Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Bill, 1983: Committee Stage (resumed) and Final Stages.

Wednesday, 22 June 1983

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 343 No. 11

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Debate resumed on amendment No.2:

In page 3, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following subsection:—

“(4) The making of a charge under the provisions of this section shall be a reserved function exercisable directly by the elected members of the local authority concerned.”.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  We have argued our case substantially already on the first amendment and the Chair allowed an extensive wide-ranging discussion on it. Our second amendment deals specifically with our suggestion that the making of the charges be a reserved function of elected members. The House, taking into consideration all the views expressed, has clearly indicated its agreement that the making of the charges should be a reserved function of members of local authorities. To substantiate that I will highlight speeches made by Fine Gael Members. Labour Party backbenchers were silent on this matter and did not contribute to the debate. They seem to ignore this important legislation. Deputy A. Doyle, as reported in Volume 343 at column 303 of the Official Report, said:

I object strongly to the general principle of the Bill which makes the raising of these local charges an executive function of managers and not a reserved function of elected members. The whole principle of local government appears to be at stake. The Bill appears to be largely a matter of convenience to ensure the collection of these charges. It does not accord with [2716] any general principle. It reserves to the manager exclusively the right to impose such charges as well as the amount to be paid in any one year.

At column 317 of the Official Report of 1 June Deputy R. Bruton said:

In the setting of the structure of charges local representatives have an expertise that is second to none in deciding on what is the most appropriate structure. It is not acceptable that that decision be handed over to the manager once the councillors have decided an overall level.

The same Deputy at column 383 said:

I also regretted the fact that democratic local control is being frustrated by making the charges an executive function.

Deputy Owen, at column 405 said:

I agree with what Deputy Seán Walsh and other speakers have said, that making these charges an executive function of managers is regrettable from the point of view of local councillors.

Deputy Kenny, at column 427 said:

I have some doubts about the county managers having absolute rights in relation to the amount of charges to be introduced. This will be seen in some cases as an erosion of powers of local authority members.

Deputy Farrelly, at column 433, said:

I would be very reluctant to see county managers having this absolute power in the years to come. I am totally against such legislation.

Deputy Keating, who made a more qualified type of contribution — it was very difficult to know where he stood — at column 440 said:

I look forward to the day when elected representatives will be able to assume more control and responsibility, perhaps eventually extending into this area. But this is not the day on which that should happen because the [2717] councillors are not equipped at present to assume such responsibilities.

On that basis alone Deputy Keating's contribution should be dismissed. The House can see, however, that Deputy Keating agreed that the responsibility should be given to elected councillors although he felt they had not matured enough at present, a strange allegation for him to make and one which he denied and contradicted in other parts of his contribution. Those quotations sum up the Fine Gael point of view but we did not hear anything from the Labour Party backbenchers. The Minister and the Minister of State said that if it was the wish of Members that this power be a reserved function of elected members of county councils in the future they might agree to it. Why are they ignoring the expressed wishes of Members who have made a contribution to the debate? My other reasons for moving the amendment have been outlined.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  After a period of time I would like to see the structural charges being a reserved function of county councillors but one must recognise that there is a difficulty in the year of introduction in having a set of charges put through in a short period. The control councillors have in the first year is, appropriately, over the overall revenue to be raised by them. What does a reserved function in relation to deciding the structure of rates mean? I do not believe it means that half-way through the year councillors can decide they do not accept certain elements of the structural charges and that those are knocked out without compensating finance being found somewhere else. The reservation of authority by county councillors to decide the structure of the water rate or whatever rate it may be will only come into effect at the time the general estimates are being struck. I am coming round to the view that, maybe, with the present legislation, provided councillors use the system sensibly, when it comes up to estimates time, they will bear in mind that when they strike the overall level for the particular charge [2718] in question, they are effectively accepting the structure of charges the manager is proposing. It is open to them to point out to the manager that they will not accept the overall target he is proposing to them unless it is amended in the direction they require. Perhaps the Minister will be able to confirm that with these powers the councillors will almost have an effective reserved function in this area. If the Minister can confirm that to us I feel Deputy Molloy's amendment is no longer necessary.

There is another area where I am anxious about the charges, that is protection for the consumer. Not only is there a requirement of local autonomy but I believe, quite apart from the democratic control, there is a need for protection of the consumer who will have to pay the charges at the end of the day. I strongly urge the Minister to give consideration — perhaps not by amending the legislation but in the way in which it is put into practice in the county councils — to having a system where there is a management unit set up for any area where the charge is being levied. If there is to be a charge there will be a specific area of responsibility, there will be an annual debate on issues such as the quality of the service being provided, the increased costs in that service and the improvements the council hope to make with part of the money being raised through the charges. We cannot expect that all of the money will go to improvements. The local authorities cannot do that at the moment because of their difficulties.

The consumer needs a guarantee that increases in charges will be considered always in the context of the quality of service being provided, the cost of the service being provided and so on. If consumers do not have that they can rightly point to the local authorities and tell them that what they have brought in is not a charge for services but a flat levy regardless of the quality of the service or the cost of the service being provided. That would be flying in the face of all we have argued about when people on both sides of the House advocated the introduction of local charges. I am very concerned that managers might look on this as a [2719] revenue-raising function solely and not look at the consumer interest at the same time.

Another virtue of a system where there is an annual debate and a discussion of the specific service involved is that we could move towards what economists regard as the function of a charge, to get maximum efficiency from the service concerned. I am worried that a lot of councils will look on the right to levy charges as a system of putting a flat rate per house for this, that or the other. That would be contrary to what we want to achieve on the economic side in imposing charges. Any economic justification for a charge is that it will eliminate waste and lead to more efficient use of the resource. For example, in relation to refuse, such a charge would obviously be related to the amount of refuse that a person requires the council to dispose of and not to the fact that he has one premises. If he is able to save on refuse he should be encouraged to do so. I hope, when these charges are being implemented, that the Minister will issue guidelines to local authorities to see that an economically sensible system of charges is brought in and not simply a revenue-raising system. During Second Stage I cited some examples of what I have in mind there, such as off-peak pricing and so on where the councils will have scope to greatly improve their management through the implementation of these charges and not just simply raise revenue.

Mr. G. Brady: Information on Gerard Brady  Zoom on Gerard Brady  I would like to raise a few points. Is it the Minister's intention to make these charges mandatory? I must be given a direct answer to that question because the imposition of charges for particular services opens up the entire question about anybody else providing a similar or better service. I am speaking now of private enterprise entering the field. How does the Minister view participation of that kind? We could take the question of refuse, certainly in Dublin city, as an example. Many areas leave a lot to be desired as far as the quality of service provided is concerned. There are huge areas of the city, which are flatland areas, [2720] which are in a deplorable condition primarily because we do not have a twice-weekly bin collection service. If some private firm can offer a service of that kind is it the Minister's intention to say that the private firm cannot do that because the State is actually providing the service even though private enterprise can provide such a service at less cost and more efficiently? If on one road half-a-dozen people want to avail of the private service and others on the road do not want to avail of the local authority service, what happens?

This is a very important point in relation to the question of a mandatory charge. I know there is provision in the waiver section but what if people cannot actually afford consistently to avail of the service? At the moment, we are living in very stringent economic times where people's income can vary even during the year whereas the waiver scheme applies on an annual basis. How can charges be justified in a case like that?

I have always regarded the imposition of a water charge as deplorable. I know it operates in some local authorities throughout the country. It is akin to a fresh air tax when you start taxing for water. How does the Minister propose to do this? Does he propose to do it by a meter charge or does he propose to have a carte blanche levy of so much per household? If the Minister proposes to have a charge per household, what if the water pressure in that household is of very poor quality? Has a resident or a householder any way under this legislation to claim a refund if the quality of the service does not measure up to a consistent level?

