Dáil Éireann - Volume 336 - 23 June, 1982

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - House Improvement Grants.

4. Mr. Molony asked the Minister for the Environment if he is aware that very considerable difficulties appear to have arisen within his Department in indentifying particular applications for house improvement grants; whether he is aware that Deputies and other inquirers to his Department are receiving a standard response to their representations stating that difficulties in identifying applications are being experienced; whether he can [1284] take any steps to resolve the difficulties being faced by his officials; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister of State at the Department of The Environment (Mr. Connolly): There are no difficulties within my Department in identifying applications for house improvement grants, nor are Deputies and other inquirers receiving a standard response to their representations from my Department.

Each inquiry is dealt with individually and all the information available in relation to the paraticular case is given. I am aware that from time to time, on the basis of the details supplied by Deputies, difficulties are experienced in tracing an application; but I find that this is due largely to the inaccuracy of the details supplied or to the fact that applications were never received from the persons concerned.

Mr. Molony: Would the Minister not accept that there is a room in his Department chock a block with applications under the old house reconstruction grants scheme and that he and his Department are utterly behind in dealing with these matters? I have received about 20 standard replies to representations I have made to the Minister's Department in respect of outstanding applications. Would the Minister of State accept that it is not reasonable to assume that 20 of my constituents have failed to fill up their application forms correctly in view of the fact that those were simple application forms printed by the Minister's Department on which one has only to fill in one's name and address?

Mr. Connolly: Is the Deputy talking about the grants scheme?

Mr. Molony: Yes.

Mr. Connolly: When the previous Government came into office the Ministers in the Department I am in now adopted the same procedures I adopted.

Mr. Molony: It was abolished at that stage.

[1285] Mr. Connolly: Yes, it was abolished. Will the Deputy let me complete my reply and I will give him as much information as I possibly can? The same procedure I adopted in regard to the housing grants was implemented by the last Ministers. If there is any case which the Deputy or any other Deputy wants me to investigate I shall bring over the file and I will show the Deputies exactly what the position is. I will be as helpful as I possibly can.

Mr. Molony: I have no doubt the Minister will be helpful. Is he not aware that in his Department there are thousands of those applications in a room and it is not possible, because apparently of the backlog of work, for the Department officials to find some of those applications and that is the reason for the standard replies going out? Is he not further aware that the manner is which this scheme was abolished about two years ago was a silly way of doing so and that some decisions will have to be taken to resolve the thousands of applications which still exist?

Mr. Connolly: Part of the Deputy's question will arise on the next few questons which I will be dealing with and possibly I will give the Deputy a more comprehensive reply then.

Mr. Molony: Perhaps the Minister could deal with the first question I asked.

Mr. Connolly: If any Member of the House comes to me and tells me there is a file on those applications, I will let him see it. During the two weeks grace approximately 40,000 applications were received in my Department.

Mr. Molony: How many of those are still outstanding?

Mr. Connolly: It will arise on another question and I will answer it also. I want to make it clear that the Ministers in the Deputy's Government, with all due respects to them, adopted the same course I adopted on the change of Government.

[1286] Mr. Molony: The Minister accepts there is a very serious problem in his Department?

Mr. Connolly: There was a problem after the closing date of 1 February with the big number of applications which had to be entered and indexed but we were quick to get over all that.

Mr. Farrelly: Is the Minister aware that replies which I received four days ago have the standard reply saying: “We have received no application”, I got three of those on the same day. When I asked the person mentioned about this I was told that the inspector called and approved the work. Who is codding us? The people are not, because I know them. I believe the blame lies in the Minister's Department. I want to know who is making up those standard replies.

Mr. Connolly: In some cases when representations are made they do not state in the letters if it is the old or the new scheme. If there is a letter of that nature, of which I take a serious view, and the Deputy gives me a copy of it, I will certainly have it examined and I will communicate with the Deputy. I would be very annoyed if that is the case.

