Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to oireachtas.ie

Private Members' Business. - Housing Subsidy.

Tuesday, 8 February 1966

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 220 No. 7

First Page Previous Page Page of 63 Next Page Last Page

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton Zoom on Mark A. Clinton I move:

That Dáil Éireann is of opinion that the Government should facilitate the provision of Tenant Purchase Schemes for Corporation tenants in Dublin, Cork and other municipalities, by providing the same subsidy facilities as are available to rural local authorities.

This is a simple, straightforward motion. It is self-explanatory. It seeks for tenants in corporation areas the same facilities as have been available to tenants of houses in rural areas since the Act of 1936. Under that Act local authorities were empowered to provide purchase schemes. If my memory serves me correctly, they were obliged, in fact, to provide these purchase schemes within a certain period. It was a matter, in the first instance, of, I think, six months from the appointed day; six months was the time given for bringing in a scheme to enable tenants, if they so desired, to purchase their own houses. I am not quite sure what the time limit is now but I know that a scheme is normally introduced within a period of 12 to 18 months. This legislation was extremely popular with the tenants of local authority houses and we have proof of that in the large number of such houses purchased in recent years. In my own local authority, we have between 5,000 and 6,000 houses. More than 75 per cent are vested. If we could proceed faster with repairs, we would have close on 100 per cent vested. If that pattern is repeated [1031] throughout the country, there can be little doubt left in anybody's mind that this is an acceptable and popular scheme from the point of view of tenants.

The importance of ownership cannot, I think, be over-estimated. Whereever houses have been vested, it is quite apparent that a new interest is being taken in property. Small repairs are attended to at the right time. Windows and doors are painted before deterioration sets in. Indeed, greater deterioration is only too often evident when it is the local authority that is responsible; long periods elapse between one repair and another, and between one painting and the next. The tenants who become owners of their own houses willingly accept responsibility and pride of ownership is demonstrated in many ways. Ownership gives them roots and they become interested not only in their houses but in the area in which the houses are built. They become part of a community. We all know the kind of development that takes place. We have residents' associations and all manner of evidence of a community spirit. That is very desirable. It is something we should foster. We have the evidence to show that this scheme works extremely well.

I do not know exactly how the finances of these schemes were worked out, but I know the total liability amounted to about half the rent plus the rates. That was a decided advantage. There was, of course, the disadvantage that some difficulty might arise or incomes might drop for one reason or another but the payments had, of course, to be continued. That is not a disadvantage where differential rents are concerned. However, these disadvantages have, as I know, been overcome. It is felt that there can be a certain amount of deterioration in these houses if some of the tenants have no proper sense of responsibility and allow the houses to deteriorate, irrespective of whether or not they own them. However, that attitude is quite uncommon and we have very little to fear from that sort of difficulty.

[1032] I can never understand why there is this sort of discrimination between the workingclass people in rural Ireland and the workingclass people in corporation areas. I have never heard it explained. I have never been able to understand what the resistance was to such a scheme, why it was provided for one type of worker and denied to the other type of worker. Is it a question of cost? If it is, perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us what sort of cost is involved. Or is it a fear that perhaps a number of these houses might pass into the ownership of people who would not normally qualify for a local authority house?

This purchase scheme has been in existence in the rural parts of the country since 1936 and the amount of undesirable traffic in this connection has been very limited indeed. The local authorities retain the power to decide to whom the house is to be sold until the end of the purchase period. If we start a scheme now for the corporation areas, it will probably be based on 50 years' purchase and by that time I hope the housing problem will be solved or certainly fairly well on its way to being solved.

There will always be a housing problem but I do not think that at any time there will be any great rush on the part of people who are fairly well off to go into a workingclass area and buy a house there. These houses are normally provided in schemes, and the person who is anxious to get into the middle of a workingclass scheme, although he is fairly well off is an unusual person. Normally such a person would like his house in a different area. There is very little evidence that any undesirable traffic would take place as a result of a decision to provide such a vesting scheme.

All the evidence points to a demand for such a scheme. For quite some time past I have been regularly confronted with this question: “Why can we not have a purchase scheme?” In Dublin Corporation areas, there is quite a lot of unrest and dissatisfaction about the proposition to raise rents. These people who went into corporation houses some years ago and who have [1033] ever since paid the economic rent feel that the corporation have no right to decide to raise the rents of such houses when they become vacant. They say that if it was the economic rent then, it should be the economic rent now and that with all these adjustments in rents that are taking place, they are, at the same time, denied the opportunity of ever becoming the owners of their houses. They say they have paid the economic rent for years and that that should have paid off quite an amount of the original cost of providing the house, but there is no credit whatever given for that fact.

I should like to hear from the Minister why the introduction of such a purchase scheme has always been opposed and why he continues to oppose it. Is it mainly because of the cost and, if so, would he be good enough to let us know the extent of such cost? One cannot overestimate the importance of ownership and its effects on society generally and on the preservation of property. People who have only a rented interest in a house feel they are birds of passage. They are not particularly concerned about the house and they look to the local authority to do everything for them. There is quite a remarkable change throughout the country with which I am most familiar where houses are purchased. There is a new sense of responsibility and a new sense of belonging to the area and taking an interest in the property. I strongly recommend this motion to the Minister, and I look forward to his acceptance of it.

