Dáil Éireann - Volume 396 - 13 March, 1990

Private Members' Business. - Local Authority Housing: Motion.

Mr. Shatter: I move:

That Dáil Éireann deplores the emergence over the last three years of a housing crisis which is rapidly becoming more acute; deplores the Government policies which have brought this about; and calls for urgent Government action to alleviate the crisis which affects every city and county in the State.

The Fianna Fáil Government which took office in 1987 and the present Coalition Government which took office following the June 1989 general election have effectively sabotaged the local authority house building programme.

When the Labour-Fine Gael Coalition Government came into office at the end of 1982 we were in the midst of a major housing crisis. There were 30,000 people on local authority housing waiting lists and many of them believed that they had little hope of proper housing for many years. New housing policies, together with a substantial increase in local authorities' housing capital allocation, resulted in a dramatic decrease in the housing waiting lists. In excess of 6,000 [2405] houses per year were built during the lifetime of that Government and, as a result of their policies, the waiting lists fell to approximately 17,000. At the end of the life of that Government few of those entitled to local authority housing would have been on a housing waiting list for more than 12 months and many would have expected that, within 12 to 16 months, local authority housing would have been made available to them.

The statistics of the achievements of that period are worth recording because of what I anticipate will be the misleading remarks likely to be made by the Minister in the light of an amendment to our motion which has been circulated about what took place during that period. The Minister, in a foolish amendment which has been circulated to the House, talks about welcoming the strong reversal in 1989 of the eight year decline in new house completions. That amendment is in the realm of fantasy and wishful thinking on the part of the Minister. It brings us back to the sort of Opposition politics that we saw exhibited in this House on a week to week basis during the lifetime of that Government.

Before the Minister misleads the House about the achievement of the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government, the statistics of their achievements in the housing area should be read into the record. The statistics show that in 1982 there were 5,686 houses completed; in 1983, 6,190; in 1984, 7,002; in 1985, 6,523; and in 1986, 5,516. In 1987, the first year of the Fianna Fáil Government, there were 3,074 houses completed, a figure which declined to 1,450 in 1988 and there was a further decline in 1989 to below 1,000. Those figures are from the Annual Bulletin of Housing Statistics 1988 published by the Department. How could any Minister seriously be party to tabling a motion in this House which welcomes “the reversal of the eight year decline”? The decline only started when this Minister took office.

The problems in the whole local authority housing area have been the product of this Government's policies. The impact of Fianna Fáil entering office was [2406] traumatic. Capital financing for local authority housing was drastically curtailed, which resulted in 1988 in only 735 local authority housing starts. The capital allocation, as I said, fell dramatically. For example, in 1984, there was an allocation of £207 million for local authority housing; in 1985, £193 million; and in the last year of the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government, £147 million. In 1988 the allocation, the first for which this Minister was responsible, fell to £48 million, and in 1989 to £39 million. This latter allocation was not only to cover house building but also repairs and refurbishment. The extraordinary reductions of 1988 and 1989 resulted in local authority house building programmes effectively grinding to a halt. In 1989 building commenced countrywide on approximately 750 local authority houses. This countrywide figure is less than the total number of new houses provided by Dublin Corporation in each of the years between 1980 and 1986. In each of those years the corporation completed on average 1,500 new houses. Last year, to the lasting shame of this Government, Dublin Corporation did not complete a single house, an extraordinary record from the largest local authority in the country.

There are currently an estimated 22,000 people on local authority housing waiting lists. By the end of this year, on the basis of the Government's current policies, the figure may have grown to 25,000. The Minister for the Environment, overflowing with his usual political hyperbole, announced last November in the Estimates debates — and again just over two weeks ago — the local authority housing capital allocation. “Flynn announces increased local authority housing allocations” screamed the headline of the press release from the Minister's press and information office. We were told that capital allocations totalling £51 million for the local authority housing programme in 1990 were announced, £33 million of which was to be spent on new local authority housing. I suppose the figures sounded impressive in the context of the [2407] Minister's preceding two year offering. The Minister described this allocation as an increase of 50 per cent in the 1989 outturn. Of course it was not very difficult to increase the 1989 outturn by 50 per cent.

This self-indulgent piece of ministerial back slapping fooled the media into thinking that something meaningful was happening and that real additional resources were being provided for the local authority house building programme. The press release was not, of course, deliberately misleading, it was just economical with the truth. It did not state that the 1990 capital allocation is less than one-sixth in real terms of the allocation made a decade ago. It did not state that the 1990 capital allocation is lower than any sum allocated in any year by the Government in office between 1982 and 1986 for local authority housing. It did not mention, as I already said, that for the first time in living memory, Dublin Corporation had no house building programme for 1989 and that, incredibly, not a single new house was completed by the corporation last year.

It omitted to mention that in our capital city the housing waiting list had grown from 1,800 in May 1988 to 3,970 in September 1989. If you add Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council lists together at 31 December 1989 there were approximately 5,000 families on the housing waiting lists in Dublin, the vast majority of whom have no hope of being allocated a house this year or next if the Government continue their present policies. Will this figure reach 10,000 in Dublin by the time our capital city features as the cultural capital of Europe? Of course Dublin is not the only area in which the local authority housing waiting lists are growing. The statistics show that throughout the length and breadth of this country there is a rapid increase in numbers on the housing waiting lists, with very limited hope of houses being allocated to them.

The Minister also did not publicise the contents of the circular letters his Department are sending to local authorities [2408] about their capital allocation. He did not tell the general public or the media who received his press release that the capital allocations to many local authorities are merely illusory and that instead of providing additional resources for housing the Government were diverting housing resources to other uses such as road building. In the case of Dublin County Council, for example, no direct capital grant is to come from the Department of the Environment for housing this year. This local authority have been notified by the Department that a capital sum of £2,621,000 can be used by them for their local authority house building programme. Of that, £2,196,000 is for the provision of local authority houses and £425,000 is for halting sites or residential caravan parks for travellers. This total allocation is to be financed from the internal housing capital receipts of Dublin County Council, that is, from money raised from the sale of existing houses. Apart from meeting existing commitments, this sum will enable the council to commence the building of only 50 new houses this year, not all of which will be completed during 1990. With the additional families it is anticipated will come onto this local authority's waiting list, the impact of this allocation will be minimal.

Many will take the view that it is reasonable that moneys raised from the sale of houses should be used for the provision of new houses. Similar requirements are being imposed on other local authorities throughout the country. For example, Dublin Corporation are in a position similar to that of Dublin County Council. All the moneys they are to use for the provision of local authority housing accommodation are to come from internal housing capital receipts and the same applies to the Cork local authorities. There is, however, more to the story. We are not simply recycling moneys that are normally obtained from the sale of houses for the building of new houses. Until this year these moneys were normally made available for local authority loans or remedial works on existing local authority accommodation but the matter goes further. Not only will [2409] moneys no longer be available for these purposes but Dublin Corporation, Dublin County Council and other local authorities have been instructed to use some of the moneys realised from the sale of houses for other purposes. The Dublin local authorities have been instructed that £500,000 of their 1990 road grant in respect of each authority is to be resourced from internal housing capital.