Mr. Quinn: Would the Minister not agree that he is, under the guise of trying to be helpful to Members, creating a very unhelpful precedent for the public at large? He is opening a back entry door into his Department by inviting every Deputy in the House to start making representations to him. Nobody is holding the Minister responsible for the present situation. Would he not agree that his political responsibility is to improve the system of administration rather than invite every one of us to start snowballing him with representations which will gum up the works as it did in February 1980?

Mr. Connolly: I will tell the Deputy the position in the Department. A number of councillors and Members of this House make representations on behalf of different people. If they fail with one person they go to another person and then they [1287] go to a further person. It is a repeat process which takes up a lot of the time of the officials. If there is a case which a Deputy has an interest in and he is not happy with the reply, I will be only too happy to get the file on it, bring it over and get my private secretary to show it to the particular Deputy or he can call to me and I will be very helpful if I can.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister has kindly offered to bring the file here. Is he aware that in the case of most reliable people the answer is that no trace can be found of the application, from which it is clear that the file has been lost, mislaid or destroyed? Would the Minister agree that his offer to bring over a file — a file which cannot be found — may appear reasonable if one did not know about these stereotype answers going out that no trace can be found of those applications? I have a letter here, without giving names, from a man who is employed as a personnel foreman in a large factory and he will swear on a stack of bibles that he has an application in the Minister's Department. The answer is——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy is not allowed to read from a document at Question Time.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): Is the Minister aware that the answer sent to a person like that is that there is no record of such an application?

Mr. Connolly: Those people may not have posted the applications.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Connolly: Deputies often have people who come to them and the Deputies write to me and say “So I am told” but “So I am told” may not have happened at all.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Michael O'Leary.

Mr. M. O'Leary: Briefly, would the Minister inform the House what sort of [1288] filing system is adopted in the Department? I am in a bit of a quandary. The Minister says part of the difficulty is caused by various Deputies making the same request. Surely the request can be answered in the same manner for all Deputies who ask the same question?

Mr. Connolly: That is right.

Mr. M. O'Leary: If that is the case, surely the solution lies in an efficient filing system. I get an impression from the Minister's answers of a kafkaesque situation in which, apparently, new civil servants adopt a new approach to each individual application? Surely there should be a more up-to-date, efficient filing system, and would the Minister address his attention to that area?

Mr. Connolly: For the Deputy's information, they are all indexed. In the index, there should be no problem in getting out the required application and having a look at it. The Deputy will appreciate the large volume of applications at the time. The officials of the Department had to deal with these as best they could within a very short space of time. I am happy that they dealt efficiently with the applications to the best of their ability.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister cannot be serious.

Mr. Connolly: The Deputy was a member of the former Coalition Government, and they adopted the same policy.

Mr. Molony: What is the policy?

Mr. Connolly: If the applications are there, we can deal with them.

Mr. Spring: Would the Minister clarify one point arising from his reply? Could he confirm that on receipt of representations from Members of the House the files are actually looked at before the replies are sent out?

Mr. Connolly: Yes, they are.

[1289] Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): No, they are not.

Mr. Connolly: If the files are in the Department, I have told the officials in my Department to examine the files and give the Members of this House all the up-to-date information they need.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister will have to tell them again.

An Ceann Comhairle: Question No. 5.

Mr. Molony: On a point of order——

Mr. Connolly: Yes, the statutory authority which applied to the former schemes of house improvement grants——

Mr. Molony: On a point of order——

An Ceann Comhairle: Would the Deputy please wait until the Minister has finished his reply? He is in the middle of replying.

Mr. Molony: But my point of order arises on the previous question.

An Ceann Comhairle: I would like to have helped the Deputy, but I am sorry. Question No. 5.

Mr. Molony: My point of order was in respect of the previous question.

An Ceann Comhairle: What is the Deputy's point of order?

Mr. Molony: I do not think that the Minister intends to mislead the House in relation to the question which I have asked. In fairness to the Minister and to the records of the House I would ask him to clarify this point. When I asked how many applications were outstanding under the scheme, the Minister said that he would be replying to that question. In fairness to the House——

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Molony, I will disregard points of order if you abuse the position. I would have to.

