Dáil Éireann - Volume 139 - 16 June, 1953

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - New Government Buildings.

Mr. Briscoe asked the Taoiseach if he is prepared to make a statement on the consideration that has been given since 1922 to the questions of (a) the erection of new buildings for the centralised accommodation of the Houses of the Oireachtas and of Government Departments, and (b) in particular, the provision of improved accommodation on the Dublin Castle site.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Taoiseach (Donnchadh Ó Briain) (for the Taoiseach): A joint committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas set up in July, 1923, recommended that a commission should be appointed at an early opportunity to inquire and report as to suitable and available sites for the permanent housing of the Oireachtas. A second joint committee set up in January, 1924, recommended that Leinster House should be taken over for the temporary accommodation of the Oireachtas upon the distinct understanding that Leinster House would be vacated at the earliest possible date consistent with the acquisition of a permanent home for the Oireachtas. Resolutions agreeing with the latter recommendation were, at the instance of the then Executive Council, adopted by both Houses in July, 1924.

In January, 1934, the then Executive Council approved the recommendations of a Cabinet Committee to the effect that plans should be prepared for the construction, according as the demands for office accommodation required or as labour was set free from more vital constructional work, of new buildings [1246] for the Oireachtas and certain Government Departments on a site in the Merrion Square area. While the preparatory work for the purpose of taking the necessary legislative and other steps to give effect to the recommendations of the committee was still in progress the need for concentrating the efforts of the Office of Public Works on arterial drainage arose, and the Executive Council decided, in March, 1937, that the work on drainage should take priority and proceed immediately and that the scheme of new Government buildings should be postponed.

In 1943 the matter was considered afresh by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Planning in connection with the need for making provision for the possibility of the return from Britain after the war of large numbers of Irish workers, and the Government, in December, 1944, decided in principle that a joint committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas should be set up to investigate the question of a suitable site for new Oireachtas and administrative buildings. Shortly before this, it had become clear that the selection of a site in the Merrion Square area would present grave difficulties in view of the existing interests that would be disturbed if such a site were chosen. In March, 1945, the Government approved provisionally, in broad principle, draft terms of reference for the proposed joint committee and arranged that the Minister for Finance would initiate preliminary discussions with representatives of the various Parties in the Dáil with a view to obtaining their reactions to the proposal as a whole and, if the reactions were favourable, to reaching agreement as to procedure, etc.

The leader of the principal Opposition Party, when consulted by the Minister for Finance on the matter on the 26th March, 1945, expressed personal opposition to the proposal but intimated that he would consult his colleagues and communicate again with the Minister; no such communication was, however, received. The proposal to bring the matter of a joint committee before both Houses was [1247] thereupon withdrawn by the Government, and, instead, the Government decided, in August, 1946, that the Minister for Finance should set up an inter-departmental committee to advise him in regard to the provision of accommodation for Government Departments. The committee had not concluded its inquiry when the change of administration took place in February, 1948, and I understand that its work was then brought to an end.

So far as the first part of the Deputy's question is concerned, the position, then, is that, while a decision was taken by the Executive Council in January, 1934, in regard to the planning of the scheme for new Oireachtas and Government buildings, that scheme was postponed in March, 1937, in favour of drainage work, and, while the matter was further considered during the years 1943 to 1946, at no time was any particular scheme or plan finally approved by the Government, nor were any commitments of any kind entered into for the acquisition of property or the erection of buildings in connection with any such scheme.

As regards the second part of the Deputy's question, relating to Dublin Castle, the position is that, in July, 1946, the Government approved, in principle, certain recommendations made by the Commissioners of Public Works on the subject of the reconstruction and development of the Castle site. The outline scheme prepared at the time by the commissioners contemplated the retention and improvement of the central block of the existing buildings round the Upper and Lower Castle Yards and the utilisation of the remainder of the Castle site for the erection, over a period of some 20 years, of modern office buildings capable, when the work was eventually completed, of housing a staff of 4,000 persons, as compared with 1,170 who were then housed in the Castle. A certain amount of the planning and other preliminary work in connection with one section of the reconstruction work had been done when, in November, 1948, the then Government decided that the proposals for the reconstruction [1248] of the Castle should not be proceeded with pending the giving of further instructions by the Government. No such further instructions were given, but, as the Minister for Finance indicated to the Deputy recently in this House, the Minister hopes to be in a position to take steps to put the work in hand again as soon as practicable.