When we think of local charges we should be clear in our minds about where competition enters the field. Once the private enterprise element is stifled, people will have financial hardship inflicted on them or they will take means which none of us would like to see happen such as the indiscriminate dumping of refuse. I see the Minister nodding his head. This time last year I put a lot of work into the Litter Act and to this day I am horrified at the non-implementation of that Act in Dublin city. I realise the difficulties of the Minister but if charges [2721] are imposed for the collection of refuse which people cannot pay, unless they can opt out of such a service there will be indiscriminate dumping of refuse irrespective of the 1982 Act. I have to say that it is not being enforced to its maximum effect.

On the question of water charges, unless the water is metered, what is to stop a person from siphoning off a water supply from some other address and opting out of the charge? I do not wish to put ideas into the Minister's mind——

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  It is not my mind I am worried about.

Mr. G. Brady: Information on Gerard Brady  Zoom on Gerard Brady  I think everybody should be concerned about their mental adroitness on a continuing basis. We know that ESB meters are tampered with and that people siphon off electricity because they cannot afford to pay the charges or for other devious means. Unless there is some form of metering which would be more equitable for people who are economical in their use of resources we will impose hardship on people. Irrespective of the lukewarm assurances we have been given by city councillors, I think the situation will be that the amount in question will be divided between a certain number of households. That is outrageous. The matter should be examined critically and I ask the Minister to consider it.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Are we discussing section 2 or section 3? The points being made by Deputy Brady probably more properly refer to the manner in which the amount will be collected.

Mr. G. Brady: Information on Gerard Brady  Zoom on Gerard Brady  I am about to finish my contribution. I listened to a considerable amount of rambling by the Deputy and I regret he made that interruption.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  It is not a question of interrupting. I wish to know if the points relate to a later section.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  That is a matter for the Chair.

[2722]Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  In the course of the discussion on this amendment I have been accused by Deputy Molloy and by others of trying to put something over the Members of this House or of having some underhand motivation. For the record I wish to clear this up and I reject it entirely. The art of misrepresentation has been clearly demonstrated in the course of Deputy Molloy's contribution. From the circular letter sent to local authorities in May he quoted a sentence to the effect that the charges function would fall to be performed by the manager. Unfortunately he saw no point in quoting the following sentence for the benefit of the House. That read:

In practice, however, the amount of revenue to be raised by charges will be determined by the estimate adopted by the elected members and it will then fall to the manager to levy charges accordingly. It is expected that managers will consult appropriately with their councils in relation to charges which are being introduced.

The position put forward in that document in no way conflicts with the position I set out to this House when introducing the measure. The basic decision is the estimates decision and it is entirely a matter for the council. The manager is bound by their decision and has discretion only within the limits of the decision made. There is nothing new in this and it should not cause confusion.

I reject out of hand the notion that I am hell-bent on taking powers from the councils. I yield to none in my commitment to the local government system and my confidence in it. I have explained how I will examine the workings of the system, both from the organisational and financial point of view, and will try to make progress where no progress has been made for many years of Fianna Fáil government in reforming the system. In the meantime, I am simply grafting on to what is already there as regards the division of responsibilities. I have the clear impression that some members of the Opposition do not want to know about this but their attitude does not alter the facts.

[2723] I have been asked to explain why I am talking about reviewing the system if there is nothing wrong with it. I have no doubt that the approach in the Bill is the appropriate one and that it will work in practice. I realise that some others do not share this view but I am sufficiently democratic in my outlook to be willing to accept that if their concerns are borne out in practice then I will change the system as I have the power to do. If the Opposition try to interpret this as meaning there are doubts in my mind, I do not accept that interpretation. I want to make it clear that I intend in the course of the restructuring of local government to have a look at the whole question of the financing of local authorities.

From my experience in a rural local authority, there has been no difficulty between the manager and members of the county council so far as relationships are concerned. By working together the councillors accepted their responsibility that certain charges must and have been levied. The amount of charges has been [2724] reasonable and I see no reason to fear that any future charges within the ambit of this Bill should move from the reasonable state we have had up to now.

I must reject out of hand the suggestions by Deputy Brady about the service being provided by private enterprise or otherwise. He said that more than one service per week is needed in flatland in Dublin. Ideally we should have as many services per week as are necessary to cope with multi-use dwellings. If the money were available the corporation would have no difficulty in providing a more frequent service. Certain points raised by Deputy Brady are more relevant to section 3 and can be more appropriately covered by that section.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  I cannot accept the Minister's explanations because they do not answer satisfactorily the points we made in this debate. I am asking that our amendment be put.

Amendment put.

Ahern, Bertie.
Ahern, Michael.
Aylward, Liam.
Barrett, Michael.
Barrett, Sylvester.
Brady, Gerard.
Brady, Vincent.
Brennan, Mattie.
Brennan, Paudge.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John.
Burke, Raphael P.
Byrne, Hugh.
Byrne, Seán.
Calleary, Seán.
Colley, George.
Collins, Gerard.
Conaghan, Hugh.
Coughlan, Cathal Seán.
Daly, Brendan.
De Rossa, Proinsias.
Fahey, Francis.
Fahey, Jackie.
Faulkner, Pádraig.
Fitzgerald, Gene. [2725]O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Edmond.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Leary, John.
O'Malley, Desmond J.
Ormonde, Donal.
Power, Paddy.
Treacy, Noel.
Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
Fitzsimons, Jim.
Flynn, Pádraig.
Foley, Denis.
Gallagher, Denis.
Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
Gregory-Independent, Tony.
Haughey, Charles J.
Hilliard, Colm.
Hyland, Liam.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael P.
Lemass, Eileen.
Lenihan, Brian.
Leonard, Jimmy.
Leyden, Terry.
Lyons, Denis.
McCarthy, Seán.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McEllistrim, Tom.
Mac Giolla, Tomás.
MacSharry, Ray.
Molloy, Robert.
Moynihan, Donal.
Nolan, M.J.
O'Dea, William. [2726]Tunney, Jim.
Wallace, Dan.
Walsh, Joe.
Walsh, Seán.
Wilson, John P.
Woods, Michael.
Wyse, Pearse.

Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Barry, Myra.
Barry, Peter.
Begley, Michael.
Bermingham, Joe.
Birmingham, George Martin.
Boland, John.
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Carey, Donal.
Cluskey, Frank.
Conlon, John F.
Connaughton, Paul.
Coogan, Fintan.
Cooney, Patrick Mark.
Cosgrave, Liam T.
Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
Coveney, Hugh.
Creed, Donal.
Crowley, Frank.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Martin Austin.
Desmond, Barry.
Desmond, Eileen.
Donnellan, John.
Dowling, Dick.
Doyle, Avril.
Doyle, Joe.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Farrelly, John V.
Fennell, Nuala.
FitzGerald, Garret.
Flanagan, Oliver J.
Glenn, Alice.
Griffin, Brendan.
Hegarty, Paddy.
Hussey, Gemma.
Kavanagh, Liam.
Keating, Michael.
Kelly, John.
Kenny, Enda.
L'Estrange, Gerry.
McCartin, Joe.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McLoughlin, Frank.
Manning, Maurice.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Jim.
Molony, David.
Moynihan, Michael.
Naughten, Liam.
Nealon, Ted.
Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
O'Brien, Fergus.
O'Brien, Willie.
O'Keeffe, Jim.
O'Leary, Michael.
O'Sullivan, Toddy.
O'Toole, Paddy.
Owen, Nora.
Prendergast, Frank.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Ryan, John.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick Joseph.
Skelly, Liam.
Spring, Dick.
Taylor, Mervyn.
Taylor-Quinn, Madeline.
Timmins, Godfrey.
Yates, Ivan.