[1290] Mr. Molony: The Minister said that he would be answering my question in one of the following questions and he has not done so. That question is not asked in Questions Nos. 5, 6 or 7.

An Ceann Comhairle: It was not a point of order, but I will allow the Deputy to ask a final supplementary.

Mr. Molony: The Minister indicated that he would be giving the required information in answers to Questions Nos. 5, 6 and 7, but the question of how many applications were outstanding under that scheme was not asked in any of those. Would the Minister tell us how many grant applications are outstanding under the old house reconstruction grant?

Mr. Connolly: I will be coming to that in Question No. 6.

Mr. Molony: The Minister will be replying to that?

Mr. Connolly: To clear up a point, I did not mislead the House and certainly would not. I would not like that. That has been my intention since coming into the House.

Mr. Begley: The Minister is a decent man.

An Ceann Comhairle: Question No. 5.

5. Mr. Begley asked the Minister for the Environment if it was in order to terminate reconstruction grants in June 1981 without first notifying individually all applicants who had work in progress as no closure date for applications would have been indicated on the original application forms.

Mr. Connolly: Yes. The statutory authority for the various deadlines which applied to the former schemes of house improvement grants is contained in article 14 of the Housing Regulations, 1980, as amended by article 3 of the Housing Regulations, 1980 (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations, 1981.

[1291] Mr. Begley: Would the Minister not agree that all those applicants entered into a financial commitment expecting to be paid their grants? Just because they did not buy a newspaper, they are now being deprived of that grant.

Mr. Connolly: The applicants actually got 16 months to complete the work. Notices appeared in the daily and Sunday papers and also they were notified by letter that we had extended the deadline, which happened on two occasions — 31 March and 30 June. That is the situation. To enlighten the Deputy who may not be aware of the fact, his Government had a look at this scheme and decided not to extend the date.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): Would the Minister agree that while he extended the deadline for completion of the work, he never extended the deadline for receipt of the applications? Deputy Begley's complaint is that the application form sent out did not indicate any final date for making the application. Because people did not refer to newspapers, they were at a disadvantage. I want to emphasise that. Does the Minister not agree that when he speaks of extending the deadline, he means the deadline for finishing the work and claiming payment and that he never extended the deadline for the application from 1 February 1980?

Mr. Connolly: No, I certainly did not. I want to bring the Deputy more into the picture. He may not be aware that his Government decided not to extend the date. His Minister had a look at it and he and, as far as I know, the Deputy's party, decided not to extend the date either.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister cannot get around that.

Mr. Connolly: I will tell the Deputy this much. I am giving the Deputy the facts. We extended the date for the applications for two weeks so that people could apply who had entered into a contract. We gave them 16 months to complete the work. Are the Deputies saying [1292] that 16 months was not a good opportunity to finish the work? We extended the date on two occasions — I want to be absolutely clear on this — first to 31 March and then to 30 June. The applicants saw the notices in the papers. With all due respect to Deputy Fitzpatrick, he is under-estimating the intelligence of the applicants. They are very intelligent. They knew the deadline was there. I will give the Deputies a more comprehensive reply in answer to the next question and tell them what really happened.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): And the next one to that. We will wait for that.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Sherlock.

Mr. Sherlock: While accepting that nothing happened to change the system between June 1981 and January 1982 and one had to be very much involved——

An Ceann Comhairle: Could you put this by way of a question, please?

Mr. Sherlock: I will, indeed. I am not questioning the Minister's integrity and want him to know that. However, he made a statement to the effect that, besides a notice being put in the paper, individual applicants were notified by letter from the Department. The Minister would need to check that out.

Mr. Begley: That statement is untrue.

Mr. Connolly: They were notified early in the day.

An Ceann Comhairle: What is Deputy Sherlock's question?