It is a scandal that at a time when there are growing housing waiting lists this uncaring, anti-social and heartless Government have taken the unprecedented step of directing local authorities to divert housing finance to the building of roads. In Dublin alone this year a total of £1 million that should be used in the provision of local authority housing accommodation will be used for roads purposes. At no stage has the Minister brought this information before the Dáil and at no stage has he told the Dáil exactly how much money the other local authorities in the State have to divert from housing finance into road construction.

We are sitting on a social time-bomb that is slowly ticking away as housing lists are building up all over the country. Emigration resulting from unemployment has delayed the explosion but will not prevent it. We are rapidly developing a two tier society with growing deprivation and homelessness. This Government choose to ignore the problem they have created and will no doubt this evening in response to this motion engage in another misleading and dishonest public relations exercise.

Recently the Minister in response to Dáil questions talked of meeting “acute housing needs” only. For each and every family on a housing waiting list their need is acute. For the increasing number of people who require housing this Government offer no hope. The Government have not only turned their back on those who require accommodation through local authorities but they have not done enough to tackle the problems of those who live in inadequate and dilapidated local authority accommodation which [2410] lacks the basic essentials of life. It is a national disgrace that in the Ireland of the nineties there are families living in 2,500 local authority dwellings which have no indoor toilets and over 8,000 local authority dwellings with no proper bathroom facilities. While the majority of such accommodation lacking these basic facilities is to be found in Cork and Dublin, most local authorities have some accommodation in which such facilities are lacking.

The statistics of local authorities with accommodation that lack such facilities were given recently in the Dáil by the Minister. You could go through each local authority area in the country and you would be hard pressed to find some local authority with accommodation in which such basic facilities are not lacking. For example, in Cavan there were 25 local authority houses with no indoor toilets and 30 with no bathrooms or showers; in Longford there were 36 houses with no indoor toilets and 38 with no bathrooms or showers; in Waterford there were 403 houses with no indoor toilets and 403 with no bathroom or shower and in the Dún Laoghaire Borough there were 203 houses with no indoor toilets and 758 with no bathrooms or showers. In Dún Laoghaire, which is often viewed as being a rich part of the world, there are people living in conditions which should not be tolerated in the nineties and which are familiar to the Ireland of the thirties. There is a whole list of local authorities with accommodation in which the basic facilities, that many of us as Members of this House take for granted as part of our day to day comforts, are sadly lacking.

For those currently purchasing their own home, this Government are also responsible for creating major difficulties. The decrease in interest rates which resulted from the policies of the Labour-Fine Gael Coalition Government and which was maintained by the Fianna Fáil Government when constrained by Fine Gael from the Opposition benches has now been reversed. We have had five increases in mortgage interest rates in the past 12 months and [2411] in the current economic climate the possibility of further interest rate rises cannot be ruled out. Young couples who obtained mortgages at a time of low interest rates now find themselves paying approximately £100 more per month in repayments to building societies and banks. The reduction by the Government in the Finance Acts of the mortgage interest allowance was justified by the Minister on the basis of the low interest rates payable by house purchasers. I recall being in this House when the present Minister for the Environment, never slow to heap modest praise on himself, said that the changes in the Finance Act were justified as a result of the Government's policies in reducing interest rates. The Minister claimed credit for the reduction in interest rates and he cannot now throw his hands in the air and disclaim responsibility for the savage rises that have occurred.

Mr. Quinn: Yes he can.

Mr. Shatter: To relieve the pressure felt by many hard-pressed young couples purchasing their first home, the Government should ensure that when the Finance Bill is published an amendment is included in it to restore full mortgage interest relief. In the absence of such amendment there is going to be an increasing number of house purchasers unable to meet their mortgage commitments, who are going to be forced to sell their homes and look to local authorities to provide them with accommodation, so adding to the housing crisis that now confronts us all.

A broad range of policies and initiatives is required to tackle this problem. There is a specific need for sheltered housing and this need has not yet been adequately addressed. Currently there is a mixture of responsibility between the local authorities and the health boards in this area. The need is urgent. The number of patients in psychiatric units in our hospitals fell from 26,000 in the early sixties to 13,000 in the mid-eighties to about 8,000 in 1989. The idea of people being [2412] deinstitutionalised and returned to their communities is right. Nevertheless, the Simon Community have reported a worrying number of such former patients having to be picked up and helped by voluntary services. There is little evidence that deinstitutionalisation has been accompanied by the kind of attention required to avoid homelessness.

The 1989 report of the National Council for the Aged refers to the manner in which voluntary organisations have had to provide basic housing for the elderly because of the collapse of the public housing programme. Over 90 per cent of shelter beds in this country is provided by religious, voluntary and charitable organisations, very few of whom receive more than a token contribution towards their running costs from statutory resources. This is a problem that the Government have not to date adequately confronted.

The need for hostel accommodation is well documented. Most hostel accommodation is provided in grim 19th century buildings offering poor amenities, little basic privacy and in most cases nowhere to stay during the day. There is a shortage of places for women and children and extreme overcrowding. Totally inadequate provision is made for women who are the victims of broken marriages and who are very often battered and beaten into leaving their homes. It took three years after it was agreed by the Eastern Health Board to replace Brú Caoimhín with a new service, Haven House, in February 1989, illustrating the lack of urgency the problem receives. As resources to house all the homeless people now living in hostels and unsuitable accommodation are unlikely to materialise overnight, given the cut in the housing programme and this Government's failure to tackle properly the problems of the homeless, some basic improvements in present living conditions must be attempted now. As a minimum, there should be an end to the practice whereby hostel residents have to leave first thing in the morning and the appropriate resources will have to be given to provide the necessary day staff.

[2413] A large number of initiatives are necessary to tackle the problem but this Government, ostrich-like, have sought to bury their heads in the sand and pretend there is no problem. Every Member of the House is aware of the problem. Every Member of this House is meeting people on a regular basis who need help to resolve their housing difficulties and has to honestly say to those seeking local authority accommodation that it is unlikely that they will get it in 1990 or 1991, and if the Government remain in office they will not get it in 1992. It is the responsibility of Government to take urgent action to alleviate this crisis which affects every city and county in the State. The responsibility for the crisis lies with the Government and the Government are not meeting that responsibility.

As you know, Sir, I have 40 minutes as the opening speaker but I omitted to mention that I wished to share my time with Deputy Mitchell. I hope, Sir, that you and the House will agree to my so doing.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is very desirable that such a request should be made at the commencement of one's speech rather than towards the termination. It is not fair to the Chair or to the House. However I am sure it will be acceptable.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn): We will not hold it against the Deputy.

An Ceann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Shatter: I hope that the motion tabled from this side of the House by the Fine Gael Party will receive the support of all Members from this side. The Government Deputies, particularly those on the backbenches, are well aware of the extent of the problem and are coming across it weekly at their clinics and are throwing their hands up in despair at the policies implemented by this Minister. Some of those Deputies were fooled into believing when the Minister announced the capital allocation for 1990 that some [2414] small step would be taken to alleviate the problem within the local authority housing area. I suggest that some of those Fianna Fáil or Progressive Democrat backbenchers should consider supporting this motion, because if they do not, I do not believe their constituents will thank them next time they come before them seeking support for election purposes.