Amendment declared lost.

Section 2 agreed to.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, before section 3, to insert the following new section:—

3.—(1) A charge made by a local authority by virtue of section 2 of this Act shall be of such amount as the authority considers appropriate and shall be payable by and recoverable from the person for whom the service is provided, or, where the service is provided in respect of premises—

[2727] (a) in case the premises are not owned by a local authority and comprise more than one dwelling, the owner of the premises, and

(b) in any other case, the occupier of the premises,

and different such charges may be made by such an authority in respect of persons, premises or services of different classes or descriptions.

(2) in this section—

“dwelling” includes a part of any premises let as a separate dwelling, whether or not the person to whom it is let shares with any other person any accommodation, amenity or facility in connection therewith or any other portion of the premises;

“owner” means, in relation to a premises, a person, other than a mortgagee not in possession, who, whether in his own right or as trustee or agent for any other person, is entitled to receive the rack rent of the premises or, where the premises are not let at a rack rent, would be so entitled if they were so let.

The purpose of this amendment is to remove doubts raised about liability to pay charges in the case of certain premises which are occupied as more than one dwelling. Problems arise as to who would be liable to pay a charge in respect of private premises which are let as a number of separate flats or apartments, and also in relation to establishing the identity of individual occupiers of such rented dwellings. It has been decided that, in the case of services provided to such premises, charges will be payable by and recoverable from the owner of the premises. This means the owners will be liable for charges for services provided to houses converted into separately let flats or bedsitting rooms and to purpose-built apartment blocks. This approach in relation to privately owned multi-dwelling premises is in line with the established and tested arrangement which operated in relation to rates on these premises. The amendment otherwise involves the [2728] restatement of what was in the original section 3.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Where a dwellinghouse has been converted into four flats and there are four separate tenants in these flats in the one dwellinghouse, the Minister has stated that the owner of the dwellinghouse shall be liable for the charges which are to be introduced by the local authority. Can the Minister clarify whether it will be the intention of the local authority to apply the charges individually to each of the four flats, or to make one charge in respect of the dwelling? I am sure the Minister will accept that even though he states the owner shall be liable to pay the charge, in practice the landlord will pass on this charge to the tenant. We already have in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and many other places many tenants living in fear of substantial increases in their rents because of the changes which have taken place in legislation recently following the court decision and the delay in the introduction of the Rents Tribunal. The courts are awarding large rent increases and in many cases elderly people find that their rent has been substantially increased. It is likely that these people will also now be faced with a separate charge from the local authorities. If there is a house with four different flats and four different tenants, will the local authority make four separate charges? The Minister says that the charges will be made to the owner. Will it be one charge for the dwelling or four charges to the owner for the dwelling? Even though the Minister says the owner will be liable, it is clear that he will pass on this charge to his tenants which will cause further problems.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  While the question of the rents in the existing situation is not within the ambit of this Bill, the Deputy is aware that legislation will be coming forward to set up the Rents Tribunal. Every member of the House shares in his concern——

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Will that legislation be introduced before the recess?

[2729]Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  As I stated on the Order of Business this morning, I hope to introduce it before the recess because of the circumstances which necessitate a Rents Tribunal.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  We will not delay it.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I am aware of that. The imposition in the example given by the Deputy is a matter for the local authority to impose a charge on the dwelling. In the case of premises which have been relet as a number of flats, the owner will have to pay one charge either at the standard rate or a multiple of the standard charge related to the number of lettings. In the majority of cases, it is reasonable that the charge should be passed on, in whole or in part, to the tenants who benefit from the service but this will depend on the circumstances and will obviously be a matter of settlement between the parties involved. The local authorities will have the discretion to take account of any hardship which might be involved and to bring the waiver provisions to the notice of the owners so that eligible tenants may benefit from them in the arrangements that would be worked out.

Mr. Calleary: Information on Seán Calleary  Zoom on Seán Calleary  Will it be a matter for the elected members of the local authority or has the manager carte blanche to get X number of pounds from a local authority and levy Y number of pounds on each domestic dwelling? We have been asking all morning if the local authority is the elected members or the county manager or town clerk?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  We have been at pains to clarify that all morning. The amendment to which we are now addressing ourselves is a stage later where the charge is being imposed. I have clarified how that will work.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  It is clear that it will be imposed by the manager and there is no point in dilly-dallying.

Mr. Wyse: Information on Pearse Wyse  Zoom on Pearse Wyse  It is becoming more and more confusing. The Minister tells us that [2730] it is a matter for the members of the local authorities. Would the Minister clarify that?

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  When the Minister speaks about the local authority would he explain what he is talking about in law?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  Deputy Molloy knows what I am talking about when we speak about the local authority. In this case it is the manager and the elected members as in the preparation of estimates heretofore. Nothing has been changed.

Mr. Wyse: Information on Pearse Wyse  Zoom on Pearse Wyse  I know there will be a difference for one local authority. If, on a majority vote, the council members say to the manager there will be no charges in a certain area, does the manager appeal to the Minister for permission to over-ride the decision of a local authority? The Minister should be honest about this. It is very confusing because everything hinges on section 1. Is it the local authority who decides? We are now told it is for the local authority to decide and I presume we are talking about the county manager and the members of the council. If elected members of a local authority say to a councillor or city manager that they disagree with any further charges being imposed and there is a shortfall, what happens then?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  It is quite simple. If the elected members decide, in the preparation of the estimates, that they do not want to make provision for certain charges then, obviously, there will have to be a corresponding cutback in the provision of services. That is logical.

Mr. Wyse: Information on Pearse Wyse  Zoom on Pearse Wyse  The services will be cut but, at the same time, it is the elected members who run a city or county area. The status quo is being maintained so what is the point in having this Bill before the House?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  In the past, there was no power vested in urban authorities to raise charges for water services. That is the purpose of this Bill as has been pointed out on a number of occasions. The position [2731] which exists at present in the county council areas is the system which will operate in future in urban areas. That system has worked well in the past and I do not see any reason why that should change.

Mr. Wyse: Information on Pearse Wyse  Zoom on Pearse Wyse  In other words, the Minister is saying to the local authorities that if they wish, they can charge for water supplies. That is it in a nutshell.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  We do not wish to delay the House. It is convenient, from the Minister's point of view, to create confusion and confusion arises because he keeps referring to the local authorities but the local authority can mean different things in law. The definition section of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, states that a local authority means the corporation of a county borough, the council of a county or an elective body. It gives a separate definition for a manager. The provisions of this Bill state that if a dispute arises between a local authority and the manager certain things shall happen. When the Minister is talking about local authorities most people think he is referring to the elected members of a local authority. In fact, it seems he is not, that he is referring to the general corpus of the county council or corporation and the various functions and division of functions within those bodies and that he is speaking globally. When the Minister was referring to a local authority he was talking about a body which includes the elected members and the management together. It would be very helpful if when he is referring to the local authority he would say: “I am referring to the manager exercising his executive functions” and if he is referring to the elected members he would state “the elected members”. That is what is causing much of the confusion; and possibly in the definition section we should have repeated what was meant in this Bill by the “local authority”. In this Bill the “local authority” does not mean solely the elected members. It can mean the manager exercising his executive functions.

[2732]Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  That is the explanation I gave.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Yes, but the definition given in the 1955 Act is that the local authority is the elected members. There is a separate definition given for the manager. We do not wish to delay on this except to emphasise the point that it has suited the Minister's cause to create as much confusion as possible so that this can be brought into law without the members of county councils realising what has been imposed on them until it is too late. We thought this debate would have enabled Members of Fine Gael who expressed views similar to ours to comprehend how serious the provisions of this Bill will be in relation to their own members. However, it seems they are going along with the Minister in his attempt to quosh the elected member and the role he has to play.

