rapidly increasing costs the Government decided to restrict eligibility for reconstruction grants to houses which complied with certain valuation limits. No credible reason for this apparently illogical step was ever given. It certainly never made sense to me. What it did point to was a total lack of any comprehensive housing policy because conservation and improvement of existing houses must form a vital plank of any such policy.

As with improvement grants generally, the maximum amount payable by the Department to local authorities for recoupment of grants in respect of the adaptation of houses to facilitate occupants suffering from physical handicap or acute mental illness remained inadequate. The previous maximum of £400 had become totally divorced from the real cost of these alterations. I am particularly pleased that this figure has now been trebled. I am having the position about essential repair grants reviewed at the moment and I hope that, as with the reconstruction and water and sewerage grants, the maximum amount payable by the Department for these works [1675] will be increased. This matter was mentioned by Deputy Deasy yesterday when he inquired about section 30 grants for essential repairs to houses.

As regards road safety which was mentioned by previous speakers, apart from the direct investment in our roads system there are other important matters related to overall road policy on which I should like to touch. Even though I dealt with some of them in the recent budget debate they are serious enough to merit adverting to them again. Deputies, and I am sure the public at large are aware of the continuing intolerable level of road accidents. Certain aspects of this deplorable situation deserve to be highlighted.

Provisional figures show that 576 people were killed and 8,099 injured on our roads in 1977. The figure for deaths is 51 more than the total for 1976, an increase of almost 10 per cent. The increase in deaths recorded in the Dublin Garda Metropolitan area was almost 50 per cent. In other words, last year an average of some 24 people suffered either death or injury in road accidents every single day of the year. Is this not an alarming state of affairs for such a small country with such a relatively small population? It is impossible to assess the grief and pain to which these accidents give rise, and my sympathy goes to all concerned. A secondary, but nevertheless very disturbing, feature is the economic consequences of accidents. In terms of medical services, Garda costs, damage to property and loss of output, it has been estimated at some £40 million in 1976 by An Foras Forbartha. With more people killed and injured during 1977 and allowing for increased costs, the bill for road accidents will be even more staggering. If resources of this magnitude could be diverted to job creation purposes what an impact it would make on the economy. I would appeal earnestly to all road users—motorists, cyclists and pedestrians—to exercise more care on the roads and to have a little more consideration for others. This would help in no small way to [1676] achieve a worth-while reduction in the accident toll.

Apart from the contribution which could be made by a sensible attitude on the part of all road users, there are other factors which help significantly in lessening the level of carnage on the roads. Over half the drivers on our roads are persons who had to undergo a driving test before obtaining a full licence. I have no doubt that the knowledge and skill acquired to undergo the test has kept a bad accident situation from becoming even worse. I would like to take the opportunity to remind all drivers who have undergone and passed a test to strive at all times to drive to the same standard. While speaking of the test, there have been suggestions from time to time that a proportion at least of persons taking the test are deliberately failed as a matter of policy. This is completely untrue. The test standards are set at a realistic level and uniformly applied. The emphasis is on ensuring that only those who can drive normally are issued with a full licence. With a big increase in the number of applications for the test last year there has been a longer waiting period in most areas. However, extra testers are now being recruited to cope with this demand.

Periodic surveys over the past few years have shown that upwards of 80 per cent of cars have some defect or other. Some are seriously defective. It has to be said that this is a sad reflection on many vehicle owners. It shows a total lack of responsibility, given the daily reminders of road accidents. Lights, brakes, tyres and steering are the items most commonly found defective. I appeal to all motorists in their own interests and in the interests of the public generally to have regular and effective checks carried out on their vehicles.

In this general context I wish to acknowledge again the considerable effort being made by the Garda, An Foras Forbartha and the National Road Safety Association in the interests of road safety. I will, of course, support their efforts to the fullest possible extent. This year, as subhead L of the Estimate we are discussing shows, we will be spending almost [1677] £250,000 on the promotion of road safety through the National Road Safety Association. The programme of the association for 1978 includes the continued expansion of the national cycling training scheme and the junior school warden scheme, the production of a further series of public service filmlets for television, continued publicity on reflective armbands and safety belts, and a series of general road safety posters.

I should also acknowledge the contribution being made by local authorities in the field of road safety. The guidelines issued by the Department to the authorities recommend that, in the selection of projects to be carried out by them under their annual road programmes, they should take positive steps to upgrade road safety design standards for all road users. They could do this, for example, by the provision of non-skid surfaces, the elimination of accident black spots, the improvement of substandard junctions, the provision of pedestrian facilities and the improvement of the standard of public lighting generally.

The number of motor vehicles on our roads continues to grow. In 1977 for example, there were nearly 750,000. With this level of traffic one of the most pressing problems facing urban authorities is that of traffic congestion. It remains the responsibility of each local authority to determine the priorities in the expenditure of the funds made available to them by way of block grants. Incidentally these grants have been increased this year by over £1 million. In the allocation of the block grants certain guidelines have been laid down in relation to the selection of projects which include the installation of co-ordinated signal systems, one-way systems and other measures for the proper management of the road systems, including the operation of a traffic warden service. The enforcement of parking controls is in general the responsibility of the Garda, under whose aegis traffic wardens operate in Dublin, Cork, Athlone and Killarney. A number of local authorities—Dundalk, Ennis, Naas and Tullamore Urban District Councils and Galway and Limerick Corporations—have already availed of the [1678] Local Authorities (Traffic Wardens) Act, 1974, to employ traffic wardens.

Deputy Deasy yesterday advocated a more extensive use of traffic wardens by local authorities as a means of easing the flow of traffic in towns. I am glad to say that, in addition to the towns I mentioned, a number of other local authorities are considering the implementation of the Act. The Act empowers the local authority to provide a warden service for another authority. This procedure is being used by, for example, Tipperary (South Riding) County Council who have employed wardens and will deploy them as necessary initially in Clonmel and then throughout the county. This is an arrangement which other county councils could consider. I should like to congratulate the authorities who have taken the initiative and operated this scheme.

As regards vehicle registration, I should like to say that progress in the computerisation of vehicle registration has been significantly faster than had been anticipated due to the abolition of road tax on cars not exceeding 16 horse power and on all motor cycles. At present details of about 200,000 vehicles, from the total vehicle population of about 750,000, are on computer files. It is now expected that the national vehicle file on computer will be completed by about the end of 1979. The computerised records will be directly available to the Garda on a 24-hour seven days a week basis. These records will be of assistance to the Garda in the administration of the road traffic law and in the areas of crime detection and security. The records will also facilitate action on evasion of payment of vehicle excise duty.