Mr. G. Mitchell: I thank the House for allowing me to use some of Deputy Shatter's time. I wonder if it would be permissible to allow Deputies Bradford and Doyle to use some of the remaining time?

An Ceann Comhairle: Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

Mr. G. Mitchell: There is a housing crisis facing the country and as I have first hand knowledge of the position in Dublin city I will confine my remarks to the problem in the capital. My comments specifically relate to Dublin Corporation and do not take into account the waiting lists in the Dublin County Council area. According to the Corporation's most recent assessment of housing needs, there are 3,970 applicants on the housing waiting list and a further 6,972 people on the housing transfer list, many of whom are living in overcrowded circumstances or in flat complexes which are in a poor state of repair. Since the corporation built no houses in 1989 and estimate they will built only 34 houses in 1990, the housing crisis in the capital, where the closing date for new applicants is next Friday, will become acute when the new list is published on 1 May next. The fact that the corporation close their list for six months at a time probably disguises an even worse housing crisis, if this is imaginable.

The amendment placed by The Workers' Party, as usual, does not attempt to address the current problem or the housing needs of the people but rather, sets out to score points off the Labour Party by deleting the reference to the past three years. For the record, and so that everybody is aware of the [2415] precise position, I will read out the table of house building by Dublin Corporation and this is worthy of examination. In 1970, 1,027 houses were built; in 1971, 1,536; in 1972, 1,282; in 1973, 1,588; in 1974, 1,480; in 1975, 1,525; in 1976, 1,626; in 1977, 1,640; in 1978, 1,386; in 1979, 1,505; in 1980, 1,519; in 1981, 1,520; in 1982, 1,351; in 1983, 1,753; in 1984, 1,717; in 1985, 1,358; in 1986, 1,014; in 1987, 446; in 1988, 148; in 1989, nil; and the estimate for 1990 in Dublin Corporation, the largest housing authority in the country, is 34 houses.

Mr. Doyle: They will build more in Mayo.

Mr. G. Mitchell: This must be set against the fact that there are 3,970 applicants on the housing waiting list and a further 6,972 on the housing transfer list, many of whom are living in over-crowded circumstances in very poor accommodation. We ask whether we have a housing crisis. Of course we have a housing crisis and it is very clear that in the years the Fine Gael and Labour Coalitions were in office the housing problem was tackled and when they were out of office it was not. I resent the attempt by The Workers' Party to delete the reference to the past three years in the amendment they put before the House.

In addition to the local authority house building the Fine Gael and Labour Coalition introduced the £5,000 surrender grant for house purchasers, which had some side effects, but was largely successful. They also introduced house improvement grants for those who could leave the waiting list and house themselves with some assistance. Until recently, Dublin Corporation had approximately 2,000 tenants on their books — I stress on their books — who did not have bathrooms, but by deleting those who had applied to purchase their houses and also removing from the list those old and feeble persons who do not want to face the disruption of builders, the corporation were able to reduce their book records to 636 Dublin Corporation [2416] houses plus approximately 200 flats which do not have bathrooms. The real figure is, of course, nearer to 2,000 since those applicants who have applied to purchase their houses will still not have a bathroom and will have to provide themselves with this basic facility when they eventually own the house over the next 18 months to two years. Let us ask whether it is acceptable that tenants of our capital's local authority do not have a bathroom nine years off the 21st century. Of course not.

There are 16,000 Dublin Corporation flats and about 1,000 of these are senior citizen flats which are generally of a high standard but of the remaining 15,000 about two-thirds, or 10,000, are in need of major refurbishment. None of us would aspire to live in the dark, dank crumbling flat complexes where we compel some of our citizens to live. If our children lived there we would have many sleepless nights but it seems that we are prepared to tolerate others living in such circumstances. This is not the first time I have raised this issue in this House but what has the Minister for the Environment done during his three years in office? Nothing. I have illustrated the situation in the figures. It was a serious mistake to appoint two rural Deputies to the Department of the Environment in 1987 and to leave them there. It is comparable to appointing two city slickers to the Department of Agriculture and Food. The housing crisis is not on the agenda because the two Ministers do not know it exists. Surely the recently appointed Minister of State will tell us the plans——

Mr. Quinn: She cannot see through the smog.

Mr. G. Mitchell: Have the Government a ceiling for the housing crisis? Why have they not acted? All Members presumably came to this House because they aspired to serve our country and it is a grave disservice to ignore this crisis. I urge the House to support the motion before it tonight as the first step in an attempt to redress this crisis.

[2417] Mr. Bradford: As the House is aware, I am sharing the remainder of the time available to Fine Gael with Deputy Doyle.

I fully support what has been said by my colleagues, Deputies Shatter and Mitchell. Every public representative, not only in this House but in every local authority, is fully aware of the extent of the housing crisis being experienced at present. It cannot be called anything but a crisis. It is apparent that the Government have abandoned the moral obligation to provide adequate housing for the most marginalised and disadvantaged among us. It seems to be their policy to tell the poor and homeless that they will have to await an improvement in the economy before adequate housing can be provided. This is poor and scant consolation for the many thousands at present living in inadequate and miserable housing conditions.

Deputy Shatter earlier made the important point that the increase in mortgage interest rates will lead to further difficulties. There are some in the middle income range who are thinking of buying a house with their own resources. However, the recent increase in mortgage interest rates will stop them in their tracks and turn them towards the local authority housing programmers but, unfortunately, their response will be very negative indeed.

Each public representative could cite many cases to highlight the appalling problems being experienced by thousands of people on council waiting lists. Because of the failure to provide adequate funding people will end up in hospital as a result of having to live in very damp conditions. Most of us are fully aware of those cases where marriages have broken down as a direct result of housing conditions. This is an argument which cannot be countered. We tend to sweep the problem under the carpet but it is a very grave one. I can restate with certainty that there are many cases where marriages have broken down as a direct result of inadequate and appalling housing conditions.

Let me refer briefly to the position in [2418] the area which I am most familiar with, that is north Cork. The figures for that area and for the county as a whole are worse than the figures for any other area in the country. In 1985, the year I was first elected to the council, and I have had many people approach me since looking for houses, 125 houses were built in north Cork. Last year, however, only 17 or 18 were built and this year we have received finance to build 35 houses. No Minister could say that the housing needs in an area where 125 houses were built in 1985 could be met adequately through the provision of 35 houses in 1990. North Cork and the county as a whole are experiencing the same problems as the rest of the country, and, unfortunately, they are getting the same negative answer from the Minister for the Environment.

I wish to make one final point on housing policy which would be of more importance if adequate funding was being made available but even at a time when inadequate funding is being made available we should address the issue of policy. As a rural Deputy I wish to express my disappointment at the disappearance of rural cottages from the council's housing progrmme. Last week in this House the Minister indicated that it costs about £35,000 to build a council house. In many areas rural cottages can be built for a figure of between £20,000 and £25,000. If we can keep people in rural areas we should do so. However, we are doing the reverse which is very wrong. In relation to council housing estates, the building of council estates of between 50 and 70 houses in towns is the wrong way to proceed as in the long run it leads to social chaos and disorder. What we need is a far better mix of private and public housing. I appeal to the Minister to give some consideration to this point.