The Minister has consistently talked about the council's role in adopting the estimate. He did not respond when I challenged him on the fact that the discretion available to an elected member at the time when he is being asked to adopt an estimate is very largely dependent on the amount of the grant which was made available to the local authority by the Minister. The amount of the grant is the key to the whole operation of the local authority service. In a later section of this Bill the obligation on the Minister to provide a grant of a certain size each year is being eliminated and in future it will be an arbitrary figure chosen by the Minister and we argue that he can reduce that very substantially. When the councillor goes into his estimates meeting he may find there is a huge shortfall. He is faced with the task of making up the shortfall by increasing charges or introducing further new charges. Even at that stage he does not have the power to do that himself. It will now be the manager who will make up the shortfall and the councillors are being brought in to put the rubber stamp on it and adopt the estimate. If they refuse to do that then the Minister will disband the local authority. There are a number of local authorities at present [2733] who are travelling along that road. There is one in County Louth and one somewhere else. Councillors today are totally frustrated. It is very unfair of the Minister to make grand speeches about wanting to give an increased role to elected members when at the same time the Minister is destroying the whole system. The councillors will now be gripped between the decision of the Minister in making his direct grant and the decision of the manager in deciding what charges he will introduce. The councillor is becoming fodder in the centre.

We accept this amendment. It is necessary to define “premises” in the way the Minister has done. We have no objection to having this section replace the existing section 3 but we are very dissatisfied with the whole content and gist of the Bill as it stands.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  I have become more confused as time has gone on. I would like to know whether the manager can bring in a charge in the course of the year without reference to the councillors' estimate? In other words, the councillors having decided that, say, charges were to the tune of £50,000 for the year, could the manager later on raise it to £100,000 without reference to the councillors?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  The manager cannot undertake expenditure except in the context of the estimates.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Revenue raising?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  Revenue raising likewise. While I appreciate the co-operation of the Opposition in accepting the amendment, I have to refute some of the points made by Deputy Molloy. I think Deputy Molloy's points would have some validity if the state of financing of local authorities was not in the catastrophic position in which we find it. I am trying to hold the local authorities together, to give them some authority to raise money to provide much needed services which have been shrinking since 1977. Deputy Molloy in his last contribution stressed the urgency and necessity for us to deal as quickly as possible with the restructuring of local [2734] authorities. Everything would be quite simple if there was no difficulty with central funds, but the Fianna Fáil Estimates for 1983 would have left the rate relief grant 11 per cent down on the provision for last year. I do not know how they can say I am the one who is trying to undermine and take from the support that central Government is giving to local authorities when I gave an extra £37.5 million to try to help the ailing local authorities. Deputy Molloy is stressing the urgency of this by recognising the present financial difficulties. I am not giving any new powers in county council areas. The estimates will be struck as they have been in the past. We are giving the urban areas power to charge where they did not have that power before.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  The Minister and his Minister of State have continued to talk about Fianna Fáil leaving the local authorities short of a huge amount of money and they have argued that if they had not come into power and increased the allocation by £31 million local authorities would have been 11 per cent short. It was the Coalition Government who introduced the 1983 budget, not the Fianna Fáil Government. Let us go back to 1982 when a different situation existed. The then Coalition introduced a budget which they failed to have passed in this House. In that budget they decided that they would leave the local authorities £12 million short. They did not fulfil the obligation placed on them under section 9 of the 1978 Act, the Act which abolished rates on houses. There was an election held in unique circumstances. The then Government failed to get a majority in the House and Fianna Fáil said that because of the time of year and because of the circumstances prevailing they were fighting the election on the basis of the budget decisions made by the Government except for specified parts of that budget in regard to VAT increases on clothes and so on. Those matters were well publicised. They were the provisions that were defeated in the House. We carried on with that part of the Coalition Government's decision to leave the local authorities short but the Minister has to [2735] accept that it is the parties in Government, Labour and Fine Gael, who made that decision.

In the preparation of the Estimates for 1983 an unprecedented step was taken by the Fianna Fáil Party in Government to publish the Estimates in November because there was a commitment by both sides of this House that in future it would be proper and correct to make the figures available much earlier in order to bring forward the debate on budgetary matters and to have the budget early in the financial year. Then unforeseen circumstances, with an election coming along, caused the delay which took place again.

We have had an unprecedented number of elections in recent years and they coincided with the time of the year when budgetary considerations were being formalised. Now Fianna Fáil lost the election and we were not the party in power at budget time who made the final decisions in regard to the level of taxation and the final allocations to local authorities and State Departments generally. All these decisions were made by the Minister and his colleagues in Government and it is unfair of the Minister to seek to create the impression now that had Fianna Fáil won the election there would have been changes in the revenue allocations available from the Exchequer in lieu of rates and other subsidies to the local authorities. In the budget of 1983 actually published by the Minister's Government it states, at page 51, that in regard to these allocations of funds to local authorities the remaining shortfall is to be considered in the context of the budget. Now we lost that election and we were not in power to make the final decisions. The Minister and his colleagues were in power and they left local authorities short £20 million.

This is the second time the Minister's party has introduced a budget which has left local authorities short, the second time they have failed to fulfil the obligation under the 1978 Act. It is a bit of smart aleckry now to try to create the impression that had Fianna Fáil won the election the shortfall would have been [2736] much greater. The Minister does not know and I do not know what the final decision of the Fianna Fáil Party in Government would have been. The Minister knows and I know when these decisions are made. In the document published in November it stated these decisions would be made so the matter was not finalised. We will leave it at that. It does not serve any purpose to harp on it. The Minister and his party were in power and they made the decision to leave the local authorities short of money. They did exactly the same thing in 1982. Do not try now to put it across here that it is some sort of Fianna Fáil failure. We accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Section 3 deleted.

Question proposed: “That section 4 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  As I understand it under this section the Minister can stop local authorities charging for a service. I would like him to explain why he feels he needs this power and under what circumstances the power would be exercised. It seems a further stranglehold on the local authority by the central authority. If an order is made under this section will the Minister tell us whether each member of a local authority will be informed of the making of such an order so that there will be public awareness of the fact that the Minister is doing this.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I will just clarify that. This section gives the Minister power to exclude any particular service from the scope of the Bill. The exercise of the power would result in a specified service not being amenable to charges or increased charges. I would stress that the power of the Minister will only relate to charging under the Bill and he will not have power to exclude the service for which local authorities have a separate power to charge under any other enactments. It is not envisaged that the power [2737] would be widely used but would provide a safety valve in the event of local authorities exercising a power in an undesirable way in relation to any particular service. For example, under section 26 of the Landlord and Tenant Ground Rent (No. 2) Act, 1978, a tenant or other person to whom a dwelling has been leased by a housing authority is entitled to acquire the fee simple and the fee simple is affected by a transfer order and the fees to be taken by a housing authority under subsection (8) is £5. It is not considered desirable that this charge should be increased and this could be secured by my making an order under section 4 excluding it from the scope of the Bill. This would obviously be used rarely but it is a valuable safety valve. It would be done by public order so it would be by public notice.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 3, after line 45, to insert the following subsections:—

“(3) Every local authority and sanitary authority to which this Act applies shall within three months of the passing of this Act adopt a scheme setting out the conditions under which all or portion of a charge shall be waived under this section and section 8 and all applications made to the local authority or sanitary authority for such a waiver which comply with the terms of such a scheme shall be waived accordingly.