Mr. Jones: Information on Denis Francis Jones Zoom on Denis Francis Jones I formally second the motion and reserve my right to speak later.

Mr. M.E. Dockrell: Information on Maurice E. Dockrell Zoom on Maurice E. Dockrell We are asking that this motion be passed in order that the tenants in our urban municipalities be given a chance to become owners of their houses. There are a variety of reasons why this should be done and, as with every subject, there are arguments against it. However, we believe that the arguments in favour, the benefits that would result from this tenant-purchase scheme, outweigh the possible disadvantages.

[1034] One of the advantages of such a scheme is that it would eventually release much capital, some of which could go to the relief of rates in Dublin and other urban municipalities and which could, therefore, allow more houses to be built, more capital expenditure, for the housing of less fortunate members of the population. In our urban centres we have this terrible problem of housing many of our citizens who are not able to do so themselves. In that connection it is not generally realised that Dublin Corporation, to cite just one of the urban centres with which this motion deals, within the past very few years, have housed not far short of 50 per cent of the total population of Dublin, and indeed they may now have actually reached that figure. I know of no capital city in the world that has carried out a programme of that magnitude. That is a wonderful achievement, and I am sure that our other cities in Ireland have played their part in housing their less fortunate citizens in the way that Dublin has. Certainly, the figure must be beyond 40 per cent and may well pass 50 per cent of the total population of Dublin housed in municipal schemes of one sort or another.

That shows the terrible problem the municipal authorities had to deal with, and the problem is by no means solved. One has only to look around Dublin at present and see the number of vacant lots. The columns of various newspapers at the moment are full of letters about this problem. One of the difficulties of dealing with it is that Dublin is mainly an 18th century city and the life of many of these houses has come to an end during our lifetime. Although Dublin changed very rapidly over the 18th century, it did not change very much in the next 200 years. Now, in the 20th century, it is in the process of changing very rapidly again.

That imposes a terrible financial strain on the present-day inhabitants of Dublin and, indeed, on the inhabitants of the whole country. All taxpayers have to pay part of this burden. I hasten to add at this point that in the long run housing does not cost the State money—they get it back—but in [1035] the immediate period during which the sinking fund is working, the taxpayers, whether they pay in the form of rates or in taxation by the central Government, have to bear this burden. But, in the long run, the money is paid back. This motion would mean that the people who were benefiting from these houses would be able to pay back for them, purchase them, and release money which could be used for the rehousing of people which, unfortunately, has to go on all the time.

Another way in which money could be saved to the municipal authority would be in the saving on repairs. When the houses were owned by the individuals who dwelt in them, they themselves would pay for the repairs which now are carried out by the municipal authority. Deputy Clinton mentioned the value the sense of ownership gives. That is one of the real reasons why we here put this motion down. Over the years, since the formation of this State, and even before that in most of Western Europe, it was found that, as you gave people opportunities to have what is often called a stake in the country, they became thereby better citizens. Their families found they had a more coporate sense because things belonged to them. They were not just looking at objects and buildings which other people owned. They themselves were the owners of things, and that gave them a pride in their own homes and in their cities.

That brings me to a subject which has been very much in the public eye recently, that is this question of civics. We in this city think so much of it that Dublin Corporation have maintained civic centres, play centres and so on for young people. I was at a meeting last night at which a Minister of State attended. He praised them very warmly and praised the work they did in helping old people. They used the play centres in the daytime for children, backed up with the family, and used them at night for old people. There is a project on foot that that should be extended all over Ireland in our efforts to inculcate and broaden the sense of citizenship people have. That sense has been found to be enormously increased [1036] by ownership. With all the saving that results from that in decreased vandalism and destruction by —well, one presumes young people— ownership of a house and so on help to make our less fortunate citizens conscious that they themselves are equally important in the life of the community in general.

When this ownership of individual houses took place, the municipality would find that a scheme to encourage and give advice to the new owners on repairs and so on would be something of benefit to all concerned. Whatever trifling cost there would be in that respect would be more than amply offset by the saving in repairs the local authority would find it necessary to do.

Dublin Corporation are now pledged to increase many of their rents from 28th of this month. This is not going to be very well received by a number of the tenants. A scheme whereby the tenants could buy, where they could find the money, would be something that would show the Government were alive to the interests of all citizens who wished to better themselves. It should be possible to work out a financial scheme whereby the repayments for the sinking fund would not bear too heavily on the purchaser. Those are details that could not be gone into here, but the rates which the individual tenants could bear are well known. In conclusion, I would ask that the Minister go into this very carefully and that he be sympathetic to our motion in this respect.

