An Bille um Údarás na Gaeltachta, 1978: Ordú don Dara Céim. - Local Government (Financial Provisions) Bill, 1977: Second Stage (Resumed).
Wednesday, 11 October 1978
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: (Cavan-Monaghan): This Bill was introduced on 14 December 1977 and is therefore entitled the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Bill, 1977. The alleged object of the Bill is to implement part of the manifesto on which the Fianna Fáil Party fought the last general election. That was that part of the manifesto which promised to make it cheaper to keep a house by abolishing rates on private houses, by removing the rate element from houses rented by local authorities and by ensuring there would be no rate content in the rents paid by tenants of privately rented accommodation. The Bill was introduced on 14 December 1977. It was officially circulated to Members on 30 May 1978, nearly six months afterwards. As we know, the Bill and the paraphernalia connected with it escaped or was unofficially distributed about May 1978. I dealt with that episode at some length when I opened my speech on Second Stage and I do not propose to go further into it now beyond inquiring from the Minister what progress, if any, the Garda Síochána have made in tracing the source of the leak or the person who unofficially circulated the Bill with its explanatory memorandum, the confidential Government memorandum. The Minister has had a few months to consider the matter and I would ask him now what steps have been taken to ensure there will be no repetition of this type of unofficial disclosure of Government Bills and memoranda. I would like the Minister to deal with these two questions when he comes to reply.
With regard to the Bill, in my opinion  it spells the end of local democracy as we know it and converts local representatives into meaningless rubber stamps with no functions and no authority good, bad or indifferent. Furthermore, it does nothing to implement the promise in the Fianna Fail manifesto to remove the rate content in the rent of privately rented dwellings. The machinery in the Bill is completely ineffective and I believe it will not be possible to amend the Bill to ensure that tenants of privately rented houses will be free from rates. I would like the Minister to deal with that and tell us whether he proposes, now that he has had time to think about it and study and consider representations which must have been made to him, to bring in any amendments on Committee Stage.
In relation to my assertion that this Bill spells the end of local democracy and renders the role of the local representative meaningless and powerless, I would like to refer the House to section 10. Heretofore local authorities acted in a partnership—the partnership existing between the elected representatives and the manager. They were authorised by law to govern the local authority in so far as local government matters were concerned, with a supervisory role by the Department of the Environment in certain respects.
For example, the local county council prepared their estimate for the ensuing year in consultation with the county manager but it was not necessary to consult the manager at that stage because there was provision for an estimates committee. The council could either elect or appoint an estimates committee or the whole council could act as an estimates committee and bring in a rates estimate. If the county manager was satisfied that the estimate was adequate and sufficient to discharge the statutory duties of the council for the ensuing 12 months, he would not object to it. It was only in case a local authority brought in an estimate that was insufficient and inadequate to pay the outgoings of the ensuing year that the Department stepped in. Then the council were required to bring in an adequate estimate. If they failed to do that the Minister held an inquiry. If the inquiry confirmed that they failed in their duty  and that the local services would break down as a result of the estimate brought in, they were removed from office.
That was a fairly reasonable approach and left local authorities with discretion as to how much money they would spend and what services they would provide. The record shows they acted in a reasonable manner and the number of occasions on which it was necessary for the Custom House to step in were few and far between. That whole system has now been changed by virtue of this measure.
Section 10 authorises the Minister for the Environment, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to issue a direction to the local authority telling them how much they are to estimate for the coming year. It is very significant, particularly for those who have been in Government, to see that the Minister for the Environment will issue a direction with the consent of the Minister for Finance. That is the Parliamentary Draftsman's jargon used to oblige the Minister for the Environment to consult with the Minister for Finance and gives the Minister for Finance an overriding authority to give directions to his colleague, the Minister for the Environment, as to the amount of the estimate which a local authority is permitted to bring in.
Under section 10 the Minister for the Environment, at the behest of the Minister for Finance, is to have the authority to say to the local council, urban authority or city council, “Your estimate for this year shall be limited to £X”. That is an innovation. It is completely unheard of. We all know the Minister for Finance and his advisers are only interested in one thing—keeping down the overall Government budget. They will decide that this must be cut and that must be cut. The advisers of the Minister for Finance do not believe that spending money under the local improvements scheme to improve lanes leading to houses is a worthwhile operation. They think that scheme should be abolished. That is the kind of direction that will be coming to the Department of the Environment from the Department  of Finance. It will not stop there because the section goes on to say—I need not spell it out—that the local authority shall be obliged to abide by and obey this direction. If they do not there will not be consultation or an inquiry as to whether they have carried out their duty properly. Their estimate will be thrown in the wastepaper basket and the estimate which coincides with the Minister's limit will replace it. The council will be brushed aside and ignored. There will not be an inquiry. They will not be consulted. They will be treated as imbeciles, fool or nonentities or people who do not matter. There will be no consultation, no public inquiry: ignore that estimate and we will place it with the Minister. Indeed, the task, very well done by some local authorities over the years, of preparing the estimate is virtually taken away from them entirely and is handed over to the county managers.
I want to assert that the role of the county manager in local administration is being changed completely. Up to now he was the official of the local authority, fighting their case, advising them, preparing their schemes and doing his best for the county generally. Under this Bill all that is gone. He becomes now the watchdog—and I am not being offensive when I say the bully boy of the Minister for Finance at the direction of the Minister for the Environment—because section 10 (3) (e) specifies that it shall be the duty of the manager to give a direction to the authorities, to make them aware of the direction from Dublin and to explain its effect to them. In case the direction is not complied with, as soon as maybe the county manager then must certify to the Minister for the Environment the extent by which it is exceeded. Finally he is obliged to correct the erroneous estimate prepared by these local people, who know local circumstances, to revise that estimate and bring it into line with an estimate which will accord with the direction given by the Minister for the Environment at the behest of the Minister for Finance.
I ask the Minister and the House in all sincerity is it any wonder that county managers are quitting the service? Is it any wonder that they are recognising  that the role they took on some years ago has been utterly changed? Is it any wonder that county managers are seeing now that they have no worthwhile powers left to them, that there is nothing they can do, no way in which they can bring their expertise, knowledge or ability to bear on the locality they serve? We know that county managers are leaving the service at not much more than half the retirement age and going into private enterprise. I believe that is evidence that the only people now who will continue to serve in the role of county managers are those who will be prepared to obey the dictation emanating from Government Buildings and the Custom House, accepting the straitjacket role.
I cannot see what particular role is left to county councils, to their members or managers. We hear a lot about decentralisation, about the spreading out of authority from Government Buildings and the Custom House to say, Castlebar, Athlone and other places. Here we have a contraction of authority, a complete centralisation of local authority from every local authority in the 26 counties back up to the Custom House. I wonder how Deputies like Deputy Seán Moore—Deputies who started their careers in public life on local authorities, who did a good job, who spoke fearlessly letting their views be known in the interests of their localities—will accept this insult. It is beyond me.
It does not end there because the estimate for the year is to be in accordance with the direction from Dublin. Heretofore, as we know, if something was overlooked or some emergency occurred during the year the manager and his councillors, in their wisdom, brought in a supplementary estimate, did the additional work or provided the additional service that was to be provided whether caused by storm, some other hardship, or in some other way that might not have been anticipated. All that is changed because section 11 says that no supplementary estimate shall be made unless it is sanctioned by the Minister for the Environment. Although not specifically stated in the section he will  have to have a chat with his friend, the Minister for Finance.
Already this year we have had an example of how that can affect local services and administration. The estimates passed last year, for the year ending 31 December 1978, were made without any regard to the increase in wages and salaries brought about by the national wage agreement. That was done on the direction of the Minister because it was said that the result of the national wage agreement for 1978 was not known when the Minister gave his direction at the end of last year. Each local authority proceeded to estimate its salaries and wages on the basis of those prevailing on 1 January 1978 without any regard to the increase everybody knew would be coming as a result of the national wage agreement. We know those estimates were cut very fine. The 11 per cent may have been adequate in some places—perhaps marginally too much, I concede—but in other places was not nearly enough. One cannot have a flat 11 per cent all over the country and be certain that everybody has enough.
When the national wage agreement increase was announced the local authorities were told: you must pay it out of savings, out of the estimate introduced on the basis that there was no national wage agreement. I do not know what were the figures involved in that. But in the case of, say, Dublin Corporation, Cork Corporation, or indeed any county council it must have amounted to a very substantial sum of money having regard to the number of people employed by local authorities and their salaries. The local authorities are told they will have to pay it out of savings. That is a polite way of saying they will have to cut back on something. There are two things only on which one can cut back: one is service and the other wages and salaries. If we are to have a repetition of that, we are certainly reaching a stage where local authorities will not be in a position to provide services which are necessary. Up to now, it was always left to the councils to bring in a rate. Provided it was adequate, it was all right.
Section 13 says that the striking of a rate shall no longer be a reserved function  but the explanatory memorandum that comes out with it gives an explanation in regard to that particular section which I find very hard to accept. It says it is designed merely to simplify the procedure for making a rate and to do away with the second meeting for signing the book. I do not accept that but it is there in black and white and in my opinion it was necessary to put it in if there was not to be conflict between some other section and section 10 of this Bill. Section 10 effectively ensures that the striking of a rate is no longer a reserved function and section 13 is simply calling a spade a spade. I would be anxious to hear from the Minister for the Environment who has as much knowledge of rural Ireland and local authorities as I have. I would like him to spell out what functions of any reality or any consequence local authorities are to perform from now on. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that this Bill simply spells the end of local democracy.
