Thursday, 9 May 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. O'Shea: I was speaking earlier about the regional tier which is to be introduced under this Bill. It would appear that the regional development authorities which were abolished by Fainna Fáil in the post-1987 period are to be replaced. There is not specific information as to what exactly the regional tier will develop to. This is a criticism I have made in regard to many sections of the Bill. An Foras Forbartha were abolished by the Fianna Fáil Government during the same period.
 I now turn to the principle of subsidiarity. One area which should be brought into the local authority ambit is the provision of funds to deal with coastal erosion. Heretofore this has been a matter for the Department of the Marine. Counties Waterford and Wexford have a particular problem with coastal erosion. The local authority deal directly with the Department of the Marine when seeking funds to effect emergency repairs or to carry out works in anticipation of difficulties which may arise. This is a matter more appropriate to the Department of the Environment and the Bill should have applied itself to this matter in terms of subsidiarity.
There were bodies on which local authority members had representation until the coming to power of Fianna Fáil in 1987. I mention specifically the local health committees. The remoteness of centralised bodies does not take full account of local problems. Local health committees provide a forum for local authority members to become directly involved in the health problems of their areas. These committees were abolished in late 1987 or early 1988. This did a great disservice because it prevented public representatives from highlighting the many problems which were arising due to vicious cutbacks in the health area.
Regional tourism bodies on which local authorities have representation play an important development role. These bodies, which are grossly under-funded, deal with projects on a regional basis. Under the present system local authorities are stymied from becoming involved in tourism projects which could be of great benefit to their area. The fact that no direct funding of any consequence is available through the tourism organisations is holding back much worthwhile development which could take place and could stimulate the commercial life in various areas by generating extra funds and thereby creating employment.
As regards the sub-county structure, I am a member of three local authorities one of which is the town commissioners. I am also a member of the county council for that area. The town commissioners — of which I have been a member since 1979 — play a very important role as a pressure group. My experience has been that one does not get the same degree of party politics at that level and a very constructive attitude exists. If something is good for the area, irrespective of political allegiances, people will come together and unanimously push the particular project. In my experience the town commissioners, of which I am still a member, have been very effective. We were told this morning by Deputy Dempsey that there is an assurance that none of the existing local authorities, be they town commissioners, urban district councils or the smaller corporations, will be abolished. I hope this is so. In larger towns if you have not got an elected body of public representatives it can create a great deal of confusion when pressure groups come together and give the impression that they represent many more people than is the case. Members of smaller local authorities have a mandate as everyone there has been elected by the people. I would be very critical of the vagueness in the legislation relating to this matter. If there are no proposals to abolish local authorities one wonders why the smaller local authority elections have not gone ahead.
As I said this morning, the Fianna Fáil manifesto of 1985 did a great disservice to local government. It brought local government into disrepute by giving undertakings such as the one I instanced, the abolition of local authority charges. As I stated then, the signature of the Minister who is present, was on that document; he was then the spokesperson on the Environment for the Fianna Fáil Party, so that the hands of the Progressive Democrats are not clean either. There is a big task ahead of all of us in terms of winning back the confidence of the electorate in public representatives on local elected bodies. I have absolutely no doubt that the type of campaign run by the Fianna Fáil party in Waterford city in 1985 and the subsequent U-turns have done a great deal of damage in relation to the credibility of  local government. At the end of the day this Bill is or should be about bringing power back to the people.
As I said this morning, this Bill is asking this House and this country to accept a pig in a poke. We are not given any specifics particularly in the area of subsidiarity. We are not told what type of devolution is envisaged. Equally, with the ultra vires provision, it is still provided that the Minister for the Environment can put restrictions on local authorities in this area. The Bill which has been greatly vaunted was published only last Friday and the explanatory memorandum became available only last Tuesday. Much play was made on the Government side this morning of the fact that there had been ongoing consultation.
I put it to the Minister that had a few weeks been allowed, after we got the text of the legislation, for public representatives throughout the country to appraise the Bill — I am talking about the great deal of experience among local authority members and, indeed, among the officials of local authorities — the Minister and the Deputies in the House would have benefited greatly from the input of those many councillors who are committed to a proper system of local government and who would highlight the many practical problems with this legislation.
Minister for Energy (Mr. Molloy): I am sorry to see Deputy O'Shea leave the House so quickly after he concluded his contribution, particularly as he referred in his concluding remarks to the Progressive Democrats and to me and to a document which I signed. I assume he is referring to a document which was issued to ACRA in April or May of 1985. Is that the document to which the Deputy referred?
Mr. Molloy: In case Deputy O'Shea was not aware of it, in 1985 I was a member of the Fianna Fáil Party but I resigned from that party in January 1986.  It is a fair old stretch of the imagination to seek to tie the Progressive Democrats Party to a document which was Fianna Fáil Party policy in 1985. The fact that I resigned surely had some significance which seems to have escaped Deputy O'Shea. The commitments contained in that Fianna Fáil policy document of 1985 before the elections did contain some specifics. In fairness to the Fianna Fáil Party they did not come into Government until March 1987. The party of which he is a Member today was then in Government and took no steps to implement the items with which he seems to agree now but did not agree with when his party were in office.
It is no harm to remind this House that it was the Labour Party Minister for the Environment who changed the legislation which caused havoc in the financing of local authorities. One would not imagine that one would have to give a short summary of recent history to remind Members of this House of the sequence of events. The rates were abolished by the Fianna Fáil Government with a statutory obligation to replace the sum of money lost to each local authority by way of a statutory grant equivalent to the amount they would have received from housing rates. That was the position. Local authorities were able to operate fairly satisfactorily under that system, but when the Labour Party came into office and Deputy Spring, their leader now, became Minister for the Environment he chose to introduce, with his colleagues in Fine Gael, a change in the law which removed the statutory obligation on the Government to fund local authorities with an amount equivalent to what would have been the revenue from rates on houses. An arbitrary system ensued whereby the Fine Gael Minister for the Environment could then decide how much money they would give to local authorities. They told them in the same breath that they must introduce service charges to make up for the cutback, which nowadays is a popular cant from the Labour Party, The Workers' Party and even Fine Gael. It was they who introduced this whole change and upset  the system which had been working reasonably successfully. Local authorities have suffered drastically since then as a result of the legislation introduced by the Labour Party. I would like to draw this to the attention of Deputy O'Shea, who was not a Member of this House at the time but who supported the Labour Party. He was so satisfied with the policies the Labour Party followed in Government that he stood for election because he wanted to see that party back in Government again so that they could put their policies into operation.
I cannot answer for Fianna Fáil as to why they did not fulfil the commitments that were made in the 1985 policy document for the local elections. Fianna Fáil came into office in 1987 and were in office until 1989. During this time I sat in the Opposition benches as a member of the Progressive Democrats. However, since the Progressive Democrats came into office as part of this Government, which we did in July 1989, we have certainly taken steps to have the mess at local government tackled in regard to structures, powers, functions and, of course, finance, which seems to be so easily overlooked by some of the Deputies in the Opposition parties and indeed by media commentators.
A very important study is being undertaken at present in regard to how local authorities are to be funded in the future. A formula for an equalisation grant is being devised at present by a group of experts at the behest of the Barrington committee. The preliminary report was published and made available to Members of the House and an extensive study is now under way. This fundamental study will have a dramatic effect on the way in which future rates support grants are allocated. A successful formula may be devised and the Government may decide to implement it, but the studies to enable such a decision to be arrived at are under way and that is a very major step.
I do not accept any criticism from people in the Labour Party or in the Fine Gael Party about what has happened in local government. I have been one of  those people who have constantly spoken out about the damage being done to local government and about the need for change and the fact that the whole system was antiquated. The system has been in place since the last century. Government after Government of the parties that have been in Government over the past 30 years have failed ignominiously to tackle this problem in a meaningful way. This Bill is the first step that has been taken to do anything meaningful about local government. It is important that I should say that, because this reforming legislation is a first step in what hopefully will be an overall package of local government reform, which my party see as essential to making local government truly local, truly efficient and truly cost effective.
The present Bill is largely an enabling Bill to transfer power from central Government to a reconstructed local government system. It also introduces some important innovations agreed between the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil in our joint deliberations on this very important issue. However, it is only with the addition of further legislation, particularly to provide sub-county local government structures, and the extensive use of the enabling powers in the Bill that we will see the present reform programme begin to realise its overall target.
For that sub-county structure the Progressive Democrats are advocating the creation of a network of 150 directly elected district councils, covering the entire country, and making no distinction between urban and rural areas, as is made at present. These new district councils will include urban and rural areas alike and are designed to deliver a whole range of local services, such as refuse collection, litter control, road repairs, traffic control, maintenance of local amenities such as parks, beaches and open spaces and also maintaining infrastructural services for health, safety and employment purposes and providing a local community input into matters like education and policing. Indeed, the whole range of  services provided through the different Government Departments should be looked at to see what functions could more effectively and efficiently be administered at a lower tier in the Government structure. There should also be an extensive tier of local government below county level.
Among the important measures which this first-phase Local Government Bill now before us provides for are: the creation of three separate county councils to cover the greater Dublin area and to get away from the present unwieldy 78 member county council structure; the establishment of eight regional authorities to co-ordinate major regional development projects; to give local authorities a general competence and to abolish the ultra vires rule thereby enabling local authorities to pursue development and employment activities in the interests of local communities; the establishment of independent boundary committees to make recommendations on any changes in county, urban or any other local authority area, including local electoral boundaries, and to provide that any such change must be formally approved by a majority vote in the Dáil and Seanad. If necessary, an amendment will be introduced to copperfasten this aspect of the Bill in case there is any doubt about it.
We are also introducing major restrictions on the use of the section 4 provisions in planning matters so that local authorities will in future require a majority of 75 per cent of their full membership to support any such resolution and also the support of 75 per cent of the councillors elected in the area in which the development is proposed. This 75 per cent voting requirement will apply also in the case of material contravention motions. We are providing local authorities with greater discretion in spending the block grants allocated by central Government under each programme, for example housing, roads etc. Councillors will have a new discretion to determine their priorities for spending the block grants. That is a very fundamental change but it seems to have escaped the notice of the commentators and the Deputies who have  contributed to the debate so far. We are providing that in future city and county managers will be appointed for a fixed term of seven years. We are also providing statutory controls on the payment of expenses to councillors for travel at home and abroad. That is a brief summary of some of the main points provided for in this Bill.
The contents of the Bill are derived primarily from the terms of reference agreed by the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil in Government just over a year ago. On 5 April last year the Government announced the appointment of a Cabinet sub-committee, with representatives of both parties in Government, to draw up proposals for the reform of local government and to look at the question of structures, functions, financing and related matters. The Cabinet sub-committee in turn appointed a specialist committee of nine people, chaired by Mr. Tom Barrington, former director of the Institute of Public Administration. Their final report was received by the Government towards the end of last year, in December, and a second detailed report on financial aspects of local government funding is still awaited from the London Institute of Fiscal Studies.