As a Deputy representing a predominantly rural area I have always been interested in the group water scheme movement. Piped water supplies are a basic need for the economic and social development of rural areas. The progressive farmer needs piped water to ensure hygiene on the farm, to secure higher yields of good quality milk and to promote the healthy development of livestock. Without piped water rural families are faced with the drudgery of drawing water to the [1679] house each day of the week. Some 15 years or so ago a vigorous programme commenced to bring piped water to rural houses and associated farms. It was not economically feasible for county councils to undertake this programme on their own. For this reason special grants were instituted to encourage rural communities to undertake private co-operative water schemes, more commonly known as group schemes. These schemes have been an outstanding success and the figures speak for themselves. To date, piped water has been installed in nearly 57,000 houses by group schemes. Work is in progress on schemes to serve 8,000 more houses. Some 200 further schemes are designed to serve an additional 8,400 houses. Group schemes have given an estimated 40,000 farms access to a piped water supply.

The success of group schemes is due, first and foremost, to the tremendous work done on a completely voluntary basis by scheme promoters and local committees throughout the country. The county councils play a vital role in stimulating group schemes actively by developing sources and laying pipes and main trunk lines to suitable take-off points for local group schemes and by providing financial and technical assistance. It is right to mention the Department's group scheme inspectors who are available to advise and assist groups from the early stages right through to the completion of the water schemes involved. These inspectors are doing a tremendous job on the ground.

Group schemes started from small beginnings. In the early 1960s the typical scheme served 30 houses or fewer. The number of houses provided with a domestic piped water supply by way of group schemes was just in excess of 1,000 annually. Today individual group schemes may serve up to 600 houses. The number of houses served each year is approaching the 8,000 mark. Group schemes are now really big business. Last year public and private investment in group schemes is estimated to have exceeded £4 million.

Notwithstanding these successes, far [1680] too many rural dwellings and farms are still denied access to piped water. Schemes are becoming more expensive because of rising wages and material costs. Schemes have increasingly to be undertaken in difficult terrain. It was against this background that the Government decided to increase the maximum grant for a domestic water supply installed through a group scheme from £200 to £300 per house for schemes commenced on or after 1 November 1977. The grant of up to £200 will continue to be paid for each potential farm supply catered for by a group scheme. The result is very substantial increases to £3.1 million in the provision for the payments of group grants in 1978. I feel sure that these measures will maintain the impetus of the group scheme movement towards the ultimate goal of piped water for every home. What I have said about the campaign to provide rural dwellers with the basic amenity of a piped water supply should provide a measure of assurance to Deputy Deasy, who spoke yesterday about the plight of those without a piped water supply.

The wide scope of the local government superannuation code may not be generally appreciated. The code applies to both officers and manual workers employed by local authorities. The total number of pensionable employees is more than 35,000. In addition the code covers approximately 30,000 health board employees, 6,000 employees of vocational education committees, 1,000 employees of committees of agriculture and 3,000 employees of other bodies, such as corporate bodies established under both health and local government legislation. In all the superannuation provisions provide for no less than 75,000 employees. The types of people covered include a wide range of persons—for example, doctors, engineers, road workers, nurses, administrators, general workers, agricultural instructors and so on. The total cost of the benefits now being paid to pensioners by the bodies in question is estimated at about £18 million a year. The local government superannuation code may well be exceptional in the extent and [1681] range of its coverage. It is also unique in so far as no other part of the statutory functions of the Minister involves direct responsibility for such a wide diversity of bodies.

The figures I have given put in perspective the background to the changes in superannuation conditions to which the Minister referred in his opening speech. The changes follow from a report submitted in June 1977 by a working party set up by the previous Government. The working party comprises representatives of both staff and management interests as well as officers of the Departments of the Environment, the Public Service and Health. In accordance with the working party's recommendations, most of the changes and conditions form part of an inclusive package for which individual employees may exercise an option up to 31 May next. Any employee who does not opt to have the new conditions applied to him has the right to remain under the superannuation conditions to which he was subject immediately prior to 27 May 1977, which is the effective date for the working party's recommendations generally. The changes are being brought into effect in advance of enabling legislation. It was considered essential to do this. Otherwise there would inevitably have been a considerable time lag in introducing the new conditions. There would be resultant hardship both for existing employees coming to retirement and for dependants of former employees. I assure the House that it is the intention to press ahead as quickly as possible with new legislation under which statutory effect will be given to the new conditions.

A manual worker who opts for the new arrangements may join a widows' and orphans' pension scheme similar to the scheme which has been in operation for the officer grades for some years. This is a progressive step which will enable manual workers to make contingency provisions for their dependants by means of a relatively small contribution from their incomes. Manual workers in the local service have maintained for some years that they should have the same rights as officers in relation to a scheme of this kind. I am pleased that their justifiable [1682] grievance in this respect is now being met. I am also glad that the distinction which existed between officers and manual workers in regard to the payment of a lump sum on retirement is now being removed. In future a manual worker will be able to qualify on retirement for a lump sum. That sum, as in the case of an officer, can range up to one-and-a-half times his annual pay.

Other changes of note relating to manual workers include the removal of certain restrictions in the reckoning of service for pension purposes, added years for a worker who is forced to retire prematurely because of permanent infirmity, and the ability to restore for pension purposes service given in past years which as a result of options made at the time was not pensionable. The new arrangements provide that in the case of service given after 27 May 1977 by a manual worker both his rate of superannuation contributions and his rate of pension accrual will take into account his entitlement to social welfare benefits. This new arrangement applies only to manual workers who are fully insured under the Social Welfare Acts. Its effect is to give combined local authority and social welfare pensions of not less than half pay after 40 years service. The thinking behind this new arrangement is that pension entitlement should be viewed as a whole. It does not matter whether the pensions are paid by the State through the social welfare system or by the employer provided reasonable provision is made overall.

A number of important improvements are being made in the superannuation conditions of local authority officers. Unlike a manual worker who could always qualify for his full superannuation entitlement after 40 years service, an officer could not qualify for full lump sum until he had 45 years service. An officer can now qualify under the new conditions for full lump sum after 40 years service.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister has five minutes left.

Mr. J. O'Leary: There is a proportionate increase in the amount of [1683] the lump sum where service is less than 40 years. There are other valuable provisions which apply to both officers and manual workers. Accrued superannuation benefit can be preserved until the age of 60 where an employee chooses to retire voluntarily before that age. The minimum period of service to qualify for a lump sum and pension on retirement at age 60 has been reduced from 20 to five years. Extra years of pension credit can be purchased where service would fall short of 40 years at the age of 65. These are some of the changes being made in the superannuation conditions of employees of local authorities and other bodies covered by the local government superannuation code.