Section 15 provides for directions which may be given to local authorities telling them how this Bill is to be implemented. This legislation is retrospective legislation at its worst, going back to 1 November 1977 as from the 1 January 1978. On the last occasion I dealt at some length with the machinery for implementing section 15. We had a circular from the Custom House to local authorities monitoring the day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month workings of the county concils. They were to report—I do not know how often but very frequently—to the Custom House telling them how they were getting on, whether there was any danger of them going outside their estimates, what bills have been paid and what bills have not been paid. It was a most insulting circular to send out to a responsible local authority. It was treating them like spendthrift children who could not be trusted even to live within the estimates imposed on them by the Minister for the Environment without the overlording and overlooking of the Custom House. Most of us in this House commenced public life in local authorities, whether they were urban  authorities or city councils or city corporations. Looking back on it, I believe we thought we were doing something worthwhile, that we were making a worthwhile contribution to the administration of our localities. It was because we gave a reasonable account of ourselves there that we found our way into the national Parliament.
I cannot see how councillors will continue to serve in the straitjacket which this Bill puts them into. There will not be the same competition for the position of county manager as there was before this Bill came into Parliament. Up to now, county managers took pride in their job. county. They took pride in their job. They developed a good relationship and an excellent partnership between themselves and their councillors and, between them, they exercised their collective wisdom in the best interests of the areas they served.
I do not care how long a person's memory is here. It will be found that the number of authorities that had to be removed from office for failing to discharge their statutory duties as they should since the State was founded could be counted on the fingers of one hand. I am not very far wrong in that estimate. That is all I want to say about local democracies. I believe this is a bad day's work. Any measure that is prompted not by the welfare of the area but by the welfare of a political party, as this was, is bound to have the sort of consequences that we are seeing here. This Bill was introduced on 14 December 1977 to implement the promise in the Fianna Fáil manifesto which was inserted to get votes and got plenty of votes. There was no preelection thought given to whether the proposal to abolish rates would have any ill effects or how it would be worked or whether there was any other way of doing it. It is only now, nearly 12 months after, that we are discussing this Bill. It was introduced before the Christmas vacation to give the impression that it was ready and that they had the machinery to implement the manifesto promise but back we come after Christmas and there is not a sound. It is still being hatched up and worked on in the Department of Local  Government—the Department of the Environment as it now is—the Department of Finance and the Offices of the Parliamentary Draftsmen, and it did not see the light of day officially until 30 May. We know that the unofficial Government documentation was leaked and we know from that—because we could not be expected not to read it—that there were differences of opinion in the Cabinet and in the Departments as to how it should be implemented.
So here we have it now and we have the results—the end of parliamentary democracy. The second charge I make against this Bill is that it does not implement the Fianna Fáil manifesto under the heading of local government, page 20, which says that there will be no rate content in the rent paid by tenants of privately rented accommodation. Ask the thousands of people living in rented flats and rented private houses throughout the country whether they have had any rates content in their rent since 1 January last, and the answer from 95 or 96 per cent of them will be that they have had no change and are still paying rates. The only difference is that the landlord is enjoying a fatter rent.
The Minister presumably takes the view that when this Bill becomes an Act it will implement the part of the manifesto which said that there would be no rates content in the rent paid by tenants of privately rented accommodation. Presumably the Minister believes that and has been advised to that effect. If that is so, the Minister owes restitution to thousands of tenants of rented private houses who have been paying rates in their rent since 1 January last. Many of these people were students who occupied flats in this city from 1 January until June of this year and who went home when the universities closed. They will never get their money back. Will the Minister make restitution to them? Did the Minister take this manifesto promise seriously? Practically no tenant of a private house has received the benefit of this derating since 1 January. It was a shabby trick to play on the tenants of private accommodation for the purpose of getting a vote.
The document says that rates will be  abolished from January 1978. A more accurate way of putting that would have been to say that from 1978 private landlords will enjoy greater net rents, because that is what has happened. If the Minister had written into the manifesto that for the year 1978 there would be no reduction in the rent of private houses or flats but that the landlords would enjoy bigger net rents, would he have got the number of votes he got in Dublin? I challenge the Minister to tell me of any way by which these people will have their rates repaid to them. The only people who can be sure of benefiting from the provisions of this Bill in regard to relief of rates in rented premises are those living in controlled premises where the rent is broken down, where the rent is shown under a number of headings—the basic rent, the addition for repairs, the addition for inflation and the addition for rates. These items are isolated in controlled houses and people living in such houses will get the benefit. Gradually over the years since the Second World War, and drastically in the 1960s, houses became controlled; but the number of controlled houses now is about 4 or 5 per cent of the dwellings and flats let. These are the only people to which this document is worth a damn.
Even when this measure becomes law it will not and cannot ensure that the rate content of these rents will be abolished, because there is nothing to prevent the landlord of an uncontrolled dwelling from negotiating a new rent on the change of tenant. If a tenant decides to stand his ground and stay, there is nothing to prevent the landlord from serving him a notice to quit on the tenant and then either ejecting him or negotiating a new rent with him. This Bill is not worth anything to the tenant who seeks relief of rates. Tenants were promised this relief in the Fianna Fáil manifesto, but they were tricked.
The Flatdwellers Association have thrown up their hands in despair. They know that the Bill is valueless. They know they have been tricked over the last 12 months. They know that even when the Bill is law it will not work and they are looking for some other way of getting the promised relief. I have experience,  in my professional capacity over the years, in dealing with Rent Act cases and I invite the Minister to tell me how he can ensure that a tenant of an uncontrolled dwelling will get the benefit of the manifesto in respect of rates. The Minister appreciates the difficulty and I would not be surprised to see him come in with some amendment on Committee Stage. However, an amendment will not do; he will simply have to have a completely different approach, an approach which will have nothing to do with rates.
Those are the major points I wish to make on this measure. It is a Committee Stage measure and on Committee Stage we shall be introducing amendments to give effect to the manifesto although I cannot think of any amendments that can really give effect to that manifesto. I trust that the Minister has at his command full-time advisers to deal with this whole area of landlords, tenants and rents and that these advisers will be framing an amendment to this measure. It is essential that tenants of private houses reap the benefit of this legislation. In the various policy documents issued by the Government there is expressed the desire that as many people as possible would be taken off local authority housing lists by providing houses for themselves. That aspiration is contained both in the White Paper and the Green Paper but not so long ago a circular was issued from the Custom House to every local authority quoting the White Paper in regard to people building houses for themselves in the hope that eventually there would be less demand on local authorities to provide houses. However, local authorities were advised to scrutinise closely the incomes of people who were seeking rented accommodation and to ensure that those people who could be regarded as being in a position to provide their own accommodation be removed from the housing list. Indeed, this circular was a shocking document because it went further and advised that loans being sanctioned by local authorities should be fine-combed and that no longer should the certificate of the employer be accepted as evidence of the income of the applicant but that income  should be checked against the PAYE certificate issued by the inspector of taxes. This is the way in which these people are to be squeezed out of the public housing sector and into the private housing sector. This is to be done on the assumption that they will be able to get cheaper houses and that rents will be less. But I have been pointing out that this will not be the case.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy is moving away from the Bill. He has been speaking for two hours and now he is endeavouring to speak for a long time on matters that are outside the scope of the Bill. He may not discuss the full range of local government on this measure.
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: (Cavan-Monaghan): I have no intention of doing that. I am making the case that this measure does not provide in the private sector the rates relief that was promised and that it is absolutely important that this relief be given because those who are being catered for in the public sector are being squeezed out and thrown into the private sector although houses are not available in the sector. We know that some of these people will have to rely on renting houses in the private sector because housing finance has dried up completely and there is no way in which people can buy houses. Consequently, they will be at the mercy of people who may charge what rents they wish. In this situation demand will be growing in the private sector.
To illustrate my point I met a married man recently who has an account with a building society to the extent of £2,500. He is not yet 30 and with his wife has been saving that money since February 1977. He bought a house in Kildare for £15,000. His income is almost £5,000 per year. He sought a building society loan of £11,000 but would have managed with a loan of £9,000. He was not able to get a loan. This was before the public knew about the squeeze. Although that man is in a secure State job and had saved so much money he failed to get a building society loan of £9,000. He was not successful in negotiating a bank loan either. Yet, the  circular from the Custom House to local authorities was to the effect that every effort should be made to have people removed from the housing list.
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick: (Cavan-Monaghan): Mercedes are not good for bone. The case I am making is that this measure does not give rates relief but that on the basis of its giving rates relief people are being removed from the local authority housing list either in respect of houses or of loans and are being forced into private rented accommodation.
It would be my wish that on Committee Stage we could produce amendments that would make for a good measure but I cannot visualise any experience I have  producing amendments that will make something worthwhile of this useless legislation in so far as the rented sector is concerned. The Bill derates privately-owned houses and implements the relevant paragraph of the manifesto to that extent but it falls down in regard to the rented sector and destroys local democracy.
Mr. Quinn: I agree with Deputy Fizpatrick that we cannot really deal with this Bill until we get to the Committee Stage. It is only right at this stage to give an indication, as far as this side of the House is concerned, that we will be spending a lot of time on the Committee Stage. If the Government have any ideas about there being a short Committee Stage debate I can assure them that as far as the Chair allows us there will be a very full and comprehensive Committee Stage debate and that there will be a lot of amendments, including one which will have the effect of giving real benefit to the flatdwellers in relation to getting the benefit of the abolition of rates.
There are three elements of this Bill which are objectionable to this side of the House. The first is that it severely undermines the stature of local democracy and strengthens the tendency, which has existed in this State since 1922, to convert our system of local democracy into a system of local administration.
The second objection we have is that one of the provisions of the Bill will severely penalise some local authorities who have seen expansion in recent years in regard to new houses. I refer to the section where local authorities who have had a lot of housing which benefited from the nine year remission of rates provision, and where the value of that housing will be frozen at mid valuation, will be deprived of substantial amount of revenue which they would have otherwise been entitled to at a time when they are most in need of it.