As regards the model of the Castle scheme referred to by Deputy MacEoin in this House on the 11th instant, I find that the actual cost was £148 5s., and not £600, as stated by the Deputy.

The general position regarding accommodation for Government offices in Dublin is, and has been for many years, highly unsatisfactory, many of the premises occupied being old, badly planned, wasteful in space and unhealthy for the occupants; this applies in particular to the Castle buildings, very few of which were ever intended to be used as offices. The need for the centralisation of Government offices, in the interests both of the convenience of the public and of efficient administration, is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that there are at present no less than 61 private houses scattered throughout the city in the occupation of some 2,000 members of the staffs of various Government Departments.

None of these schemes was ever contemplated otherwise than as one for execution over a long period of time; the intention was that the schemes should be subordinated, in regard to finance, supplies and available labour, to urgent needs of housing, hospitals, schools, etc.; the underlying idea was to have available a comprehensive plan which could be carried out, section by section, according as needs might dictate or other considerations suggest, over such a period of time as circumstances might determine.

Mr. Dillon: Is it correct to say that the Government's plans had reached so concrete a form that they constituted an obstacle to the completion of the Dublin City planning scheme and that Sir, Patrick Abercrombie swore in court yesterday that that [1249] was one of the reasons it had been impossible to complete the scheme for the Dublin Corporation?

The Taoiseach: That is a matter of which I have no knowledge.

Minister for Justice (Mr. Boland): He does not say anything about Borstal Institute.

Mr. Dillon: You are not the new Taoiseach.

Mr. Boland: You are not saying much about the Borstal now.

Mr. Sweetman: Will the Taoiseach tell us how all this work of the committee which has been enumerated by his Parliamentary Secretary was done gratuitously, because the Taoiseach will remember that last week when we told him that this matter had cost money he told us we were telling an untruth? If the work was not done gratuitously, will the Taoiseach now withdraw the unjust, unfair and unreliable imputations which he made last week?

The Taoiseach: I should like to know exactly the terms of what I said before I withdraw anything. If, however, I have said anything wrong or anything that is not in accordance with the facts, I unhesitatingly withdraw it. The suggestion all the time was that there had been considerable sums of money spent on this scheme. There has been no such expenditure, as is indicated in the reply. There have been, of course, officers of the Departments concerned engaged in the consideration of the proposals and the preparation of plans.

Mr. Sweetman: That cost money.

The Taoiseach: Everything done in the Departments, including the preparation of data, costs money. All those things that are necessary in order that public works should be undertaken cost the time of individuals and, therefore, in the final result, cost money. There is no doubt about it.

General Mulcahy: Does the Taoiseach think that it is worth spending £11,000,000 on a new Parliament building to carry on the kind of work that has been carried on here, say, by the Minister for Health on the Health Bill?

[1250] The Taoiseach: Where is the question of £11,000,000?

General Mulcahy: Have a look at the plans.

The Taoiseach: I know what plans are and what suggestions are, but the plans must be adopted.

Minister for Health (Dr. Ryan): Is the Deputy talking about the Vikings now?

Major de Valera: Would it not be possible to absorb a large number of the unemployed building workers in Dublin if these plans were now available for execution?

Mr. Morrissey: So there are a large number of builders' workers unemployed.

Major de Valera: If there are it is due to your lack of foresight and to the fact that the Coalition did not plan ahead. (Interruptions.) There are sites not prepared and work is held up because they are not prepared.

Mr. Sweetman: You stopped the housing programme.

Major de Valera: You killed these plans and because of your action men are unemployed in Dublin now.

General Mulcahy: The plans are 30 years too late.

An Ceann Comhairle: Order, order! Question No. 2.

Mr. Sweetman: It was a nice little boomerang to the question.

Major de Valera: It was not. The people are out of employment.

An Ceann Comhairle: Will Deputies please allow the questions to go on?

Mr. Morrissey: We will hear more about it.