Minister for Local Government (Mr. Blaney): Information on Neil T.C. Blaney Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney The motion, as I see it, is one to which any of us might wish to append our names, not with any great hope that it would be accepted but rather as a pious incantation that it might in some way do us some good and never do us any harm. For the information of the House, local authorities have ways and means of providing purchase schemes. Where these ways and means have been pursued by our urban authorities— the towns availing of them—quite a substantial number of the houses that are erected come under this heading. It would not back up the case being [1037] made by those who have put down this motion that we should take it that houses are not being sold at all or that they cannot be sold or that the conditions are such that nobody would be interested in them. A decided interest has been evinced over the years in purchase schemes under the existing regulations and quite a considerable percentage of the houses offered have been taken up by way of purchase.

It is not true that if we had very attractive purchase facilities by way of continuing subsidy, which we have not now, there would be a big inflow of capital to the local authorities. That is not so. It would not be any different from the procedure at the moment of the collection of rents and rates where the tenant is not a purchaser. So far as the attraction of this is concerned, the home ownership element has been stressed very much. They are availing of the present schemes to a great degree where they are provided under existing legislation.

I regard my purpose in housing to be to provide houses, not to dispose of them. When we come to compare the method of operating purchase schemes in the urban versus the rural areas we find that there is a distinct difference in the circumstances that could, and I am sure does, account for the differentiation and treatment that has been allowed over the years. In the rural areas, where the subsidy is continued, we are dealing with houses which are in many cases isolated and which certainly, even in groups, are still regarded as pretty well isolated. If and when a house is vacated by a tenant it need not necessarily be occupied immediately by somebody who is ready and waiting for it, as is so much the case in the cities at present. In the rural areas, purchase usually follows the provision of a house which almost certainly was specifically provided for a particular family. That family have roots there. They have been there for years, they are continuing there and those who come after them are likely to continue there as well. If they do not, the probability is that if the tenant leaves the cottage it very often is not re-occupied at all. This will not and does not happen in our built-up areas. [1038] I do not see any danger of that happening in the foreseeable future due to the fact that the demand is far in excess of the number available.

The other aspect worthy of consideration in regard to urban houses is that where we have, as we have, a backlog of unsatisfied demand which it is the responsibility of the local authority to provide for in built-up areas, it is unwise in my estimation, to offer houses on terms that would be so attractive that scarcely anybody could afford to pass them up whether or not they really wanted their house long-term. In a market where the value of the house would be far greater than the amount the person would be asked to pay, the incentive would tend to dissipate housing stocks built up over many years at great cost to the taxpayers and ratepayers and, to quite a considerable degree, they would be occupied not by people for whom they were originally intended but by others who would have no right to have such houses at all. Instead of vacancies coming about by shifts in population— shifting from one part of the city to another or shifting out of the city to another city—to meet some of the still unsatisfied demand, by reason of these overall attractive purchase schemes, no such vacancies would ever occur or, if they did, the local authority would have no control whatsoever over who might occupy the house in the future. While this might not make any great difference if we had enough houses to go all round, against the background of the shortage of houses this liquidation of our stocks of houses is something not to be encouraged.

In the Housing Bill which we have got a fair distance through the House so far, there is provision for vesting schemes in the future. The general terms of these vesting schemes will be by way of regulation. These regulations can be changed if circumstances are such in the future that we might wish to change them and have good reason to change them. There is nothing in the new Housing Bill which precludes us from giving all sorts of incentives if at any time we feel it is the proper thing to do. It should be [1039] borne in mind that in the Bill before the House at the present time there is an overall power to make purchase schemes. It is a broad power. It is not defined in any great detail. The detailed regulations will fall to be made under the power that is proposed in the new Bill. It does not mean that this same Bill might not be used to make attractive the purchase of houses by tenants in the future if circumstances should change radically to bring about a new situation as against that which obtains at the moment.

To be even consistent with the Housing Bill we are endeavouring to put through the House at the moment, I cannot see that we should pinpoint the sections dealing with the purchase schemes of the future and detail them in the way acceptance of this motion would do. Rather should we leave the freedom and the overall power contained in the Bill untampered and untrammelled.

Good though the intentions under-lying this motion are, I cannot feel disposed to its acceptance here and now.

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton Zoom on Mark A. Clinton Is it the Minister's view, then, that no new regulation would be required to introduce a scheme such as is envisaged in the motion and that it could be brought in under the Housing Bill, 1965?

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney Subsection (1) of section 89 of the Bill reads:

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, a housing authority may, if they think fit, sell or lease any dwelling to which this section applies, in case the dwelling is occupied by a tenant, to the tenant, or in case the dwelling is not so occupied, to any person.

This section applies to a dwelling provided by a housing authority under this Act and of which they are the owner.

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton Zoom on Mark A. Clinton Provided always they are prepared to pay the subsidy.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney There is a bit more to the definition but the substantive part [1040] is subsection (1) which is the first part that I read. Generally speaking, we have a fairly wide and general power, continuing, we hope, in this new legislation, that will enable us to make schemes to suit the circumstances of the particular time.

Mr. Clinton: Information on Mark A. Clinton Zoom on Mark A. Clinton Does it enable the Minister to continue the subsidy?