(4) The adoption of a scheme under subsection (3) of this section shall be a reserved function exercisable directly by the elected members of the local authority or sanitary authority concerned.”

Very briefly what we want done under this amendment is to ensure that the waiver scheme to deal with hardship cases will be introduced within a specific [2738] period after the coming into operation of the Bill. We suggest three months. At present the manager has discretion to introduce his own scheme to deal with hardship cases. As far as I can see the Minister is merely exhorting county managers to introduce schemes to relieve hardship. He has not given any guidelines as to how the schemes should be drawn up and what cases should be considered hardship cases. Neither has he said anything about uniformity throughout the country. Here again we believe it is very important that the principle that elected representatives be involved in adopting the terms of this scheme should be adhered to. The second part of my amendment would serve that purpose. We have been arguing all day about the value of the reserve function and we would appeal to the Minister to allow elected members to have a say in the adoption of any waiver scheme operating in their respective areas. The administration of this scheme would of course be an executive function. If the House is sincere — it is very doubtful after today — this is the type of function which should rightly be given to elected members because they will be aware of local problems and of the inhabitants in their areas. They will have greater local knowledge and it is vital they should have some input. It would be most unreasonable of the Minister to refuse to accept this amendment. I hope his attitude is not one of “It is my Bill and I will ram it through no matter what opposition there is or what praiseworthy suggestions are made for the improvement of the Bill”.

In fairness, one of his predecessors, Deputy Tully, never adopted that attitude while bringing forward legislation here and he gained quite a reputation as a fair-minded Minister in the sense that he was always prepared to listen to the arguments here in the House and recognise that it was essential to do so in order to show that the debate here can contribute to improving legislation and that the experience and knowledge of elected Members in the Opposition gathered over the years should be available to the Government in drawing up and improving legislation.

[2739] In regard to the operation of local authorities with this new facility or power to levy charges which is given to the managers, if you are not giving that function to the elected members it is imperative that the waiver or hardship scheme should be adopted by the members. The Minister should lay down guidelines to the local authorities that the manager would put together the bones of a scheme and bring it before the members for adoption and that the members would have time to examine the manager's proposals and make their own changes. Many years ago I was a member of Galway Corporation when the letting scheme for local authority houses was brought before the council. I felt that in the circumstances in Galway Corporation at that time it was very important that the letting scheme should contain a clause which would allow the housing officer, the person making final decisions as to who was to be allocated the vacant houses that arose from time to time, to take into account the length of time a person was on the housing waiting list as a factor. That had not been the case up to then. That change which I proposed to Galway Corporation by way of motion was adopted then and has been operating successfully over the past 12 or 13 years and quite a large number of families have benefited from it through the letting scheme of the local authority for housing.

If the Minister resists this type of amendment he is flying in the face of elected councillors and ignoring the role they play and the knowledge they have and he is downgrading them completely. Whatever defence he tried to make this afternoon in regard to not giving them power to levy the charges, he cannot possibly argue that he is not prepared to have sufficient confidence in them to allow them to adopt the waiver scheme. I will be very surprised if he adopts that attitude. I appeal to him to accept this amendment. No charge whatever is involved in it.

Mr. Calleary: Information on Seán Calleary  Zoom on Seán Calleary  A very important principle is involved in this amendment. It will avoid the situation where Councillor [2740] A can say that he is better than Councillor B in his representations to a manager. It should not be left to the sole discretion of the manager, who in many cases will have numbers of councillors whispering in his ear that Mrs. So-and-So should have a house because she is worse off than Mr. B or whoever else might have got it. If a scheme is decided on by the local councillors within the guidelines laid down by the Minister it will be quite clear to everybody who is entitled to the waiver. It is important that the scheme would not only be in operation but would be seen to operate fairly for everybody.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  I see some difficulty in getting a consistent position on this. As Deputy Molloy points out, there is a need for uniformity throughout the country in the way this scheme operates and also we need some sort of local responsiveness to individual cases of hardship. I agree with Deputy Molloy's suggestion that the Minister set out guidelines so that at least a certain minimum social welfare category, perhaps people with mortgages of very recent standing or other needy groups, would be treated as exempt from a charge and at the same time there would be some scope for local responsiveness to individual cases of hardship. I do not altogether agree with the Deputies opposite that it should be hard and fast with no chance of making representations. In the case of the health boards deciding on medical cards——

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  We did not say that.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Sorry, I thought that was indicated. There should be some scope for deciding on the merits of a case and not merely a hard and fast rule that certain social welfare categories are in and the rest are out.

Mr. S. Walsh: Information on Seán Walsh  Zoom on Seán Walsh  This is a very important amendment and I make a special appeal to the Minister to accept it. It is clear that guidelines should be laid down. Who will have the greatest knowledge in relation to these guidelines other than the members of the local authorities? The Minister has repeated on a number of occasions [2741] that he is not interfering in any way with the powers of members of local authorities. In his efforts to justify that he should accept this amendment. The members of the local authority are the best people to know the merits of the application of a waiver of rates. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment. There is no point in continuing to argue about it, but I appeal to the Minister's good sense.

Mr. Wyse: Information on Pearse Wyse  Zoom on Pearse Wyse  It is not necessary to talk at length on this. I hope that the Minister will accede to this request to give the members of the local authority this function where the waiver is concerned. Who would know better the hardship of the people than the local representatives? I appeal to the Minister that he will at least agree to accept this amendment.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  For the reasons I mentioned in opposing amendment No. 1 I am also opposing this amendment. I appreciate the points made by the Opposition Deputies in relation to the wisdom of councillors and the understanding of local problems, but I am not departing from the present situation. I carried out a thorough examination, in the course of the preparation of this legislation, of how the system is working at present. The number of problems was almost nil, if anything. The elected members have ample opportunity to influence how the managers go about exercising their functions. The amount which the elected members see fit to include in the annual estimate governs the type of policy which the manager will have to pursue. Moreover, under section 2 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955, the elected members can require the manager to inform them in advance of how he proposes to go about the exercise of these functions. It is desirable that people know in advance whether and to what extent they qualify for waivers. I am sure there is no disagreement on the purpose of this section and it is very necessary. It is my intention to advise the local authorities and to set down the guidelines so that we can clear up any possibility of uncertainty, and that will be done as a matter of course.

[2742] The one danger to which we must alert ourselves in relation to any sort of set guidelines — Deputy Bruton referred to this — is that where there are specific guidelines there will be people who are not within that range of guidelines. I am referring to the area which we consider to be the poverty trap in the present situation. This is the case where managerial discretion has been working to effect and my contacts and communications indicate that local members have found the present system satisfactory, as it works and as it is my intention it will continue to operate.

The section is designed to assist hardship cases and elminate any difficulties. We have to recognise that certain categories of people will not be in a position to pay. There is no reason to change the situation that exists under existing legislation. If the fears expressed from the Opposition benches prove to be well founded in the course of reviewing the legislation after a reasonable period of operation, then obviously the powers I have under County Management Acts could be availed of.

Mr. Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  Did I understand the Minister to say that local councillors could decide how much to put into the annual estimate and that managers would have to work within that figure? I am beginning to wonder if the Minister has any concept of how local authorities operate.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  If the Deputy was present for the commencement of this discussion he would realise that we dealt with this point on numerous occasions.

Mr. Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  As far as local councillors are concerned they operate within the amount of money handed down to them by the Department. The Minister has told us repeatedly that the Bill gives power to local councillors and that would be true if the Department continued to fund at the same level all existing services. Local councillors if they decided to do some extra amenity work — open a park, develop houses or build a road — could avail of this method to raise [2743] funds. The whole purpose of the Bill is to cut back what the Minister gives to local authorities and they will have to raise the money they need. There is no question of giving local authorities more powers. This is another form of taxation. Local authorities will have to raise some of the revenue for the Department of the Environment but the Department will give out less to local authorities.