At this juncture I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Mr. Tom Barrington and to each and every member of his committee for the tremendous work they have done in reviewing our whole local government system in the very short time span allocated to them. As the Progressive Democrats made clear at the time of the publication of the report, our party warmly endorse the overall findings of this expert body.
This legislation should set out the broad Local Government framework and allow for necessary consequential changes to be implemented by way of statutory order. This would provide the  legal flexibility and adaptability to proceed quickly on an ongoing basis.
This is what the Government are proposing by means of this legislation. We intend to radically reform the operation of local government here and to achieve this we need a solid legislative framework followed by ongoing implementation of the reforms.
The Barrington committee recognised that it would be almost impossible to achieve meaningful reform of local government in a reasonable timeframe through primary legislation alone. The solution proposed, and adopted by the Government, which the Progressive Democrats support fully, is to provide legislation to broaden the ambit of local authorities and provide for a speedy and streamlined devolution of powers from the centre to local authorities, to be achieved by a combination of administrative reform and statutory instruments.
A central aspect of this framework legislation is the relaxation of the ultra vires doctrine and the conferring of a general competence on local authorities. That was suggested by the expert committee in paragraphs 8.1 and 8.2 of their report and is presented here in sections 5 and 6 of the Bill which to my mind are probably the most significant sections of it. Section 6 is certainly of enormous importance. It will enable local authorities to engage in a wide range of issues enabling them to play a more active and relevant role in the lives of their communities.
The expert committee also recommended that greater autonomy be provided to local authorities in the allocation of resources. Section 8 (4) provides for a significant degree of new autonomy to be given to local authorities.
A central consideration of the Government in the reform of local government was the need to have elections this year to enable our people to exercise their franchise. The expert committee recognised and recommended the holding of elections for city and county authorities in June, subsequent to the introduction  of this legislation. The committee recognised the immediate need to reform the structures in the Dublin area, and Part IV of the Bill give substance to the recommendations of the expert committee in that regard.
Part IV provides for the setting up of area committees covering the county of Dublin, excluding that part of the city governed by the corporation. The three area committees, Fingal, South Dublin, and Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown will, eventually, become full county authorities. That will replace the shambles that exists at present, a remnant of the flawed centralist policies of the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition, who left office in 1987 and left us with a 78 councillor Dublin County Council, nearly half the size of Dáil Éireann, but which has proved to be ineffective and very remote from the people it is supposed to represent.
The committee also recommended in paragraph 5.2.3 of their report the setting up of a boundary review group and a new legislative framework for boundary change. The committee stressed the need for “a new, modern, simpler and flexible statutory framework in place of the current variety of outdated provisions”. These recommendations are taken on board in Part V.
Local authorities will be able to initiate boundary revisions, thereby facilitating a bottom-up approach to local government reform. The report of the independent boundary committees will be published to ensure a full and proper disclosure of their recommendations. Finally, any changes proposed by the Minister for the Environment will be subject to the confirmation of both Houses of the Oireachtas before they can have effect.
When I listened to the Fine Gael spokesman on these matters I wondered whether he had read the Bill, whether he understood it was being mischievious, was being reactionary, and whether he wanted any change, reform, or improvement. It is very difficult to understand how a Bill written in simple and plain English could lead the Deputy to his  extraordinary conclusions about the so-called gerrymander of electoral areas. It is particularly difficult to understand the position when one recalls the record of the Deputy's party in regard to gerrymandering, not only of Dáil constituency boundaries which is well known from the time of the Tully gerrymander, the most blatant gerrymander of constituencies ever implemented here — but also of local authority electoral areas. There are many examples of the Fine Gael and Labour parties in Government changing boundaries to seek to obtain electoral advantage for their party candidates. Some disgraceful things have been done by those parties. In that regard, Deputy Mitchell made an extraordinary allegation that this Bill facilitated the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries. In fact, the Bill is changing the system that those parties abused and ensuring that such abuse cannot be undertaken in the future. It is doing that by insisting that an independent boundary committee will study the matter and publish a report so that there will be full transparency and that the public will be able to read the proposals. Changes proposed for implementation by the Minister following on the recommendations from such an independent committee will have to come before the House by way of an order. So much for the outlandish and inaccurate allegations made by Deputy Mitchell.
The Bill is a proper response to the need to provide a simple, flexible, statutory framework as suggested by the Barrington committee. It has adequate safeguards to meet the fears of even the most sceptical of Deputies, consistent with the need to respond to the real needs of local government.
Section 13 disqualifies Ministers of Government and Ministers of State from membership of local authorities. We will also need to keep the general issue of parallel membership of various governmental tiers under review, particularly when the issue of subcounty structures is determined. Indeed, my party's policy preference is for local government to be confined to non-Oireachtas Members,  but we recognise that it would be foolish for us to adopt that course unilaterally.
Section 43 provides for the establishment of regional authorities. That again is in keeping with the recommendations of the expert committee in paragraph 5.1.8. It provides for the setting up of definitive administrative regions abroad which public bodies will be expected to organise. This layer of Government will operate mainly on a basis of co-ordinating public services in their regions.
While this section provides for the setting up of statutory regional authorities we will need to see a parallel commitment by public bodies to reorganise their structures and systems of decision-making to reflect this new tier of Government, rather than have the anomalous situation that pertains at present where a variety of regional authorities are established and carry out important functions with very few of them having the same boundaries. There is need for rationalisation to establish once and for all the regions and the regional authorities across all of the services that are provided and organised.
Part VII implements several recommendations of the expert committee. Section 42 provides for allowances for chairpersons of local authorities, section 47 limits the tenure of office of county and city managers. Section 48 provides a statutory basis for the conferring of civic honours and section 49 provides for the twinning of local authorities. Section 50 places a statutory obligation on each local authority to produce an annual report of their activities so that the public may have full access to knowledge of the way in which their money is being spent. Section 51 provides a basis on which attendance at conferences by councillors, especially overseas events, can be determined. We are all aware of the highly publicised cases of local councillors attending conferences abroad at which the subject matter under discussion was very remote from the particular councillor's area of responsibility. This section should help to prevent bringing into disrepute the legitimate participation of councillors at conferences abroad.
 The expert committee also addressed the issue of section 4 planning appeals and recommended that section 4 motions should no longer apply to decisions on planning applications. The Progressive Democrats agree with this recommendation because there already exists an appeal process vested in An Bord Pleanála. We do not support the wanton disregard for the planning system exercised by some councillors in the past and even up to recent times. Neither do we want to see the issue of local government brought into disrepute by such irresponsible action. The Government decision does not involve the complete abolition of section 4 in planning matters. However, sections 44 and 45 of this legislation provide for substantial controls over this abuse by requiring such motions to have the support of 75 per cent of the members of the local authority along with the requirement that the motion be signed by 75 per cent of those councillors in whose area the planning appeal lies. As I have said already, this voting requirement would also apply in the case of material contraventions.
We believe that these steps were necessary, unfortunately, because of the very clear abuse being undertaken by some councillors. All councils and all councillors were being tarnished because of the actions of a small number. I hope that when this Bill is passed we will see an end to that practice, except in exceptional cases. It is very regrettable that it has become the norm in some authorities that when a person makes a planning application he does not even wait for the decision of the planning authority but approaches three councillors and gets them to sign a motion which is put in before the application can be decided by the manager. The manager is directed to grant planning permission by three people, who in many cases may have never seen the site, are not aware of the detail of the application and have no expert or technical knowledge of the various aspects of such applications. Yet they are confidently prepared to put their names to section 4 motions. They then stubbornly argue for them against the  advice of the manager, the chief planning officer, the county engineer and the health boards, who have an important role to play in regard to the disposal of sewage effluent in these planning application cases. I have seen this happen time and again. This is one of the areas where some councillors have abused the system and it was time for Dáil Éireann to act.
I am very proud that it was the Progressive Democrats who highlighted this abuse and called for change. I am very pleased that the Barrington report fully supported the approach we had taken publicly in that matter. I am satisfied to support the 75 per cent requirement in the hope that it will deal with the difficulty. If it does not, we will keep the matter under review and see how it progresses. To hold a special meeting once a month to deal with practically nothing else but section 4 motions is a serious abuse. It means that a lot of expense is incurred, with all officials having to be present and some councillors having to travel many miles for the meeting. That procedure has to be gone through to put through these motions. I am complaining only about the cases where due consideration is not given prior to signing the motions. As happens in Galway, the manager takes legal advice and refuses to implement the direction given under the section 4 motion.
It is quite obvious from a summary of the various provisions in this first Local Government Reform Bill that it represents a very significant step forward from the present status quo. For that reason alone the persistent and misleading remarks of the Fine Gael spokesman, Deputy Mitchell, some of which were given even before the Bill was published, were irresponsible, absurd and even reactionary. This is even more so when it is borne in mind that the Progressive Democrats sought to ensure all-party involvement in local government reform. In the Programme for Government negotiated in July 1989 it was agreed between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats that an all-party committee of this House would be established  with the task of carrying out a major review of the local government system and coming forward with agreed proposals for change. The Fine Gael Party declined to participate in this exercise and prevaricated for so long that valuable time was lost which in the end necessitated the postponement of the local elections last year.
Deputy Mitchell's comments lack credibility when one considers the poor record of Fine Gael in this area of reform. They also lack credibility because his comments bear no relationship to what is in the Bill. It seems that he spoke before he knew or understood what was in the Bill. His contribution to the debate has failed to substantiate his claim that the Minister was taking unto himself draconian powers. His claims in particular relating to the Bill's proposals on revising local government boundaries are totally perverse and incorrect. Until this legislation was introduced the fixing of local government boundaries was exclusively the preserve of the Minister for the Environment of the day, and the last Government of which Deputy Mitchell was a Minister utilised this power to the full in the run-up to the last local elections in 1985.
Deputy Mitchell has also done a great deal of huffing and puffing about the amount of time allocated for debate on this Bill. Here also he stands guilty of downright hypocrisy. I would like to remind this House, and especially the Fine Gael and Labour parties, that the last time the Dáil debated local government reform was under the Local Government (Reorganisation) Bill, 1985, prior to the last round of local elections. While that Bill was a shambles, and its limted measures were not even subsequently enacted, the fact is that the total time allocated then for the Second Stage debate was a paltry six and a half hours. This week a total of 26 hours had been allocated for the Second Stage of the Bill before the House. Furthermore, less than 11 hours were allocated for all Stages of the Fine Gael-Labour Bill in the Dáil in 1985. That exposes the sham and humbug of Deputy Mitchell and Fine  Gael. Their stance is one of pure desperation.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Wyse): I would inform the Deputy that there have been no interruptions up to now, and there should be no further interruptions. Every Deputy will have an opportunity of making a contribution. I want no interruptions in the House.