The Local Government Planning and Development Acts, 1963 and 1976, provide for the planning framework within which objectives for the promotion of development by the provision of the infrastructure and other measures necessary to meet present and future requirements can be formulated. These requirements will make great demands on resources, particularly in the case of services such as housing, roads and sanitary services. With a rising population we must look to the industrial and services sectors to provide very considerable increases in employment. The rate of urban expansion over the next 20 years is likely to be significantly greater than that which took place during the past 30 years. Urbanisation on this scale will give rise to major problems for the local government sector. These factors emphasise the need for carefully prepared development plans, providing an adequate framework for accommodating the development and services for such population growth. The first five-yearly review of the development plans has now been completed. It is expected that the reviews for all the remaining areas will be completed in the near future: they are 75 per cent completed at present.

The objective of physical planning is to secure and maintain for our communities a satisfactory physical environment for living and working. The review of the development plans [1684] enables the general public and local organisations to play an active part in the planning process. I would encourage people and communities to participate actively in the review of these plans.

I should like to say a few words about the regional development organisations. The Department of the Environment will contribute £38,000 towards the running costs of the regional development organisations in 1978. These organisations were set up in 1969, their main function being to co-ordinate programmes for regional development. Their value rests on their ability to tackle problems at regional level, to reconcile priorities and harmonise development programmes so that local planning may be co-ordinated, and generally to facilitate local participation in regional development and present a regional view. They are non-statutory bodies with modest resources who have been working in a quiet but useful way for the good of their regions. A study at present being carried out in the midlands region is designed to produce a strategy for development in the 1980s for that region. That is being carried out by the regional development organisation. I am glad to say that the EEC have recognised the value of such studies and are contributing half the cost of the midland's one.

One of the main provisions of the Local Government Planning and Development Act 1976 was the setting up of An Bord Pleanála which was established on 1 January 1977. The operations of the board have been facilitated by the arrangement whereby staffing services have been made available from the resources of my Department. Provision is made in the Department's Estimates for the payment of a grant of £137,000 to the board. The purpose of this grant is to meet the direct administrative and general expenses of the board, including remuneration of the board members. I should like to thank the members of the board.

Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle would allow me 30 seconds to conclude. The Minister's opening contribution to the debate, coupled with what I have said, should make it clear to all that a lot is being done in the local government [1685] and environmental fields. Undoubtedly a lot remains to be done if the finances could be made available but our resources are not limitless. All demands cannot be met at once. In facing up to this situation the concern of the Government has been to keep up housing output, to develop infrastructure programmes of a sufficient level to serve the housing and industrial development programmes, ensuring that employment, on all programmes, is protected and expanded where circumstances allow.

Mr. F. O'Brien: This is the first opportunity I have had of wishing the Minister well in his new office. However, I do not wish him to hold it too long, just long enough to enjoy it for a while.

I should like to speak about the new title of the Department—the Department of the Environment. I feel that title should have been extended to include physical planning because the whole ambit of the area in which the Department is involved entails a large degree of physical planning. If the name of a Department is to be changed it should be more meaningful. The title “Department of the Environment” would strike one as a portion only of the vast area in which the Department is involved. Physical planing might have been incorporated because it is important that that aspect be highlighted at all times. There is need for greater co-ordination amongst local authorities to ensure that the proper type of plans evolve on a national basis. One often finds piecemeal development between one local authority and another but an overall physical plan would achieve the desired result. While An Foras Forbartha play an active role on an advisory basis they might possibly play an active part as an arm of the Department in the physical planning aspect of its activities. We know the great need there is for road improvement throughout the country. We hear a fair amount of emotive talk about motorways, that they will blast their way through cities and annihilate all in front of them. I do not think that anyone supposes that will happen. Certainly nobody wants it to happen and [1686] it was never the intention that it should happen.

It is important that we get our priorities in order. We must have a co-ordinated plan on communications if we are to survive in any kind of a business world. There must be a proper means of communication and contact particularly for delivery of our merchandise and manufactured goods. If one is travelling to the west, from the city out as far as Enfield is a glorified car-track. If an industrialist comes over here to investigate the prospects of developing the west, that portion of his route may well change his attitude. I have no doubt but that it will change his attitude if he notices that there can be long delays between his factory and the docks or wherever else he may want to travel. The same can be said of the route from Dublin Airport into the city. We have a major international airport but communications between there and the city, to say the least, are terrible. It is important that within the Department there be a division of physical planning to take care of the infrastructure to ensure that it liaises with the various local authorities in order that the bits and pieces be tied together. The plan must be a properly co-ordinated plan. There must be no cutting across by one local authority of another local authority. Where regional developments such as water, sewerage, and other services are concerned, the local authorities involved in the region should co-ordinate to give a better service, cut costs and thereby ensure we get the best possible value in the most ordered way.

In my opinion the Department of the Environment is not absolutely correct. Possibly the title appeals to many people because there is a great deal of talk about the environment, but it is really only one aspect of the activities of the Department. The activities of the Department should be spelled out really in a more positive way.

There has been a great deal of argument with regard to housing and the progress made. There have been claims and counterclaims as to how many were built and how many will be built. There must be no cutback in local authority housing. The Minister's [1687] statement that two-thirds of all families now on the waiting list are families of three persons would seem to imply that we have more or less got down to the nitty gritty of the housing problem. That is not the case. It is far from being the case. In Dublin we still have a very serious housing problem. Any local authority representative in Dublin will make that quite plain. Up to 80 per cent of the representations made to us are made in regard to housing. That is why I am concerned there should be no cutback in local authority housing particularly now when we have started to refurbish the centre city area.

Urban renewal was new four years ago. Now that it has got off the ground after many fits and starts it should not be allowed to die. There will have to be an on-going programme of development. I asked the Minister on another occasion if he would allocate a special amount independent of the general allocation for centre city housing to ensure there will be no cutback. There is a figure in the White Paper of £26,000 per unit. That figure is not correct. It could not be correct by any stretch of the imagination and it is an argument used against centre city housing. We must consider very forcefully the reasons why we need centre city housing. There is a very strong social need to maintain the fragmented communities in the city. They must now be propped up and we must also try to bring back people who formerly lived in these areas. Building a community takes two to three generations and it is a costly process. This is an element that is not costed when we talk about house prices. We must develop the existing communities. First-class dwellings are being erected in the centre city in keeping with the general character of the area. That cannot be quantified from an economic point of view and we should not try to quantify it because, if the population disappears, a concrete jungle arises and the vandals and the criminals lurk in the empty streets looking for easy prey. If people are actually living in these areas their very presence acts as a deterrent to these people.

[1688] We have the infrastructure within the city. We have unfortunately empty schools and empty churches. We have amenities that are under-used while people in the suburbs are clamouring for the very same amenities. Houses in which people can live are all that is required. In the budget debate I suggested that the Minister for Finance should make some tax concessions designed to attract developers into rebuilding the centre city. The Minister should examine into what grants he could make available to private builders. There are sites which remain undeveloped and if it were made profitable for builders to develop them, I believe builders would develop them. We do not want lopsided development. We want a balanced society. Very nice units are going up on the perimeter in the Leeson Street and Donnybrook areas. These are units of 27 or 30 houses. That is the type of development we need in the centre city and we will get it provided we give the incentive. A developer is in there to make a profit and we must recognise that fact but we should encourage him to carry out development work in a socially desirable way. The Minister for the Environment should consider the matter and ask the Minister for Finance to make some concessions in this area. It is desirable and feasible. It is not pie-in-the-sky or a pious hope and it would provide much needed employment in the building industry. Given that we continue with local authority housing in the city centre and that we encourage private developers to join in this work, we can look forward to a thriving and living city.