I have listened to most of the debate and I heard that point mentioned by many Opposition Members who have experience of local authorities. They are aware that the Bill, far from giving any extra powers to local councillors, will mean that they will raise extra money for the Department. I do not support the Fianna Fáil amendment to this hardship section because I doubt if the Minister recognises the enormity of the hardship that exists. We are not talking about a few people who will not be able to pay but a huge number for whom any charge will mean an enormous imposition.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  The Minister's response is very disappointing but because of the time limit on the debate I will not press the matter further. There are other important sections to be dealt with, particularly section 9. The Minister's reaction displays a complete lack of understanding on his part of the role of elected local members. The Minister does not seem to understand the real implications of the Bill and the disastrous effect it will have on the way local authorities have traditionally operated up to now.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Section 5 agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 6 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Where a charge is not paid by an individual does the Minister expect local authorities to cut off the service? If a person living on a road decides he does [2744] not want the water supply for which he is to be charged £50, turns off the stopcock and does not take the services, what will happen? In the case of refuse collection what will a county manager do if a number of people arrange with a private contractor to have their refuse removed for a charge and inform local authorities that they do not want the service? Is there anything mandatory about the charges? If the service is not being availed of can an individual opt out?

Mr. Calleary: Information on Seán Calleary  Zoom on Seán Calleary  I know of one or two people who have had a service cut off but it cost the equivalent of three or four years rent to cut off the supply and restore it. It was economic madness to do that and if the council decide to continue that there will be a considerable loss of money and a loss of face.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I appreciate the limitations on time and I would point out to the House that water charges are covered in section 8. With regard to Deputy Molloy's query as to what will happen if people decide not to avail of the bin collection service or refuse to pay for it, I should like to point out that a charge will be payable if a relevant service is provided in respect of a premises whether or not the service is availed of. If the liability was made conditional on the service being availed of, then obviously the system would be totally unworkable. Members will be aware that there is constant pressure for an extension of bin collection services and it is a reasonable assumption — a necessary one for the Bill — that people will want to avail of the refuse collection service and will be willing to make a reasonable payment for it if their local authority decide to introduce a charge. The vast majority of people will see the reasonableness of this and observe the law. I do not think there is any possibility of a private collector operating in a number of areas when a local authority is in a position to provide what I consider to be a reasonable and efficient service at a moderate cost where the local authority decides to implement such charges.

Deputies are aware that the uncontolled [2745] disposal of waste is an offence and is liable to result in severe penalties under the Litter Act. I do not see the difficulties Opposition Deputies have highlighted arising.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Is the Minister saying that if a householder does not want a service he will have to pay for it if it is provided in his street?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  Yes.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  If there are 15 houses on a road, I am living in No. 10 and I decide not to avail of the service but put a trailer on to my car and drive the rubbish to the dump or burn it in my back garden is the Minister saying that I must pay for the service even though I do not avail of it?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  If the local authority decides to charge for the service.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Members on this side were not clear about that until now. It is important that it is made clear that the Minister is making it mandatory on householders to pay this charge whether they are accepting or benefiting from the service. That will cause a lot of difficulty and confusion. In the end who will carry the can about the difficulties? The elected representatives will be called to houses to explain how any Minister, or local authority, could impose such a ridiculous scheme of charges for a service they are not availing of. That was not the interpretation the Galway county manager put on this when he explained it to members of the local authority because I read the document he circulated. He said that if a large number of householders opted out he would have to consider whether he should continue the service. The Minister is not saying that but that if a person opts out he will still have to pay. He has said that there is no opting out. If that is what the Minister is at we will have to oppose the section.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  In fairness it must be pointed out that we are talking about a question of reasonableness in these situations.

[2746]Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  The Minister's proposal is very unreasonable.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  Local authorities provide a reasonable and efficient refuse collection service. If 15 or 20 houses do not wish to avail of the service it ought to become apparent to the local authority that charging for such a service would be pointless. The other option is that if people had the benefit of a trailer like the Deputy, want to go and dump their refuse it is possible that, at a time when we are trying to protect our environment, we are inviting people to go and dump their litter all over the streets or around the countryside. That would be a very undesirable development.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  What the Minister is saying now is contradictory to what is in the previous section, that the charge will only be applied where the person is availing of the service. Now it seems in this section that if the person is not availing of the service he will still have to pay. This is absolute lunacy and we are opposing the section.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Is it not the case that the Bill provides for either possibility, that the council, in drawing up a system of charges, could well go for a system whereby the owner of a premises who decides not to opt for the service does not pay. It could well be under this Bill that the council would introduce a charge per bag collected rather than for premises from which it is collected. As I understand it, the Bill does not necessarily make it the case that once the service is provided to the street every house on the street must pay. The council can decide that issue. That is left within the powers of the council.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  The Deputy is putting a different interpretation on it than the Minister is putting on it. The Deputy's side of the House are trying to sell this Bill to us and we have to accept the Minister's interpretation.

Question put and declared carried.

Question proposed: “That section 7 stand part of the Bill”.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  We are opposing this section. With the limitation on time it has become impractical. We did not realise that the statements on the EEC Summit would take up so much of the time for the debate. This has limited our opportunity to contribute to these sections more fully. We disagree with the principle in this section that the local authority be empowered to reduce their debt to an individual by the amount of an unpaid charge or that a local authority relieve their commitment to pay a lawful debt by reducing the debt by the amount of an unpaid charge. The householder may be in dispute about whether he owes the charge. In those circumstances, the local authority should not have the power to withhold the payment of a lawful debt to a householder on the grounds that he had not paid them the charge for some service particularly, as it transpires now, that he might not be availing of the service. This is ludicrous. We have not time to go into it in any greater detail.

We would like to have clarified whether this would apply to a local authority tenant or whether it would apply to a local authority employee. If a person is employed by a local authority, lives in a house which is benefiting from some service that local authority is giving and he has not paid the charge for some reason other than hardship, is the Minister now saying that an amount can be deducted from his wages in lieu of the charge he has refused to pay? Is the Minister suggesting that it is right to be able to set off the money due in this way? We believe the principle is bad as it is giving power to the local authority in relation to something which is not being conferred on the individual. There should be equality before the law for the local authority and the individual. That would not be the case if this section is allowed to stand. The local authority would be in a preferential position which we do not think in those circumstances the local authority [2748] are entitled to. We are opposing this section on that basis.

Mr. Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  Deputy Molloy has raised a very important issue here in relation to the question of employees of local authorities. He has asked if deductions would be made from the wages of local authority employees if they are in dispute over some charge? The Minister must answer that because there is a very serious implication here. This is a very serious discriminatory issue in this Bill if this can happen. The section, as it stands, would certainly allow for that because it states:

...and, at the same time, another sum is due by that authority to that person....

There will be sums due all the time to employees of local authorities. The Minister should answer that issue because it is vitally important.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I feel sure that a local authority would not operate this particular provision in relation to set-off unless they were satisfied they were fully entitled to do so and that the case was beyond doubt.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  It would be much more helpful if the Minister would say the manager and not the local authority. He is creating that confusion all the time. The members have no say in the operation of this thing.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I will not go into that again. I have been at pains to point out that the joint local authority managers and councillors are involved here. In this particular situation, if the person owed a local authority money in respect of a charge and at the same time the person was due to be paid a grant or refund by the authority it certainly is not envisaged by me, taking into account the fears raised by Deputy Mac Giolla and Deputy Molloy, that wages would be within the provisions of this Bill. I believe that councils are responsible bodies and would not avail of this particular process [2749] unless they were sure the case was beyond doubt.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Why is the section there?