Mr. Sherlock: The Minister is saying that people were notified. All that was done was to put a notice in the papers, which is a very unfair way of doing the thing, because many people missed that notice.

Mr. Begley: Hear, hear.

[1293] Mr. Sherlock: Will the Minister look at this whole question? There cannot be so very many applicants in that category, and would the Minister now consider paying the grants to the people who carried out the work according to the specification and so forth and spent money in anticipation of getting that grant from the Department? Will he consider paying a grant to those people who are justly entitled to it?

Mr. Connolly: I want to be honest with the Deputy. I have no money at my disposal to do that. I want to make that absolutely clear. I can refer the matter to my Minister who will take it up with the Government. Further money has not been provided in the Estimate to have that done.

Mr. Spring: In view of the normal practice when contracts have been entered into and notice has been served to terminate, and in view of the hardships which people have suffered because of entering into contracts, would the Minister not put to the Government that these grants be paid, and thereby put an end to this matter?

Mr. Connolly: I have nothing further to add.

Mr. Kenny: When the advertisements about the termination date for the old reconstruction grant scheme appeared, did they appear in local newspapers? I am sure the Minister is aware that many people down the country do not read the daily newspapers.

Mr. Connolly: The advertisements appeared in The Sunday Press, Sunday Journal and Sunday Independent.

Mr. Molony: In view of the fact that the Minister accepts that the thousands of applicants are intelligent people, will the Minister also accept that those people know they posted their applications in time? The Minister has acknowledged that those people have intelligence, and would he therefore accept that perhaps [1294] the problem lies in the Department? Should he therefore not review the manner in which the Department have been dealing with these applications?

Mr. Connolly: I have nothing to add to my earlier reply.

6. Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for the Environment the number of applications in respect of reconstruction grants under the old scheme that have been refused by his Department for any reason; and if he is prepared to reconsider these cases in the knowledge that a substantial number of these refusals were not the fault of the applicant.

Mr. Connolly: I am not in a position to give the information requested by the Deputy as my Department do not keep statistics relating to the number of grant applications refused or the reasons for such refusals. I am fully prepared to reconsider any case in which a grant has been refused in the light of representations made by or on behalf of the applicant. However, the Deputy will appreciate that grants cannot be paid in the case of applications which do not comply with the statutory requirements.

Mr. Kenny: That means that any grants cannot be paid. Under the new scheme grants cannot be paid when any work has been undertaken. I refer the Minister to my previous supplementary to which the Minister replied that the advertisements did not appear in the local newspapers. Many people down the country do not read either Sunday or daily newspapers and as a result they could not possibly be informed of the closing date for the termination of the old scheme.

Mr. Connolly: I do not know what the position in Mayo is but in my part of the country they all get at least one Sunday newspaper.

Mr. Kenny: We get the Sunday newspapers on Wednesdays.

Mr. Molony: The Minister indicated in reply to Question No. 6 that he would [1295] give the number of outstanding applications.

Mr. Connolly: On 30 June 1981, 20,000 cases were still outstanding. The Deputy should not get all worked up. On some of these applications work had never been started and therefore they would never mature for payment. More than 2,000 late requests for payments were made, and they may be out. Those 2,000 applications were made after the deadline on 30 June.

Mr. Molony: How many are outstanding?

Mr. Connolly: Applications made after the deadline of 30 June in respect of which payments were not requested are outstanding. After 30 June 1981, 2,000 late requests for payments were made out of the 20,000.

Mr. Farrelly: Does the Minister accept that his Government have done 20,000 applicants out of reconstruction grants?

Mr. Connolly: That is not true. If the Deputy had followed my reply he would have learned that 20,000 grants for which there had been applications before 30 June 1981 were not claimed. Then there were 2,000 requests for payments after the deadline. The Deputy has said I have wronged 20,000 people. The Department got requests from only 2,000 applicants after the deadline and a number of these applicants may not have commenced work at all.

Mr. Enright: The Minister is a Member of the party who abolished these grants at that time, and will he agree now that that was a grave blunder and a disastrous mistake?