Mr. Doyle: Deputy Mitchell outlined the substantial progress made in house building in Dublin over a long number of years and the effect this had on the waiting list which had been substantially reduced, down to a figure as low as 2,800 in May 1988. However, since then it has gradually increased and, unfortunately, [2419] no houses are being made available. This stark fact was brought home to the housing committee of Dublin Corporation at their meeting last Thursday when they discussed a letter they had received from the Minister for the Environment in which he outlined what their capital allocation grant would be — £7.5 million. Indeed this did not amount to a capital allocation grant at all as it was to come out of the revenue of Dublin Corporation. The Minister was castigated by his own members for this. One of them went so far as to apologise on his behalf and stated the Minister probably did not realise that the letter had been sent out. It was a ridiculous letter.

I wish to refer to the part of the letter dealing with Sheriff Street. It is quite clear that Dublin Corporation were of the view that the Government were going to give Sheriff Street priority and that a capital allocation was needed from the Government. The Minister has asked the Corporation to buy 60 units this year and has provided a sum of £1 million to enable this to be done. Where could one buy a house for £16,000 today? It is just not on. It is a crazy suggestion.

We are facing serious problems. Deputy Mitchell referred to the number of houses which Dublin Corporation feel should be provided. This figure has been notified to the Minister. The corporation have pointed out that at present there are 582 homeless persons on the waiting list. However, the Simon Community in a letter to me say the figure is at least 1,700. As we are aware, the homeless are given priority under the 1988 Housing Act but there is nothing to give them. Today I visited the housing section of Dublin Corporation and saw the queues there. One needs to have points before one can get a flat in Ballymun today. It is true that at present 390 units in Ballymun are under repair but when these have been repaired there will be no vacancies in Ballymun; neither are there any vacancies in Tallaght. As no accommodation is available for the homeless, they are just going to have to wait. It is not good enough for [2420] the Minister to say that there is no need to provide housing. There is.

In conclusion, I wish to point out that we cannot draw up a housing programme overnight. We all want to see the economy improve and to see some of those who have emigrated in recent years return home. Incidentally, this has taken some of the pressure off the Government to build houses. If the economy improves and these people return home where will they be housed? We will end up facing the same crisis again when the Taoiseach and the Minister will probably go on television and radio to say that they were not aware of the crisis just like they were not aware of the crisis in the health service. As the Minister is well aware, before houses can be built two to three years have to be spent in planning. It is most essential that the Minister realises there is a problem in Dublin. I would not call it a crisis but we are nearing that stage. Unless the Minister pays far more attention to this matter than he did in the letter he sent us last week and provides a real capital allocation with which to build houses we will end up facing serious problems.

Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn): I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

welcomes the strong reversal in 1989 of the eight year decline in new house completions, the bringing into force of the Housing Act, 1988, the success of the other Government initiatives in the housing area and the increased resources made available for local authority and voluntary housing and for the homeless in 1990; and urges the Government to keep housing policies under review.

I have not been all that impressed by the contributions I have heard so far. One has come to expect a reasonably good contribution from Deputy Shatter on most topics but we heard a rather dull contribution from Deputy Shatter on most topics but we heard a rather dull contribution from him this evening. That was followed by a pretty lacklustre contribution from his colleagues.

[2421] Mr. Quinn: Now the Minister has his big chance.

Mr. Flynn: It seems to me that Deputy Shatter's heart is not in this subject. He did not display any great commitment to those in need of housing, to those looking for better housing or for the repair of their existing houses. The building industry is doing well. One only has to open one's eyes to see that building activity is booming not just in Dublin city but throughout the country. Housing is a major contributor to the large growth in output that occurred last year and that is continuing. Overall, building output last year increased by more than 10 per cent. It was an equally good year for employment with the creation of at least 4,000 new construction jobs plus countless others in the areas providing support services to the industry.

The prospects for the construction industry are better now than they have been for a long time and that is agreed by all serious commentators. This year we expect growth to be similar to last year. In two years we will have achieved the best part of 25 per cent growth or, in money terms, we will have generated an additional £660 million of expenditure in the industry and all the jobs that entails. New housing has always contributed significantly to this growth. I recommend the weekly property supplements of the country's major newspapers as prescribed reading for Deputy Shatter and his friends opposite. They will give those Members some idea as to what is being said about the building industry and new house building in particular.

The building industry and the house building sector are bullish and the best commentators expect continuous improvement in the overall performance of that industry over the next few years. I find it ironic that Members should be casting about looking for a crisis where none exists. At least Deputy Doyle confirmed that there is no crisis. He said that there was a problem. I agree with him that there is a need for housing but he was correct in stating that there is no crisis in that sector.

[2422] Through the early and mid-eighties when housing output was falling year after year nobody claimed that there was a major housing problem or crisis. Over the past year housing output has been increasing for the first time since 1981 and we are now told we have a housing problem. The truth is that when the whole economy was in crisis nobody felt the need to claim a problem in a particular part of the economy but now that the economic picture is much brighter it is inevitable that for political reasons some people are driven to manufacture so-called crises and problems in some specific areas of Government policy. That is what is taking place now.

The main Opposition party were casting about for a suitable item for debate during Cheltenham race week and they come up with the old hardy annual, housing. It is a good item. They felt it would not cause any problems and that there would not be too much attention paid to it. I take this business more seriously than they do. Deputy Shatter's contribution seeks to convey a major problem, a problem of extreme proportions. It is highly irresponsible of the Deputy, as spokesman for the main Opposition party, to put a motion before the House on any issue in such extreme terms that it exaggerates problems and promotes unjustified fears and anxieties.

There always exists a housing need where the population is on the move but certainly there is no crisis. Deputies do not have to take my word for that. The NECS's independent report on housing, published in December, 1988 stated:

There has been a substantial improvement in the average standard of housing. This leaves the average level of service from Irish housing, judged in terms of space, conditions and amenities, as relatively high — that is in relation to the level of GNP per head in Ireland: indeed, Ireland would score highly on any international comparisons of this nature.

In addition I defy any Deputy to find any professional or tradesman in the house building industry who would say that [2423] prospects for house building are worse now than they were when the parties opposite left Government three years ago.

Figures now available show that last year private housing output grew rapidly and an additional 3,100 new private houses were completed compared to 1988, an increase of 22 per cent in just one year. This year significantly additional resources are being made available for the local authority housing programme and I expect about 5,000 new lettings of local authority houses in 1990. Total housing completions will again increase this year to about 20,000. This compares with the NESC estimate of likely housing requirements for the period 1986 to 1996 as between 11,000 and 15,000 per annum with a figure towards the upper end of the range as more appropriate.

Registrations under the national house building guarantee scheme are the most important leading indicator of future trends in private house building. They have shown an increase of 72 per cent between 1987 and 1989 and I am glad to be able to report that figures to date this year show a further 7 per cent increase over last year. This is hardly the stuff that would suggest a housing crisis or a major problem.