Mr. Molloy: I am sure the Chair does not want repetition from me or from any other Deputy, but I would invite the Deputy to read the record of today's debate in which all that matter has been explained.
Mr. Molloy: ——that seems to be the excuse for policy which Fine Gael in their desperation are seeking to cast about. I am very disappointed with the debate so far. As the House had an opportunity of 26 hours debate on this stage, I expected that the contributions would focus on the matters before the House which relate to the structures of local government and the functions and powers of councillors.
Surely the House recognises that the elections to the urban district councils and town commissioners have been postponed because no decision has been made by the Government in regard to  that level of local government? The sub-county structures to be put in place for elections to be held in June 1992 have not yet been decided; this debate should have presented an opportunity for the Opposition parties to inform the House of the type of changes they wished to see, including the recommendations the Fine Gael Party want to make to the Government who will have to consider this matter after the elections on 27 June; legislation will have to be introduced in time for elections to be held next year because it is certain that the elections to be held in June 1992 are most unlikely to be to the existing authorities, known as urban district councils and town commissioners, in their present form. It is very disappointing that Fine Gael, the Labour Party or The Workers' Party have not yet formulated a policy in regard to this matter. This would have been an opportunity to inform the House of their thinking and what steps they wanted the Government to take.
Some of the parties are resorting to waiting to hear our proposals so that they can criticise and misinterpret them to the public. They have already refused the offer of an all-party committee, a very generous offer not often extended from Governments. However, that hand of friendship and co-operation on this issue was rejected. We have been in office for nearly two years, and the Opposition have not come forward with any solid proposals, and they have enunciated none in this debate. Before the debate concludes I hope we will hear the proposals of the other three parties in regard to the sub-county structures.
I am very proud to be a member of a Government who have, at last, begun to take positive measures to reform our out-of-date system of local government and to begin to put structures in place which will allow communities around the country to have more of a say in the administration of their local areas. Of course, we have a very long way to go.
Leis an fhírinne a rá níl anseo ach an tús. Tá seanfhocal ann a deir, “Tús maith leath na hoibre”, agus creidim gur tús an-mhaith é seo. Tá tábhacht ag baint leis  na hathruithe seo agus leis na toghcháin do na comhairlí contae agus comhairlí na mbailte móra a bheidh ann an mhí seo chugainn. Ach tá an cheist is mó, an córas rialtais áitiúil, le socrú fós, is é sin, cén sórt córais áitiúil, ag an leibhéal is ísle sa tír, a bheidh againn le haghaidh an toghcháin a bheidh ar siúl taca an ama seo an bhliain seo chugainn. Tá rialtas baile ann faoi láthair ag bailte faoi leith agus séard a theastaíonn ón bPáirtí Daonlathach — agus, maidir leis an cheist seo, níl mé in ann labhairt ach ar son mo pháirtí féin mar níl aon chinneadh déanta ag na páirtithe le chéile sa Rialtas fós — ná go mbeadh córas ann do na bailte ar fad agus do na ceantair thuaithe ar fad agus nach leanfaí leis an struchtúr amaideach atá ann faoi láthair ina bhfuil údarás do bhailte áirithe agus nach bhfuil aon údarás ag bailte eile, agus nach bhfuil aon údarás dá laghad faoi leibhéal na comhairle contae ag éinne a bhfuil cónaí air faoin tuath.
Táimid 30 bliain ar gcúl, déarfainn, i gcomparáid le gach aon tír eile in iarthar na hEorpa. I ngach aon tír eile sa Chomhphobal Eorpach tá atheagrú nó athordú déanta acu ar an gcóras rialtais áitiúil atá acu agus tá a thairbhe sin le feiceáil sna tíortha sin ar chaighdeán maireachtála mhuintir na dtíortha sin agus ar an dul chun cinn atá á dhéanamh acu de bharr go bhfuil córas éifeachtach á fheidhmiú ag gach aon leibhéal iontu agus nach bhfuil an gnáthphobal scoite ó chumhacht ná ó thionchar bheith acu ar cad a tharlaíonn ina gceantair féin. Tá suim ag chuile dhuine i ndul chun cinn na tíre ach tá suim phearsanta ag chuile dhuine ina dtimpeallacht féin, ina mbaile féin, ina dteach féin ar dtús, ina dtimpeallacht lasmuigh dá dtithe, sa bhaile nó ceantar tuaithe ina bhfuil cónaí orthu. Tá déistin ar dhaoine nach bhfuil ar a gcumas aon bheart fiúntach a dhéanamh chun na deacrachtaí a chuireann as dóibh ó bhliain go bliain a leigheas, de dheasca nach bhfuil córas rialtais áitiúil éifeachtach againn, de dheasca nach bhfuil guth ag na gnáthdhaoine sa chóras sin agus go bhfuil a dhóthain cumhachta ag an Rialtas láir, agus nach bhfuil an Rialtas láir,  is cuma cé bhí ann go dtí seo, sásta aon chuid den chumhacht a ligean as a lámha.
Níl sé ceart bheith ag iarraidh an milleán a chur ar na daoine atá ag obair sa tseirbhís phoiblí. Braitheann sé orthu siúd atá i gceannas ar an Rialtas chun polasaí bheith acu ar dtús agus an polasaí a chur i gcrích. Ar ndóigh, ní féidir athrú a chur i gcrích taobh istigh d'achar gearr. Caithfidh plean bheith ann ar dtús agus ansin caithfear bualadh ar an mbóthar chun na hathruithe polasaí a chur i gcrích. Is é mo thuairim, dá mbeimis dáiríre sa tír seo maidir le cumhacht a aistriú ón Rialtas láir go dtí na daoine sna ceantair éagsúla, agus é sin a dhéanamh ar bhealach éifeachtach ar fad, thógfadh sé idir sé bliana agus, b'fhéidir, deich mbliana. Ní bheadh aon imní ormsa faoin méid ama a thógfadh sé; an rud a chuirfeadh imní orm ná nach bhfuil aon tús déanta chuige sin. Gan tús a chur le rud, ní tharlaíonn aon rud.
Bliain is fiche ó shin go díreach roghnaíodh mise mar Aire Rialtais Áitiúil sa Dáil anseo agus, maidir le rud áirithe a raibh an-spéis agam ann, chuir mé moltaí le chéile agus d'imigh mé liom timpeal na tíre. Bhí naoi gcruinniú réigiúnda agam le baill tofa údarás áitiúil sa bhliain 1970-71 agus chuir mé na moltaí seo os a gcomhair, agus an rud ba thábhachtaí ná go raibh mé ag éisteacht. Bhí mé ag éisteacht leis na mílte ball tofa sna húdaráis áitiúla agus cruthaíodh domsa ó shin i leith cé chomh tábhachtach is a bhí an córas rialtais áitiúil agus cé chomh feargach is a bhí na comhairleoirí tofa, fiú amháin ag an am sin, maidir leis an easpa cumhachta agus an easpa tionchair a bhí acu ar an gcóras agus cé chomh scoite agus a bhí an gnáthphobal ón chóras rialtais. Na moltaí a bhí faoi chaibidil agam ag an am sin, níorbh iad siúd na moltaí a shocraigh mé féin nuair a bhí neart staidéir eile déanta agam ar an gcóras agus nuair a bhí an éisteacht agus an staidéar críochnaithe agam, staidéar ar cad a bhí déanta ag tíortha eile agus cad é an toradh a bhí ar na hathruithe sna tíortha eile. Tá mé céad faoin gcéad taobh thiar de na moltaí atá sa leabhar atá foilsithe ag Tomás Barrington agus a choiste.
 Ba mhaith liom a chloisteáil ó na páirtithe eile atá páirteach sa díospóireacht seo cad a mheasann siadsan faoi na moltaí atá curtha chun cinn ag coiste Barrington. Sin an easpa is mó a fheicimse ar an díospóireacht go dtí seo, nár dhírigh na páirtithe a n-aire ar an gceist sin dáiríre fós. Baineann sé sin leis an pháirtí eile atá sa Rialtas linn, chomh maith leis na páirtithe eile. Tá mé ag ceapadh go bhfuil a lán nithe sa tuarascáil sin nach bhfuil curtha os comhair na Dála fós, agus nach bhfuil sa Bhille seo ach cuid de na moltaí agus de na hathruithe.
Tá bóthar fada le siúl fós sula mbeidh an Páirtí Daonlathach sásta leis an gcóras rialtais áitiúil. Ba mhaith liom a chloisteáil ó na páirtithe eile cad a mheasann siadsan, cad iad na tuairimí atá acu, nó an bhfuil aon tuairimí acu. Cén mhaith a bheith ag cur ama amú anseo le 26 huaire a chloig ag labhairt faoi rudaí nach bhfuil sa Bhille seo agus nach bhfuil aon tionchar ag an mBille seo orthu, Teachtaí ag labhairt ar dheacrachtaí áitiúla, ar staid na mbóithre agus an easpa seirbhísí; sin é an fáth go bhfuil gá le córas éifeachtach rialtais áitiúil. Tá seans againn rud éigin éifeachtach, fiúntach a dhéanamh agus an cheist seo á plé againn sa Dáil. Mar sin, cuireadh Teachtaí a gcuid smaointe os comhair na Dála. B'fhéidir go dtiocfaidh athrú meoin ar Fhine Gael agus go mbeidh siad sásta dul i gcomhar leis na páirtithe eile chun na fadhbanna seo a fhuascailt.
Mr. O'Brien: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill which deals with local government reform. When I was in the Custom House I was involved in the reform of local government. This Bill does not deal with the kind of local government reform I should like to see introduced; it merely trims around the edges of what is there already. When one looks at the nitty-gritty of the Bill one can see that there will be no real reform down the line.
I welcome the changes proposed in the Bill in regard to the ultra vires rule. I do not think anyone would dispute this change. It was specifically recommended  in 1985 that the structure of county councils in the greater Dublin area should be changed. The Government may refer to this as a new reform but it is not a new reform. It was recommended in 1985 that there should be a large number of councillors so that there would be a provision laterally to set up other county councils. This is not a new reform and the Government should not be saying it is a new reform. The Minister should know that it is not a new reform. However, he may have been too busy in 1985 signing manifestos which misled people to have read this proposal
I want to refer to the proposals in regard to section 4 motions. I am not happy with the proposal that section 4 motions must have the support of 75 per cent of the members of local authorities. Members on the Government benches refer to the expert committee but I prefer to refer to them as the Barrington committee, which is what they are usually called. I suppose we are all experts on something or other but I am wary of expert committees. This committee recommended that section 4 motions be removed. The Minister got up here and thumped his craw about section 4 motions. I have been a member of the corporation for a long number of years and I did not vote for or against a section 4 motion, unlike the Minister who sought support for section 4 motions. He now has the neck to come in here and talk about the damage they have done. Of course, they have caused damage. They discredited the entire local authority system. While I am glad that this procedure is being amended under the Bill it should have been removed altogether. However, the problem is that people want to hang on to as much power as they can. That is not what reform is about; reform is about genuine change. We should look at local government reform in the context of the society in which we live today and not in an historical context. We should look at how local government meets the needs of a modern Ireland within the context of Europe.