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney Yes, if we decided that it should be continued.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan Zoom on Richie Ryan I think the position, in fact, is that long before the 1965 Bill there was no need for legislation to permit any Minister to continue a subsidy in respect of urban houses and it would be wrong if any impression were created that the Minister had conceded the need to facilitate urban purchasing by this section of the 1965 Bill. It was there long before but again and again I have heard here and in Dublin Corporation people asking that there should be amending legislation so as to permit the Minister to continue the subsidy. He does not need it. This is purely the personal decision of the Minister and his colleagues in this Government and any other government.

I must say that I am at a complete loss, as are Deputy Clinton and many other people, as to why it is that the Minister and his predecessors can go so far as to say that it is a desirable thing that people should purchase and own their own homes and then have a complete blind spot that they are unable to burst through and so they say: “We agree with you all the way but we will not make it possible to achieve this agreed aim.” This, to me, is not understandable, to put it mildly.

I am glad the Minister spoke before me because I wanted to hear him justify this persistent refusal of Ministers for Local Government and their advisers to concede the way to make purchase of urban tenanted houses possible. They concede the desirability in principle but they have not tonight or at any other time, socially, economically or morally, justified this refusal.

The Minister trotted out some arguments which I would say, not being [1041] personally offensive, were trite arguments. He said, if I understood him correctly and I hope I am not improperly paraphrasing him, that it was necessary to keep in Dublin, for instance, this pool of 45,000 housing units of Dublin Corporation because we have what he called a backlog of people looking for houses. Because we have 10,000 families looking for houses, we need to keep the 45,000 houses that are there: that it would be wrong to dispose of them while there were 10,000 families looking for them.

Prima facie that seems a reasonable argument but let us examine it. The average rate of vacancies in that estate of 45,000 dwellings is 250 houses per annum, so that it would take no less than 40 years to answer the needs of the 10,000 families now looking for houses. That is reducing the Minister's argument to its practical possibilities.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney Might I just, as a matter of record, say that in reply to a Parliamentary question, possibly put down by the Deputy, within the last fortnight, the figure given, even for this year, was around 500, not 250 and I would remind the Deputy that it was up to 1,600 not so many years ago.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan Zoom on Richie Ryan I am glad the Minister is now confessing that it was 1,600 under his own administration but I am talking about the average. I did not think the figure the Minister gave me was 500. My recollection is that it was 250 and I was taking a ten year period and removing the calamitous experience that we had from 1957 to 1960 when the figure rose to 1,600. I was removing that out of the reckoning and taking the average of 250 which could be regarded in a large estate of this kind as a reasonable rate of vacancies. But, even if you go to 500—I will go as far as the Minister is now prepared to concede : I think that was not the figure he gave me in his answer last Thursday——

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney I hope I am not wrong. I think it was near the 500.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan Zoom on Richie Ryan We will agree to check the record here and the two can be read together. But, even if you accept [1042] the Minister's figure of 500 as being the average rate, it would still take 20 years to satisfy the demands of the 10,000 families now looking for houses. Are we to understand that there will not be amongst them members of families who will marry and thus increase the demand? Of course, there will be continuing change. To suggest that we must keep these 45,000 houses in order to provide for applicants over the next 20 years, without making any provision for the 1,000 per year who will come on to the waiting list in each of these years, is to advance an argument that is clearly unworthy and the kind of thing which, if it is the only justification for refusing house ownership, is unworthy and ought to be scrapped.

Even taking a 20 year period, we can expect to have another 30,000, even at the rate of 500 vacancies a year, so that you would have to project this into the future. You will never solve the housing problem if you are going to do it by keeping 45,000 people out of their homes.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney Is the Deputy continuing to make his deduction on what he alleges I said here? Is this deduction drawn from that?

Mr. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan Zoom on Richie Ryan The Minister said that while we had a backlog of people awaiting houses it would be wrong to dispose of any of the estate of 45,000.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney I did not—at least I hope I did not—indicate that we were not going to build any houses, that the only way we were going to do it was by these vacancies.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan Zoom on Richie Ryan No; I am not suggesting that. I am saying that the Minister agreed that we should keep this pool there and that it would to some extent—put it that way—solve the need for housing.

Again, the Minister spoke of the obligation on housing authorities to provide houses. He said there was no obligation on them to dispose of them. I think perhaps there should be an obligation on public authorities to dispose of houses. First of all, we must [1043] accept that whether houses are built by the private sector or the public sector the input will increase. It is desirable that it should increase. The purchase of land by public authorities, the servicing of land by public authorities, with the town planning and all the other incidentals relating to houses, including incentives by way of grants, are likely to increase over the years. I do not think that is any harm. But the investment of that much more of public energy and public organisation and machinery in housing is surely not an argument for not permitting people in future to own their homes. If we accept the validity of the Minister's argument it means that as the State increases its grants in housing it should reduce the prospect of ownership. That, to me, is an undesirable development and contrary to the progress which has been made in any socially or economically advanced country.