Earlier in my speech I referred to roads and infrastructure in the outer parts of the city and to the general overall plan in the Department. There is much emotive talk about motorways and their adverse effects on communities. None of us wants that. What we want is some ordered development on our roads. It is obvious that the roads on the north and south side of the city are not suitable for present-day requirements. The Department will have to make known their intentions. At the moment the situation is that the corporation [1689] are putting forward plans and the Minister is waiting to see what money he will give. There is much to-ing and fro-ing but we are not getting anywhere. The Minister should state that in the next five years he will allocate funds of a certain amount for road development in Dublin city and the suburbs and the corporation could then plan on the basis of getting a certain amount of money each year. At the moment if a person wants to develop a property he may be told he has to move back 15 feet because there are proposals for roadworks that may not take place for 25 years. That is completely undesirable but it is a situation that is occurring frequently.

The Department of the Environment will have to take firm measures and instruct local authorities to submit their plans for a specified period. In that way we would have some reasonable development, but at the moment we are getting nothing. We should be able to plan for five years ahead so that local authorities may get on with the job in a realistic way. It should be possible for them to make proposals that will be generally acceptable. As far as I can see, it is impossible to get overall acceptance for road proposals, but the proposals I have in mind should not create any problems. If we do not plan ahead for a reasonable period we are only wasting our time.

The question of restructuring local government has been under consideration for quite some time. It is important that we move reasonably quickly on this because with the removal of rates local authorities will be restricted to some extent in the way they spend money. We should make local government as local as possible and bring it closer to the people to make it meaningful. In the Dublin area in particular local government is not local government whatever else it may be. It is a vast jungle, even a joke. Most, if not all, local authority areas in Dublin are bigger than Dáil constituencies and there is a larger electorate in those areas than in Dáil constituencies. That is an anomaly. It is a crazy situation. It is not local government in the proper sense. As far as I am concerned local government is [1690] involving people in local affairs and letting them have access to their public representatives.

Minister for State at the Department of the Public Service (Mr. MacSharry): The Deputy should be in the north-west of the country for a while. In Dublin a public representative is within half-a-mile of the electorate but in the north-west he could be 70 miles away.

Mr. F. O'Brien: Leitrim has 22 councillors and it is not a constituency. In my constituency we have five councillors and yet the local authority area is bigger. This gives an indication of the imbalance I mentioned.

Mr. MacSharry: In Dublin the people are near their representatives.

Mr. F. O'Brien: I am sure that the 22 councillors in Leitrim are not 70 miles apart.

Mr. MacSharry: Does the Deputy want to take some councillors from Leitrim?

Mr. F. O'Brien: No. I want additional councillors, I want meaningful local government. If we are serious about the matter we should restructure local government and the only way it can be done is by breaking up the authority. We will have to talk about a new development authority for the new towns we are building, areas such as Tallaght, Blanchardstown and Clondalkin. There is a vast area there that is completely unrepresented and that is out in the wilderness. Some development authority should develop it, work it and co-ordinate it. Eventually possibly we could have three townships with three corporations operating in that type of area. That is the kind of ordered development we must have.

On the Dublin scene we will have to break it up. Possibly we could have a Greater Dublin Council like the Greater London Council, but we would also have the local authority, the local planning office, the local cleansing department, where people could communicate at a much more personal level than they can when we are operating at such a vast level as at present. [1691] This is very important. I hope the Minister will bring a Bill before this House to deal with this problem. If we are serious about this, let us be serious about it, and let us make it work. At present it is not working.

On the question of planning, there is the problem of industry. We have to consider whether it is suitable and what its environmental effects will be. Have the Department any policy on the question of dirty industries? Obviously dirty industries are a part of industry. Modern technology still has not eliminated pollution and ancillary effects on the environment. The Department should have a policy, if they have not. There is no point in waiting until we have attracted an industry and then start thinking about it, and kicking it around the place, and hopping the ball from one area to another. The Department should decide on an area in which this type of industry can be located. I am not saying where it should be. Given that we have certain prevailing winds, and land which may not be suitable for farming or vegetation, there might be places where we could locate dirty industries. Our lack of policy in this area means that the IDA are attracting industry which looks for permission to locate in a certain place and then there are objections.

I would also like the Department to take an active interest in the proposed nuclear power station. Power is in the brief of the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy, but people are concerned about the effect this nuclear station will have on the environment and on their general health and well-being. The Department of the Environment should make a study of this matter and make statements about it. They are there to protect the environment. Given that they are charged with protecting the environment, they have an obligation to say they want an inquiry into the building of a nuclear power station. I am not against it, and I am not for it. It is something new. It has environmental hazards and the Department should hold an in-depth examination into them.

Whether there is a conflict with [1692] another Department should not concern them. They are charged with the job of looking after the environment. I hope the Minister will take an active interest in this and be seen to take an active interest in it and assure people who are concerned that any proposals will be examined minutely and that they will make recommendations and make investigations with regard to fall-out, disposal of waste, and so on. This matter is causing concern to a large number of people. That concern should be alleviated in the early stages before the project gathers momentum. If there are well-founded fears the Department should spell them out, and if they are not well-founded the Department should spell that out too.

Water and sewerage are dealt with in this Estimate. It has come to my notice that there is a serious water problem in Dublin. That surprises me, but it is a fact of life. If we are having a water problem in March, what will happen in June, July and August if the weather is very fine? We could run into a lot of trouble. In my constituency for two or three weeks blocks of flats were without water and without sanitation because water pressures were lowered to cut back on water usage. That is not good enough. While the Department may say this is a matter for the local authority, they have a responsibility in matters such as a serious water deficiency in our capital city.

The Department should have this whole matter examined to see what can be done to alleviate the problem, if it is serious, as a matter of urgency. If contingency plans are required they should be available. There was a water shortage in other flats as well as the ones I mentioned. This is potentially a major health hazard. It should be looked into.

The question of air pollution was mentioned by the Minister who told us that local authorities, particularly Dublin local authorities, monitor pollution and had come to the conclusion that the level is reasonable. While I do not doubt that statement I am never too happy about the situation in the city, particularly when one considers [1693] the number of buses and large trucks operating in our streets. The amount of pollution they emit must be well outside any norm. It is necessary that checks are kept on this sort of pollution in a city so congested with traffic. We should take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the owners of offending buses, cars or lorries are penalised and made rectify any deficiencies. Offenders should be fined substantially. The Department should ensure that local authorities charged with a responsibility in relation to pollution keep a proper check on all vehicles. It is important that the levels of pollution are kept down. Those who live close to the city as I do are aware of the amount of pollution that occurs every night. Each morning my car is covered in a black dust. That is an indication of how serious the problem is. The Department should insist on periodic checks being carried out, even by An Foras Forbartha.