Mr. Connolly: I accept no such thing. Perhaps I could ask the Deputy a couple of interesting questions.

Mr. Enright: Will the Minister accept there has been a lot of confusion in the Department about these applications? Is [1296] he aware that the Department have written to people stating that their applications have not been received in the Department? When people are prepared to give sworn affidavits to the effect that they posted applications in time and complied with the regulations, will he accept these affidavits and pay the grants?

Mr. Connolly: If the Deputy has an application in mind, the Deputy knows me quite well and he knows he can come to me and I will deal with it very sympathetically if it complies with the statutory regulations.

Mr. Sheehan: In view of the Minister's reply, what is the position of an applicant who in 1977 was paid half of his reconstruction grant, who finished the other half of the work in 1978 and who between then and 1981 made five different applications for payment but has not been paid?

Mr. Connolly: If the Deputy gives me particulars of the case I assure him I will have it processed quickly.

7. Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan) asked the Minister for the Environment if large numbers of applications for home improvement reconstruction grants which were lodged in his Department in or about January 1980 have been lost or mislaid or were destroyed; if he is aware that as a result many applicants have suffered the loss of grants to which they were entitled; and if he will take steps to make good the loss to those concerned.

Mr. Connolly: I do not accept that large numbers of applications were lost, mislaid or destroyed.

Following the announcement of the termination of the old scheme of house improvement and solid fuel grants on 21 January 1980, a huge number of applications were received by the closing date of 1 February 1980. Applicants who maintained that their applications had been submitted in time to meet this closing date, even though there was no record in my Department of their receipt or they [1297] were recorded as not having been received in time, were given the opportunity to verify their claims by the submission of certificates of registration or posting.

Furthermore, all applications forwarded through the post were accepted when it was clearly established from the postmark on the envelopes that they had been posted not later than 31 January 1980 and in the case of the Dublin area not later than the morning of 1 February 1980. In the circumstances, I do not consider that any further action on my part is required.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): Does the Minister agree that practically every Deputy has numbers of replies from the Department stating that certain applications cannot be traced, that certain applications were late, and asking for further information about the names of the applicants and the situation of the houses? Does that not suggest that something has gone wrong in the Department, probably arising from the enormous number of applications, totalling 40,000 according to the Minister, which were received?

Mr. Connolly: As I said earlier, anyone who comes to me or the Department and who says he posted the application, when it can be identified on the envelope that it was posted on 31 January outside the Dublin area, or that it was posted on 1 February in the Dublin area, is accepted in my Department. I am surprised at the Deputy. His Government had a look at this and did nothing about it.

Mr. Enright: They did so.

Mr. Connolly: Deputy Enright knows what they did. They took the house loans from the single people.

Mr. Farrelly: We re-introduced the grants.

Mr. Connolly: They applied conditions with them. That will come up on a later question and I will answer that too. I am [1298] not changing my attitude with regard to the question I was asked. Deputy Fitzpatrick is a senior Member of this House, and he was a Member of the previous Government. As far as I know, this was raised at a Fine Gael Party meeting and they did nothing about it. They said we did the right thing. I will not change it.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): The Minister should be cool. The people involved are very concerned about this and they would like to see us dealing with it in a cool, calm and collected way. Might I remind the Minister of two things? First, he is now the Minister in charge. Secondly, as has been pointed out, his Government cancelled the grant and created the deadline. I want to suggest to the Minister by way of question that there is chaos in his Department. There is confusion in his Department. Does he not agree that files have been mislaid and lost? As evidence of that he told me yesterday that a grant was paid on 14 April 1980 and I was able to produce a letter from his Department dated May 1981, 13 months later, saying that the file had gone to the inspector for checking and payment of the grant if necessary. Does he not think there is something wrong in his Department when I can tell him that as recently as yesterday I got two replies about the same grant from his Department? In the reply to Question No. 913 I was told his Department were waiting for a tax certificate and the grant could not be paid until that tax certificate was furnished. Yesterday I also got a reply to Question No. 865, dealing with the same case, saying the tax certificate had been received in the Department and the grant would be paid shortly. Those two replies were given to me yesterday by the Minister. I ask him to accept that as evidence that, to put it mildly, all is not well in his Department. Might I suggest that he should set up a small committee of people in his Department to interview these people and assess them? One person I was speaking about today is a personnel manager and another I have in mind is a senior employee in the Post Office. Will the Minister set up a small committee in his Department to [1299] interview these people and make up their own minds about them? If they certify that they should be paid, will he pay them? On the question of money, the Minister is bringing in a Supplementary Estimate on Friday next asking for——