Mr. Mac Giolla: Information on Tomás MacGiolla  Zoom on Tomás MacGiolla  The Minister made the point that he does not think this would be used but he has not denied that the section leaves it quite open for any manager, acting in the name of the local authority, to deduct such a sum. It simply says “another sum” and it is wide open. I know the Minister intends that it should only be grants or sums of that nature. Would the Minister bring in an amendment on Report Stage to cover that and ensure that employees' wages would not be covered in this word “sum”?

Question put and declared carried.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  I move amendment No. 5:

In page 5, between lines 41 and 42, to insert the following subsection:—

“(2) The making of a charge under the provisions of this section shall be a reserved function exercisable directly by the elected members of the local authority concerned.”.

We have said all we want to say in favour of the principle enshrined in this amendment. We have nothing further to add except to say how disappointed and surprised we are that the Minister, being a Labour Party member, has not responded in the slightest fashion to any of the amendments we have put down.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Section 8 agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 9 stand part of the Bill”.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  We are opposing this section. I regret that we do not seem to have [2750] sufficient time to debate this issue. Section 9 was one of the principal sections contained in the 1978 Act which abolished rates. It placed an obligation on the Minister to provide a sum of money to each local authority equal to the aggregate of the allowance made by the authority under section 3, 4 or 6 of the 1978 Act, in other words the amount which that local authority would have received in rates on dwellinghouses and on agricultural land. That responsibility is now being removed. This constitutes a fundamental change which will have a far-reaching effect. There was an obligation on the Minister and the Exchequer to compensate local authorities for the loss of income from rates on houses.

In this section that obligation is being removed. The words that are being inserted provide that in future the Minister shall be obliged only to provide a grant which shall not exceed the amounts which would previously have been yielded from rates on dwellinghouses and on agricultural land. Therefore, if the Minister had provided a substitute, placing some obligation on the Exchequer to continue to fund local authorities at a reasonable level, the other provisions in this Bill would not have been so draconian and brought about such a fundamental change. But he is not placing any responsibility on the Exchequer to provide any fixed sum to the local authority in relation to any matter, such as the poundage to be struck on rates or an average, we will say, based on 1982 which would be reasonable and which I had suggested in the course of the Second Stage debate. There was absolutely no response to that suggestion in the contributions of the Minister or Minister of State.

I am coming slowly to the conclusion that the Minister himself does not seem to understand fully the far-reaching effects of this section and, therefore, of this Bill. It was never intended by the Fianna Fáil Party to make this fundamental change. It was a complete surprise to us when this Bill was published to find that this was happening. We had to rethink our whole position in regard to these charges when we saw this section. [2751] As Deputy Mac Giolla said very rightly some time ago, we saw the introduction of these charges as a new source of additional revenue, to allow local authorities to do things they have been unable to do up to now. It would provide new money, allow them to expand their services, introduce new services, allow them to operate successfully the Litter Act, the Water Pollution Act and other legislation introduced in recent years in respect of which no adequate sums of money were allocated to local authorities to enable them operate those provisions. Many local authorities have been incurring deficits in recent years. It was thought that these charges would enable them to catch up on some of those deficits. Some deficits in local authorities arise from charges which we believe should not be imposed on them. We argue that it is wrong to continue to ask local authorities, for example, to fund Office of Public Works drainage, maintenance, courthouses and a whole string of other services in which they have no role to play whatsoever. They were all listed by us on Second Stage. We had one response from the Minister — that he would limit the charge for drainage maintenance to a fixed percentage in future years. I did not catch the actual percentage; was it 5 per cent?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  5 per cent this year.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  We thank the Minister for that response. It is small but significant. We would urge him along that road, to lift all of these unnecessary charges from local authorities, allow them the freedom to collect their own money, granting them a reasonable sum from the Exchequer annually so that they can successfully operate the services they are obliged and have power to provide under the terms of the Local Government Acts, rather than having them hidebound in dealing with malicious damages claims and a whole series of other charges improperly levied on them. For example, in Galway County Council I saw that the charge for malicious damages had increased recently by 4,000-plus per cent, an extraordinary increase. Although the figure [2752] may not have run into millions, at the same time it constituted an extraordinary increase which was running right across all of these other charges.

This constitutes a fundamental change in the method of funding local authorities. The Minister will very much regret having taken this decision in bringing this Bill before the House. Every elected representative throughout the country will very much regret what the Minister is doing here today. They will not be fully aware of the effects in 1983 because his Estimates have more or less slipped through on the basis that the power is forthcoming; it is not there yet and the managers did not really expose their hands. If this Bill is passed there will be no statutory obligation on the Minister to provide any set sum of money to a local authority; he can provide whatever sum he likes. As we know, that figure will continue to be cut back. I know the way it operates. The Department of Finance will put pressure on the Minister when the Estimates are being decided. The Minister will find that his colleagues will not support him and local authorities will suffer. We inserted a protection for local authorities in the 1978 Act, that there had to be a sum provided in lieu of the rates on domestic dwellings. It is a tragedy that something similar is not being continued. One can argue about the difficulties that arose because of that but it must be remembered that, at the same time, the obligation was there to provide a fixed sum. The removal of that obligation will leave local authorities in a worse position and it is foolish of the Minister to seek to argue otherwise. In doing that Fianna Fáil protected local authorities and property owners. But there will be no guarantee now that local authorities will receive any set figure.

Very shortly we shall be calling for a vote on this. We have notified the Chair that we shall be opposing this section.

Mr. Calleary: Information on Seán Calleary  Zoom on Seán Calleary  Had this section appeared earlier in the Bill rather than being the second last section then the attitude of a number of other Deputies might have been very different. As Deputy Molloy has said, this is the [2753] hard-core, the kernel of the whole Bill, the reason for its very existence. As he rightly pointed out, in future years, perhaps not this Minister but some other Minister could legitimately say: “You have got your block grant; make up the difference yourselves”.

When the idea of imposing local charges was mooted it was felt it could give additional powers to local authority members because, by imposing such charges, they could cater perhaps for some special need in their area, something their constituents had been seeking, perhaps some special amenity that the county or urban area had been seeking. What the provisions of this Bill will do is to allow councillors make up the shortfall that will arise on Departmental grants in future years. I see the provisions of this section tightening Departmental screws and control on local authorities and their members. It will make a charade of what the Minister would like to do, to give more power to local authorities. All that the provisions of this section will do is to make up the shortfall.

All of us know what will happen in the future. If there is a shortfall in a local authority they will be told: “Make it up as best as you can. We gave you the authority to do so under the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Bill, 1983. You can now make up the charges as you will.” I honestly believe that section was deliberately placed at the end of the Bill when perhaps it was hoped we might all be tired and fed up. We see this as the last straw. The words “not exceeding” in subsection (1) are the most important words in the entire section. The Minister should have used the words “equal to”. The inclusion of the words “not exceeding” is the reason we are opposing the section: had they not been there we would have welcomed it. I am sorry the Minister did not accept what I consider to be sensible amendments.

Mr. R. Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  I should like to think this is only a temporary style of financing local authorities. It is a form of block grant but it does not contain any of the more desirable features that should be in [2754] such grants to finance local authorities. There is no element of matching local effort in raising revenue, which is important.

In addition, it does not provide equity as among counties in the amount of money allocated. Essentially we are allocating money on the basis of an historical accident, namely, the level of rates and the level of rateable valuations that existed in 1977. The outcome of basing a block grant on such accidental values is that there will be serious inequity among counties. The percentage of income which the grant represents in different counties varies considerably: in some counties it is double what it is in others. The variations do not bear any relationship to the means of the counties involved.