The expert committee recommended that managers be appointed for seven  years. It is accepted within the Civil Service that seven years is the appropriate limit for top level appointments. No reference is made in the Bill to a term of seven years. It is wrong that the Minister should have a say in such matters as he could extend the term of office of one of his buddies in a county council and not extend the term of office of someone he does not like for whatever reason. I do not think this power should be given to the Minister. We should be consistent in this matter. The established principle in the Civil Service should be adopted here.
We brought forward a Bill in 1985 which provided that committees be based on proportionality. This is only correct. I do not see any reference to a similar provision in this Bill. Perhaps it is included but I cannot see it. I regard this as a sinister move. The Government seem to be returning to their old ways — if they have a majority they can steamroll through what they wish. It is ironic that the Government should be trying to do this at a time when they are talking to people on the other part of this island about power sharing and how it should be on a proportional basis. I do not see any reference to proportionality in the Bill. This is a scandal. It is not reform, it is a retrograde step.
The expert committee recommended also that apart from additional money the chairmen of local authorities be given additional powers and status. Chairmen of county councils have a difficult and onerous job and it is only right that they would get some compensation for this. A previous speaker suggested that county councils be given more powers. This is an area which should be looked at. Given that this was also recommended by the expert committee, I wonder why no proposal was put forward in the Bill in this regard.
The Bill proposes that Ministers and Ministers of State should no longer be members of local authorities. I think we would all agree that this is a long-overdue proposal. Even though none of us like leaving local authorities it is only  right that this provision be included in the Bill as there can sometimes be a conflict of interest. I am not casting a reflection on them, but I want to ask the Minister if the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad can stand for local elections. We have to be consistent in regard to such matters when we are dealing with legislation. Both those office holders hold positions of immense importance and they should be excluded from standing in local elections. Apparently the Ministers did not even have some say in that. County managers always hid behind the ultra vires rule to avoid becoming involved in decision making in certain areas. The ultra vires rule should be looked at again on Committee Stage.
The Minister said that Opposition speakers talked humbug but I did not hear the Minister say much about local government reform. The Minister did not mention the 1971 White Paper which brought a huge reaction as soon as it was published. The White Paper was buried and it was never seen or heard of again. That was the Minister's contribution to local government reform and he had the gall to criticise what happened in 1985. I do not take the Minister seriously. It is hard to listen to him talking about the Progressive Democrats and the section 4 motions when he himself is involved in section 4 motions. He should be ashamed to mention the name of a former Minister for the Environment in this House seeing that he tried to besmirch his name.
Local authorities have become moribund over the last number of years mainly through lack of finance. The Minister said that to start talking about money in relation in this Bill would be putting the cart before the horse. I do not agree with that, unless the Minister can tell me what one can do without money. Without money one cannot do much more than go for a walk or a swim. Without the readies, the mare will not go. Local authorities will not function without money, despite this Bill. Councillors will naturally want to spend money even if they do not have the responsibility for raising it. If I do not have to make a bob, I can  tell everyone how it should be spent and why it should be spent, but if I have to raise it and tell those who elected me why I am imposing charges on them, it would put manners on me. Let us not cod ourselves; without some financial arrangements we are not serious.
We are tinkering with local government reform on the eve of an election. The fuss that this side of the House made about the Bill annoys me because the publicity gives it a sort of credibility it does not deserve.
I do not have any problems about the drawing of the boundaries. Those elected to this House to do a job should act responsibly in drawing boundaries. I stood over boundaries drawn by my officials, although some of my people were not happy about them. I was never in favour of setting up a commission to draw the boundaries. I suffered because of boundary commissions but that is not why I am against them. Politicians are elected to do the job and we should not pass thorny problems on to somebody else. If I were on the Government side of the House I would be prepared to draw boundaries and to do the job fairly and without malice. It is not possible to gerrymander the local elections in a society as small and open as ours.
There is not much reform in this Bill. This is not the sort of Bill we want. Should we not, in the European context, have produced a larger Bill than this? The Bill refers to eight regional areas but they will be just talking shops. They will not have any power. It is a nice concept to have regional authorities co-ordinating local effort but these will be just talking shops and nothing else. I am in favour of structured regional assemblies.
I favour the idea of 150 councils under a system of regional government. Local government was damned not just because it was starved of cash but because it had become too political. Because of that, local authorities did not properly serve local needs. The 150 councils should be non-political councils. They should comprise of people who are not political hacks but people who are committed to local government and to serving their local  communities. They could have a major role in planning, environment protection, the provision of libraries and all the things needed in communities. They could operate under a regional set up which was properly structured. That sort of set up would be a start towards decentralisation so that, for instance, the IDA would not have a palatial office in Wilton Place but would operate down the coal face.
Tourism would be taken on properly at a local level, as would industry. These regional councils would be dynamic development councils involved in tourism, the environment, commerce and everything required to make a region tick over. Councils would not get funds just because they were poor but only on the basis of putting up proposals for structural development, industrial development or whatever that could stand up. They would make a good case and on that basis they would get the necessary funds. They would also have their own funding arrangements. Within that there would be a series of committees with a full-time paid chairman whose report would be adopted.
Something like that is obviously necessary for the future but regionalisation is important in the context of the island of Ireland. We would then have something in place where people could participate, not necessarily totally, but in part. Regionalisation would draw us closer together. We are now in the big league of Europe and we must start thinking larger. Regional councils, as well as making their case to national government, would be entitled to make a case to Brussels for funds.
The Department of Finance like to feel that there is no other way to do things other than through that Department. I do not accept that. If we had properly structured elected assemblies in the regions, they could make their case. In the case of health, for example, rather than having a plethora of health boards, it would come under that system. The Garda could operate in the regions in the same way as could the IDA and Córas Tráchtála and so on. All of these bodies  could participate as non-voting members in any committee that was set up.
What this country needs is greater public involvement in the whole generality of life. This is lacking because we do not have good local government and what we have in this Bill is more of the same. It is but a continuation of what has gone before with one or two things tidied up. That is not reform. What I am talking about is the establishment of a large number of councils that can play an active role in stimulating their own communities to improve their quality of life. Communities are doing that today but their efforts need to be harnessed and pointed in the right direction and the establishment of regional councils is the way to do that.
What we have here provides for about 34 local authorities and a myriad of other situations. Unless we look beyond that I do not think local government would be much different in five or ten years time. We must now, in the European context, think of regional assemblies properly structured and not in the haphazard way local authorities are run.
What I want to see is a highly competitive situation with councils competing for funds. Funds should not be handed out willy nilly. They should only be given for specific reasons. This would stimulate industry, tourism, etc., and remove the dead hand of centralism from the country. Central Government then could act as a stimulant to regional government by way of policy and planning. However, central Government are so tied up with all sorts of bits and pieces today that they cannot set down a proper strategy for the country as a whole. That is what the role of central Government should be — prodding and encouraging the regions to develop.
I am not saying that that in itself is the solution to local government reform. I am putting this forward as an idea and this is what this debate should be about. It is about ideas as to how local government should develop. I understand there will be further Bills but if we are only going to tinker at the edges then in ten years  time we will be back to square one and no different than we are today.
It is disappointing to have to come into this House and criticise the lack of reform, but Fianna Fáil were never a reforming party. The Progressive Democrats like to talk about reform but do nothing about it. They talked about tax reform but nothing is happening. There may be good reasons for it, but tinkering at the edges of taxation is not reform.
We have the same situation with regard to local government reform. We are not really taking it seriously. There is a local election coming up and we have to be seen to be doing something. Something had to be done about the local government anyway because it was stated categorically in 1985 that that would be done and these councils would be set up. There is nothing new there. The Government now want to return to the old way where they could dominate committees instead of going back to the drawing board.
The only area that was not changed then was education. That should be changed now. Otherwise we are not serious about reform. The local elections are coming up and we want to be seen to be generating some activity.
Unfortunately, the fuss being made on this side of the House is giving this Bill far too much credibility altogether and that is what annoys me. People think there is some sort of reform coming up when there is not. There is no point in the Minister, or the Minister of State, stating that this is a great Bill and that it will revolutionise the system. I regret to say, it will not.
I have made my views on the Bill known. I have put forward a few ideas as there is a duty on those of us who oppose the Bill to make some proposals. I do not mind if these are rejected as at least the collective wisdom of the House will have been brought to bear on them.
It is superfluous to go back over the arguments about whether adequate time was allocated for this debate but I contend one cannot publish legislation on a Friday afternoon and expect to take it the following Tuesday afternoon particularly if it is put forward as the engine  with which to reform local government. It sets a dangerous precedent. The publication of the explanatory memorandum on Tuesday afternoon is a clear indication that the Bill was rushed. It is bad legislation.
I have been down this road before. It is ridiculous to suggest that we should postpone the local elections for 12 months to allow us introduce reforms. I suggested a similar move and I do not intend to run away from that fact. We should permit the local elections to go ahead next month and then carry out a comprehensive review over a period of five years. The question we must ask ourselves is whether this legislation will cater for the needs of society into the next century, given that it lays down the ground rules. I do not think it will and I suggest to the Minister that we should take this matter seriously for the next five years and introduce radical reforms.
We need to get communities involved and generate activity. There is a tremendous reservoir of talent in the country but it has to be harnessed into a unifying force in each of the four or five regions. If we do this in ten, 15 or 20 years time our society will be booming and buzzing with people with ideas wanting to participate with central Government at the top, prodding, probing and encouraging and getting away from the idea of the all powerful father handing out diktats to the people below.
The people of this country looked to central Government for everything for far too long. They should be encouraged instead to consider how they can make a positive contribution within their regions. If we do this together — I am not talking only about this side or the other side of the House — we will get something worthwhile. The State agencies have looked upon Europe as a benevolent benefactor instead of asking what contribution can we make in Europe. One cannot blame people, therefore, for thinking that the Government in turn are also a benevolent benefactor who hand out goodies instead of encouraging people to be responsible.
I am disappointed with the Bill. It  seems we cannot prevent it from being passed but this should not be the end of the matter. Once it is enacted we should look at the issue again in the context of regional planning and development. If we do that we will have done something worthwhile.