Mr. Molloy: On a point of order——

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I did not expect this from Deputy Molloy.

Mr. Molloy:——is the Deputy entitled to make a speech at Question Time?

An Ceann Comhairle: It is a long supplementary. I know the Deputy was trying to clarify a point.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): A Cheann Comhairle, if you were down the country doing clinics and having these people coming in to you every week, you would know the enormity of this mess.

An Ceann Comhairle: Indeed I do.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): On the question of finance, is the Minister not introducing a Supplementary Estimate on Friday to pay for the Gregory deal and other deals, and could he not add another few million pounds and clean up this mess?

Mr. Connolly: I am having an investigation into the case raised by the Deputy with me yesterday. I was quite annoyed that that should happen. I have nothing further to add to the reply I gave the Deputy.

Mr. Kenny: Has the Minister looked at the question of transferring this matter back to the local authority engineers who, in many cases, pass by the houses of these applicants ten times more often than the engineers or the inspectors from a Department? Would he not agree that that would make for much more effective government and cut out all the extra bureaucracy which is piling up these difficulties.

[1300] Mr. Connolly: I have looked into that. I have made a decision on it and I will not do it.

Mr. Farrelly: That is a poor day for the local authorities.

An Ceann Comhairle: A question please, Deputy.

Mr. Farrelly: Will the Minister investigate this? Grant inspectors called to houses in my constituency and I got replies from the Minister's Department no later than last week saying no applications were received.

An Ceann Comhairle: A question, please.

Mr. Farrelly: Will the Minister investigate this situation and not have Deputies acting as messenger boys for the Department's inspectors.

Mr. Connolly: If the Deputy gives me the names I will be only too glad to have them processed.

Mr. G. Birmingham: Would the Minister accept that, in the ordinary course of events, people corresponding with his Department, or any other Government Department, would anticipate that their letters would be received, filed and dealt with and, for that reason, they do not find it necessary to obtain evidence of postage? Therefore, the apparent concession he made is his statement is of little value. If that concession is of little value, and if Deputies from every side of the House are expressing annoyance at the present situation, would the Minister accept that manifestly things are not right in his Department and he has a responsibility to go further than he has gone?

Mr. Connolly: I am having the matter looked at. The Deputy will appreciate that I have been back in the Department for a couple of months only. I have some very important decisions to make in regard to finance which the Deputy's Government failed to supply. I am expected to wave a magic wand in a [1301] couple of months, but I am not in a position to do that.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Ceist 8.

Mr. Connolly: With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 9 and 10 together.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I never raise points of order.

Mr. Connolly: Inspection prior to the commencement of work was made an absolute condition of eligibility by the previous Government——

An Ceann Comhairle: Did Deputy Fitzpatrick raise a point of order?

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I did not.

Mr. Connolly: ——at the inception of the current house improvement grant scheme last October.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I am being orderly.

An Ceann Comhairle: We had about 15 supplementaries.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I am not asking a supplementary.

Mr. Connolly: May I go ahead?

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I want to tell the Ceann Comhairle in an orderly and respectful way that, in view of the unsatisfactory manner in which this question was replied to, I propose to ask him tomorrow to give me permission to raise it on the Adjournment. I will not do it this evening because there will be no time.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy can ask that tomorrow. He has given me prior notice?