I was pleased to hear that the Minister has plans prepared for the integrating of itinerants into society. We all have our role to play in this regard. The local authority of which I am a member has done great work in this area. Special staff have been assigned to deal with this problem, but more money should be given to that authority to help deal with the problem. We must continue this process at all levels in relation to education and housing. I accept that it is not easy to eliminate such a problem because of the attitudes of the people involved, but we should make every effort. It is comforting to see that we have this social conscience. It is sad to see those people camped along the side of our roads during winter months.

When allocating money for housing the Minister should bear in mind the need to provide housing for our elderly people. A lot has been done in this regard in Dublin over the years but there are still many elderly people living in substandard and expensive accommodation. We should strive to eliminate that evil and provide more housing units for our elderly people.

I would be obliged if the Minister would look into the question of providing money for the improvement of [1694] hostels in the city. It may be suggested that this is a matter for the Department of Health, but I believe that it should be possible for the Minister's Department to allocate money for the improvement of houses like the Iveagh Hostel and the hostels at York Street, Bath Lane and Tara Street. Those hostels provide accommodation for many people. This is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment because if those hostel close up the people who frequent them would have to be housed else where in the city. Many men consider these hostels to be their home. The Department should provide the money for the redecoration of them. Some of those hostels are a little run down because the people involved in running them do not have the money to maintain them in the way they wish. They are run by voluntary organisations who should be supported. I believe in supporting such organisations because they give best value for money. That can be interpreted as being a selfish attitude but those organisations have a great approach to such problems.

Basically this is a housing problem. It was stated 12 months ago that the Iveagh Hostel was in danger of closing down and had that happened the people who use that hostel would have had a serious problem to face. The State and the local authority would also have to face a serious problem. We should not wait until the inevitable happens and then see what we can do. The housing is there and we should get behind the organisations involved and help them improve the accomodation. I do not see why a grant can not be paid directly by the Department to organisations like the Iveagh Trust to improve such hostels. Such organisations are endeavouring to improve existing housing stock.

In relation to housing grants I should like to draw the attention of the Minister to problems being faced by many private housing trusts. The Iveagh Trust, who operate in my area are running into a financial problem because their fixed rents cannot be increased. They must keep down the amount of repairs to the house because of this lack of money [1695] with the result that the housing stock is deteriorating. If those houses are allowed to deteriorate to the extent that they will have to be replaced, the cost to the local authority and the State will be astronomical.

It is very desirable that consideration should be given to a direct grant from the Department of the Environment for renovation and upkeep of good housing stock. For too long we neglected existing housing stock and said: “We built 26,000 houses this year.” But how many deteriorated? What was the net gain? As well as building 26,000, we must effectively consider what we have and what we can do with it. A large number of houses, particularly those taken over as bedsitters and so on are allowed to deteriorate rapidly although fairly good incomes come from them. They become glorified tenements. Possibly under present law the Minister cannot do anything but if he is framing any legislation in the future he could look at the question of housing stock so that something might be done to avoid rapid deterioration of it because of the cost to society in replacing houses. It is far better to have preventive medicine than the pill situation. As well as building, if we can preserve the houses that we have, we shall have a real improvement in overall housing stock. I should like the Department to consider (1) hostels and (2) housing trusts. I am speaking particularly of the Iveagh Trust which embraces a very large number of flats.

I should like to have the matter of financing the purchase of land and land banks examined. We have had good stocks of land over the years and it is important to maintain them. They were a factor in keeping down the price of houses. With a good stock of land you could—and we did—sell to small builders. This keeps costs down. It is important that money should be made available for the purchase and maintenance of land banks to ensure that we have adequate land for our housing programme. If we must go in at the last minute to buy land we shall be nailed on the going rate.

The Kenny Report may be implemented [1696] and that by its very terms will control the price of agricultural land. It has possibly lain dormant for some time but we should reactivate it to see if it has power to control the price of agricultural land vis-à-vis, development of building land. That would also tend to keep down house prices. We saw in this morning's papers the dramatic rise in house prices, roughly 15 per cent. I do not blame the present Government for that; it is possibly due to costs of materials but the fact is there and if land also goes up it is another cost factor that will make houses very dear. It is important to ensure that local authorities have sufficient funds to keep up land banks. The Department should examine the Kenny Report and see if it can be implemented. In that context the constitutionality question should be examined and if possible the report should be implemented.

The introduction of low-rise mortgages 18 months or two years ago was an excellent idea. It gave those on housing lists the opportunity to buy on a subsidised mortgage. It gave people in local authority houses or flats an opportunity to buy also. In both cases we were removing somebody from the waiting list and we were gaining a flat or house which enabled us to remove another person from the housing list. As in the case of most ideas like that we seem to have set a figure of £7,500 and forgotten to update it. It is pointless to offer somebody a loan of £7,500 if the house costs £11,000 or £12,000. What appeared to be a good idea at the outset becomes with the passage of time useless as costs increase. I ask the Minister to examine the possibility of raising the low-rise mortgage figure to at least £9,000. If it is less it will not achieve its purpose. Now, when people go to buy, they find they cannot raise the difference between the £7,500 and the cost of the house. I believe there is merit in the scheme and that it should be re-examined. It worked very well in the beginning but there is not the same demand now because the difference between the cost of the house and the mortgage is too great. This is a pity.

As regards the £1,000 grant. I am [1697] unhappy about the fact that people must be living in the house before they get the grant. I think £500 should be paid at some point in the construction and the balance when the house is finished, not necessarily lived in, because people often want to buy furniture before moving in and have not the resources. Once the contract is signed and the house paid for, in a sense, the money should be handed over. That could be considered and also the possibility of splitting the payment into two £500 instalments. If £500 were paid at some stage it could help as an intermediate deposit. Often a buyer must pay so much down and so much more at a certain stage. The idea of the £1,000 was to help people to buy. That was a good idea but let it be effective. This could be done by providing £500 when a second deposit is required, and when the house is finished and has been signed over to the customer, he should get the £500 to enable him get the bits and pieces he requires to move in.

I would also ask the Minister to have a look at housing densities, which are always a bone of contention. There are differing points of view and some people are very hot on it. Land is becoming expensive and it is a very valuable commodity. It is our best natural resource and our main source of wealth and we cannot be eating it up by extravagance in our densities. I ask the Department to look at the whole question to see that we are not ill-using the land, as I believe we are. As the Department of the Environment they are concerned with the overall environmental effect on our society of whether we are putting in too many houses or not. Let us see that we get the best value and the best type of environment. I have said what I wanted to say and I thank the House for being tolerant with me.