Dr. Fitzpatrick: When I came into the House on Tuesday afternoon I felt we were going to have a long drawn out debate on the reform of local government. If I remember rightly we were told that the Government were going to employ jackboot tactics——
Dr. Fitzpatrick: I welcome the Bill which is the first step in reforming local government. I listened with interest to Deputy O'Brien who, like Deputy Quinn, has long experience of central Government. He is also a former lord mayor of Dublin. He is aware of what can only be described as the massive inertia which befalls local government. I have been a member of Dublin Corporation since 1985 and I am aware, like every Member of this House who is also a member of a local authority, that it takes a considerable amount of time to get something done. It appears to be very difficult to get the machinery crankedup. The reason for this is the relationship between local government and central Government. For instance, if Dublin Corporation decide to erect a library the plans have to be submitted to the Custom  House and there may be much toing and froing. Indeed, it may take years to complete the process.
This is unnecessary given that we have the necessary skilled architectural and enginering staff. All we need is the money. As I said, the plans are sent back and forth from the Department of the Environment who often use this as a pretext for delaying the process of issuing their imprimatur. Dublin Corporation are not the only body who have encountered this problem. It occurs with every local authority. Such matters as amenities as small as public toilets in villages have to be referred to the Department of the Environment.
Deputy O'Brien referred to the regional tier of Government. There is no point in putting in a regional tier of Government if it is to be another block to progress on the ground. In the Bill these regional tiers are more or less coterminous with the health board regions, and that is a good thing. Health boards and local authorities in the Irish saying, Tá siad fite fuaite trí na chéile. Health boards can make decisions about moving people out into the community from psychiatric hospitals. It is up to the local authorities to provide the housing and often a health board will make this decision and the local authority will not have the money or wherewithal or will not have the housing in place. If we are to institute regional committees perhaps the membership of health boards and the membership of the regional committees should be as far as possible the same people.
In regard to regional committees, I noticed that Meath would be in the eastern region. In the Eastern Health Board Meath is in the north-east region. That will have to be examined. Deputy Dempsey said this morning that decisions taken in County Dublin spill over into County Meath and vice versa. House building in County Meath has been halted because more housing means more septic tanks and that could endanger the water table in that area. Without adequate sewerage facilities, which most efficiently  come from the County Dublin and the city of Dublin area, Meath cannot progress further.
We in this House have not made up our minds about the powers of local authorities and how much political power we are going to allow them. For many reasons, not the least being that many a Deputy in Dáil Éireann would be nervous of a power base arising in his constituency that would not be of his own making, talk of root and branch local government reform without constitutional reform is not on. Across the water recently the Prime Minister of the day, in her zeal to bring in local government reform that was fiscally based, found herself in early retirement. I would say any Minister for the Environment would have taken that lesson on board, whether in a Fianna Fáil Government or a Coalition Fine Gael-Labour Government.
Dr. Fitzpatrick: No matter how progressive, we are all politicians. Any Government of the day is going to handle local government reform with a very long pair of tongs. Again, I appeal to the Fine Gael Members of the House to realise they may have missed a great opportunity in not agreeing to setting up an all-party committee, such as we had on the Child Care Bill and Foreign Adoptions Bill, where the pros and cons of local government reform could be thrashed out around a table. The country as a whole and Fine Gael may pay for this later, because decisions will have to be made. There is an inertia about local government that will have to be tackled if we are to bring not alone services but decision-making right down to the people who are affected by the decisions.
What are we going to do with our local authorities? Are we going to regard them in this House as providers of services and not policy making bodies? In this Bill we regard them as providers of services and by omission Dáil Éireann as the maker  of policy. This is as it should be until we go down the road of major institutional reform in regard to the method of electing Members to Dáil Éireann, their responsibilities, what decision-making powers they would have and whether Members of Dáil Éireann should be members of local authorities. As things are at the moment unless one is a Minister or a Minister of State or has an extremely high profile it is necessary for one to be a member of a local authority if one is to be elected to the Dáil. The route to Dáil Éireann is through one's local authority. Therefore, we find the decision-making power is concentrated in quite few hands.
The point has been made that councillors do not have enough power. In fact, they have quite wide ranging powers, but the problem facing councillors is that there is no glory or honour for them in exercising these powers. We hide behind a managerial system at times. Deputy Doyle, who is in the Chair at the moment, will remember a recent episode in Dublin Corporation when the raising of rents on local authority houses ranging from 50p to £1.50 was opposed by the council when everybody on the council knew that was a managerial decision. The manager exercised his right to raise rents. I was pilloried on a “drop-in” around my constituency recently. I was accused of moving the motion to raise the rents. I had no power at all in the matter. The manager did it; but the councillors, while saying one thing, were quite willing to acquiesce in something quite different. Of course, without control of their own money councillors do not have power. Money is power and when you control it you can spend it as you like. I am chairman of the finance committee of Dublin Corporation for my sins, and one thing that amuses me is the accounting system——
Dr. Fitzpatrick: There are one or two sins we in Dublin Corporation did not commit. Deputy Doyle will be glad to agree with me and take some credit for  the fact that we did not bring in local charges and that rates have been kept within cost of living increases every year.
Dr. Fitzpatrick: It was very good action on the part of all councillors in Dublin Corporation. I was about to refer to the accounting system of local authorities. It reminds me of when I worked in the building trade years ago and a type of glass that was called “clear obscure”. The books of any local authority are clear as to the fact that money was spent. Every penny a local authority receive is accounted for. They are very obscure as to how it is spent because there are cross references all the time. When we come to Committee Stage I hope some light will be cast on how the money is spent. The accounts should be visible, clear and unambiguous and easily understood by people such as myself who have no accountancy or financial training.
One finds that a certain sum is allocated for a specific purpose but then the money is spent under different subheads and it is very difficult to ascertain exactly how the total sum was disbursed. One must have faith that the officers of the county council or corporation properly expended the funds. I have no doubt that this is always the case but it is not possible to find out whether the local authority has obtained value for money. This complaint has been made since 1985. When Fianna Fáil obtained a near majority on Dublin Corporation we as a group sat down on many a long winter Saturday and went through the books to find out what was happening. Councillors felt that they could run a reasonably efficient system without bringing in charges.
Dr. Fitzpatrick: Expenditure on housing maintenance amounted to £25 million, of which only a minuscule proportion was spent on materials. The staff of the  corporation provide a good and caring service for the people, but work practices cost us more than maintenance. Those work practices shoot up maintenance costs. What Deputy O'Brien was really calling for was an all-party committee to discuss this matter. There are Members who have great experience of local authorities and people on the Opposition side who have served in the Department of the Environment know the story from both sides. They could bring this experience to bear in advising how we should provide services and deciding what powers and functions local authorities should have. The demands upon a local authority in a rural area are not the same as those in Dublin. It should also be said that local authority needs in the north inner city of Dublin are not the same as in Pembroke. We have in this House the intelligence, experience and political ability to implement local authority reforms.
A lot of angst is generated by the use of section 4 motions. In Dublin Corporation we tried to use one once and it was opposed on all sides and defeated. Maybe in the corporation area we have different problems from those in rural Ireland. We have multi-million pound development schemes which can only be evaluated with professional expertise. Environmental impact studies are necessary, as well as surveys of sanitary services and power requirements. This process should be seen to be open so that members of the public can follow each step as it goes through. Often people do not wake up until a scheme has gone through the whole planning process and been finalised. The debate on the draft development plan has been going on since last summer but people are suddenly expressing great dissatisfaction. If there is a duty on politicians and public representatives to debate matters in public, it is also the duty of the public to take note of what is being debated and to get in on the discussion if they want to make an input.
Boundary advisory committees have a very difficult task. My opinion of the last boundary commission, which affected my  constituency more than somewhat, as Damon Runyon would say, would not be repeatable on the record of Dáil Éireann or even in polite society. Perhaps boundary commissions should be constituted by Members of the Dáil on an all-party basis. At least the people most affected would have some input. The present system is a bit much. Deputies are full-time practising politicians who deserve to be treated like other people in full-time employment. Some consideration for the future well-being of their families, if not for the Deputies, would be in order.
I welcome the Bill as a first step in tackling local government reform, which is not an easy task. It is bound to upset a lot of people. We saw across the water that an attempt at local government reform ended in disaster for the reformer. That is not on.
Mr. Harte: To ask this House to debate local government reform while people want houses built, roads fixed, water mains laid and sewerage provided, as well as other services, is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic half an hour after the iceberg had been struck or passing around a dinner menu in Bangladesh or Ethiopia. That is how irrelevant this Bill is to the people in the street, the homeless and those who have to tolerate potholes on every side road. Here we are living in cloud cuckooland, in a totally different world, talking about local government reform.
In the four years of government of the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition, an average of 265 houses per year were built in County Donegal. During that time among the critics of the Government for not building enough houses, was myself. I kept agitating and lobbying the Minister for the Environment and the Government, of which I was a supporting Member, for more money to build houses because we could not meet the target necessary to house the homeless in County Donegal. We had Fianna Fáil members hysterically claiming that 265 houses per year was not enough and that more money would have to be found for housing. In the last three years, under  the Haughey Administration, an average of 68 houses per year have been built. That is an indication of how bad the situation is in County Donegal and the position is no better or no worse in any other local authority. Because of the deliberate decision of this Government not to build houses, to abandon their responsibility to the homeless, they have left 600 families in County Donegal without homes that would have been built had a different government been elected in 1987; yet now we find ourselves talking about local government reform.
During the seventies, Fianna Fáil in panic did more to reform local government by abolishing the rates than all the gobbledegook in this document. Fianna Fáil panicked when they found themselves in Opposition for the first time in 16 years and, believing that the Government led by Liam Cosgrave would be reelected, brought in what is now referred to as the infamous election manifesto of 1977. They abolished the rates, abolished tax on motor vehicles and handed out goodies that possibly attracted the attention of the most bigoted Unionist in the North who said: “God, if that works we will all want to be part of a united Ireland”. Those policies did not work. Now we have a Government who plan to build just so many houses; they have abolished house improvement grants which restored derelict, useless or uninhabited houses to a standard where families are now living in them. A newly married man who could not repay a mortgage of £24,000 or £25,000 borrowed £4,000 or £5,000 and bought a derelict house, received a grant of £8,000 and proceeded to refurbish it; the cost to the State was £8,000. Fianna Fáil abolished the home improvement grant and instead proposed to spend £25,000 to £30,000 to build a new house, but they never got around to that.
The roads are so bad that they are impassable. If we go to a local community meeting, we will find high on the agenda the bad condition of the roads. I recall the former county manager, Mr. J. D.  Williams, calling councillors into his office in 1977 when he was first told of the revolutionary advance thinking of people like Dr. Martin O'Donoghue, who was then Minister for Economic Planning and Development. We were told we would not have to maintain our county roads every seven years, that we could do it every nine years. The county manager, in his wisdom, told us that this was not possible but that we would not notice the problems for seven, eight or nine years. Sure enough, in the mid-eighties, we saw the first potholes because instead of a seven year maintenance programme we started a ten year cycle.