A local authority who have seen a considerable increase in the number of new houses within a period of nine years, and certainly within a period of four or five years, will be confronted with a lot of demands for services which  can only be provided by local authorities, services such as library services, playground facilities and so forth. Such facilities are not provided when those houses are built. The proposal in the Bill in that area is totally unacceptable to us.
The third area which is totally unacceptable to us is the “con job” which has been done on flatdwellers in private rented accommodation. As well as that, we are putting on to the Statute Book legal nonsense in the form devised by the Minister and his professional advisers. We are doing no service to democracy, we are doing absolutely no service to the flatdwellers and we are simply confounding the legal processes with more gobbledegook legislation. This may be meat and drink to some solicitors but, if my knowledge of the legal profession is up to date, that kind of legislation will deter solicitors from taking on cases of genuine hardship where flatdwellers should be entitled to get some benefit from the abolition of rates.
There is a lot of flat accommodation in the constitutency which Deputy Moore and I represent. The effect of trying to work out the benefit that a flatdweller in a multi-let unit of accommodation in our constituency, where there may be as many as 12 bedsitters in a house in Pembroke Road, should receive by way of relief of rates will really cause legal chaos at worst and at best will clutter up the Statute Book with laws which cannot be effectively implemented. The Minister would be better advised if he said that the rates promise the Government made in the manifesto, along with a lot of the other promises, was really for election purposes and that they can only deliver part of their promise with regard to the abolition of rates to private owners of residential buildings and certain other sections contained in this Bill but that with regard to relief for flatdwellers in private rented accommodation their interests can only be served by a proper reform of the Landlord and Tenant legislation. That would be a much more effective proposal. It would end all the confusion in this House between the Minister for  Justice and the Minister for the Environment about who has responsibility for the position of flatdwellers.
I thought the previous Government had finally sorted out the division of responsibility between the Department of Justice and the Department of Local Government, as it was then, in this area but it now appears that we are back to the old confusion where the Minister for Justice on more than one occasion shuffled the ball to the Minister for the Environment. The Minister should withdraw all the sections which relate to giving relief to flatdwellers in private rented accommodation. Many members of his party are landlords and if he talks to them he will know how impractical his proposals are. The proposals in the Bill do not give any benefit to flatdwellers.
The Minister's speech was rather short when one bears in mind the size of this Bill. There has been considerable delay in introducing it to the House. This can be interpreted in a number of ways. The harshest way to interpret it is that the Minister has been grossly incompetent. This party have had the benefit of many years in Government. They announced in the middle of the 1973 General Election campaign that rates would be abolished. It has been frequently mentioned since that they had the benefit, while in Opposition, of a democratically enforced retreat with the assistance of a think tank headed by all sorts of whizz kids throughout the country. If it has taken the Government this length of time to get this Bill drafted it is a reflection on their incompetence or a reflection on the Parliamentary Draftsman. A great disservice has been done to democracy and indeed to local authorities who are still in the position of not knowing where they stand with regard to finance. The Minister and his Department should seriously consider whether or not a service is being done to local authorities throughout the country by the Custom House when in the middle of October they do not know what the position is and the law still has not been passed in relation to the abolition of rates. This shows very imcompetent Government by the Fianna Fail Party who are now in office.
 The Minister said that the need to modify the rating system and its impact on domestic property had been frequently admitted in the past, that several investigations and studies of the rating system had been undertaken in recent years and that they had been prompted more than anything else by the basic dissatisfaction at the way in which the rates bore on householders. He went on to say that no fundamental solution to this problem had emerged until the Fianna Fail proposal to give total relief on domestic rates. That is not true. That is a simplistic interpretation of the volume of work that has been done in the Customs House, work that was published by a Fianna Fail predecessor of the Minister, Deputy Molloy, in the White Paper of 1972. There was a substantial review of the whole question of local government finance. Proposals were made for the reform of the rating system, not only in that White Paper but by other people involved in local finance. To claim that no fundamental solution to the problem emerged until Fianna Fail came up with the election votecatcher is not a statement of fact.
In his speech the Minister referred to the position of registered guest houses under the Tourist Traffic Act. He said they would only qualify for relief where they were mixed hereditaments. I am surprised that the Minister who, indirectly, has responsibility for tourism has seen fit to exclude local guest houses. I am surprised that the obvious representations that must have come from the Department of Tourism and Bord Fáilte have not been met by the Department. I would be interested in an estimate of the possible loss of revenue that would result if all the registered guest houses were included in this provision. I can readily accept that the Minister will come under considerable pressure from Deputies on both sides of the House to broaden the scope of the relief and I can see the dead hand of the Department of Finance steeling their resolve not to widen the scope of it. In this instance I thought there was a valid reason for including guest houses and I am surprised that the Minister saw fit to deal with it as he did in his speech.
In his speech the Minister said that section 5 of the Bill deals with rented accommodation other than small dwellings. He goes on to say that the section is long and complex but that its object is simple. For a tenant who was not previously directly liable for rates, the section provides the right to an allowance from the landlord equal to the rates element obtaining in his rent before removal of domestic rates. The objective may be simple but it is totally obscured by the proposed legislative framework contained in the Bill. With all the skill and resources of the Department behind them, it is a pity that they were not capable of introducing a simpler method of obtaining such relief or adopting the more honest course, in the event of being unable to do so, which would be to say “We have looked at this in detail and we cannot provide it. Relief for flatdwellers will have to be found in some other way.” Since the Custom House is going to be effectively run by the Department of Finance when this Bill becomes law, recourse could have been had to the Department of Finance to see if some kind of direct relief could be given to flatdwellers by way of PAYE rather than through the gobbledegook in section 5.
In the Minister's speech there is a very curious sentence which underlines the Fianna Fail attitude to local democracy. The Minister said there was a need to ensure the continued harmony of local and other programmes of expenditure. He also said there was a need to take reasonable measures to protect the interests of non-domestic ratepayers, including farmers, small shopkeepers, people with businesses of one kind or another who remained liable for rates. There is certainly that need, but who is it to be provided by? I would have thought that that need should be provided by the elected democratic councils within which these farms and small businesses are located, as many representatives of such groups are frequently elected to councils. In many local authorities, particularly urban district councils, it is not unusual to have people who are, in effect, independent councillors but who are clearly  identified with certain business interests in a general sense. Can one detect from that sentence that the Minister does not really trust local councils to protect the interests of non-domestic rate-payers? Does this not reinforce the first basic fear that I outlined that local councils are a bit of a joke; that if the interest of non-domestic ratepayers are to be seriously protected they cannot be protected by local councillors directly elected by such business interests but must be protected by Big Brother government in the Custom House.
I may be reading too much into that sentence but it is an inference that can be reasonably taken. Indeed, the Minister does not go on to specify how that need is to be dealt with other than by the general provisions of the Bill, or how the position of such non-domestic ratepayers is to be specifically protected. In so far as one can take anything from the sentence, which is not elaborated, it underlines the basic contempt for the autonomy of local democracy which pervades this legislation.
In this speech the Minister referred to the way in which the allowance will be made by the Department. One sentence, on which I should like to compliment the Minister or the person responsible for it, refers to the Minister proposing effectively to remove one of the last remaining powers of the local council, which is the reserve function with regard to striking of the rates. The following beautifully phrased piece of English, which obscures the importance of what is behind the action, reads: “Elected members are at present required by law to become involved at the ‘rates’ meeting in endorsing the applotment of the rates. The applotment must be carried out in strict accordance with the effective decision taken by the council at their estimates meeting. It is therefore a function proper to the ordinary routine administration and clerical procedures of a local authority and section 13 relieves the council of the duty of treating it as a policy matter proper to the elected council”. It is very nicely and casually inserted that local councillors are being relieved of a rather tedious duty. Since when has the striking of the rate been routine administration?  All I can say is that, again, it is a conscious effort by the Ministers and the movers of this Bill to play down the long-term implications built into the provisions of this section. To dismiss it in this casual way underlines the valid suspicion which the Labour Party and I have of that section.
Finally, the last section of the Minister's speech, which should be flushed out, refers to the whole question of valuations, and valuation of new property since effectively 1 November last, or certainly last autumn, must be examined in detail and also the role of the Valuation Office and whether that office will remain the responsibility of the Minister for Finance or be transferred, as was proposed at some stage, to the Department of the Environment. The Minister should give some clear indication on this at the end of this debate because I understand the Valuation Office does not know what it is supposed to be doing at present; there is no clear policy in regard to future valuation of domestic, residential property. That is a totally unsatisfactory situation. The Valuation Office is wondering what the Government decisions are likely to be, when will it have a firm directive and what it is supposed to be doing. That area should be clarified.
The Minister stated that there was no real fundamental solution to the whole question of local government taxation. Yet Fianna Fail came up with the popular election gimmick of abolishing rates altogether. I remind the Minister and other Fianna Fail Deputies who will praise the popular prospect of the abolition of rates—with which nobody on this side of the House fundamentally disagrees—that we do not propose nor will we be put in the position of appearing to propose that rates should be reintroduced. Both sides of the House agree that rates should be phased out and abolished. We are not talking about the validity of the abolition of rates but how local democracy is to be financed and the relationship of a local council to central government and to a lesser extent, although it is an important issue, the rights of tenants in private rented accommodation.