Our Constitution guarantees the right to private property. It seems to me that ancillary to the right is the duty on the public authorities of this country to ensure that people have an opportunity to exercise that right. The situation in Dublin—and in other urban centres I understand it is the same—is that some 50 per cent of the people will not have the right, until the State continues the subsidy for tenant purchase schemes, to purchase their own homes. They will not have the opportunity to exercise the fundamental right of private property in respect of their homes. They may have private property in respect of clothes, food, furniture but may not have the right of private property in the dwelling in which they have been born and in which they lived, in some cases until the end of their days.

May I direct attention once again in this House to the words of the late Pope John in his most significant and valuable encyclical, Mater et Magistra? He spells out here the principle of the right to private property in words that I should like again to put on the record so that people considering housing problems may come across them and in the hope that they may yet bear fruit in the minds of the Minister and his [1044] advisers. In his Encyclical at paragraph 113, Pope John said:

But it is not enough to assert that the right to own private property and the means of production is inherent in human nature. We must also insist on the extension of this right in practice to all classes of citizens.

There is a social philosophy which I think must be accepted by all, but apparently it is not acceptable to the Minister for Local Government. The right to own property is apparently accepted for certain sections of the community, but it will not be accepted by the Minister's fiat for the benefit of the less well off classes of people in Dublin and other urban centres.

Again in paragraph 115 of his Encyclical Pope John said:

It will not be difficult for the body politic——

That includes the Minister for Local Government——

——by the adoption of various techniques of proved efficiency, to pursue an economic and social policy which facilitates the widest possible distribution of private property in terms——

I think it is important that we should not the order in which Pope John puts them——

——of durable consumer goods, houses——

“Houses” are second in order of priority. “Houses” are immediately after “durable consumer goods”——

——land, tools and equipment (in the case of craftsmen and owners of family farms), and shares in medium and large business concerns.

Pope John most correctly added:

This policy is in fact being pursued with considerable success by several of the socially and economically advanced nations.

——but not apparently in urban areas in Ireland, because the Minister for Local Government and his predecessors would not take the social and [1045] economic steps forward which are so morally justifiable and so socially desirable and which, I venture to suggest, will become an economic necessity in the near future.

The Minister suggested that several urban authorities had introduced schemes for tenant purchase and that if others would only face the problem, they could do likewise and people would avail of them. That is not strictly accurate. I was not able to put my hand on the Minister's White Paper on Housing published about 18 months ago or more. In it he acknowledged that the vast majority of people in rural Ireland did avail of house purchase schemes but that there was a disappointing trend in the urban centres. I was able to come across one reference to this in volume 191 of the Official Report of 4th July, 1961. The Minister pointed out that there were purchase schemes available for 16,893 houses in 71 urban areas up to 31st March, 1961, but only 1,640 houses had been sold.

It may be asked: why would people not buy houses in urban centres? The answer is perfectly simple. The real difference between tenant purchase schemes with a continuation of State subsidy and with no State subsidy would be about 15/- to 20/- a week to the tenant purchaser. Quite clearly a scheme which requires a person to pay an additional 15/- or 20/- is not as attractive as a scheme which could be made available if the Minister were to continue the subsidy. I cannot see why the State is jibbing at this. The State will not lose anything by continuing the subsidy for houses until they are bought. The prospect is that most houses will be bought before the termination of the State subsidy, and there will be a saving to the national and the local purse.

The accounts of Dublin Corporation, taking one year with another, show that housing expenditure is made up of four items and three of them cancel out very closely with two items of income. The three items of expenditure I want to mention are capital debt charge, provision for rates on tenanted houses, and administrative [1046] salaries in respect of the management of housing estates. The income which the corporation earn by way of rents on tenanted houses together with the State subsidy is almost exactly the same as the expenditure under those three heads.

There is a fourth item of expenditure which is considerable and runs into £¾ million, in round figures. This is in respect of maintenance of tenanted houses and the contribution, which has to be paid out of the general rates which are paid for by corporation tenants as much as anyone else, is just a little higher than that figure. It would not be an exaggeration to say that if tenant purchase schemes were to be introduced and maintenance costs were no longer to fall on the rates, the contribution which is at present made by rates to the tune of 6/5d on every £1 valuation would disappear, or would almost disappear but not quite. A proportion of the corporation estate is made up of flats and it is difficult to devise a scheme for the purchase of flat accommodation. It is done in London and in other places, but I think it might be undesirable to do it here. I do not think there would be much demand for the purchase of flats.

If the State were to maintain the subsidy, the State would not lose anything, so far as we can see. If purchase schemes were to become operative and acceptable to the tenants, then the rates would be saved the tremendous levy which is now imposed. The effect of the 6/5d in the £1 valuation on corporation tenants works out on average at 1/- per tenant per week. In return for that, the tenant gets a not very efficient form of maintenance and decoration. In Dublin and in other urban centres, this maintenance works out at about £20 per house per year. That seems to be a very small figure but the maintenance is in respect of the exterior only. Considering that Dublin Corporation paint the outside of their houses only once every five years, it is a tremendous cost and one need not be a quantity surveyor, an architect or an engineer to know that most [1047] tenants could maintain their houses at very much less than £100 each in every five year period which is now being paid by them and by the general community of ratepayers.