Mrs. Lemass: The Minister has a diversity of responsibility. The change of name to “Department of the Environment” is significant and very welcome. Environment embraces so many aspects of our life. It includes the homes we live in, the roads that run in front of our houses, the footpaths, our park areas, our playing [1698] areas, the air we breathe and the water we drink. It includes everything, so that is a very good title for this Department.

The quality of life is a most important factor today and it is rather unfortunate that technology has so advanced in recent decades that much of the environment is in danger. Not only our surroundings but the health of many of our people could be in danger as well. The most important aspect of the environment is the type of houses we live in and their surroundings. It is very important for families, and especially for the children, that they have adequate space to grow and to develop in a proper way. We have talked a lot here today about the number of houses that will be built in the coming years. I am more concerned about the number of people who will be able to purchase their houses or to obtain houses from local authorities. If we build 20,000 houses at £30,000 per house, those houses will be sitting there without anybody going into them because people will not be able to afford them. I estimate for the average married couple earning, say, £5,000 a year— this is where there is only one income in the family—if they purchase a house at, say, £18,000—and you will not get a lot for less—they will probably have to borrow something in the region of £16,000. If they borrow £10,000 their average repayment will be £23 per week. If they borrow £20,000 their repayments will be £45 per week. This is for people who have a fairly good income and are well able to buy their own houses. Even so no young married couple can afford to save enough money to be able to borrow the amount that they can afford to repay. They are chasing the devil by the tail constantly. The grant of £1,000 for a new house is a big help and very welcome, but even with that they need several thousand pounds before they can manage to buy their own home. As I said in the budget debate, it is sometimes necessary for both husband and wife to work, and where young couples are trying to buy their own home it is not possible to do this unless both go out to work.

[1699] I want to refer to local authority houses and the low-rise mortgage scheme which the previous speaker mentioned. Anybody can be entitled to apply to Dublin Corporation for a house and the only criterion is to be in need of a house. People who apply for a loan under the low-rise mortgage scheme are subject to a means test. This seems rather strange when, on the one hand, you can apply for a house from Dublin Corporation, you can be eligible, you can be on the housing list and you do not have to go through a means test; you can earn any amount and still be entitled to be regarded as in need of a house. But, on the other hand, when you apply for a loan under the low-rise mortgage scheme where the amount is only £7,500—and God knows where you will get a house in this day and age for that—you are not eligible if you have over a certain income per annum. I ask the Minister to look into these two aspects. He might decide that Dublin Corporation should apply a means test when they are putting people on their housing list, or else people who are on the housing list and are seeking a loan under the low-rise mortgage scheme should not have to go through a means test.

Housing is one of the main issues that will be discussed under this Estimate but the pollution of our air and water, water schemes and so forth are of equal importance. I was disturbed recently to learn that there are housing schemes in this city with no water supply at all for 12 hours a day and perhaps longer. They have no drinking water at all for long periods in the day. They have no water for sanitary purposes and in no way can they get their supply increased. In one area the residents asked that a certain type of pump be installed whereby a water supply might be pumped to their homes which were on a fairly high ground level. This apparently could not be done. The law does not permit Dublin Corporation to instal such a system and thereby to help these people who are without water.

Another problem is the very heavy traffic in old Dublin residential areas extending out to the suburbs. The [1700] residents there are now on the main roads. The houses are old. The traffic has increased tenfold in the last few years and heavy lorries travel along those roads. The residents are very concerned because their houses shake at certain times. They are terrified in case the structure of their houses is destroyed and that in a few years' time they will topple down around them. I hope the Minister will ensure in his new roads scheme that adequate ring roads are built around the outskirts of the city to take away a lot of the heavy traffic causing such hardship to people living in those residential areas.

I was very happy to see a new design in housing schemes with no main roads through the estates. Only the residents are allowed to travel on the roads within those estates. A main road goes to the entrance to the estates, from which there are cul-de-sac side roads which are used only by the residents on the different roads. This is a very good idea. It is much better than what is happening in many of the estates, where the people eventually find themselves living on main roads and are continually shaken by the heavy traffic travelling on those roads, even through the night. There is another factor in relation to this which very few people think about, and that is noise. Sometimes one is really not conscious of noise until it stops. It can cause great stress to many people. The noise of the traffic in the areas I have referred to also creates great hardship for those people.

The other matter I am very concerned about, something which has not been mentioned by many people, is oil pollution. Our beaches and strands are our greatest asset. We have the most beautiful stretches of beaches and strands anywhere in the world. I hope it never happens that there is a catastrophe off our shores. It is imperative that, if such a thing should happen, we should be immediately able to combat it. The Minister has set aside £75,000 in case such a thing should happen. We also have a report on pollution control from the inter-departmental environment committee. [1701] This should be studied very carefully and we should always be ready in case our beaches are polluted with oil. It is a very sad thing to see in a film or on television oil pouring in on the beaches killing all the birds and wildlife around and destroying everything for years to come.

The condition of our rivers and lakes is particularly important. If we are foolish enough to allow them to become polluted it will take decades to get rid of that pollution. We are very fortunate that we still have clear water in our rivers and lakes. We should learn from the mistakes made in the EEC countries. Their rivers have become so polluted that nothing can live in them and nothing can move on them. They are full of all types of pollution. It is sad to see beautiful rivers, such as the Rhine and other rivers in France and Germany so polluted. We should gain knowledge from those countries to control pollution in our rivers and lakes and not allow it to happen here.

I also want to refer to another type of pollution—litter. I do not very often go to the cinema but I visited a cinema in the city with my two daughters about two months ago. It was an evening show which started at 7 o'clock and I was absolutely appalled at the litter on the floor of that cinema. If the Minister for Health had seen that litter he would have been upset because he had just started his campaign for hygiene and good health. The litter was so bad that I was almost up to my ankles in crisp bags, peanut bags and sweet papers of all kinds.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Please do not name the cinema, Deputy.

Mrs. Lemass: I will not. I considered writing to the cinema owner but I did not do so. There were a lot of children in that cinema, because it was a film which attracted children. There was also many adults present. Children must be educated against throwing litter around. We had a very clever campaign some time ago by Dublin Corporation with big advertisements in the newspapers of litter bins opening their mouths and saying [1702] “Thank You”. I believe it encouraged children to use the litter bins and put their litter into them. There was an improvement in the litter problem on the streets. When I saw this particular cinema I began to despair again and felt we had not got through to the children and that they would never roll up their sweet papers, put them in their pockets, take them home and put them in their dustbins. It does not occur to many children to do that. I hope there will be another campaign to encourage people to retain their litter until they can dispose of it properly. There should be substantial fines for litter bugs. The law provides that anyone caught throwing litter around can be fined but I have never heard of anybody being fined or being taken to court. Perhaps if the law were implemented more often there would be more cleanliness.