The Fianna Fail administration who  went out of office in 1973 and who perhaps were not noted for their verbal skill in the Department of Local Government—there being other things on their minds—published a White Paper in which the main proposals in regard to local taxation and finance—I am reading from the summary on page 2 of the White Paper—stated that it was essential that local authorities should have power to levy local taxes. Have the members of that Government which published this White Paper, who are now senior members of the present Government, changed their views in regard to the power of local authorities to levy local taxes? They said that if local government were to survive as such these local taxes should be capable of meeting a significant proportion of local expenditure. Would the Minister indicate what he, his Department and the Government regard as a significant proportion of local expenditure? Does he anticipate that the trend in reducing the balance between local taxes which is moving very rapidly in favour of central government, will increase and if so would he indicate what would be considered by him to be a significant proportion of local expenditure?
The last point in the summary is now history where it says the Government have decided that only the local rates satisfy the criteria required of a major local tax and that the real issue is not the abolition of the rating system with all the consequences involved for local financial independence and taxpayers but the reform of the system so as to eliminate its undoubted defects. We are probably too far down the line to talk about the Government's attitude in regard to that proposal.
Proposals were summarised in Chapter 5 and I should like the Minister to give his views on these. The first one which relates to the comment at the end of the Minister's speech, states that the existing valuation system must be reformed urgently, that arrangements would be made for the transfer of responsibility from the Valuation Office to the Minister for Local Government—now obviously the Minister for the Environment—and that the Minister should prepare a series of measures for a  practical reform of the valuation system with provision for bringing valuations ultimately to full current value. There are many other proposals in the White Paper and many are very good. They should have been enacted long ago. I do not know why there is delay in doing many of these things. Do we have some extraordinary shortage of parliamentary draftsmen so that there is a limit to the number of legislative provisions we can get through the House in any year?
The whole question of the autonomy of a local authority is raised in this Bill and the Minister has not properly or adequately dealt with the status of the local authority when the Bill becomes law. In a very interesting book published by the Institute of Public Administration called Problems of Irish Local Finance by Donal de Buitleir, he comments at the end of the book on the future development of local government and observes that most of the services and facilities that local authorities currently operate are services and facilities that were attached to local councils towards the end of the last century. Quoting from T.J. Barrington's article on administration on page 73 of this book, he states that if local government is to maintain its place in the overall development of the country it will have to concern itself with new as well as old functions. Barrington is perhaps our most noted authority on local government and certainly outside detailed description of every boreen in Kerry it is probably his one true passion and no other person probably has as much commitment to the re-enforcement and extension of a proper local democratic system. If the Minister shares that view of T.J. Barrington could he indicate how a local authority could set about the acquisition of new functions if this Bill becomes law? What procedures will there be for the sanctioning of new functions? What kind of financial autonomy will a local authority have for the funding of such functions? I share Barrington's concern about the vitality of local democracy only surviving if it has the power and initiative to take unto itself new functions.
My most recent experience, an experience shared between Deputy Moore and myself, was the substantial involvement  of Dublin Corporation in areas of recreation and cultural support of various kinds from musical societies up to the Dublin Theatre Festival. That was made possible and we were able to raise money under the old system by simply putting a charge on the rates to do something which the council by a majority considered a good idea. I should like the Minister to clarify how a local authority can set about doing this since it is not clarified in this legislation and state what their autonomy will be, not simply in ordering priorities—that is not the answer I want—but how they can add to their existing range of services something they democratically decide is of benefit to the community. I am open to correction and would be happy to be corrected but it is not clear from my reading of the Bill that there are no restrictions of this kind.
The major weakness in this area is that the method for financing local authorities, for calculating the replacement of the rate by the Department of the Environment, is not made law. The formula whereby the Department will come up with a certain percentage indicated in this legislation. There is no access to it and there is no way in which local authorities can have legal and statutory access to a particular guaranteed formula. That is the fundamental weakness here. That is why this side of the House can criticise validly this Bill as being a fundamental danger and threat to the future of local government. The system whereby the Department of the Environment can calculate the increase for any given year is a system that is totally clouded behind the doors of that Department and, in the final analysis, it will not even be determined by the Minister or his officials but probably by a principal officer somewhere in the Department of Finance. That is the tragedy of this Bill.
The Minister would have got considerable support from many sections of the community for a Bill that set out to do what was the popular thing and something that was agreed by all sides of this House, namely, the abolition of rates on domestic property. They have  been neglected for so long probably they were beyond reform. However, in that populist approach the Minister is throwing out everything. He is throwing out the autonomy of local authorities also. As a former member of a local council, I know there is not much public respect for local authorities. Any person who is or was a member of a local authority knows the general disregard, unfortunately, in which local authorities are held by the public. The “Ballymagash Urban District Council” have not exactly helped the image, although they have provided a lot of entertaining television. The reality is that the same local councillors are voluntary, part-time public representatives and they provide an extraordinary range of services. The public will be ill-served if their powers are reduced because they have a much better understanding of the needs of an area than any well-intentioned principal officer buried somewhere in the Department of Finance.
Previously it was understandable and reasonable to expect that local authority members would object to any whittling away of their powers but now a new force has entered into the debate and that is the voice of the country and city managers throughout the country. I know the Minister is aware of their feelings. Obviously they cannot take to the hustings like other people but the Department of the Environment know very well the fears and concerns now expressed by city and county managers. Nowhere in the Bill is there a clear indication of how their financial position will be calculated. There is no indication regarding the provisions for calculating the rate in any one year. In the main these professional managers have served the country very well but, for the first time, they are considerably worried at the long-term implications of the Bill.
Let us have no illusions about the matter. I believe the Minister has sincere intentions in this area but undoubtedly the day will come when there will be a recession in the economy. Undoubtedly the day will come when a certain school of economic thought will be in control in the Department of Finance and public expenditure will have to be seriously curtailed. The area where it can most readily  be curtailed is in an area such as this where there are no legal safeguards for local authorities, other than that “the Minister may direct, in consultation with the Minister for Finance”. There is no indication as to what the formula should be, how it should be calculated or that it should be not less than the rate for the previous year. There has been no attempt to come up with any formula but yet the Minister has gone to incredible lengths to produce a gobbledgook formula—if I might use such unparliamentary language—for flatdwellers in private rented accommodation. His energy could have been far more creatively channelled into coming up with a formula that every local authority could regard as giving them some reasonable protection and guarantee of revenue from the State for the area where they are now losing revenue as a result of the abolition of rates on domestic property.
That is the major weakness of this legislation. It has taken the Government one and a half years to produce the Bill, or at least to get it to its present stage. Fianna Fail were in opposition for four years and they reiterated frequently that it was not an election gimmick in 1973. They told us they had worked out all the implications and that it was serious policy. I recall vividly my colleague on the Dublin City Council, Deputy Moore, stating that Fianna Fail had worked out a policy as to how it was to be carried out. There is no evidence of how it is to be done other than in the secret files—those that are not leaked—in the Department of the Environment. Until we get some indication as to what will be that formula we cannot be expected to accept the sweet and honeyed language of the Minister's speech and say that the striking of the rate is a routine, clerical and administrative function and so on and why bother the councillors by taking them in for another special meeting to strike the rate.
In my view a local authority member has only two real effective powers. The striking of the rate is one and the other is the revision or the drafting of a development plan. Half of the effective democratic powers of a local councillor are being taken away without any  replacement. After the noises made by the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy, and if I am right by the Minister for the Environment, with regard to a factory in County Clare, the whole question of the planning laws may be subject to some kind of tightening from central government.
I am sorry if I have gone on at length on this section. I did so in order to give reasonable notice to the Minister and to his advisers that on the section we will be expecting from him some clear indication as to how this magic formula functions, what its components are, what guarantees the local authorities have and the basis of the calculations.
The other area that is particularly savage and one that has been swept away—perhaps because it is not readily understood by most people—is the impact the Bill will have on those local authorities who have had a massive expansion in house building in the past seven years.
The Bill in effect proposes to freeze valuations at whatever stage they would be in the nine-year phased reduction. For example, if an estate was built in north County Dublin, south County Dublin or any local authority area around this country and if the valuation of each house was £27 or thereabouts and the house is three years old now, my understanding of this provision—and again I am subject to correction from the Minister—is that the current valuation of those houses would be £9 and not £27. Therefore, the revenue that the local authority can expect from the Department of the Environment would be the rate as decided by that Department multiplied by the factor of nine and not the factor of 27. This would occur in an area which by definition is a raw development area and there would be endless requests for, first of all, probably finishing the estate because if it is a private estate the local developer will not have completed it or handed it over. There would be demands once it is in charge to have certain facilities provided. There would be demands in an area like north County Dublin for a host of other essential neighbourhood facilities, and those demands would fall properly and rightly on the local  representatives. Yet the revenue that the local authority would have for these houses would be far less than they would have for houses in built-up areas where the nine-year remission would not exist and where presumably a lot of local facilities had already been met. If ever an injustice was built into the system, surely that is it. The people who need most are getting least and the people who need very little, relatively speaking, are getting the full whack. That is based on our own calculations of how this provision will work, and the Minister's Second Stage speech was not a model of illumination in indicating how all the sections are anticipated to function.
The only other information of elaboration that we have from the Government side of the House on this section is from the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Economic Planning and Development. i am speaking from memory because I have not got my note of his reply. He justified this proposal on the grounds that areas where there are new housing estates are areas where there are likely to be more housing estates and in time the general increase in the full valuation which will come from those areas will more or less balance out; local authorities are already losing a certain amount of revenue anyway by virtue of the fact that remission of rates is operating in these areas. When this Bill becomes law all the new houses in the new housing estates in such a local authority area will come in at the full valuation and that will therefore cancel out any loss of revenue implied in the freezing of current valuations. The Minister for Economic Planning and Development frequently makes nonsense sound extremely plausible, but to my untutored economic ears the case as he presented it was not convincing The Ceann Comhairle was correct in not allowing a debate at Question Time and so the matter could not be pursued, but I would like with regard to that section to get a very clear indication of the precise financial impact that this is likely to have on local authorities where a large number of their houses have been built within the last five years. That would indicate that they were getting less than 50  per cent of the revenue that they could otherwise have got because of the full valuation. That section is a sleight of hand brought in at the behest of the Department of Finance.