I urge the Minister to regard this purely as a temporary expedient. We should move quickly to a more proper system of financing local authorities and reforming their operations.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on James N. Fitzsimons  Zoom on James N. Fitzsimons  I wish to be associated with the remarks of Deputy Molloy, Deputy Calleary and Deputy Mac Giolla. In section 9 there has been a real attempt to pull the wool over everyone's eyes. The more local taxation that is collected by way of charges the less will be the amount of block grant to each local authority. It is a transfer of taxation from central Government to local government and it reduces the onus on central government to provide local authorities with moneys for various services.

There are bound to be anomalies. Deputy Bruton quite rightly pointed out that some counties will collect considerably more than others. The Bill is highly unsatisfactory from start to finish. When rates were abolished it was intended that compensation for loss of income would be made by the Department to the local authorities. This Bill is anathema to local authority members. We may lose the division here in this House but local authorities will rue the day this measure is implemented. The County Managers' Association have looked forward to this day so that their members might rule their local authority areas and overrule [2755] the elected members. We are coming close to the day when there will be no need for members of local authorities. It will be a case of just appointing the county manager and to hell with democracy in local government. We are going down that road as a result of this Bill.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I find myself in agreement with some of the things Deputy Molloy said in his most recent contribution, particularly in relation to the severe demands on local authorities in the area of public works, health, courthouses and malicious injuries. By limiting the demand of the Office of Public Works this year to 5 per cent a considerable relief was granted to local authorities. I am at a loss to know why Deputy Molloy in his term of office in the then Department of Local Government did not address himself to this problem and to the whole question of local authority financing.

At all times I have been quite forthright in expressing my feelings in relation to this Bill. I have stated it is not the panacea for all local authority financial problems. I can understand Deputy Molloy's comment that pressure will be brought to bear in the future in relation to local authority funding. That pressure was obviously brought to bear in the situation in which I found myself on taking office last December. There was a shortfall in local authority financing from central funds that had to be assisted to the tune of £31.5 million.

Since the abolition of domestic rates the financial state of local authorities has been sliding slowly into chaos. The real issue which Deputies opposite have tried to obscure for obvious reasons is not the abolition of rates themselves but rather that no effective system was devised to replace them. The man in the street will accept that the unfortunate decisions of 1977, irrespective of what political support existed for them, were short-sighted. There was no effective system for financing local authorities and they were £43 million in debt at the end of 1982.

[2756]Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  This Bill will make the position worse.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  This was in contrast to 1978 when they had a credit balance of £6 million. In this Bill we are restoring a measure of freedom to local authorities to control their own financial affairs.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  That is not true. Nobody believes it.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  We will let the people judge. It was accepted by the Fianna Fáil Government in 1982 when they did not pay out the full rate grant support. It was obvious that an open cheque could not be written forever for the local authorities.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  It was a Coalition budget. The Minister should be fair and honest.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I came across a deficit and I made up for the shortfall to the extent of £31 million.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  This Government brought in the 1982 and 1983 budgets.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  The 1978 Act gave the Minister power to strike the rate for local authorities which limited the contribution of the Exchequer. This Bill will achieve the same result except that it will enable me to give back to local authorities some freedom and discretion in the matter of rate poundage levels. Deputy Molloy was concerned that local councillors were not given the power but when they are given power in relation to striking the industrial rate he said that perhaps they should not be allowed to do this. He will have to make up his mind what powers should be given to whom. This Bill has to be commended to the House because of the shortfall and the financial situation local authorities find themselves in. Despite Deputy Molloy's lack of belief that anything will be done to reform local government, at this stage it is of vital necessity that we address ourselves to that problem.

[2757]An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  As it is now 7 o'clock I must put the question.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy  Zoom on Robert Molloy  Before you put the question may I say a few words? We agreed to the order of the House. I want to say how disappointed we are at the lack of response from the Minister. When we agreed to a fixed time for this debate to conclude all Stages at 7 o'clock, we did so in the hope that the Minister and the Government would adopt a reasonable approach to our amendments. It was very disappointing that the Opposition's valid arguments, supported by all speakers on [2758] the Fine Gael benches, have been rejected by the Minister and by the Government.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Thomas J. Fitzpatrick  In accordance with an order of the House I must bring the proceedings on the Bill to a conclusion. By agreement, I propose to put the following question: “That the Bill as amended in Committee is hereby agreed to, and as amended is reported to the House. Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed”.

Question put.

Barnes, Monica.
Barrett, Seán.
Barry, Myra.
Barry, Peter.
Begley, Michael.
Bell, Michael.
Bermingham, Joe.
Birmingham, George Martin.
Boland, John.
Bruton, John.
Bruton, Richard.
Burke, Liam.
Carey, Donal.
Cluskey, Frank.
Conlon, John F.
Connaughton, Paul.
Coogan, Fintan.
Cooney, Patrick Mark.
Cosgrave, Liam T. Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
Coveney, Hugh.
Creed, Donal.
Crowley, Frank.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Deasy, Martin Austin.
Desmond, Eileen.
Donnellan, John.
Dowling, Dick.
Doyle, Avril.
Doyle, Joe.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard J.
Farrelly, John V.
Fennell, Nuala.
FitzGerald, Garret.
Flanagan, Oliver J.
Glenn, Alice.
Griffin, Brendan.
Hegarty, Paddy.
Hussey, Gemma.
Kavanagh, Liam.
Keating, Michael.
Kelly, John.
Kenny, Enda.
L'Estrange, Gerry.
McCartin, Joe.
McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.
McLoughlin, Frank.
Manning, Maurice.
Mitchell, Gay.
Mitchell, Jim.
Molony, David.
Moynihan, Michael.
Naughten, Liam.
Nealon, Ted.
Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).
O'Brien, Fergus.
O'Brien, Willie.
O'Keeffe, Jim.
O'Leary, Michael.
O'Sullivan, Toddy.
O'Toole, Paddy.
Owen, Nora.
Prendergast, Frank.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Ryan, John.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick Joseph.
Skelly, Liam.
Spring, Dick.
Taylor, Mervyn.
Taylor-Quinn, Madeline.
Timmins, Godfrey.
Yates, Ivan.

[2759][2760]

Ahern, Bertie.
Ahern, Michael.
Aylward, Liam.
Barrett, Michael.
Barrett, Sylvester.
Brady, Gerard.
Brady, Vincent.
Brennan, Mattie.
Brennan, Paudge.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John.
Burke, Raphael P.
Byrne, Hugh.
Byrne, Seán.
Calleary, Seán.
Colley, George.
Collins, Gerard.
Conaghan, Hugh.
Coughlan, Cathal Seán.
Daly, Brendan.
De Rossa, Prionsias.
Fahey, Francis.
Fahey, Jackie.
Faulkner, Pádraig.
Fitzgerald, Gene.
Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
Fitzsimons, Jim.
Flynn, Pádraig.
Foley, Denis.
Gallagher, Denis.
Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
Haughey, Charles J.
Hilliard, Colm.
Hyland, Liam.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael P.
Lemass, Eileen.
Lenihan, Brian.
Leonard, Jimmy.
Leyden, Terry.
Lyons, Denis.
McCarthy, Seán.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McEllistrim, Tom.
Mac Giolla, Tomás.
MacSharry, Ray.
Molloy, Robert.
Moynihan, Donal.
Nolan, M.J.
O'Dea, William.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Leary, John.
O'Malley, Desmond J.
Ormonde, Donal.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Power, Paddy.
Treacy, Noel.
Tunney, Jim.
Wallace, Dan.
Walsh, Joe.
Walsh, Seán.
Wilson, John P.
Wyse, Pearse.

Question declared carried.


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