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): [1302] The fact that I am mentioning it today might have some little influence.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister's reply has not been heard.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: Ceist 8.

8. Mr. O'Dea asked the Minister for the Environment if he is aware that thousands of people throughout the country are unable to qualify for a grant for home improvements due to the regulation that the job has to be inspected before the work begins; and if he will consider amending this regulation so that many people who proceeded to carry out home improvements in good faith will be entitled to a grant.

9. Mr. Sheehan asked the Minister for the Environment if he will reconsider the case of all applicants who were refused house improvement grants because they had commenced the work before the housing inspector called on them; and if he will allow a grant to be paid by his Department to all such applicants who had only part of the work done.

10. Mr. Yates asked the Minister for the Environment if he will review those house improvement grant applications which were refused because work was in progress.

Mr. Connolly: With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 9 and 10 together. Inspection prior to the commencement of work was made an absolute condition of eligibility by the previous Government at the inception of the current house improvement grants scheme last October. This condition was prominently advertised at the time and again in April 1982 when the expansion of the grants scheme was announced. It is also highlighted in the Department's explanatory memorandum and application form.

As the scheme has now been in operation for eight months I could not recommend to the Government at this stage, [1303] that this condition be dispensed with because of the grave danger of the abuse of public funds, the impracticality of enforcing a retrospective commencement date in relation to improvement works and because the substantial funds that would be needed have not been provided for in the current year's budget. I do not, therefore, propose to review the prior inspection requirement.

Mr. Sheehan: Would the Minister agree that every new scheme introduced has teething problems and this is one teething problem with this scheme of house improvement grants? It is a well known fact——

An Ceann Comhairle: Will the Deputy make it a question?

Mr. Sheehan: Would the Minister reconsider his decision on applicants who had only the bare wall of the extension erected when the inspector called? They had no fittings of a bath in the building. There was nothing done except the block-work. In view of that, the Minister should be well aware that there was no abuse of public funds so far as those applicants were concerned. As well as that the Minister must also agree that there are such things as stations being held twice a year in many parts of the country and the people concerned are anxious to have their houses repaired in time for the stations. As well as that, the weather——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy must ask a question.

Mr. Sheehan: The weather also has a major effect. Also the contractors will not wait. Finally is the Minister aware that there is a delay of four to six months before the inspector calls after the application is sent to the Department?

Mr. Connolly: Prior inspection applies in the UK and other countries operating schemes of this nature. When the previous Government brought in the grants the terms of reference were the same and we amended this scheme to take in the [1304] fabric of the house. The main reason for doing that was to cut out the frills that are not needed such as verandas and other fancy work. I am not going to change that. I have explained this in speeches I have made, in advertisements in the paper and so on that it was a prior condition now not to commence the work until the inspector had called. At the moment I am led to believe that the average time before inspection is about five or six weeks.

Mr. Sheehan: No.

Mr. Connolly: That is the information I have at the moment. Also it happens that people are not at home when the inspector calls. The terms of reference are in the memorandum that was set out by the previous Government. But now the number of applications coming into my Department where the work has commenced are very few.

Mr. Yates: Is the Minister of State aware that when he was on this side of the House he was very vocal in his criticism of this precondition of the grant? How can he now justify his acrobatics in relation to this decision? Is he aware that the reason for this condition was that since the grants had been abolished, in order that they could be backdated for a number of years, it was essential to put this in? This is no longer necessary. For future cases will the Minister alter this scheme so that work would not be completed but could commence and go ahead and could be approved in one inspection which would save his Department money. This authorisation would not cost the Department anything more in new grants?

Mr. Connolly: I have nothing to add to my reply.

Mr. G. Birmingham: Will the Minister come this far with us on this side of the House? Will he accept that if in any case it is possible to determine beyond any doubt whatever that an applicant is a person to whom the scheme applies, that the work he is engaging on is work contemplated [1305] by the scheme and that the work is being carried out in accordance with the scheme that in those limited circumstances he would authorise the payment of a grant?