Implicit in the abolition of rates was an explosion of public expenditure in certain local authorities. It would be very welcome public expenditure because those local authorities, by virtue of the fact that so many new houses have been built in the last few years, are crying out for local authority finance. The Minister has drawers and drawers full of applications for sanction for various proposals from such local authorities. This would have been an equitable and just way of providing such local authorities with an additional amount of money that they could usefully put to use on projects that are already identified and that are badly needed by the people moving into those estates. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case because the Fianna Fáil Party had already given away too much money as it was, although in most cases to people who did not need it.
So we have another indication in this little section buried in this financial provision Bill of the order of priorities that now rest on the conservative side of this House which unfortunately has over the years sought increasingly to favour the few at the expense of the many and not the other way round. It is done discreetly and apparently for administrative purposes or for routine clerical administration which was the phrase used to describe one of the major powers now remaining to a local councillor. The questions asked so far have not elicited the full adequate information required. If my memory serves me rightly from written reply today, information on the impact on such local authorities of this mixture of houses at different states of rates remission is still not available to the Department. We will be looking for some indication from the Minister as to how exactly he anticipates this will have an impact on the local authorities and what projection for increased finance they are going to have in years to come from planning permissions that are currently in or from indications of the houses to be built in such local  authorities. It is only fair that a local authority should be able to anticipate what their revenue will be over the next couple of years. Very few local authority projects have a gestation period of 12 months. Most of them, even small amenity schemes, start and end in a period greater than 12 months and therefore they are hamstrung by the financial year of 12 months and the tight reining in of the local authority by the discipline of the 12 months.
I move now to the question of administration by the present Minister and his Department of the de facto situation of the abolition of rates since January 1978 and the preliminary de jure situation that we are in now. On behalf of every local authority in the country I protest vehemently at the cavalier way in which local authorities have been treated in that we are standing here today, the second week in October, and local authorities, as I have checked with a number of officials, still have no indication from the Custom House what the percentage increase is to be in this year's rates. Either the Minister does not know—which is one indication of how incompetent this Administration have become—or the Minister for Finance is not yet in a position to tell how much he is going to get. Alternatively, he knows and he is playing some game of nerves with county managers up and down the country. One way or the other, whatever interpretation the Minister cares to put on the present factual situation, he is either incompetent or he is deliberately trying to undermine the local government structure. If he knows what the percentage increase is going to be, by whatever magic formula he has buried in the Custom House to produce it, why have not local managers been given some indication sooner than now? If the Minister knows, he must have known for some time because the overall financial constraints within which the Government have been operating have been clearly indicated—at least we have been told they were clearly indicated—in green papers and white papers, by economic gurus and professional advisers since the budget of January.
In the area of public expenditure the  only solid promise that Fianna Fail are now prepared to deliver on out of their total economic package is the commitment, reiterated by the Taoiseach at the annual luncheon of the CII, to reduce the level of foreign borrowings as a percentage of GNP. There are enough macro-economic indicators to my untutored mind to give some idea of what the percentage is likely to be. If the Minister knows what that percentage is and if he can sit here comfortably and say that local authorities have not been officially told what that percentage is how can he reasonably expect local authority members to prepare their estimates properly or responsibly? How can he reasonably expect county and city managers to get on with the job of running an administration? In my view the Government know what the percentage is but there is a deliberate campaign to withhold this information for two reasons. First, because the percentage is fairly small and, secondly, there is an attempt which is implied in all the clauses and throw away remarks in the Minister's speech to undermine the credibility of local councils and show them as being not capable of doing the job. The Minister is withholding basic information so that the estimates cannot be dealt with in a proper manner. More to the point, they cannot be adequately debated by local authority members.
The Minister is undermining the capacity of local authorities to administer their affairs responsibly. I may be accused of making a political point out of such a matter or being unfair but what alternative can one put on the present factual situation? I qualified my remark by saying that to the best of my knowledge the Department have not formally or informally indicated to some of the major local authorities what the percentage increase will be this year. For that reason my charges must be seen as valid and must stick. We are approaching a year when local elections will be held, a time when local councillors on top of the normal reasons for wanting to improve and increase facilities will have an additional reason. Because the percentage is being withheld from public knowledge managers and local councillors have been put in the  position of having to say that they cannot consider anything until they know how much money they will get. If the Minister delays on this long enough, as appears to be the tactic, local councillors will not be able to put up serious proposals for funding because the manager will be able to say that because the estimates must be completed before the end of the year the matter would be considered later.
In my view that is a correct assessment of the situation. I would be happy to get a denial from the Minister but I would be surprised if he made reference to it. The net effect on local democracy, whatever about the short term effect on the electoral support for Fianna Fail, will be to drive a further nail into their now substantial and leadened coffin. The Minister should seriously review the action of his Department in this area. I can see that there would be some political reason for a party who desperately need to control as many local authorities as possible, in order to give effect to the cuts in public expenditure that will emanate from central Government, not telling local councillors; but surely the Minister and his officials could have given some discreet guidelines to managers in August or September to enable them revise estimates.
If one couples the actions of the Minister for the Environment since he was appointed with the actions of Fianna Fail in opposition in regard to their proposal for the abolition of rates and the text of this Bill one can only come to one overall conclusion: that Fianna Fáil want to destroy local democracy. They will use all their experience and all their undoubted skills at undermining it and taking away its credibility. In various ways they will pressure it in such a fashion that local authorities will become discredited either from a career point of view because the salary levels of the higher officials are below what the market now carries—the evidence is there in the much publicised resignation of the county manager in Cork—or, alternatively, people who do not wish to become involved in national politics will not become involved in local politics for the reason that there will be  no effective powers or functions left with local councils. Increasingly we will unfortunately get people of less ability and calibre than would otherwise be attracted to local councils if the powers and structures of those councils had not been whittled away.
In the context of that analysis, the Minister's admission that some means will have to be found to protect the interests of non-domestic ratepayers begins to take on some new meaning and make new sense. Perhaps the Minister realises what the implications of his own action are and the fact that non-domestic ratepayers—certainly the business community—will have to be protected from what might be considered by the Minister, or his supporters, to be irresponsible action by local councils. There is a pattern woven in the speeches, announcements and circulars emanating from the Department of the Environment which adds up to a reasonable conclusion, destroy local democracy because it takes too much electoral effort to try to control every local council. It is not to be destroyed in the crude way that Kevin Boland did when he had a go at the Dublin City Council and at Bray Urban District Council because that leaves blood on the hands which can be seen but efforts are being made to whittle away totally local responsibility and set up a system where the Minister will be plagued into doing something positive because somehow or other local democracy has failed the nation. The Minister and his party will then come in and appear to save the community.
If that is the case the Minister and his party are moving away from their own repeated assurances to develop and support local democratic structures. They are moving away from the aspirations of people like Mr. T.J. Barrington, one of the foremost experts on local government here. He was clear about the need for the extension of local government. I will make reference to the provision of local authority finance in other EEC countries on Committee Stage but there is a clear consensus emerging from the local authority structures we have examined and that is the belief by central Government, whether in Denmark,  Sweden or Britain that the autonomy of local democracy must be preserved, that the autonomy of local councils should be validated and enhanced. While there is undoubtedly a need to bring public expenditure at national and local level into some form of harmony, that can be done and is being done in other countries, but not at the expense of effectively abolishing democratic power in such local councils. That is the kernel issue in regard to this legislation. It is not about the abolition of domestic rates; they are effectively abolished. This legislation is about the financing of local authority structures in this State and about the removal of certain fundamental democratic safeguards which they currently have and which this Bill proposes to take away.
There is a section that relates to flat-dwellers. I said earlier that it was legislative gobbledygook and I would respectively suggest to the Minister and the Minister of State that the Government would be far better advised simply to delete section 5 altogether and to reactivate the files in the Custom House and to take on in the Department of the Environment full and clear responsibility for landlord and tenant law and to come up with an effective system of legislation covering the whole area of private rented accommodation, including guarantees for bona fide landlords and also proper guarantees for flat-dwellers who at present are completely victimised by our housing system.
There are numerous proposals for such provisions in the records of this House. The Government saw fit during the last session to reject a motion from the Labour Party calling for the establishment of a rents tribunal for flat dwellers. The opponents of a rents tribunal have frequently argued that it is complex and difficult to operate and not really all that effective. That kind of argument came from Government benches during that debate in one form or another. A rents tribunal would not be as complicated or represent such gobbledygook as the provisions in section 5 and related sections. Any rents tribunal would be a million light years more effective in serving the interests of flat-dwellers  than the proposals in section 5. The Government are honest with themselves when they have indicated that there is very little that can be done in the context of this legislation for flat-dwellers in private rented accommodation where the rates are included as part payment in rent and people are without any kind of fixed tenure. Dublin south-east is probably the constituency with the largest number of flat-dwellers. The vast majority of them—and I am sure Deputy Moore would validate this—are people who rent flats, mostly furnished flats, on a weekly or monthly basis, though there is an increasing number of one-year leases. Most of the people who should get the benefit from the abolition of domestic rates have weekly tenancies in private rented accommodation.
As Deputy Fitzpatrick said earlier, the reality is that these people move house so frequently that there is no way they will be able, when this Bill becomes law, to go back to a place in which they were previously tenants on 1 November and claim some kind of payment from the landlord. There is no way they will be able to pursue this effectively in the courts. In many cases the cost of collection of the relief would be far higher than the relief itself. Who are the Government trying to con with this section? They have taken a long time to draft this legislation. For some inexplicable reason the most scarce biological species in this island appears to be a parliamentary draftsman and ours have been wasted in drafting this legal nonsense. It is a fallacy to place the onus for collecting this benefit on a student or a young girl who has recently started work in Dublin.