Now we are told that Donegal County Council receive fractionally more than half the amount they need to maintain the roads, thus leaving engineers with the choice of maintaining half the roads to a good standard or all of the roads at half the required standard. As the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, is aware, the decision was to keep roads between towns and roads travelled by fast moving traffic pothole free. No one has ever said it but the extension to that argument is that you abandon roads, and that is what happened. Against this background the present Government are postponing local government elections for one year, county council elections for one year and urban council elections indefinitely to introduce a Bill which has as much relevance to the needs of local society as a Mickey Mouse cartoon.
I have been a Member of this House for almost 30 years and during that time I have never heard a debate that was so irrelevant to the needs of society, when the only escape for our young people is the emigrant ship to Britain, America or the Continent; where there is no hope of jobs for school leavers, where young couples living in caravans, mobile homes and houses which are totally unfit to live in, despair of getting suitable accommodation.
Against this background the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Government  are introducing legislation to reform local authorities. I have not been stopped in the streets of Letterkenny or Buncrana or Carndonagh and told we need to reform local government. I defy any Fianna Fáil or Progressive Democrat Member to say he or she has been lobbied by a constituent seeking reform of local government, there is no demand for it, good, bad or indifferent. In my clinics many people ask me how they will get a house, when will the road past their home be fixed, if we are doing anything to help them. Of course, members of county councils and Opposition Deputies share the blame in the minds of the general public when, in fact, they have been starved of funds by an uncaring Government.
Not so long ago the Taoiseach invited us to see his new offices which cost £17.5 million to refurbish. I heard Deputies from all sides saying how necessary it was to have such facilities for visiting dignataries. I am sure no matter what decision is taken it can be justified. If I was talking to the Taoiseach I am sure he could tell me all the places he visited, what he had seen and the comforts that were afforded to him as a visiting Head of State which we could not meet in this country and that therefore we needed to improve the facilities for visiting dignitaries. That is a very strong argument, but it is immoral if you provide the facilities at the expense of the homeless. That is what we have done. The Government have abandoned the poor and the needy in our society. I have made the argument strongly that if all the homeless in County Donegal were living in one electoral area, the Fianna Fáil candidates in the local elections would be doing a great deal more about the problem than they appear to be doing at present.
The pitfall of campaigning for the homeless is that as soon as a homeless person gets a house he is no longer a part of the housing action committee. Human beings behave like that, regrettably. However, people can take a certain  amount and no more. Human beings behave like that when Governments ignore them in a minor way and when they build just short of enough houses to meet the needs. When the Government have totally abandoned housing construction, have abolished house improvement grants and have given so little money to local authorities that they are not able to repair a window or a door in a local authority house, it is time to call halt. I think the general public have taken note of this fact. I believe there will be a very strong protest vote in the local elections. People are not interested in local government reform. They do not care who represents them in the county council or who is county manager because what the people want are the services they need. Any civilised society should be expected to provide certain services. It is not good enough to treat people like this. About 18 months ago I had occasion to visit a house outside Carndonagh. In this very small house, which we in Donegal call a cró of a house with a small kitchen, a father and mother and their three children, and she was expecting a fourth, had to live. I was not in the House for more than ten minutes, yet I came out of it with a headache because of the lack of oxygen. I asked my friend how a marriage can survive in such circumstances. I now ask the House how a marriage can survive when the young couple are deprived of their basic rights that a civilised society owes them.
We may not have the money to house everybody but there are a great many homeless people who have the energy and initiative to build their own houses if they had the money to do so. It makes a great deal of sense to me and to many of the people with whom I talk that instead of spending £30,000 on building a local authority house we provide the young family with a substantial grant to build their own house. Other family members would help them to build the house. Indeed, our great grandparents and the generation behind that had to build their own house. They had to go out and collect the stones and the other building  materials. Granted, the houses were not elaborate, but they met the needs of the day. People got by. Nowadays everything is prefabricated, cement blocks, windows, doors, floors. An engineer can tell you how many cement blocks you would need and the volume of cement, sand and gravel and other building materials you would need to build a house. And he can also tell you the cost of it.
I know of a case where the county council were building a local authority house for a family who were living in a house that can only be described as no better than a pigsty. I do not exaggerate. The roof was propped up by a branch of a tree which was nailed to the window frame. This family comprised of four grown boys and a young father, all of whom were unemployed and walking around doing nothing while the county council were paying a contractor to build a house for them in another corner of the field less than 100 yards away. I believe it would have made sense if that family were given a grant to built their own house under the supervision of the county council. The local authority would then have money to give grants to at least two more families to build their own houses. In that way the local authority could provide at least two and a half times the number of houses they provide. The type of argument I am making is made year in year out no matter who is in Government. I am asking the civil servants in the Department of the Environment to use a little bit of commonsense and to harness the energies of the homeless people who are available to build houses and employ them to build their own houses. It would make sense if a Bill of that nature was brought before us but this Bill makes no sense to me. It is total and absolute hypocrisy and is designed by people who are living in a world of make believe and not the real world.
We have totally abandoned repairing our roads. When a grant is given to fix a road the councillors get into their cars and drive like hell so that they will be the first to tell the people the road will be fixed. They believe they have convinced the people that they were responsible for  getting the road fixed. Of course, they do not tell the people when the road is not going to be fixed because the Government did not provide the money.
I tried to sell the idea of shared ownership to my own party. I think I may have persuaded the Minister for the Environment through force of argument — although I would be the first to admit that I had made a strong argument during the visit of the deputation from Donegal County Council. If a rich man's son or daughter is getting married the family step in and help them to purchase a house or in the construction of the house. If someone from a middle class background builds or buys a house, there is a fair chance that their parents will be able to help them in some way when buying or building the house. But the working class have nobody to help them. They depend on the goodwill of the Government in power to provide them with the house. We know that at the rate the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government are building houses at present, there are people on housing waiting lists who will never have the privilege of living in a local authority house. They do not know that and they live in hope. However, our rate of progress is so slow that it is beyond the wildest dreams to hope that everybody will be housed.
There are 1,800 people on the waiting list in County Donegal, 1,100 of them described as being in chronic need. And when the county council engineers, the environmental health officers, and the county medical officers described a case as being “chronic”, they mean chronic. In spite of that, this caring Government built 68 houses in Donegal in the past three years. I sincerely hope that when Fianna Fáil candidates go knocking at doors looking for votes they will be told: “We voted for you before, but not this time. We are registering a protest on behalf of the homeless of County Donegal, whom you have so shamelessly ignored”.
The Minister for the Environment has taken on board the shared ownership scheme I spoke of before. The idea is that a local authority or the Government  would buy half a house and rent it to a tenant. The tenant, being the purchaser of the other half of the house, would be someone who was not in a position to repay a total mortgage but might be in a position to repay half of it. The scheme makes sense, and I applaud the Minister for introducing it. However, I am not told that, after my having spent two years trying to persuade the Minister of the idea and after his going to the bother of having the scheme included in the budget and circulated in a very glossy magazine, there is no provision that would enable the scheme to be brought into operation. It seems strange that no one had thought of that until civil servants were told to operate the scheme and someone at local government level asked what powers there were to allow the operation of the scheme. The Government suddenly realised then that there were no such powers and that they would have to introduce amending legislation. Would it not make much more sense to bring in amending legislation this week rather than bringing in this lot of nonsense? I sincerely hope that the Minister will bring in amending legislation. The idea of shared ownership has a lot to offer to those on the lower income brackets.
The Minister mentioned section 4 motions and said he was about to abolish them. Of course the Minister is not abolishing section 4 motions. I have used section 4 motions but not indiscriminately. I hope that I have never used such procedure without first going to the county manager, the county engineer or the county planning officer to speak about the problem and then, having failed to persuade them of my opinions but still feeling strongly about the issue in question used this section 4 motion procedure. I do not apologise to anyone to making applications under section 4, because very often — and I repeat that it is very often — the matter under question involves the private opinion of one individual against the opinion of another individual. On several occasions officials in the council welcomed my making an application under section 4 because that  let them off the hook. They knew that the regulations by which they were found were not fair. There are many positive arguments in favour of section 4 motions. As Members know, the concept of section 4 applications was introduced by the late Deputy Pa O'Donnell, who was a colleague of mine in County Donegal during the first nine years of my membership of the House. He was the first Member from Donegal to serve in Government. During his term of office he asked local authorities whether they wanted that power. They told him they did. In my early years as a member of a local authority section 4 motions were very seldom used. It would be reasonable and honest to admit that the procedure was very often abused, but it was available to and used by members only when it was impossible to persuade planning officers of minor details relating to planning applications, such minor details having the effect of the refusal of a planning application. For the Minister for the Environment to say that he has abolished the measures contained in section 4 or has amended them to such a degree that they are not acceptable is, of course, an untruth. The present system is that three members of a council sign a section 4 motion. If one-third of the members are present and voting the motion can be passed or rejected. The Minister of State, who is a member of a local authority, Donegal County Council, like myself, knows that when a section 4 motion is dealt with on the council's agenda everyone votes for it. Very seldom is a section 4 motion rejected. It is more the case that the movers of a section 4 motion, having received an undertaking from the county manager, the county secretary, or the county planning officer, withdraw their application. A good amount of responsibility is involved when dealing with section 4 motions. I understand that the Bill is providing that three-quarters of the members from the electoral area involved have to sign a section 4 motion. That means that in a four-seat electoral area the three members signing will get a motion on the agenda. If Fianna Fáil members make up three of the four  members, it follows that the party with one member will not be able to avail of the section 4 provision but that Fianna Fáil will. In several electoral areas the Government would have the majority of members and, consequently could take full advantage of the powers contained in section 4.
As a Deputy who is trying to view the issue objectively and to understand what the Government are trying to do in this reform of local government, I am at a loss because I start off with the great disadvantage that the Minister, who set out to design new constituency boundaries, discovered that the population of Mayo was sufficient to elect five Deputies to the House and proceeded to scissor off parts of Galway in order to protect the six seats in Mayo. That was not done in the interests of the people of Mayo, nor, indeed, in the interests of those who hold seats in that constituency. It was done to protect a Government majority of four out of six. I do not want to be unfair when the Minister for the Environment is not present and I do not want to be over-critical, but I cannot ignore the fact that the Minister now asks me to take on face value what he proposes to do in relation to section 4 motions and in relation to drawing electoral area boundaries when a perfect example of his conduct and behaviour was demonstrated in the past year or so in which he was guilty of crossing from one province to another, bringing Longford into Connacht for electoral purposes, these being the protection of the Government majority. When an individual thinks in that way one has to treat everything he does with suspicion.
I should have liked there to be local government reform along the lines negotiated by Councillor Bernard McGlinchey, Councillor Harry Blaney, and myself, and which worked very well for the Donegal County Council for a number of years. We took pride in the fact that we had removed contentious  politics, in so far as they could be removed, from the county council by agreeing to a system of quota representation. We decided that the life of the council would be five years and membership would be 28. Every six members would be entitled to one quota of everything that arose. They would make up one-fifth of the membership of a committee and have an equal turn at being chairman and vice-chairman. I was the architect of this suggestion and argued strongly for it for a number of years before I succeeded in getting independent Fianna Fáil and official Fianna Fáil to agree that it was worth trying.