I will refer to the problem of waste. There are only three people living in my house but we buy daily and evening papers and books and we have a vast amount of waste paper. The same applies to almost every household. Perhaps this waste paper could be recycled and used again. I read somewhere that a ton of waste paper will save 15 trees. I do not know how true that is, but if we chop down 15 trees to make a ton of paper we soon will not have any trees left because they do not grow that fast. Apart from waste paper there are waste tins and plastics which might possibly be recycled and used again.

I am glad that the Minister has made a provision of £110,000 to provide shelter for stray animals. The problem of stray animals was discussed on numerous occasions by Dublin Corporation and I am sure the corporation and the county councils are pleased that this allocation was made. The problem in the city has grown out of all proportion. Irish people are not very good to animals, they do not seem to know how to treat them. They take in a dog or a cat or some other animal and after a week or two they decide they do not want it and just throw it out. Apart from the fact that the stray animals are starving they are causing problems to the people in the [1703] city. I hope provision will be made to have the animals collected.

I attended a traffic committee meeting on Monday morning where we discussed the problem of drinking and driving. I was informed that practically all road accidents occur between 10.30 in the evening and 3 o'clock in the morning, which gives an indication that drink causes most of the accidents. I hope that the breathalyser test will be reintroduced. It was unfortunate that the test had to be dropped because of constitutional difficulties and so on. Either that test or some other system should be introduced as quickly as possible. In 1976 there were less road accidents than there were in 1977. Pedestrians under the influence of drink are as much to blame for road accidents as motorists although that is not generally known.

I was happy to note that the European Community set up a major environmental research programme costing in the region of £4 million to provide a scientific basis for community legislation in relation to the environment and all the aspects of it that we discussed here today. I hope when a report on this programme is published we will study it and act upon it so that we will not make mistakes other countries made, so that we will have a good environment where our lakes and rivers are clean and pure and where the air is fresh. This is one country where there is fresh air, fresh green fields and fresh water and I hope it will continue to be like that for a long time to come. I hope we will never allow ourselves to fall into the trap of not being vigilant in watching for the problems which may occur. It is much easier to prevent than to cure.

Mr. Taylor: This Vote for the Department of the Environment provides a massive sum of approximately £206 million. At first sight this might appear to be adequate, but on examination one finds, particularly if one is a member of a local authority, that much more could be spent. However, I suppose we cannot expect the Minister to achieve everything in his first year in office. I might say how pleased I was that he was appointed to this Ministry. [1704] I hope he will distinguish himself in this area in the years ahead and that there will be many successes as a result of his activities.

I should like a clear indication from the Minister about whether it is intended to continue town commissioners and urban district councils or whether there will be a return to the thinking that anticipated that, because of low population, they would no longer be required. The previous Government clearly indicated their views on this subject. I hope the Minister will confirm that thinking by clearly indicating that he would afford people an opportunity of electing members to local authorities who would represent our citizens' views. It is important in a small country that the voice of the people be adequately represented in smaller areas of population.

That brings me to the establishment of the regional development organisations. We have now approximately nine of that type of organisation catering for a grouping of counties. They have permanent, whole-time staff appointed to them. They and several other organisations co-ordinate views on matters such as tourism and so on. But if finance is not specifically allocated to these regional development organisations I doubt if they can adequately perform their functions without being given a permanent place by the Department of the Environment. Even officials who work in those regional development organisations are entitled to know what role they will play in the future and if their services will be required, because they are of the highest calibre. I was a member of such an organisation for many years. Early on I formed the view that while we could make suggestions on, for instance land usage and transportation studies—and we did submit reports on these matters—we felt we had not adequate teeth with which to bite into the areas where our work would show real benefit.

The Minister appears to have satisfied many people in his Estimate. Certainly anything of benefit will be welcomed by the population generally. Most people nowadays recognise that anything one receives must be paid [1705] for at a later stage: we must be prepared to pay the cost of any benefits received.

Certainly at present a massive sum of money could be spent on road structures. This may not be obvious to people who are not in local authorities. When road improvements are effected, one must think of the necessary expenditure on land purchase, the design of a particular scheme, the purchase of additional machinery and the unexpected problems encountered because of difficult terrains and so on. We have been given £13 million by the European Investment Bank to establish better communications with industrial centres and with centres of tourism. It is important that expenditure in this area be confined to projects most needed. We should place very high on our priority list areas that have had a lean time over the past eight or nine years in terms of tourism.

I refer particularly to areas in the west and possibly also some in the north. I am well aware of certain roads in County Clare leading to tourist resorts where, because of inadequate expenditure over a long number of years, they have deteriorated to such an extent as to be dangerous. I would ask the Minister to have a survey undertaken of such areas, accompanied if possible by a definite allocation of funds where such danger is most evident. I might refer particularly to a road in Clare going west of Ennis to Kilrush where such danger is very evident, where even an expenditure of £1 million in the current year would make very little difference in rendering that road safe. I believe the Minister is aware of this road, as he is of many other unsafe roads in the country.

I should like to see a rapid improvement being made in this matter for several reasons. I can foresee very little industrial development taking place on the west coast, and in County Clare in particular, unless the expenditure I speak of is provided quickly. At present very little encouragement is given to prospective industrialists to come into an area if there is not a sound and reliable road leading there. It is vital that it be recognised that, if [1706] we are to have diversification of industry, if we are to counteract the trend in western areas of high emigration and control it by placing small suitable industries there, our road structures must be improved rapidly.

There is a possibility that the ESB will provide in Kilrush a coal-fired generating station, which can subsequently be converted into an oil-fired station. It will be one of the biggest in the country. Back in 1973 the ESB made borings to determine the suitability of the terrain. I can visualise a follow-up of industry there and so again it will be necessary to make money available for road improvements in and out of the area. This is right on the banks of the Shannon where you have the greatest depth of water in Europe and the facilities that can be provided are unequalled in this island. It is vitally essential that we should now direct our thoughts and energies towards expansion in this area.

Under this Estimate opportunities will be provided designed to create employment as far as possible for a greater number of people. Many years ago there was a tradition at Christmas time for local authorities to give a fortnight's work to unemployed men. That has been abandoned. No alternative has been provided, though there is I suppose more unemployment assistance and so on. It is a good thing to see the Minister recognising the necessity of giving youth some employment. It is good to know that schemes will be drawn up in each local authority area and that three out of four employed on such schemes will be youth. I do not know what the age limit is to qualify one to be described as a youth. While this scheme is desirable there is no indication that those assigned to such work will be anxious to do the work or whether they will be suitable. I would like to see married men, preferably married men with families, getting preference in employment, men who are anxious to work but who have not been getting the opportunity in the areas in which they reside. However, I am glad these schemes are being initiated. We will give them all the [1707] assistance we can in the local authorities of which we are members.