While I say there is no crisis I do not say that everything is perfect in the housing field. Deputy Doyle is correct, there is a need. It is not — either here or in any other country that I know of — and it probably never will be perfect. There are problems that need continuing attention. Families who cannot afford to house themselves must not be condemned to living in unfit or inadequate accommodation indefinitely. Vulnerable households such as the homeless, the handicapped and the travelling people must be catered for. Access to owner occupation particularly for young couples must be made as easy as possible. The greatest possible level of resources — financial and otherwise — must be devoted to dealing with these issues. This is precisely what the Governments in which I have held the housing brief have [2424] been doing over the past three years. And I dare say we will continue to do so. The Fine Gael-Labour Government of 1982 to 1987 had been fooling around with a badly needed Housing Bill for practically four years but failed to get it on the statute book. Yet within little over a year of taking office I had succeeded in having the Housing Act, 1988, passed into law. That was generously welcomed by Deputies Shatter and Quinn and others. Deputy Shatter's Coalition Government in the years previous failed to deliver.

Mr. Doyle: Who built the houses?

Mr. Flynn: This Act represented a number of major advances in housing legislation, not least of which was to positively address the issue of homelessness for the first time in housing legislation. The Government have greatly expanded the provision of voluntary housing, particularly for categories such as elderly persons and the homeless. These and the numerous other positive measures taken in the housing area by my party over the past three years show up the hollowness of this motion. I will be reminding the House of these presently.

Much is being made of the restriction on income tax relief on mortgage interest. I should point out, however, that Deputy Dukes as Minister for Finance restricted the benefit of mortgage tax relief in his budget of 1983 when he reduced the upper limit on the interest that was allowable against tax from £4,800 for a married couple to £4,000. Incidentally, the mortgage interest rate at the time was 13 per cent. In fact, this limit still remains but is subject to the further restriction which disallows 20 per cent of interest paid within the relevant ceiling. The main Opposition parties would be well advised to tread warily when they are talking about restrictions on mortgage interest relief. When I became Minister for the Environment the mortgage interest rate was 12.5 per cent even though international rates were in decline. The economy was in a mess even following the mismanagement of the Labour-Fine Gael Government and the [2425] public finances were certainly in disarray. That, at least, is agreed by all parties in the House.

Mr. Shatter: It is not agreed. The only people in disarray are the Fianna Fáil Party.

Mr. Flynn: Thanks to our Government's firm management of the public finances and the economy in general, mortgage rates for much of the past three years were at their lowest level in almost 20 years. Of course, restrictions of mortgage interest relief must be seen in the widest context of the continuing improvements in recent years in the income tax structure.

Mr. Shatter: How many increases have there been this year?

Mr. Flynn: From 6 April next the standard rate of income tax will be reduced to 30 per cent and the top rate to 53 per cent. Up to the 1989 budget these rates were 35 per cent and 58 per cent, respectively. There has been a beneficial widening of the tax bands as well in recent years. These benefits do not come cheaply. The cumulative cost of the income tax reliefs in the 1988, 1989 and 1990 budgets, at over £800 million, is well over three times the £225 million commitments given by the Government in the Programme for National Recovery. Indeed the savings accruing from the partial restriction on mortgage interest relief only meet a small part of these broader income tax reliefs which benefit all taxpayers. Mortgage relief will cost well over £200 million in the 1990-91 tax year. This represents a very substantial continuing subsidy to home ownership.

Deputies will remember that at the time of the 1989 budget I said — and I am on the record of this House — that one of the reasons for the reduction in the mortgage interest relief from 90 per cent to 80 per cent at that time was to counter strong inflationary pressures beginning to emerge in the house market. The 80 per cent restriction has been [2426] among the factors that helped to moderate these inflationary trends. There is no point in giving tax relief on mortgages if it is simply passed on in higher house prices and consequently to higher mortgages.

Since 1987 the Government have been committed to rescuing the economy from the shambles left behind by the previous Administration, an Administration which, among other things, managed to double the national debt. We took the decisive measures, made the difficult decisions and saw the country benefit as confidence in the economic management of the economy returned. Thanks to our policies, the country was able for the first time in years to reap the full benefits of favourable international trends in interest rates. Indeed, for a long time in the latter part of 1988 and the early months of 1989 we were able to withstand upward movements in international rates, but, as any independent commentator would acknowledge, we could not, as a small and open economy, go on forever “bucking” the continuing upward spiral in rates in other countries.

Deputies may ask where have our prudent policies got us now that rates are high again. I will tell them. Our sound economic management of the economy has ensured that our mortgage rates are not considerably higher. For many years our mortgage rates were considerably higher. For many years our mortgage rate was on par or higher than the prevailing rate in the UK. Today our standard rate is three pecentage points lower than theirs. Restoring the full 100 per cent tax relief on mortgages up to the £4,000 limit would be equivalent to an expenditure of over £50 million. To increase public expenditure — for that is what it would be — in that manner would be a singularly inappropriate response to present interest rate trends. It would give the totally wrong signal to the financial markets and would be seen as a return to the soft option of more spending as the solution to difficulties.

We cannot, and must not, take the [2427] apparent soft option of relaxing our policies and begin throwing money at problems. If we were to go down that path — and I can assure you it is not our intention to do so — I have no doubt that mortgage rates would quickly reach levels of 16 per cent. In the long term we would not be acting in the best interest of house purchasers. Rather, we must continue to prudently manage the economy and in this way we will ensure that we will benefit immediately from improvements in interest rate levels internationally.

On 1 April 1989 section 9 of the Housing Act, 1988, dealing with the assessment of local authority housing needs, was brought into operation. Section 9 is a singularly important provision of the 1988 Act in that it provides for the first time a framework for the comprehensive measurement by category of the need for the provision of local authority housing.

The first assessment of housing needs under section 9 was undertaken on 30 September 1989. In assessing housing needs, housing authorities were required by the Act to have regard to a number of specified categories of needs including the homeless, handicapped and elderly. Despite the fact that local authorities were required to include in their assessment, in many cases for the first time, categories of need such as single persons who were not elderly and homeless persons, the level of approved applicants remains significantly below what it was in the early 1980s. I will quote the figures for the past three years. At the end of September 1989 there were 19,400 approved applicants for local authority housing including, as I have said, those categories of need not previously counted by many authorities. On January 1987 there were 20,637 approved applicants for local authority housing. In reality these figures would have been much higher if compiled on the basis of the 1989 figures.

In addition to the decline in the overall level of needs, the housing prospects of all categories of local authority housing applicants have improved significantly in recent years, with authorities housing [2428] applicants who previously had little or no prospect of securing local authority accommodation. Many applicants still on waiting lists have chosen to decline reasonable offers of accommodation and await accommodation becoming available in a particular location indicating that the severity of such needs is much less acute than it used to be. Against this background it would have been irresponsible to maintain the local authority housing programme at the level of previous years and this could not be justified either in terms of real housing needs or the critical need to restore order to the public finances.

On 22 February I notified all housing authorities of their capital allocations for their housing programmes for 1990. The total available this year is £51 million, an increase of almost £13 million or 34 per cent on expenditure on the programme in 1989. Of this sum £33 million will be available for the provision of additional houses. This represents an increase of over 50 per cent on last year's expenditure of £21.7 million and reverses the trend of previous years where the capital allocation provided to the programme reduced each year since 1984. The increased provision being made available to the programme will enable an expanded programme to be undertaken which should yield over 1,250 new starts and about 1,200 completions this year. When account is taken of casual vacancies it is expected that at least 5,000 new lettings will be made in 1990.