Mr. Connolly: Under the scheme brought in in October last if the work has commenced it does not comply with the terms of reference in the memorandum that I referred to, and this is a condition that I cannot waive except by Government order. Is the Deputy clear on this? This is in the memorandum that was issued and it is also on the application form that work shall not commence until the inspector comes out to examine the work that is going to be done.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): It would not take a referendum to alter that.

Mr. Connolly: The Deputy's leader is on that trail.

Mr. Leonard: Would the Minister agree that much time is lost due to housing inspectors calling when there is no one at home? Would the Minister consider making a regulation that advance appointment notices would be sent especially in regard to new house grant applications where there are mostly young couples at work.

Mr. Connolly: I agree with the Deputy on that and I have asked the inspectors in my Department that where it is requested the inspection should be made by appointment and that where a telephone number is on the application they will ring the applicant——

Mr. Spring: In a new house?

Mr. Connolly: Alternatively a card should be sent out in advance saying when the inspector will call.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): If the telephone does not work what is to be done?

[1306] Mr. Connolly: The Deputy is just trying to be funny.

Mr. Farrelly: I listened to the Minister with interest when he said that an inspector——

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy cannot say that. The Deputy had better comply with the rules.

Mr. Connolly: I said approximately.

Mr. Farrelly: I know of an applicant——

An Ceann Comhairle: Would you ask a question?

Mr. Farrelly: I want to ask the Minister why the inspector has not called to an applicant who applied on 16 October last. That is eight months ago.

Mr. Connolly: I do not know the circumstances but if the Deputy can give me the details I will be glad to have it looked at.

(Interruptions.)

11. Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan) asked the Minister for the Environment if he is aware that some applicants have failed to qualify for new house grants because the floor area exceeds the prescribed maximum area because they wished to cater for the use of an invalid chair or carriage; and if he will review the regulations with a view to overcoming this hardship.

Mr. Connolly: I am not so aware. As I am advised that the statutory maximum floor area of 125 sq. metres provides ample scope for the adaptations necessary to meet the needs of disabled persons, I do not, therefore, propose to increase the prescribed floor area for grant purposes.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I am very sorry. I just did not get the Minister's reply, but that was my own fault.

[1307] Mr. Connolly: In a nutshell, I am not prepared to do what the Deputy is asking me.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): Thanks very much for telling me that. Would the Minister not consider facilitating the very limited number of very deserving cases involved here? I have only come across two of them myself and I am sure they could be counted in dozens. It is to facilitate wheelchairs for invalids.

Mr. Connolly: I have looked at a number of houses which were especially built under the regulations and where arrangements are made through the contractor on the building of a house. I am satisfied that this can be done.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): Would the Minister consider a case, for example, where an extra bedroom was added downstairs in addition to the other rooms that are normally downstairs so that the invalid could sleep downstairs?

Mr. Connolly: There may be a possibility that that person may qualify for a grant under the disabled persons scheme. Is that not true? Are they not available in Cavan too?

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I would ask the Minister to judge each of these cases on its merits and not to have a closed mind on it.

Mr. Connolly: I have confidence in the engineering people. I presume the Deputy has some reservations about them——

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): None whatever.

Mr. Connolly: I thought the Deputy had from the way he was talking. I am told by the technical people in the Department that wide passages, doors and so on can be provided when the house is being erected. I have an open mind on the matter. The technical and [1308] engineering people tell me there should be no problem in adapting a house of 125 square metres.

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): Will the Minister not agree that civil servants can only administer policy and regulations as they are given to them? The Minister said he has an open mind on the matter and I am glad about that. I ask him to reconsider the matter and make it a little more flexible so that the people concerned can be facilitated even if they have built a house without making all the necessary provisions at the planning stage.

Mr. Connolly: I asked the technical people to have a look at the matter because I wanted to know the position. I am very sympathetically disposed so far as handicapped people are concerned. I will look into the matter again but it will have to be backed up by a lot of facts.