The political realities of promises made during an election campaign, which they did not expect to win, frequently veer away from what can be delivered. In this instance I would seriously urge the Government to abandon this section altogether and to give a clear indication that legislation will be brought in this year establishing a rents tribunal to protect the interests of tenants, flat-dwellers in particular. That would be the honest and correct thing to do. That would be proper housing policy, for which the Minister has overall responsibility. The benefit of a rents  tribunal to which many flat-dwellers do not advert is that it would secure the rights of landlords, some of which are frequently abused, and have a positive effect on the housing stock over all and would be a far more effective way of giving real substance to the manifesto promise than the proposals in this section.
I have covered all the areas I wanted to cover at this stage. As I indicated at the outset, this is a long and complex Bill which will require much detailed debate on Committee Stage. I should be glad if the Minister would give some response to the requests for factual information contained in my remarks. The Labour Party will be putting down a series of amendments and we will be looking for considerable time because there are so many complex and detailed provisions in this Bill which will require a lot of clarification and elaboration by the Minister before any serious comment can be made by me.
Mr. Moore: I regret that such a partisan stand has been taken on this Bill by Deputies Fitzpatrick and Quinn. This Bill is related to the red-letter day in our history when rates were abolished. I would ask both these Deputies whether they would restore rates on private dwellings if, by some mischance, they were back in power. This is a question they must answer. If in some election campaign one party were so cruel as to quote the speeches made here this evening it would be pointed out to people that the Government had to fight this Bill through the House in order that people would be given relief from rates.
Deputy Fitzpatrick quoted the Fianna Fáil manifesto in regard to the abolition of rates. For many years people from all parties have called for the abolition of rates and some years ago a body was set up which commented that the rating system was inequitable and should be replaced. Fianna Fáil have done that but we have Deputy Quinn alleging that we have destroyed local democracy. The rating system had been in existence for hundreds of years and it is stupid to suggest that it interferes with local democracy to abolish such a heavy  burden on young people endeavouring to own their own homes and on old people living alone on fixed incomes. We have this hypocritical cry tonight linking the abolition of rates with a negation of local democracy. People laughed their way to the polling booths to vote for Fianna Fáil who had promised to abolish rates on private dwellings. I challenge Deputy Fitzpatrick and Deputy Quinn to get up on a public platform and defend their attitude in this respect.
We all know cases of young couples who when they had to pay rates were unable to keep on their houses which were repossessed by the local authorities; those people would be given inferior accommodation. The only negation of democracy that I see is when Deputies come in here to our national parliament to try to mislead the people with their cries about negation of local democracy. They barely merit comment because their case is absurd.
Local authorities still have an important role to play. In this context we must remember that rates on industrial and commercial undertakings are still in existence. Local democracy must carry with it social justice and that is what Fianna Fáil had been applying in this Bill. I suppose it is as well that Labour and Fine Gael Deputies have been saying these things because it will show the people where they stand.
Not alone have the Government abolished rates on private houses but they have also taken the burden from secondary schools. In the past those schools had rates levied on them. In those days they catered for the wealthier sections of the community and they could afford to pay the rates. That day has gone and it is only right that those schools should get this relief. I feel quite sure that in their hearts the Opposition agree with the abolition of rates but they do not like to see the Government get the kudos.
As I have said, there is still plenty of work for the local authorities to do. The Government have issued a White Paper on the subject and I should like to see more young people entering local politics where they can get expert knowledge on housing, planning and other such important matters. I deplore  the fact that Fine Gael and Labour have tried to downgrade the importance of local politics. It has been said that the Government have been starving the local authorities of finance. In my local authority there has been an 11 per cent increase in the Government's allocation. Whether the taxation is local or national, it is the people who pay it anyway and it is more equitable to spread the taxation load more widely.
There are still organisations who are outside the scope of this legislation, for instance, the boy scouts. They are still forced to pay rates on their dens. We will have more to say on this on Committee Stage but I should like to see such centres relieved of rates.
An important section of people who are suffering despite the merits of this Bill are the flatdwellers. I know of many good, honest landlords, who have remitted the rates on the amount of rent being paid by flatholders, but there are other people who would be described in England as “Rachmanites” who are refusing to give any relief to the unfortunate people who are forced to live in their flats. It should go out from here that the Government are determined to ensure that flatdwellers will be given the relief which has been given to those of us who are fortunate enough to own our own houses. We should warn these landlords that we will not hesitate to introduce legislation which will bring them to their senses and give justice to all, to young people, boys and girls from the country who come to the city to work and are being penalised by some unscrupulous landlords who refuse to give them any of the relief they themselves will enjoy under this Bill.
Mr. Moore: We must ensure that this lesson is brought home to the landlords. I want to emphasise that the majority of landlords are acting quite decently. Those who are not acting decently and those who are inflicting suffering on many people both young and old in this city must learn that lesson. Each week people come to public representatives to complain about the conditions of their  flats. That is bad enough, but then the landlords try to squeeze the last penny out of them. A large proportion of the area I represent could be called flatland. Therefore I know what I am talking about. When one visits these flats one can see that, because of the high rents charged, many young people have to sit in dingy rooms at night and the landlord refuses to give any relief to them.
It is not necessary to appeal to decent landlords and perhaps appealing to the other type of landlord will not bear much fruit. We must let them know that, in the interests of social justice, we are prepared to take such steps as are necessary to give relief to their tenants. This might be a tough job, but it would be well worth doing and the thanks we would receive from the flatdwellers would be an adequate reward for our efforts.
I appeal to Fine Gael and Labour speakers to back the Government on this Bill. They are saying to the landlords: “This Bill is not for real. It is not effective.” We know it is. Fine Gael and Labour speakers should say: “We are for this Bill. We are against unscrupulous landlords who are exploiting their tenants and we will do everything to ensure that the provisions of this Bill are implemented in the interests of social justice.” That is what abolishing the rates is all about. For years some of us believed the rates should go, and at last it happened. When I was a city councillor ratepayers' parties agitated for relief of rates but they never dreamed they would see the abolition of the system. Bernard Shaw spoke of people who saw things and asked why. The Government saw things and asked why not.
It was suggested that we are trying to undermine local government. The man in the street does not believe that. I cannot see what the great change is. The council will still strike a rate, admittedly a much smaller rate, on commercial and industrial property. That is still a reserved function. I would ask Members of this House who are members of a local authority: have their powers been  curbed since rates were taken off houses?
Mr. Moore: We will leave culture to the Members over there who are culture vultures. Reading a report of a meeting of Dublin Corporation yesterday, culture was sadly missing. They attacked one another.
Mr. Moore: If the city council had applied for more money last year they probably would have got it. Many city councillors wanted to show off what great people they were by getting grants for various organisations, and whether they were cultural or not did not matter. Deputy Mitchell was being facetious when he said the powers of members of the city council were being curbed. They are not being curbed in any way.
Mr. Moore: In the final analysis central Government always had the final decision on local taxation. A few years ago the council were abolished for not striking a rate. I also read that a previous Government of a different hue abolished the city council because they were employing too many men. By its very nature local government has always  been subject to the central Government. There is no difference now that the rates have been abolished. The powers of the local authorities have not been diminished.
I hope that, when the Government present a White Paper on local government, councillors will have a new role to play. They will be initiating bodies and this benevolent Government will ensure that the money is available to carry out their plans. When the local authorities pass a resolution to spend more money and when the Government give them that money, they can be happy in the knowledge that the poor pensioner or the young married couple trying to buy a house will not have to provide it. The money will come from the Central Fund through taxation and the heavier burden will fall on the shoulders of those best able to bear it. The rates system was inequitable. If a house owner could not pay, the sheriff went in and took some of the furniture and that furniture was ultimately sold to pay the rates. Some local representatives seemed quite happy about that kind of democracy. The rates were being collected even at the price of breaking up homes.
This enlightened Government have abolished rates and householders no longer have to meet this growing burden. Remember, it was a growing burden because the rates increased every year. Where a householder was providing himself with a house with the aid of an SDA loan and failed to pay his rates the local authority repossessed the house and transferred the householder and his family, or possibly an elderly couple, to an inferior dwelling somewhere else. Of course, these people would still have to pay rates. We actually penalised people who tried to help themselves by providing themselves with houses. That system has gone and even though people still have their problems they do not have to meet the burden of everincreasing rates. One can imagine how useful that money is from the point of  view of helping to clothe the family, buy school books, and so on.
In contrast to rates, taxation is an equitable system because the burden is equitably placed. The millionaire living in a large house valued many years ago might pay the same rates as the young couple buying a house with the help of an SDA loan. How could anyone lament the abolition of the rates on private dwellings? This is one of the most enlightened Bills ever to come before this House. I do not claim we have a monopoly of concern for social justice, but we were concerned about the rates burden and we were determined to do something about it. If anyone campaigns to bring back the rates we will certainly oppose him and Opposition Deputies would be very foolish to pursue that kind of campaign—
Mr. Moore: Deputy Mitchell was not here to hear Deputy Quinn—indeed, his not being here showed his wisdom—and another speaker who deplored the abolition of the rates because, they argued, it meant less power for local administrators. I am convinced the two Members who argued in that fashion have not done their homework. I compliment the Minister and the Government on this Bill. It is only part of the total programme directed towards improving the financing of local authorities. There was a somewhat specious argument advanced that because rates will not be administered by local authorities we will somehow lose out. The members of the Government are in public life. They know what the people want and, if we can afford them, the people's demands will be met. We have started with the abolition of the rates.