If we were to reduce this rate, the corporation tenant would have the advantage of £3 in the £1 valuation per year to go towards maintenance costs, and knowing them as I do, I am quite satisfied most of them would be able to keep their houses at that cost in a better condition than the corporation do for seven or eight times as much. The Minister suggested that there is a tremendous ownership hunger in rural Ireland and that the like does not exist in any urban centre. We can throw our minds to the outskirts of Dublin, to Finglas, where the county council have a large scheme in which 97 per cent of the tenants have availed of a tenant purchase scheme because the State subsidy was maintained and continued when the tenant purchase scheme came into operation.

Surrounding this county council scheme there is a two-mile belt of Dublin Corporation dwellings in respect of which the State refuses to maintain the subsidy. The result is that nobody in that belt owns as much as a room, or a tap, or a light, or a plug. The workers in that corporation scheme travel to the same type of employment in the same buses as the county council tenants; their children go to the same schools. Yet in one scheme there is 97 per cent purchase while in the other the tenants are prohibited from doing so.

In my constituency, in the Kimmage-Larkfield area, there is an active tenant association who have been petitioning the corporation for a number of years to organise a tenant purchase scheme. They are ready to pay for their houses a price far in excess of the cost of building those houses. The houses were originally built for £400 or £450 and tenants are willing to pay prices in excess of those figures for houses which have not got the amenities of bathrooms or indoor toilets now available in all housing schemes. Notwithstanding the willingness [1048] of the tenants, the corporation scheme is tied up. The reason is quite extraordinary. It is because the Minister for Local Government will not maintain subsidies for houses in respect of which subsidies are now paid. In the Kimmage-Larkfield area and in other housing areas begun 30 or 40 years ago, the houses were built without payment of a State subsidy in respect of interest rates and here you have the grossly unjust situation in which tenants of houses in respect of which subsidies were never paid are denied the opportunity of buying out those houses because subsidies are paid on other houses. This is an extremely unjust attitude and I ask the Minister to use his good offices with Dublin Corporation to ensure that houses in respect of which subsidies have not been paid are released for tenant purchase.

The Minister gave the impression— perhaps I am being unfair to him— that tenants' children may succeed to the tenancies of their parents. I do not know whether the Minister intended to convey that this situation exists in urban areas but I can tell him in respect of Dublin that it certainly does not. In Dublin, a tenant's children have no right of succession.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney I was speaking about rural tenants.

Mr. Ryan: Information on Richie Ryan Zoom on Richie Ryan I am glad there is no mistake about that. I am aware that in Dublin and in other urban centres, children of a tenant may not succeed to the tenancy. All kinds of family difficulties arise consequently. All kinds of hardships are deliberately created by the public authority and all kinds of demands for new houses arise because where an elderly couple —husband and wife—live in a house and all their children save one have departed, the parents cannot encourage their children or grandchildren to stay on in the house knowing they will have no right of succession. The result is an increase in the demand for new houses and an increase in the pressure.

Therefore, we should take a new look at this problem and try to see the social and family benefits which [1049] would flow from the introduction of a proper tenant purchase system. Years ago, Dublin Corporation introduced a tenant purchase scheme in respect of new houses. They were houses previously not occupied and were open to tenants who were prepared to pay to change from tenancy to ownership. That corporation scheme was made available to their own tenants in other houses. They built about 500 of these houses and of those 300 were taken up by existing corporation tenants though it meant moving out of their existing houses, which they had occupied for years, moving bag, baggage, furniture and families across the city to settle in an area which was strange to them and to get accustomed to new social habits and to send their children to new schools. Yet 300 of 500 families did that. I am quite certain a much larger proportion of people would purchase if they could remain in houses of which they had been tenants previously.

Some years ago the Government brought in a United Nations expert to report on the general administration of Dublin Corporation housing. I have no great faith in experts from abroad: I am a great believer in looking at our own problems and thinking out our own solutions. The UN expert, Dr. C. F. Abrahams, made recommendations but a lot of them have not been carried out, I am sorry to say. One of the things he recommended was a tenant purchase scheme for Dublin people. iHe was quite clear that there were administrative, social and economic advantages to be gained from the introduction of a tenant purchase scheme. He made no reference to State subsidy but this is undoubtedly the blind spot, the only difficulty, the only obstacle in the way of the introduction of a general tenant purchase scheme in Dublin. The corporation on several occasions resolved to introduce a tenant purchase scheme if the State continued payment of subsidy in respect of tenant purchase houses.

The debate on this motion has been useful and we hope that what it seeks will be carried out because we feel it has exposed just how slow the Department of Local Government are to provide [1050] the State subsidy in respect of tenant purchase houses. We think it is futile to refuse to half the people in houses in Dublin the right to exercise the natural right to buy their houses. That is just what we have been doing. Though the Minister in his remarks today indicated he was not disposed to continue payment of the subsidy, I hope there will be a change of heart and that we will have a more humane approach to housing than we have had.