An important development this year is that housing authorities have been given full discretion in the selection of the particular dwellings which they will start in 1990 within the total number allocated to them. I think Deputy Bradford will be pleased to hear that.

Mr. Bradford: If I had enough money——

Mr. Flynn: It is a matter for each authority, therefore, to decide the locations of their own starts or purchases of existing private houses, as appropriate. It is only [2429] right and sensible that each local authority would decide their own priorities within their overall allocation. I hope Deputies will respond positively to that.

In addition to the funds available for new construction it is important to ensure that sufficient funds are provided to conserve and improve existing local authority estates and dwellings. Deputies are no doubt aware of the many major schemes of refurbishment which are being undertaken to local authority estates countrywide under the terms of the remedial works scheme. Since its inception some £47 million has been made available to authorities, including expenditure of £13.5 million in 1989 and a provision of £15 million this year. The 1990 allocations which I have recently notified to local authorities will enable work to be undertaken in some 75 estates this year.

For Deputy Shatter's information it is interesting to note that out of that £15 million, £5 million will go to Dublin Corporation, a major contribution to a need which I have recognised for the past few years as existing in Dublin city.

The success of the 1988 local authority tenant purchase scheme has pushed the level of owner occupation in this country up to the 80 per cent mark—a remarkable level by international standards. It showed that the desire for home ownership is as strong among local authority tenants as it is among the community at large. The 1988 scheme gave a chance to those tenants in newer estates who could not previously have afforded the cost of home ownership. Some 20,000 sales had gone through by the end of 1989 and the remaining 12,000 or so sales are being processed. In 1989 I introduced a special scheme for the sale of flats and maisonettes.

Detailed guidelines on the implementation of the provisions of the Housing Act, 1988, dealing with homelessness issued to housing authorities on 29 November 1988 and these provisions were brought into force on 1 January 1990. Now that these arrangements have been in place for over a year, I intend to review the operation of the homelessness [2430] provisions during this year and to take the views of housing authorities and voluntary housing organisations into account in this review.

My Department's voluntary housing scheme funds up to 95 per cent of the overall capital cost of the provision of accommodation for homeless persons and 80 per cent for other categories — mainly elderly persons — subject to an overall limit of £20,000 per unit of accommodation. The response by voluntary organisations to this scheme has been most gratifying and I am pleased to acknowledge the major contribution voluntary housing has made towards the provision of housing for some very deserving categories.

Activity by approved voluntary housing bodies has grown dramatically, particularly in the past three years. The reason for this growth has been the attractive terms of the scheme of capital funding by my Department coupled with substantial increases in the overall capital allocations for the scheme — from £2 million in 1986 to £9.275 million this year, which I expect will produce 500 units of accommodation. Special attention has been given under the scheme to the needs of the homeless and I have ensured that particular priority has been afforded to funding projects for homeless persons such as those promoted by the Simon Community, Focus Point and the Iveagh Trust among others.

The new Simon Community hostel at Usher's Island which opened last year has meant a great improvement in the living conditions of over 40 people who would otherwise be homeless. Grant-aid has recently been sanctioned for another 15 unit Simon project in Cork. The Iveagh Trust is presently upgrading its hostel accommodation to provide 155 modern units and accommodation for about 100 homeless persons will be provided at Stanhope Street, Dublin when the Focus Point project is ready later this year. Indeed in recognition of the importance of this very large scale voluntary housing project a special provision of £120,000 was made in this year's budget to assist the provision of communal facilities in [2431] the Stanhope Street project. These projects are all grant-aided through the voluntary housing scheme along with numerous other projects throughout the country. Overall, there is a wide spread of voluntary housing activity right across the country with significant schemes in Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Galway, Limerick, Cavan, Kilkenny and Meath and in fact virtually every county.

I fully recognise and appreciate the importance of the private rented sector in the overall housing picture and I want to ensure the continued health of this sector so that it provides a sufficient stock of good quality accommodation to meet the requirements of households who need or prefer this form of tenure. The Government have taken significant measures to encourage greater investment in the provision of private rented accommodation. Our approach to the sector has been to create conditions which are favourable to increased investment through the provision of tax incentives and the reintroduction of the section 23-type incentives have done much to encourage investment.

I am confident that the level of activity generated during the three years of the current incentives will exceed that which resulted from the original section 23 incentives which applied for six years — from 1981 to 1987. The measures we have taken to encourge the provision of private rented accommodation are succeeding and this will lead to an increasing supply of good quality accommodation which will be available at a reasonable rent.

In housing, no less than in other spheres of public policy, it is vital that we plan ahead. In order to ensure that the necessary basic information for the proper review and development of housing policies is available, I requested local authorities on 1 December last to carry out an estimate of total housing requirements of their areas for the period to 1993. This period broadly coincides with the time scale for other infrastructural development plans included in the National Development Plan. The making [2432] of these estimates by local authorities will involve the carrying out of a sample survey of the existing housing stock to ascertain the present level of requirements in terms of replacement or improvement. To this will then be added the prospective level of housing requirements arising out of future demographic trends. The Environmental Research Unit of my Department is providing guidance and assistance to local authorities in carrying out this exercise. When completed later this year, these estimates will provide very valuable date on housing requirements in each area and should assist us in reviewing policies and planning ahead.

In many ways the most distressing aspect of these calls from Deputy Shatter and the Fine Gael benches for more public spending is that they appear to have learned nothing from their stewardship in the housing area during their last term in Government which was nothing short of disastrous. In fact the liabilities which I inherited from them have seriously constrained me in making the best use of the resources available for housing.

In 1986 a special new house grant of £2,250 was introduced for the benefit of builders with the peculiar characteristic of being paid in deferred instalments so that it would not have affected expenditure until 1988 when it would have cost £22 million. The full annual cost of £29 million would have to be met in 1989. Furthermore, the situation I found in regard to public expenditure commitments on house improvement grants on becoming Minister for the Environment was truly appalling. Grants approved totalled almost £230 million with applications still coming in at a rate that would add £5 million a month to this staggering figure. The legacy of public debt left by this scheme resulted from a crude attempt to buy survival for a shaken Government that was having grave difficulties facing the resumption of the Dáil after the 1985 summer recess.

Mr. Quinn: It was not a temporary little arrangement, anyway.

[2433] Mr. Flynn: This was a hastily conceived open-ended scheme under which expenditure could neither be predicted nor controlled. It provided large handouts of taxpayers' money to individuals regardless of their means for doing often inessential, or even cosmetic works. Moreover, it was the better off people who were able to make most use of these grants. As Deputies are aware, these grants will finally terminate on 31 May next and this will bring down the final curtain on this unhappy episode which has done immense damage to the concept of house improvement grants.

The way the last Fine Gael-Labour Government treated ordinary people is a lingering disgrace. The way they dealt with the house improvement scheme, by committing huge sums of unnecessary expenditure to it, prevented me from implementing a programme which I could have started earlier than this year. In these circumstances if we as a new Government were serious about tackling the problems of the economy, we had little choice but to take firm action to prevent any further escalation of liabilities. In doing so we were confident that we were taking on an important step towards providing the conditions under which the decline in the housing and building industries could be halted and reversed. Time has proved this Government right.