There is scope for employment in the construction industry. Since the foundation of the State local authorities have been providing housing. Because of the high price of land and escalating costs all round a great deal of the money allocated does not show the same return as it did once. There has been an improvement in design but there is still room for more improvement. There should be competitions among architects to discover designs suitable to particular environments. There has been a noticeable improvement in design in private house building but it is not too evident in local authority housing.

The NBA have contributed in a big way to our pool of housing. I have seen new ground broken by a very young priest in my area who has built literally hundreds of houses. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will not allow me to name him.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I will not object to his name being used. What I do not want is someone attacking someone outside the House.

Mr. Taylor: There is a big difference.

Mr. Kelly: I remember the Chair objecting to names being mentioned for reasons of either praise or blame, including yourself, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is a change. For instance, one priest's name has been mentioned here scores of times—Father McDyer—and I do not see why another who is doing good work should not be mentioned.

Mr. Killilea: Hear, hear.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: That is the way I feel about it.

Mr. Kelly: I agree with the Chair.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is the possibility that someone might come in and say he is all sorts of a so-and-so.

Mr. Killilea: You are a very liberal chairman for a change.

[1708] Mr. Kelly: At times.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Taylor, on the Estimate.

Mr. Taylor: I would like to voice my appreciation of the wonderful work done by Father Harry Bohan, a psychologist with the Shannon Free Airport Development Company, who initiated a housing scheme in which private investors invested their money and local authority grants strengthened the fund. Direct labour was used. Housing costs were considerably reduced and purchasers got their houses at much reduced prices. This was new ground broken by this young priest. He also trained the Clare hurling team, a man of many initiatives. The work provided in building these houses was most welcome and the scheme gave a real impetus to the pool of housing in the county. People anxious to build their own houses might shy away from the excessive cost of land and the high cost involved in repaying loans either to building societies or to the local authority, but I believe people should face the future with courage and, if they have a housing problem, they should tackle the problem with courage and do the best they can to provide their own homes.

I was disappointed that the Minister's advisers advised the abandonment of the essential repairs scheme which was administered by local authorities. They provided the greater part of the cash and it was augmented by a very tiny sum from the then Department of Local Government, a sum of £80, really insignificant but a help to a certain extent. I cannot understand the thinking of the people who advised the Minister that the scheme should be abandoned and replaced by a reconstruction scheme. One would need to have been a member of a local authority to appreciate how the scheme benefited those of limited means. People who were disadvantaged in health, either mentally or physically, or old people could not carry out reconstruction work.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. J. O'Leary): On a point of information, that scheme [1709] has been replaced by a better scheme and the grants have been increased.

Mr. Begley: Was that in the manifesto?

(Interruptions.)

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are not dealing with the manifesto. The Deputy in possession should be allowed to continue without interruption.

Mr. Taylor: I am very pleased that the scheme will be reviewed but I suggest to the Minister that provision be made for those who are destitute. The local authorities provided for the total expenditure that was necessary to restore houses and I would like the Minister to consider this aspect. An increase in the grant is not adequate. Any deserving applicant should be given all possible assistance. I am pleased to hear that a better scheme is being implemented and I should like that the same provision be made by the Department of the Environment as was made by the local authorities.

Apart from roads most of the money spent by local authorities is allocated to the provision of water supply and sewerage schemes and in this connection I would mention group water schemes. It is wonderful that there is such a spirit of co-operation in rural areas, where people come together and take the responsibility of providing a service for themselves and their neighbours, a service that has been enjoyed for decades by those living in cities and towns. I am pleased that the Minister has seen fit to allocate additional moneys in this area.

Local authorities have been asked to help in the matter of road safety. They were always responsible in their approach to this matter. They have provided adequate road markings and these have been of considerable help. Any expenditure in this area is worth while. I do not consider that the provision of highways has lessened the accident rate or improved the quality of driving here. In fact, the reverse is the case. The easing of bends on many roads has not resulted in a reduction of the accident rate but I think there will be a marked [1710] improvement in the future as a result of the standard of our driving test. I have no doubt that with a very fine corps of testers in the Department a good standard will be demanded and our roads will not be as dangerous as they were in the past.

The grant of £1,000 in respect of a new house was very attractive and there is no doubt that it will help many people. However, the stipulation that a house must be completed and occupied before the money is paid might be reconsidered. Formerly people got half the housing grant when half the house was completed and this was of great benefit. If this facility does not continue it may discourage people from building their own houses and I would ask the Minister to consider paying half the grant when the house is at the half-way stage of completion. This would be a great encouragement to people.

I was pleased to see that the Minister is making provision for suitable additions to the homes of mentally or physically handicapped people. This is one area where we cannot be too generous. At the present time it is recognised that those in the greatest need are people who have some disability. I hope this scheme will be availed of generally.

As his name suggests, the Minister has a serious responsibility for the environment and the eradication of pollution whether it is on the land, on the sea, or in the air. In relation to air pollution, when factories are coming here from outside, and where there is a possibility of air pollution, every effort should be made to monitor the parent factory. Local authorities may not anticipate that type of pollution, but it can occur and when it does occur local residents feel very uneasy and are doubtful about prospective industrialists who might site industries in areas where this pollution might take place. Some years ago the same amount of thought was not given to pollution and the necessity to avoid it. There is an awareness now of the problem.

In group water schemes there can be contamination in hilly areas. Whole areas can be contaminated if the [1711] source of the water supply is polluted. Everybody has a responsibility to his neighbour in this regard. It is vital that a constant watch is kept on possible areas of pollution. Members of local authorities often feel there are long delays in giving approval to the schemes which they have approved and submitted to the Department of the Environment. In each county many schemes have been submitted which have not yet been approved. There are good reasons for this delay in many cases. Even though the consultants may have gone through the necessary data, people in the Department decide further changes are necessary.

Despite the fact that we are spending £206 million, an adequate sum has not yet been provided to clear up the backlog which has been in the Department for quite a long time. As regards our road structures and the provision of money to maintain them, our road system needs a greater injection of finance.

Mr. Begley: What about rural improvement schemes?

Mr. Taylor: Such schemes need a really big injection of finance. When we took over the rural improvement schemes from the Office of Public Works we did not get an adequate sum to administer them. County councils in their wisdom said they would carry the load and administer the schemes. We took over a backlog of work from the Office of Public Works and new schemes were also submitted by members of local authorities. The increase this year will help to reduce the backlog and will go a long way but not the full way towards wiping out the list of schemes we have. There is an ever-increasing demand to improve roads into laneways where there are two or three houses.

Mr. Begley: And bog roads.

Mr. Taylor: Our bog roads are seriously neglected. There are areas unknown to many people which have gone wild. Some thought should be given to this matter by the Department of the Environment.

Debate adjourned.