Where you have 45,000 tenants with a multitude of conflicting human problems, you cannot possibly resolve such problems by the application of rules, regulations or administrative priorities. Administrative priorities may be just but they can from the human point of view be extremely harsh. It is because of the defect we are creating in Dublin and urban centres where huge impersonal, inhuman monsters of housing estates are going up with little regard for the rights of private property and the bonds that unite families that we of Fine Gael are concerned to see that we have an extension of the right of private property and give a real opportunity to people to live in their own moneyboxes and to hand on to their children something of what they, in their time, have created.

Mr. James Tully: Information on James Tully Zoom on James Tully I quite agree that the terms of the motion are reasonable and I think that the Minister should not be too dogmatic about the decision which he says he has taken on this matter. I suggest it would be a good idea if he had another look at it and considered it after he has heard the points made in the debate. We know that in rural Ireland, for quite some time, since, I think, 1936, this system has been in operation. The result is that many people who were tenants of local authority houses have become the owners of their own homes. There was a certain amount of abuse because of the fact that people — I suppose there is one wise guy in every crowd —occasionally took advantage of the situation and having purchased their houses, sold them as soon as they possibly could and got out of the way. This sometimes resulted in the houses passing away from the class of people [1051] for whom they were originally erected. While I disagreed with it at the time, there is a certain amount of merit in the section of the Labourers Act, passed last year, which allows the local authorities to recover a portion of the purchase price from tenants of cottages who were selling the cottages without just cause. They were selling them on a get-rich-quick basis.

I suggest that if the Minister has the fear which he has expressed here tonight that something like that could happen in the municipal areas, he should apply the same arrangements, that is, if somebody wants to sell his house, let him sell it to an approved tenant but some of the purchase price, or whatever market price is involved must be handed over to the local authority. If this were put into operation, it would remove any danger there might be of tenants trying to get rich at the expense of the general ratepayer. I would not at all accept the contention which the Minister has made that many people would try to take advantage of the situation by selling their houses. I believe the urban tenant is just as house-proud as the rural tenant and, in many cases, more so.

The point made by Deputy Ryan of the loss on urban houses is an added reason why the permission to purchase with the continuation of the subsidy should be allowed. One thing which has surprised me is the number of local authorities who are insisting that their tenants should purchase their houses without the benefit of the subsidy. It seems rather extraordinary that while the Minister says that those authorities should retain possession of the houses because of the fact that that guarantees a supply of houses which can be passed on to tenants, when they become vacant, at the same time his servants, the county managers, have been saying to the same tenants that if they do not purchase in present circumstances, they are going to suffer a very substantial increase in their rents. The Minister cannot be right both times. Either the instructions which his Department have given to the managers are that the tenants who purchase under the [1052] present system should be encouraged, and if that is so, his argument here today is not valid, or he does not want the tenants to purchase their houses. He wants to retain in his possession, or in the possession of the local authorities houses which were built by local authorities for renting. If that is so, then instructions to that effect should be issued to the local authorities. The Minister cannot have it both ways. He appears very anxious to do so according to the statement which he made in the House this evening.

Every local authority has, I suppose, a record of the number of houses which have changed hands, the number which are surrendered—the keys have been surrendered by people who leave them—and the number of sales which have taken place over a period. I am sure Dublin Corporation, and other corporations referred to here, and all the other local authorities are in the same position. It would be a pretty sizeable question if a question were put down in this House at Question Time to find out what was happening in those places. If the question were put down, and the information supplied, I wonder would the evidence be so strong that the number of tenancies changing hands in Dublin is such that the Minister is entitled to make the statement he made here.

I do not know the conditions in Dublin. I know the conditions in rural Ireland. I know the conditions in the towns. I know there are in very many houses in the towns in Ireland tenants, or the children or the grandchildren of the tenants who were appointed 60 or 70 years ago, and, this, to me, is evidence of the desire of the tenants to remain in the one house, in the same district, and, if they get the opportunity, at a fair price, to own completely their own houses.

This is the strongest argument that can be made in favour of the motion. It is all right to hold up the bogey of the permission being given to have this carried out and all the tenants in a particular area rushing off to find the first person who will give them a fat price for the house. I think I have given the answer to that. The Labourers Act, which is being [1053] amended by the Housing Bill before the House, lays down that the tenant cannot get away with that any longer unless the local authority should choose to let him do so. If that is so, and it is so, then there is no argument whatever against the continuance in other areas of the regulations which already apply to rural Ireland.