Recently in another country I was asked how it was we had managed to abolish rates. My questioner was very intrigued and I am convinced that across the channel they will examine our system here with a view to doing exactly the same thing in their country. Everybody can see how enlightened this Bill is. I cannot understand why there should be any adverse criticism. We  have not taken power away from local representatives. We have abolished rates on private dwellings. Everybody must appreciate the wisdom of that. Indeed, it is a pity it was not done years ago. While most parties paid lip service to this, it was this Government which actually brought in legislation to get rid of the rates burden.
When rates were introduced we had a different society. At that time owners who paid direct rates were members of the wealthier classes who could afford to pay. Society changed. At one time the word “ratepayer” was synonymous with a wealthy person but that has changed in the last 20 years. When rates were first introduced they probably served a purpose but as society changed they became a penal form of taxation and had to go.
It has been said that before the general election we promised to abolish rates in order to get votes. We put a programme before the people and this is but a part of it. By their votes the people endorsed many other points in our manifesto and I know they would endorse them again tomorrow morning if they were given the opportunity.
If the Opposition want to criticise the Bill that is their privilege and obligation, but they should not try to spoil a good Bill by implying that this is the death knell of local democracy. This evening one speaker went so far as to say that the housing drive would be held up because of this. That is not true.
Mr. Moore: I remember a Minister in a previous Government, not a Fianna Fail Government, saying that when they left office there were too many houses but we corrected him and said that there  were too few people because of massive emigration.
I support this Bill and look forward to Committee Stage. I congratulate the Minister because to him goes this honour, which was denied to other Ministers, of introducing the Bill which abolishes rates on private dwellings. This has earned him the blessings, prayers and thanks of countless thousands of former ratepayers.
Mr. W. O'Brien: I take this opportunity to welcome the abolition of domestic rates. At the start of his speech Deputy Moore posed the question: in the event of the return of a Coalition Government, would we reimpose rates? Not alone have we made up our minds about that, but we were the first Government to abolish 25 per cent of the existing rates. Deputy Moore spoke as if Fianna Fáil had come into power for the first time. He said rates should have been abolished long ago.
Three days before the 1973 General Election an article appeared in the Limerick Leader from a then Minister saying it was not possible to abolish rates. The same night the then Taoiseach made a statement that rates would be abolished. I realise that that happened because Fianna Fáil were feeling jittery because after 16 years in office they had not done anything about rates. We are  being asked to give our views on rates. We have made them very clear. In four and a half years—and there was a recession for three and a half years of that time—we removed health charges from the rates and took away housing subsidies. It may be said that in spite of that rates increased. Taking into consideration the years of recession, in my view that was a big achievement.
The crucial question in all local authorities is finance. In a paper published prior to the general election it was made very clear that the independence of local authorities would not be interefered with in any way. I must comment on those words “any way”. It is quite clear that that promise has been abandoned and the replacement of rates by a grant has put a new set of controls on local authorities. We all remember the 11 per cent which tied down local authorities. Never in our history did local authority personnel and members feel more embarrassment and frustration than they did when trying to reach an estimate in a straitjacket. One of the virtues of local government was the rates variation from area to area. Different authorities had different problems and to solve these problems they had to strike different rates. They often increased rates to provide services which would be spread over a number of years.
I can understand the Minister for the Environment saying that he who pays the piper calls the tune—and the Department are paying in excess of 60 per cent—but I do not think he should call the tune for the full 100 per cent. The Government are the agents for distributing taxpayers' money. It is only fair that local authorities should be protected.
Section 11 worries me more than any other section. It compels local authority managers to get permission from the Minister for any increased expenditure. I do not think that should be necessary because while waiting for sanction legal problems could arise. We all know from experience that it could take a very long time to get the Department's sanction. That is wrong. Over the years local authorities have been consistent. I am sure no manager would spend cash unless  it was absolutely necessary. That is a section that should be examined in the interests of local authorities.
It is said in the Minister's introductory remarks that the abolition of the domestic rate neither directly nor indirectly will interfere with or transfer any of the rates to local authorities or other ratepayers. That is not correct. By virtue of the reduction of the ceiling for agricultural grants the agricultural community are at present making a very high contribution. It may be argued that we are speaking about the domestic rate but I am speaking about rates in general. The money that is supposed to be involved in the abolition of domestic rates is not realistic when one bears in mind the subsidy from the agricultural community. That is something on which the Government have misled the people. In no small way it helped to return them to power.
Local authorities should not be in the straitjacket in which they now find themselves. They should have more freedom. There was nothing unusual about any public representative approaching, say, a county engineer or county manager pointing out some small service needed in an area caused by storm damage, heavy rain and so on. At present there is no use in any public representative approaching such people because there is no money in the kitty for such services. Deputy Moore argued the point that their powers were not being eroded. If public representatives meet to strike a rate and are told “You cannot exceed a certain figure”, is that not placing them, the manager and staff in a straitjacket?
When we abolished 25 per cent of the rates there were no ties attached, good, bad or indifferent; it was a clear-cut abolition. Local authorities had the same powers and democracy they had always enjoyed. There is a different approach in this Bill. In my opinion it was not necessary to curtail local government. It is not without some significance that many county managers throughout the country are about to leave. It would be a very bad day for the country if the managerial system were eroded. Were I the Minister I would be inclined to ask  myself what is wrong, because there are many things wrong.
At present in any local authority of which I have knowledge—here I speak of my own more than any other—the Department have not notified the manager exactly where they will stand for 1979. The estimates for that year should be about to be discussed. Nevertheless, they do not know where they stand—whether it will be £9 million, £11 million, £12 million, £13 million or £15 million. I should be grateful if the Minister, when replying, would tell us whether local authorities will be notified in the near future as to how much they may expect for 1979. I would suggest further that the situation can be redeemed before it is too late. The Minister should establish some kind of commission to inquire into the future financing of local authorities, one not composed of civil servants or of local officials. Rather I would suggest one composed of a number of people from outside that arena altogether. I hope this Government will not kill local government as we knew it and replace it with a Department controlled from the centre.
I should make it clear that I welcome the abolition of the domestic rate. I always believed it to be an unjustifiable form of taxation. Indeed it was a pity it took so long for a Government so long in power to discover how unjust it was. However, at any stage its abolition can be regarded as a step in the right direction. I hope local authorities will be no longer held in their straitjackets.
Mr. Callanan: I had not intended speaking on this Bill but, having listened to so many inconsistencies, I thought I should intervene as somebody who might have reservations about the complete abolition of domestic rates on all houses. Therefore, perhaps I can speak more independently than others. I cannot understand the attitude of speakers from the other side of the House who say we must have local democracy as strong as it was before but we must not have any money coming from local authorities. One cannot have it both ways. Those have been my reservations over the years. We said we would abolish domestic rates gradually but the  cry of everybody in the country is to have them abolished. There was a small minority who wanted them taken off perhaps in a different way. But we know from the reception given the Fianna Fáil Manifesto that everybody wanted local rates abolished. I have often said that everybody cannot be out of step except old Johnny.
I remember years ago when everybody spoke about the burden of rates. I was not a Member of this House at the time but I made the suggestion that rates should be levied on houses on the ability of the business man or farmer to pay. At that time the average valuation of a small house built was £6. I suggested that on a small £20 valuation farm, or on a very small business, £2 only should be valued for rates purposes and, as one went up the scale, the full rate should go on the house. That was not accepted at that time. Apparently the general consensus since has been to abolish rates completely. I will row in with my party but I have reservations about abolishing rates on mansions and that type of property. It should be remembered that when the health services were taken from the local authorities the authority was taken from them at that time also. They were not able to bear it, but they accepted it. We should remember the old saying that the man who pays the piper is entitled to call the tune. No matter what we do, how we change the system, the fact is that money talks all kinds of languages. If the general taxpayer is providing the money for a county council and I am not contributing the majority of the money myself I am not entitled to as much say in how much I expend. We were very hard hit in my area by the Minister imposing the 11 per cent last year. We would have had enough but for certain changes that were made in the housing system by the previous Government which left us with a deficit and we found it difficult to live within the 11 per cent.
There are not as may ratepayers on the county council now as there were. Every other member of the council is not a ratepayer and if one is not paying the money there might be a tendency for one  county council to be reasonable and to ensure that they would not overdo the expenditure and, on the other hand, there might be another county council that will say “We are not paying it anyway” and spend a lot of money. This is the logic of the whole thing. One cannot have it both ways. If one had a county council that spent too much and got away with it this year there would be a rat race the following year as to who would strike the highest rate if there were not some direction or control from the Minister when he is providing the cash. Also, the amount of rates which has to be collected at local level is relatively small. Another thing I am worried about is relief of rates. I know this can be appealed and some appeals have been successful. In regard to the apportioning of rates as between business premises and domestic dwellings, where the business is very small this is sometimes a hardship and if this continued to appear to rise indiscriminately, the small business person could be paying more rates now than he was before rates were abolished at all. These are the problems which we have.
The Minister has implemented the manifesto exactly as it is. I am only giving the reservations I have about the whole question of having as much authority as before but at the same time getting no money. We are just codding ourselves if we think this is feasible. There is no good in getting up here and making speeches and giving us full authority to do what we like but at the same time telling us “Do not ask us to pay anything”. This will not work no matter what the system of government, I have reservations about this whole question but I accept the decision of my party who put forward the manifesto. The Minister lived up to the manifesto and that is that.
In regard to the question of channelling the relief to the right people I would appeal to the Minister to devise some system whereby the benefits of the abolition of rates would be passed on to the flatdwellers. I do not agree with Deputy Fitzpatrick that it cannot be done. This is the only snag now, to make sure that the relief which the Minister has granted on rates on housing is passed on to the  people who are in occupation of the houses. These are the important things at the moment.