We want to create an atmosphere in this State that will attract the attention of one million people in Northern Ireland who do not want to be part of the Republic. Does anybody think these people are going to be attracted to a society that behaves in the way the Minister, Deputy Pádraig Flynn, has behaved in redrawing the boundaries of Mayo or introducing Government reform at a time like this when houses are needed, roads have to be repaired and money is needed for water supply and for the provision of better sanitary services? Is anybody crazy enough to think that any percentage of that one million people in Northern Ireland would be attracted to the South?
It is for that reason that I believe a great opportunity is being missed by the present Government in not including in this Bill rules and regulations which would compel members of local authorities to behave in a certain way. I say that because there is the temptation to be the majority group in local authorities, whether that group be Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour or any other political party. They try to manoeuvre in such a way that they grab all while minorities have no say whatever. I am a great believer in trusting human nature but I would not go so far as to trust the actions of a politician or a group of politicians, no matter what county they are in and no matter what local authority or what parliament they belong to — politicians who try to manoeuvre into a position of centre stage.
 The quota system in Donegal to which I referred was agreed in the first instance by the late Deputy Liam Cunningham, an honourable man, by the then Senator McGlinchey and myself. On that occasion the Blaneys and the independent Fianna Fáil Party were not treated very well by the Fianna Fáil groupings. It was to the credit of the Fine Gael group that we changed that position the first opportunity we got. When the bitterness died down between independent Fianna Fáil and official Fianna Fáil they went back to their old ways. They decided that they owed nothing to the Fine Gael group and that they would give them nothing. They ignored not alone the elected representatives but the people themselves, and did so in such a blatant way that it probably would have made people who were accused of discrimination north of the Border blush with shame. The strange thing is that the politicians on this side of the Border who are more vocal in their criticism of the behaviour of the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland for discriminating against Nationalists are the ones who are most guilty of discrimination this side of the Border.
The debate here is about central Government versus local government. The powers of local government now as compared with those when I was first elected in 1960 are very different. In those days councillors were asked to strike a county rate and as a result every one of them behaved in a very responsible way. Looking over their shoulders were the ratepayers who were prepared to pay only what they could afford or what they thought they could afford. That sense of responsibility made good councillors out of people elected to the local authority. As I have said, Fianna Fáil, by doing away with rates at the stroke of a pen, did more to amend local government legislation than this Bill is meant to do. Once the rates were removed it was a free-for-all. Central Government had to provide the money; the responsibility was no longer on the council. The ratepayers  were no longer looking over their shoulders. People in the community were asking elected representatives to get as much as they could and a halt had to be put to that.
The rating system was not a very fair one. The unfairness of that system was argued for many years. As we know, all families, no matter what their income, paid the same rates. The poor law valuation introduced under Griffith's law in 1854 was still in operation 120 years later. It was never meant to perform the functions that it was performing in the seventies. That was not foreseen by Griffith or by the people who planned it. I have to conclude that it was much fairer than the charges that are now imposed on householders. Whether you live in a house with three bathrooms and a couple of shower rooms or in a house with an outside toilet you pay the same water rates. Whether you are earning £100,000 a year or £10,000 a year — a number of people are living on a lot less — you pay the same water charges. There is nothing fair about that. The quantity of water used in a big house in infinitely more than the quantity used in a small house. With all the experience we had, we made no improvement on Griffith's valuation. It could be very strongly argued that we made a mess of it. Of course, the same applies with refuse charges. In a small house very little refuse is left at the front door while in a large house much more is left there; but the people pay the same refuse charges.
Every item of expenditure of the county council has to come through the Department of the Environment. If we want to build a toilet in the most remote part of our local authority area the Department of the Environment must give approval. The same applies to a traffic sign. The cost of administering all this is unacceptable. As Deputy Fitzpatrick said, we have not made up our minds in regard to the powers we want to give local authorities. The Minister wants to give certain powers to local authorities but to keep as much power as he possibly  can in central Government for the purpose of keeping political control over the local scene.
I could say a lot more but I would be merely repeating what was said by other Deputies. I am disappointed, to say the least, that we did not have time to debate the housing crisis, roads and sanitary services. Considering that county council elections were postponed for 12 months and that urban district council elections were postponed for an indefinite period, it seems unfair that the Bill to reform local government was announced last Friday, the memorandum circulated on Tuesday, the Bill debated today and being forced through the House tomorrow. Is it not time to talk about central Government reform? We need a lot of reform to change the system which allows a Bill to be initiated on a Friday evening and debated the following week particularly when, as a number of Deputies said, it is a blueprint for the 21st century. I have been in this House for 30 years and we have not made progress during that time. It is sad to have to record that.
There is no reason for not making progress. When Fianna Fáil came into office in 1987 this party stood by them in the difficult policies they had to pursue to make the country financially healthy again. There is no desire on the part of Opposition Deputies or parties to behave in any way other than responsibly, to ensure that the country is protected and that we are led in the right direction. There has been no acknowledgement from the Taoiseach, the Fianna Fáil Cabinet or the members of the Progressive Democrats of the courage displayed by Deputy Dukes and the Fine Gael Party in backing the Government in times of stress. A number of people, even Fine Gael supporters, criticised us for not treating Fianna Fáil in the way they treated us when we were in Government. Every Wednesday night the Visitors' Gallery in the House was packed with nurses and members of various trade unions who were told what Fianna Fáil would do for them when they were back in office. In spite of that, Fine Gael in Opposition  were responsible, in total contrast to the behaviour of Fianna Fáil in Opposition.
In dealing with this Bill I wish that the same responsible behaviour was demonstrated by the Minister for the Environment, that he would reassure Deputies that what he did in Mayo to protect his own seat and those of the other Fianna Fáil Deputies in the county, was a once off mistake on his part, that he did not really know what he was doing. Of course, we all know that the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, was doing it with the consent of the Cabinet and, ultimately, with the consent of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. As James Dillon once said: “Fianna Fáil's motivating strength is that they want to stay close to the loot”.
Mr. Ellis: Deputy Harte must have a very short memory in talking about gerrymandering because the most notable gerrymander was in the mid-seventies, although it totally backfired. He cannot accuse any Minister of any Government of attempting to gerrymander because it can be dealt with by the electorate, who are the best judges of any decision taken by a Minister at any time.
I welcome the legislation. It is a change to see a Bill brought into the House which is aimed at making a start at reforming local government. The reform of local government has been talked about since I entered politics in 1974. When I stood for election in 1974 I heard some of the then members of the local authority to which I sought membership talk about the need for local government reform. There was no significant attempt to reform local government until this Bill was published. People have said that there is not enough time to debate the legislation. That does not arise. Indeed, the attendance in the House shows that many people are not very interested in the legislation, despite the fact that it will affect most of them on 27 June.
In the forthcoming local elections we will be seeking election to local authorities which we hope will have more teeth and power and which will be more  effective than those which we will leave. It is important that power should be handed back to the local authority members because they face the electorate on a regular basis and are forced to give an account of their stewardship.
I agree with Deputy Harte in relation to local authorities where harmony prevails and where there is an equal distribution in relation to committees and sub-committees of authorities. There is now a better working relationship. I was a member of a local authority for five years and my colleagues in the party were not allowed on even one committee of the authority. Yet the chairman of that local authority boasted at the time that because his party were in control they should have absolute control. That is wrong. I am glad that the Bill will ensure that committees will operate on an equal basis so that minority groupings will have a fair say. This is important if local government is to have a function in this day and age.
The efforts being made to improve the effectiveness of local government should be accepted without question. All those who have been members of local authorities for the past number of years have seen the need for some action to be taken to improve the lot of local authority members. The need for this legislation has been accepted by Members of this House for a long time. It is ironic to hear Members on the opposite side of the House criticising this legislation when we had to sit here on numerous occasions on the Order of Business and listen to them asking when the legislation for the reform of local government would be introduced. Now that the legislation has been introduced, it is like a poison pill to them — they do not want to accept that the Government and Minister of the day had the courage to bring in the legislation.
This legislation is long overdue. I know the public recognise that the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, and his two Ministers of State have bitten the political bullet which previous Ministers for the Environment were afraid to bite  over the years. The Opposition parties were asked to make a contribution to local government reform but they put forward all sorts of excuses to avoid playing an active role in this regard. The main Opposition party are most guilty of this. If we want to reform local government it is important that all parties make a contribution in the initial stages. Indeed, there is much to be said for the setting up of an all-party committee to deal with local government reform. This proposal should be considered by all parties in the House.
The delay in introducing this legislation for a number of years was not in the best interests of local authorities and their members. It is the first in a series of Bills on local government reform which will have to be brought before this House in the coming years. It is the first phase in badly needed reform of local government.
I am concerned about the administration of local government. The amount of resources spent on non-capital works is of concern to every member of local authorities. In some cases the amount of money spent on non-capital work can be as high as 70 per cent. This is totally unacceptable. However, under the present system there is very little we can do about this. It is also time for some of the work carried out by local authorities to be put to tender. For example, my local authority decided to put to tender the contract for road works which needed to be carried out. They found that the cost of carrying out the works by a private contractor would be much less than if they carried out the work directly themselves. We hear so much about local government finances that I wonder how local authorities can function in many cases. My local authority has 700 ratepayers in total. They could get more in rates in Grafton Street than they would in County Leitrim.
Mr. Ellis: The population of County Leitrim — I am sure the Deputy is very  interested in this in view of his recent questions in regard to County Leitrim — is approximately 24,000. Therefore, smaller local authorities are entitled to receive preferential treatment. They have to provide services over a very wide area and do not have the same concentration of people in one area as local authorities in Dublin and larger towns have. Consideration should be given to the equalisation of funding for local authorities.
Deputy Harte and other Deputies have been moaning about the condition of our roads for a long period. I am beginning to think that they have very short memories. Leitrim County Council received no resources in 1985 and 1986 for the repair of county roads. At least in the past three years the Minister for the Environment has provided money so that local authorities can deal with the problem of potholes. I should like to point out that no one has referred in this House to the fact that the Government inherited the potholes from the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government who did not provide sufficient funds for the upkeep of our roads. They did not give local authorities the necessary resources to improve our roads so that they could cater for the increasing volume of traffic. Opposition spokespersons have tried to lay the blame for this at the door of the present Minister for the Environment. I believe members of local authorities can see that our roads are being improved. Perhaps these improvements are not being carried out as quickly as everyone would like, but at least improvements are being made.
Many of the local authorities who complain about the state of our roads were prepared to spend their resources, on less essential services. Despite what some Members on the opposite side of the House have said, I believe that the stewardship and accountability of the Fianna Fáil controlled councils will be acknowledged by the electorate in the local elections.