The overall objective of housing policy which has been accepted by successive Government is:

to ensure that, as far as the resources of the economy permit, every household can obtain a house of good standard, located in an acceptable environment at a price or rent it can afford.

Under this Government and our predecessor real progress has been made in achieving this objective over the past three years. But I have no intention of resting on our laurels. It is my firm intention to actively review policies on an ongoing basis in order to ensure that changes are made and appropriate initiatives developed and introduced to deal [2434] with problems that exist or will arrive in the future. The record of my party in the housing area going right back over the years is second to none and is something of which we are proud. I trust I have said enough to satisfy Deputies that housing policies have been pursued in an effective and responsible way which contrasts sharply with the record in Government of the party sponsoring this motion. Furthermore, this Government have the will and the energy to ensure and implement policies that are most appropriate to the achievement of the objective I have mentioned. Therefore I commend to the House the Government amendment to this motion.

I suggest to Deputies that what was necessary in the economic sense for the country was done as our initial priority. We have a need for more housing and that need has been addressed. More money is being provided this year and it is our intention to continue to meet the demand.

Mr. J. Doyle: Your colleagues on the city council would not agree.

Mr. Shatter: The Minister's colleagues on Dublin Corporation and on local authorities all disargee.


Mr. Flynn: At least we are seeming to get some reaction from the Deputies opposite apart from their lacklustre efforts in introducing their motion. I am glad people recognise that the housing difficulties are being attended to in a proper and successful way.

Mr. Shatter: We are waiting for the Minister to tell us about diverting housing funds to build roads.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We are trespassing on Deputy Ruairí Quinn's time.

Mr. Quinn: I seek the permission of the House to share my time this evening [2435] with Deputies Moynihan and Ferris and, tomorrow, with Deputies Howlin and Spring.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Quinn: The Labour Party amendment proposes to delete all words after “acute” and add the following:

notes that the cause of the crisis has been the virtual abolition of the local authority housing programme, which has caused huge increases in housing waiting lists in every local authority area, and the absence of any coherent policy on homelessness; and calls on the Government to take the following actions:

— to increase the capital allocation for local authority house building to £100 million, so as to enable existing housing construction proposals from local authorities to be acted upon, and to rescind present policies which will force the rapid depletion of the existing housing stock in local authority hands;

— to expand the powers and terms of reference of the Rents Tribunal, and to publish a statutory charter of tenants' rights, to eliminate abuses in the private rented sector;

— to ensure that local authorities promote the establishment of local housing co-operatives, particularly in relation to local authority flat schemes in need of refurbishment;

— to improve eligibility for local authority housing loans, and to increase the amount of capital available;

— to recognise the special housing needs of the handicapped and the elderly;

— to publish a White Paper on housing policy that would enable our population to have a comprehensive and extensive housing policy that would recognise changing population [2436] trends and needs, the condition of the housing stock, the need for an integrated approach in the future as between local authority and private housing, and the need for the development of communities in the context of housing.

I congratulate the Minister on the unique part he played in the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The Minister's modesty has prevented him from claiming credit for that extraordinary feat despite his claiming unique credit this evening for so many other extraordinary feats. It would be remiss of us not to attach the same degree of credibility to that ludicrous assertion as to some of the other ludicrous assertions the Minister made during the course of his 30 minute speech.

Normally on a Tuesday night I hold clinic in the same premises as Deputy Doyle shares in Ringsend. I know that at this time there will be at least four or five people — it could be as many as 15 because the numbers are increasing—at that clinic seeking local authority housing accommodation. The Minister for the Environment has said that part of the problem was that some people who were offered accommodation turned it down because it was not suitable. He implied that they were in some way fussy in so refusing such accommodation. Tragically the comment made by Deputy Mitchell about having a Minister for the Environment who does not understand the problems of urban housing has been very clearly illustrated. To ask a person in Westport to accept housing in Ballina is not dissimilar to asking somebody in Dublin city to accept housing elsewhere in the city. The lack of realism displayed by the Minister in that instance goes right through the statistics he has put on the record of the House.

I want to try and get away from the game of shouting numbers at each other. Nobody is the winner in that respect and we are simply playing with the housing needs of a great many people in our society. There is a real housing problem in this country and unless action is taken very quickly in the next number of years [2437] that problem will become a crisis. It is already a crisis in some areas and I suggest that the Minister should have due regard to what the Labour Party propose in their amendment.

First, we are looking for an increase of £100 million, approximately £50 million on top of what the Minister has already provided, for the local authority housing programme. The need for this money has already been illustrated by Deputy Doyle. I do not want to confine my remarks specifically to local authority housing problems. My fellow Deputies will illustrate the problems in other parts of the country. I want to go beyond the local authority housing programme because the housing crisis is no longer confined uniquely to that area.

There is a real need to expand the powers and terms of reference of the Rents Tribunal so as to deal with the expanded private sector to which the Minister referred and to publish a statutory charter of tenant rights to eliminate real abuses in the private sector area. We have repeatedly called on the Minister in the House to introduce regulations under the existing legislation to make it mandatory for a landlord to give a receipt and a rent book to each private sector tenant. The Minister has so far consistently refused to do so because he appears to be protecting the construction industry, or landlords to be more precise.

In addition we are asking the Minister to ensure that local authorities promote the establishment of local housing co-operatives particularly in relation to local authority flat schemes in need of refurbishment. The failure of Dublin Corporation to effectively implement the tenant purchase scheme in relation to flat purchases and not properly convey to any of the applicants the price of those schemes is an indictment of the relationship between the Department of the Environment on the one hand and Dublin Corporation on the other. I raised this matter on the Adjournment on a previous occasion.

There is a need to improve the eligibility thresholds for people seeking local authority housing loans and to increase [2438] the amount of capital available for them. Since the Government have been so quick to claim responsibility for the reduction in the interest rates over a number of years there is a clear need for them to intervene now positively in the money markets in a particular way to ensure that people in particular need get assistance with mortgages because of the rapid increase — approximately 50 per cent as a result of five increases — in mortgage interest rates over the past year. The Minister needs to target those people who were deliberately driven off the local authority housing list and encouraged to buy homes which they could barely afford when interest rates were at single figure levels. Those people are how extremely vulnerable and exposed to a great deal of terror and hardship. The Minister should listen to his backbenchers, if not his advisers. If he does not believe that a crisis is imminent he should listen more closely to the Deputies who deal in their clinics with people who are on the local authority housing lists.

Finally, there is a need for the Government to recognise the special housing needs of the handicapped and the elderly. I welcome the progress which has been built on by this administration on the programmes which were opened up in the early eighties in the area of helping the voluntary sector to provide sheltered housing accommodation but this is simply not enough. Since the Minister referred to the 1980 Housing Act, I am sure he recalls the debate which took place in this House at that time when I referred to the need for a proper inventory of our housing stock, not just a local authority assessment of housing needs. No progress has been made in relation to that.