The question of rates on social centres and halls was mentioned. Something should be done about that. I would ask the Minister to consider this matter. I come from a county where these halls are not able to pay rates. The trend is to the towns and to the big commercial ballrooms. These halls, which are a great place for meeting and as social centres, were not able to pay the rates. In many counties—and there are several cases in my own county—the rates were £150 or £160. There have been cases in my county and in many other counties where these halls could not meet the rates and the county manager did not want to sell the hall and he accepted a sum on account and the rest was carried forward as arrears. As a result some of these halls are as much as £500 or £600 in arrears even after the rates have been abolished. I would ask the Minister to strike out the arrears and leave these halls to survive, because that is all they are able to do, and to provide an amenity which is very important in rural Ireland today. This is a Committee Stage Bill and some of the speakers from the far side dealt with the building of houses and you allowed them to do so.
Mr. Callanan: It amuses me that you allowed them to be out of order because I have stood here begging that the income level to qualify for loans be raised. A man can get £9,000 now and the interest on this is sky high but this is preventing people from building private houses.
Mr. Callanan: I will try to keep in order. I will not delay much longer. I may have personal views but whatever decision my party make I will stick by  that decision. I cannot understand the attitude of people who say we must do away with rates, we must do away with paying local authorities but we must leave them the full authority they had when they were paid it all. That is not on. That is why I spoke on this Bill this evening. If I stop paying in my own business and I get some other fellow up the road to lend me the money to pay it, is that fellow not going to have a say in the way I spend it? Unless the whole system is changed that is the way things go and we have to accept that these are the facts of life and discuss the Bill to get the amendments into it to try to get this Bill perfected so that the people for whom it was intended will get the benefit of it.
Mr. J. Ryan: From this side of the House I welcome many aspects of this Local Government (Financial Provisions) Bill, 1977. In my opinion if it is not amended to some extent it will mean the destruction of the local authorities and the powers of urban and county councils as we have known them for years. I had the privilege and honour last month of representing my town at the Municipal Authorities' Conference in Sligo when approximately 250 delegates attended a three-day discussion on matters pertaining to local authorities. I can say without fear of contradiction that the most prolonged and lively discussion at the conference was on this Bill. In all we dealt with 13 motions from many parts of the country. Right across the political divide there was dissatisfaction and disagreement with many sections of the Bill. For the first time since the establishment of the municipal authorities the Minister did not think it worth his while to attend or to send his Minister of State to attend the conference. We were blandly told that the Minister was on holidays.
The stated aim of the Government in relation to reorganisation generally, is to afford everyone a greater opportunity of participating in decisions affecting their own community. The aim of any reorganisation would be to achieve a local government structure giving the greatest possible degree of satisfaction to the public generally. The question of reorganisation is at present under examination in the Department.
In bearing the cost of relief of domestic and certain other rates from 1978, the Exchequer is now providing almost two-thirds of the current income of local authorities. The placing of an upper limit on the rate in the £ is an effective way of co-ordinating both  local and national expenditure in that it protects the interests of both the Exchequer and the remaining ratepayers while preserving a strong local government system. The imposition of the limit does not reduce in any way the existing discretion of local authorities to determine their own priorities for expenditure within the rate in the £ they strike.
Approximately ten years ago Deputy Molloy, the then Minister for Local Government, made strenous efforts to eliminate town councils, small urban district councils and to regionalise adjacent county councils, despite all the lip-service over the years to giving democratic responsibility and power to the people in the election of their representatives at local level. Fortunately, that Minister had not got sufficient time to implement his ideas. Deputy James Tully, the man who replaced him, being a man of the people involved in the local authority over the years, dropped the idea completely, leaving the power with the local authorities.
The change of the name of the Department of Local Government to the Department of the Environment is significant and ominous. If this Bill is fully implemented it will mean the centralisation of power in Dublin, and the Custom House will have a stranglehold on all local authority activities. As it stands this Bill is restrictive and dictatorial and there is little respect in it for the tremendous work done over the years by members of local authorities. If rural Ireland is to survive the challenge of the eighties it is essential that we continue to have strong democratic power at local level. This can only be achieved by the continued independence of local authorities.
I support the abolition of rates for those who cannot afford to pay them. The rating system was unfair and it made no allowance for people who were not in a position to pay. But in abolishing the rates hundreds and possibly thousands of people have benefitted by sums of four figures. People with luxury homes valued at about £60,000 have gained by those amounts. I was at a meeting recently where it was pointed out that the VEC scholarships had been  cut by half. Surely this is a scandal and a waste of money for political expediency. It is disappointing that scholarships, the mainstay of education, have been cut while at the same time luxury homes are free of rates.
It was made clear by several speakers in Sligo that a vicious revaluation programme is being implemented at the moment by the Valuation Office on small businesses, which will more than offset the loss in revenue brought about by the abolition of rates. This has been denied by the Department, but I take the word of two eminent members of the Municipal Conference who gave details of houses and business premises in their towns for which £400 or £500 more will have to be paid next year.
The most iniquitous part of this Bill is the intended abolition of section 11 of the County Management Act of 1955, which in mid-term allowed the county manager, in conjunction with either the urban district council or the county council the power to exceed the estimate for that year for emergency schemes, which could be carried forward to the following year. The terms outlined now mean that scheme is no longer an emergency scheme because it must be submitted to the Minister and to the Custom House before it can be implemented. As far as local authorities and local democracy is concerned this is the centre point of this debate. If the Government are concerned for local democracy this part must be deleted without further dissent or discussion.
I am proud to be and to have been a member of a local authority for the past 22 years. From my experience in both urban and county councils I have nothing but the highest respect and admiration for all who served on these councils throughout that period. Our common concern is the betterment of the people. We spent several days each year at our estimates meeting ensuring in a responsible manner the proper use of the money available from rates. In conjunction with the Department of Local Government housing was provided for the needy and the necessary infrastructure was laid on to ensure that our people were contented in the accommodation provided for them.
 We always co-operated with the county managers and the senior executives who at all times worked towards improving the lot of our people. What will happen if section 11 is abolished? Local authorities will be hamstrung by the senior officials in the Custom House. I cannot accept the ministerial promises of preserving a strong local government system. No one who has been involved in local authorities will accept this situation as being true. This Bill will sound the deathknell of local democratic power and the eventual destruction of all local authorities. County councils will become just like the health advisory committees, just talking shops.
The up-to-date situation at local level in my situation is that our programme for 1978 is a very provisional programme because unless a section 11 is allowed and sanctioned by the Minister for a sum of money for a wage productivity agreement accepted during the past couple of months, many schemes will have to be shelved until 1980. Where can one see, in this type of thinking, the Government's so-called employment concern? This serious situation is causing grave concern and unease among the senior executives of our county council. They are anxious to ensure continuity of roads and ancilliary programmes and consequential employment but they cannot budget their programme properly without the needed revenue or without the continuing power of section 11.
We speak as one on our council when we say that any interference with this important section will be to the detriment of our people and to the continued good working of our local authorities. Ireland cannot be governed or dictated to by the Custom House. As local representatives, we appreciate the needs of our people. It is the duty of the Government and of the Minister concerned—a man who comes from rural Ireland—to ensure that section 11 is allowed to stand. The Government say that they represent the plain people of Ireland. Let them prove their genuineness by ensuring that democracy at local level continues. They can do this by amending this Bill and allowing section 11 to stand.
Mr. Briscoe: The obvious outrage of the Opposition that has been manifested in this debate so far stems from jealousy. They are jealous because we implemented our promise to remove rates from private dwellings despite the Opposition's claim that we would not and could not be successful in regard to this promise. So outraged are the people opposite that the last speaker referred to the Minister having had the cheek to take two week's holidays which prevented him from attending a conference. This is typical of the Opposition's attitude.
The bill before us is one of the finest pieces of legislation ever to come before the House. As Deputy Moore said, the curse of rates on private house owners where incomes were not taken into consideration and where a waiver was granted only in real hardship cases, resulted in people having to sell their houses when their families had grown up and left home. People will not forget that it was Fianna Fáil who abolished rates on private dwellings. It is said that eaten bread is soon forgotten, but I am convinced that at the time of the next local elections the people will indicate their appreciation of what we have done in this area.
Mr. Briscoe: This is typical of the kind of inaccurate statement one hears from the Opposition. On Dublin Corporation, where Fianna Fáil have only 15 members, we have listened to Opposition councillors state time and again that local democracy has gone. I should like to tell those Deputies who are very sensitive to hearing facts that, in lieu of rates collected heretofore from private dwellings, the Minister gives a lump sum from the Exchequer and that the spending of that money is a matter for the local authorities.
Last year we gave £290,000, or an increase of £30,000 on the previous year, to the community and environment department by way of a grant towards community buildings. We give grants to community associations for people who organise community weeks and in respect of the building of community halls the corporation give £15,000.
Mr. Briscoe: If a community hall is costing, say, £40,000 the corporation give a maximum of £15,000. Last year we allocated £50,000 to the cultural committee. This was for grants for cultural activity and this year we shall be able to increase this amount from our budget.
When he removed rates from private dwellings the Minister made it clear that the money that would be provided in lieu by the Exchequer would be in line with the rate of inflation plus a little extra. This year Dublin Corporation got an increase of 11 per cent. When all the money for grants in respect of cultural activities had been expended the relevant committee sought extra money from the Minister but their request was not met and they were told that they must keep within budgetary limits. When we removed rates we did not tell local authorities that they could spend as much as they wished. There must be a limit to the amount of money that a local authority can spend. When we have a situation in Dublin Corporation, where out of a total of 45 members, 30 are of political persuasions other than Fianna Fáil, it is in the interest of those other members to embarrass the Government by spending money as if there were no limit to the amount available.
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