I know the argument might possibly be made that many of the tenants referred to here can purchase their own houses. I have been asked to advise various bodies of tenants associations in towns throughout the country on whether or not they should accept terms offered to them. One finds it awfully hard to advise somebody whose family have been living for 70 years in a house which cost about £70 or £80 to build and who are told by the manager that it is now good for a market value of £450, the whole of which must be paid by the tenant if he wants to become the owner of the house. While many of us may agree that the price of property has been going up over the years, I do not think many of us can ever attempt to persuade somebody who has been a tenant for as long as I say or whose family have been tenants for 60 or 70 years, paying a rent which was considered a fair rent at the time, to pay, as they are now asked to pay, eight, nine or ten times what it cost to build the house, though in some cases, not one shilling has been spent on that house from the time it was erected, except by the tenant himself. Yet, they are asked to pay that amount if they want to become owners of their own homes, while, as Deputy Ryan says, the man who lives a hundred yards down the road in a little council cottage, and who maybe has an acre of land attached to it while the urban tenant has nothing except a backyard of maybe a square perch or less, can buy it with the addition of the subsidy which is denied to the urban tenant.

It is very easy to make a quick decision, as the Minister has, and to give a quick reply: “This is the way it will be dealt with and there is no point in discussing it further”. The Minister, who has had experience of [1054] rural Ireland, even if he has not recently—although he was in the country last year—should have a check made through the Deputies of his own Party because, without casting any slur whatever on the officals of his Department—far be it from me to do that—I will have a bet with anybody that the attitude of officials in the Civil Service and the attitude of public representatives who, as somebody said recently, have to be elected to this House and have to stand before the people of their constituency from time to time to be elected are entirely different. There is one way of finding out what any group of people really want, that is, by going down and talking to them, talking to them in their own areas and letting them explain what they feel themselves. I am not trying to cast any slur on officials but I am perfectly satisfied that the impression which officials get, looking from Dublin down to rural areas or even out to Ballyfermot from the Custom House or from O'Connell Bridge House—which is loftier—is not the same impression as the representative for the area will get if he speaks to those same people. For that reason, I would ask the Minister to consult with the Deputies of his own Party before this debate concludes because I think there is an awful lot in the proposal made by Fine Gael Deputies.

I do not know what attitude the other members of my Party will take on it, but I want to make it clear I am giving my personal view. From my own experience, it would be a very good idea if we could persuade the Minister and the Government to continue the subsidy in cases where houses such as those are being purchased. If we did that, we would give them the same right of ownership, at a reasonable cost, as is given to their bretheren in rural Ireland. It amuses me to hear people talk about the “three `Fs' ” which, apparently, apply to people who own farms but are not supposed to apply to people who own houses only. Apparently there is an idea that there are two different sets of people in the country; those who have land and a house, and those who have a house only. I should like to see the same [1055] thing applied to the people who own houses only as applies to those who have farms and houses.

Mr. P. Byrne: Information on Patrick Byrne Zoom on Patrick Byrne It is quite some time since this motion was put on the Order Paper. In one particular context, however, it occurs to me to be particularly appropriate at this stage. The country is in rather an economic mess and one of the means being advocated to get us out of that mess is the encouragement of national savings. We have a Government-sponsored committee actively working on schemes to encourage private individuals to increase the store of national savings. In that context it occurs to me—striving to introduce some new thought into this debate—that implementation of this Fine Gael proposal is a very potent means of encouraging private persons of modest means to add to the store of national wealth. Implementation of this proposal would provide them with an incentive to add to their wealth by buying out their houses from local authorities. Therefore, I suggest the Minister should not take too narrow a view of the proposal but, rather, should consider it in the light of the stand of the Minister for Finance in regard to our national finances. It is significant that, in the past, it has been the savings of people of modest means which have created the national capital out of which development has been financed. The sad thing is that nowadays the incentives to save which at one time existed, by reason of the rampant inflation and lack of physical inducements, are no longer there.

Not only would implementation of this proposal provide a very adequate incentive but it would, at the same time, fill the dual purpose of releasing moneys, at present earmarked in a certain manner, for the housing of more of the people who are clamouring for local authority housing. The previous speaker, Deputy Ryan, made reference to the report of Dr. Abrahams, the United Nations expert, and, listening to Deputy Ryan, I suddenly recalled another report, that of the consultants employed by Deublin Corporation about ten years ago when [1056] I was a member of it. It was a very controversial report which was never implemented, but one of the most striking features of it was the indictment which the consultants made of the high costs of the maintenance of corporation houses by Dublin Corporation Maintenance Department. They had made a very close study of them and they proved conclusively, by quoting detailed figures, that to paint a corporation house every three years costs something like three or four times what it should cost. In the calendar year, I understand the cost of maintaining Dublin Corporation houses amounts to the best part of £1 million and, mind you, they are inadequately maintained and not at all up to the standards which the tenants would wish. The corporation, I have found, are cutting down more and more on the standard of maintenance.

There are many yardsticks by which this proposal can be judged, in addition to the points I have mentioned, and perhaps the most important of all, in the context of today's situation, is the effect on the rates. If the cost of maintenance is as high as I am told it is, any reduction in those costs would relieve the burden of rates. That is something very much to be desired.

Debate adjourned.


Last Updated: 24/02/2015 10:55:11 First Page Previous Page Page of 63 Next Page Last Page