The Government need to look at the entire area of the administration of the construction industry which provides only 2 per cent of additional housing units to the total stock in any given year. In confining himself in glowing terms to the fact that the building industry is doing well, the Minister is ignoring the fact that 98 per cent of the housing stock is occupied by people who either cannot [2439] afford it, who live in fear of being evicted or cannot get accommodation because, perhaps, of having a child. Some landlords refuse to give people accommodation if they have children. These people have no protection against such discrimination and they have no possibility of getting accommodation from Dublin Corporation unless they are prepared to go out to the far and of Tallaght where there is no bus service and where they cannot survive in a holistic sense.

For all those reasons — this is part and parcel of the amendment I have put down in the name of the Labour Party — there is now more than ever a chronic need for a comprehensive White Paper on housing policy to take us to the end of this century. This White Paper could show the massive achievements we as a people have made in regard to housing policy from the 1967 to 1969 period. White Papers which have been published since that time show what has been achieved by all of us. It does not behove anybody to start claiming exclusive credit for what has been achieved. The taxpayer has paid for it and society has provided a massive housing stock over that period. Some mistakes were made by the Government and some were made by us during our time in office in regard to the quality of the housing, its location and, as Deputy Bradford said, the large size of local authority estates. We will not learn anything from the past if we keep on shouting statistics at each other, which is what the Minister indulged in here tonight. The Minister is more capable of doing something with the powers he has as Minister for the Environment.

The Government should publish a White Paper on housing which will assess our current housing stock and have regard to the special needs of the largest single group of people seeking housing. They are no longer the traditional nuclear family of two parents and two or three children. They are now a minority in search of housing in our society. As Sister Stanislaus and others will tell us we have turned that corner. We need to formulate policy measures in regard to housing [2440] which will address the problems I have outlined. If we stick to the old game of shouting numbers across the Floor we will ensure that categories of people who tonight are homeless or in fear of being made homeless will so remain. The Minister must first and foremost do the things we have asked him to do and also bring in a White Paper on housing policy so that the entire industry can plan over the next eight years to take us up to the end of this decade.

Mr. Moynihan: I was very surprised at the Minister's response to the major housing crisis that confronts every housing authority in the country. Every public representative has received volumes of representations from people who have been waiting for houses for two or three years.

My own housing authority have between 70 and 90 people certified in need of housing by the county manager, the housing officer or the health inspector. At the January meeting we asked for 50 houses to relieve the situation. Last Monday night the Minister allocated the princely sum of £75,000, enough to build three houses. This aroused the condemnation not of the Labour Party and Fine Gael members but of the Fianna Fáil members of that council and they demanded that the Minister immediately meet a deputation.

Local authority housing bodies are sitting on a virtual time bomb. There is a growing uneasiness and depression descending on those who have been on the waiting list so long. Our amendment seeks additional funds in the hope of removing that frustration and depression. Unfortunately nothing has been forthcoming so far. Even if that were forthcoming tonight many more would be added to the list two years down the road.

In my authority we got ten houses over the three years of the present Minister's responsibility. We are offered a further three and there are now up to 100 families, including single parent families and the aged looking for houses. No member of our housing authority, when approached, can offer any hope because [2441] there are not the resources to give people the statutory, fundamental and inalienable right of a house to live in. This policy has not only deprived them of a house but has resulted in them becoming the victims of unscrupulous landlords who charge excessive rents over which there is no control.

Let me make one reference to the house improvement grant. This was accepted as one of the major bases of house improvements and restructuring in recent years. Were it not for that grant the housing lists in all local authorities would be substantially longer. That money provided the means for reconstruction and refurbishment that restored exceptionally bad houses.

Mr. Flynn: We put a new ceiling as well on the upper income group. There was no need for it and it resulted in fewer houses being built. It was one of the daftest policies ever enunciated in this House.

Mr. Moynihan: It saved us from having to rehouse many families.

Mr. Ferris: I am surprised at the Minister's contribution tonight. He gave most of his time to firing statistics across the floor. Only twice in his 30 minutes did he mention local authority housing which is the basic of this resolution.

Mr. Flynn: That is not true. Read the motion. It says nothing about local authority housing.

Mr. Ferris: The Minister talked about refurbishment as being the greatest waste of public money. He said that most of the work was cosmetic and unnecessary. That is the worst reflection I have ever heard cast by a Minister on his own officials who travelled the country diligently inspecting works that needed to be done. The Minister says they were just cosmetic. That is a mistake. He has no idea of the dedicated work his inspectors put into that scheme. Many people have been disadvantaged as a result of the cancellation without notice of that [2442] scheme. These people had legitimately applied under the scheme but the Minister failed to send out the inspectors in time so that they could get approval. It was a good scheme and I hope the Minister will look again at his silly decision to curtail it on 7 May.

The Minister neglected the question of old people's dwellings. Nobody in Tipperary South will get a new local authority house this year except in very exceptional circumstances, or if somebody dies. The Minister should be able to do better. We have come a long way from building 7,000 houses when Labour, in Coalition, tried to address what was then in crisis, to building about 1,200 houses this year. In the whole of the county of south Tipperary this year, a miserable number of 26 houses were built and there are 300 people designated as being in need. Is that addressing the problem? What about family houses? What about sheltered housing for old people? What about the people who will surrender their isolated houses, give them up freely, for the privilege of living in a town or village where they can have access to protection from the Garda Síochána, to health services, to churches or whatever? What is the Minister going to do for them? They cannot even be given the tenancy of a house on surrendering their own.

The Minister has neglected the whole area of mortgage repayments in the last year and this will be a disincentive if any future purchase scheme is offered by the Minister. It was a good scheme and we advocated that people would use it, but since they entered the scheme the cost of mortgages has escalated four times in the last 12 months under Deputy Flynn's glorious ministry of which he is so proud and which he has thrown across the floor tonight as if he were the first Minister for the Environment. There is the marvellous refurbishment scheme on which we have congratulated the Minister, but what was the Minister addressing? He was addressing a scheme initiated by one of his own Ministers in the seventies. Now, of course, he is a PD Minister and it is only a temporary arrangement, so the [2443] Minister might not even want to take credit for what he did in low cost housing.

Mr. Flynn: I am correcting the mistakes of your crowd.

Mr. Ferris: The Minister's crowd made a few, but some of them are now PDs and even the Minister for Finance almost advocated that they had made mistakes in joining again. They are the Ministers who initiated low cost housing.

Mr. Durkan: But without chimneys.

Mr. Ferris: Exactly. They thought they would never again see a poor day when they would want a chimney or when the escalating cost of electricity would make these houses impossible to live in. I am glad the Minister did something about it.

Mr. Flynn: Thank you.

Mr. Ferris: The Minister needed to do something about it because it was he who made the mistakes in the beginning. The Minister can laugh if he likes but those are the facts. He can check County Tipperary or any other county; it was he who built them and he ought to be ashamed of them.

Mr. Flynn: Did the Deputy not congratulate me at his local authority meeting for fixing them?

Mr. Ferris: If the Minister had not done something about those houses they would have fallen and then he would have had to house these people because they would have been homeless. The Minister need not be so proud of his record because he was redressing one of his own wrongs. This area needs the fullest contribution from all sides, and the fullest possible debate on what needs to be done in the local authority and private housing sectors.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Sorry, Deputy Ferris, we have to close the door [2444] on this debate for the moment. Will you move the adjournment of the debate?

Mr. Ferris: I hope the door does not close down between tonight and tomorrow.

Debate adjourned.