Mr. Ellis: The results of the local elections will tell all the stories. My local authority have dealt effectively with the problems they inherited and have made good use of their resources. The progress made in recent years in the housing area has been much better than that which has been accredited to the Minister. No matter how much funding is provided it will never be enough. Those who believe anything else are not being truthful. In the past couple of years my local authority have managed to take people off the housing list who had been on it for eight to ten years. This is an achievement because they did not receive sufficient funds for local authority housing in the mid-eighties.
This Bill will do a number of very good things. The establishment of regional committees is long overdue. The co-ordination of effort in a region is very important. I hope that in years to come the legislation will enable my local authority to co-operate with local authorities on the Northern side of the Border. The Sligo-Leitrim-Donegal region has been an effective region for a number of years. It is the present health board region, it is part of the one region for tourism purposes and part of the same IDA region. The development of regional committees will be in the best interests of the area which I represent. As I have said, I hope the Bill will enable my local authority to extend the olive branch to the people to whom Deputy Harte referred, the members of Northern Ireland local authorities. They are willing to co-operate and I know that that co-operation can only be strengthened in the weeks ahead. The ongoing talks on Northern Ireland have shown that people are now prepared to sit down and discuss the problems facing them.
Reference is made in the Bill to county managers. For many years county managers were selected and appointed to counties. They sat in the manager's chair in the knowledge that they could not be removed at any stage. The proposal that their term of office should be for seven years, the same as a secretary of a Department, will mean that at the end of  their term of office they will have to give an account of their stewardship as managers of local authorities. Section 47 leads the way in making the manager perform for the county and the council. It is questionable whether seven years is too long. Perhaps five years before reappointment would lead to more effective action by county managers.
Mr. Ellis: Everyone in the House would love a five-year term just like Deputy Byrne would. Local authority terms have been varied. There was an increase in the present one when the Minister last year decided to extend the lifetime of the councils elected in 1985. Local authorities have a duty to perform. Local councillors, corporation members, town commissioners and urban councillors have been the butt of jokes for many years. It is said that they are only seen at election time but that they do nothing in between. Anybody who is prepared to go into public life at local or national level makes sacrifices as do their families and they deserve a gold medal for it. Local councillors have been portrayed as people who do not carry out their duties but irrespective of what party they represented they have always given an account of their stewardship at election time. Those who do not perform do not return to the council. Councillors have not earned the criticism to which they have been subjected over the years.
The local authorities have a role to play with regard to local development, tourism and industrial development. This Bill will give them an opportunity to play their role in the development of industry and tourism. They will have an opportunity to have a significant input. The local authority in an area are the best body to identify an area's ability to cope with problems and to identify tourist attractions and so on. For many years local authorities have been hindered in playing a major role in industrial promotion. It is time the chains that bound  them were cut away. This Bill is a first move towards revitalising the local authorities, giving them a full role in industrial promotion. That might seem critical of the IDA. They have a role to play but in many cases their guidelines are such that they cannot help the smaller industries.
This Bill deals with comittees of local authorities. I agree with that. The decision to remove the committees of agriculture, the health committees and other committees was not in the best interests of local government. I am glad that in future the people who sit on local committees will be elected representatives or people with a good knowledge of what the committee will be discussing. In the past people who were not suited to the job were appointed to committees. They were people with vested interests who looked through a narrow focus and were not prepared to be broadminded when dealing with committee business. The fact that elected members will now constitute those committees is important for local democracy. Local authority members face the electorate and have to give a regular account of their stewardship, as have the Members of the House. Only those who do the job well will remain there indefinitely.
Local government funding will have to be looked at in the not too distant future. Local authorities need revenue and the question must be considered at an early date. If local government is not to fall around us in the years ahead it will need funding. We should look to find the best source of funding. Taxation such as that introduced across the pond is not the sort of taxation we would like to see here.
People have talked about local authority charges. For years, people in rural Ireland have been paying charges for group water schemes — for their installation, maintenance and annual charges. They have not complained. People will have to accept that the day of the “freebie” has long since passed. I am anxious that all local authorities would have an efficient and effective waiver scheme for hardship cases. The local authority of which I am a member have been very  sympathetic towards hardship cases and were prepared to waive charges in respect of those who were not in a position to pay.
Local authority members view with horror the local authority audit. Local authority audits are carried out two, three or sometimes five years after the money has been spent. The local authorities are audited under an antiquated system of eight headings where nobody knows where anything is spent or whether the amounts provided under each head were spent under that head, or whether part of the provision under the head was charged to some other service. It may be time to introduce independent auditors who would audit the accounts of local authorities on a yearly basis and present the full audit within three months of the completion of the financial year and this in turn could be checked and verified by the local government auditors. It is wrong to have the local government audit taking place after the money has been spent.
We all accept the need for greater accountability. We all accept the need for local authorities to be efficient, but the present local government structures do not lead to efficient cost control or to the efficient use of money.
There has been reference in the past few days to section 4 motions which have become a major football in local government over the past number of years. The local authority of which I am a member have not resorted to a section 4 motion since I became a member 17 years ago because we have been able to iron out, by negotiation, all the cases that would have justified section 4 motions. If there was a little more co-operation with officialdom in many counties, the section 4 motions would become a rarity.
The requirement that three-quarters of the members of the local authority must have voted for a section 4 motion is important. The section 4 motion is a very useful power for members of local authorities. What worries me, however, is that when section 4 motions are passed they are appealed to An Bord Pleanála and the legal advice available to the local  authority members leaves much to be desired. If there was a little more co-operation on the part of planning officers and engineers many of the section 4 motions that councillors are blamed for would not be necessary.
We are dealing here with the future of local government. Local government needs a new lease of life if it is to be successful in the nineties. This is the first attempt to do something real with local government, the first attempt to give it a new lease of life and to return power to the members. After the local elections all the members of local authorities should be informed of their rights as a local authority and made aware of their functions and those of the manager. In many cases they are left ignorant of what they are entitled to do and in many areas they are hoodwinked. It is, therefore, important that the Department of the Environment would take the initiative and explain to newly elected members, and even outgoing members, of local authorities what their full powers are.
If the general public are to participate actively in local government the local authorities must have the power they need. That should be the aim of future local government reform. If the power is returned to the members they will become practitioners of local politics at a level that has not been seen before in this country. They will be accountable and those who abuse their powers will have no further role to play once the electorate get an opportunity to remove them.
I fully support this Bill. It is good legislation. It is a start in dealing with the problems of local authorities and there will be a number of other Bills in the not too distant future. Deputy Harte referred to the housing programme. The sooner legislation is brought in to deal with the present anomalies the better. The new roads authority Bill will be in the best interests of the country. The Department have done a good job in improving access to the city by providing by-passes of some of our towns to speed up the movement of traffic, but that is something for another day.
On a final note, this is the first attempt  to deal with local government reform. Members on the opposite side who have been so critical should give it a chance and see how it works. If it does not work they will have the opportunity, if they ever come to power, to bring in amending legislation.
Mr. Byrne: We should be thankful for small mercies. Many of my parliamentary colleagues agree that local government as it has existed during my time on the city council and as it exists today is almost a farce. The explanatory memorandum attempts to explain what this Bill is all about and says that it is designed primarily to strengthen local democracy. When we read that, we should all stand up and cheer, because we all believe that local democracy does not really exist. The memorandum goes on to say that the key is to give local authorities the capacity to serve the interests of their communities more effectively. They are fine sentiments and nobody could disagree with them. There is full support for those sentiments. However, the reality is that at local government level no local democratic input is allowed. In short, local government is a farce as it is structured today. We should all be open about it and tell the electorate that this is the case. We should shout it from the treetops so that when people take the trouble and inconvenience of coming out once every four, five or in this case six years to cast their votes they will not feel they have been fooled and that they are voting people into something that does not exist.
At the moment there is no real representation of people at local level on local councils. As far as power is concerned, the Minister for the Environment controls 75 per cent, 20 per cent would be held by the manager and managerial team and approximately 5 per cent is in the hands of the locally elected representatives. Everybody knows that at local level one cannot scratch oneself without referring back through a bureaucratic structure at local level up an endless pipe which presumably finishes up on the desk of the bureaucrats in the  Department of the Environment. There could be months or maybe years of deliberations over requests to build a local authority house or instal or set up traffic lights or requests for permission to go to tender on a refurbishment programme. If it were not so serious it would be hilarious.
The system as it operates at the moment must be reversed. If the sentiments in the explanatory memorandum represent a light at the end of the tunnel, if they mean that we have grasped the nettle and are doing something about the lack of local democracy, then we should all wholeheartedly welcome the Bill before us. Section 5 (3) in Part II of the Bill provides that the making of a decision by a local authority in relation to representation of the views of the local community shall, under that section, be a reserved function. Obviously, it would be more useful to tease this out on Committee Stage and find out how we can involve local people in the deliberations of local authorities. That would be for another day. The desperate need is for the Minister to afford far more powers to local authorities. In saying that I am not calling for powers to be handed straight over to the managerial system. What I am calling for is the transfer of powers to the people, to the residents associations, tenants associations, environmentalists and conservationists; in other words, to give groups such as An Taisce, ACRA and NATO a role to play. Effectively, the only option open to these organisations is to strongly lobby politicians.
Having regard to the fact that there is a housing crisis in Dublin city, it is farcical that there are large plots of land lying derelict around the city. The one thing people on waiting lists, the homeless and those living adjacent to derelict sites in the ownership of Dublin Corporation which are rat infested and overgrown with weeds cannot understand is why the corporation are not proceeding to build houses on these sites.
A tortuous procedure must be gone through. The corporation must first seek the permission of the Department of the Environment to draw up a plan. If  granted, the plan must be submitted to the Department who will decide then if the plan can proceed to contract stage. In the meantime, those on the waiting list have to continue to wait.
I also find it difficult to explain to people that neither they nor the local politicians have any input into the decisions made by the Minister and his Department who seem to work on the basis of directives issued to the county managers. One such incredible directive instructed the local authorities to make a £5,000 grant available to those tenants who were prepared to vacate their local authority house. That directive led to the destruction of a large number of communities in the city. Indeed, those communities are still reeling from the effects of that decision and the decision of so many people to vacate their local authority houses and move to private housing. I am convinced that that policy was conceived at the behest of the Construction Industry Federation with one aim in mind, the creation of an artificial demand for private housing.
I will not bore the House by going into the details except to say that that was a slap in the face for the local authorities and it has led to many communities being left leaderless and to the destruction of their social fabric. It is doubtful if they will ever recover. The point I am trying to make is that we are supposed to have a system of local government and local democracy, yet the elected members of city councils and county councils have no input into the directives issued by the Department of the Environment which the local managers must comply with.
Depending on which way one looks at it, Dublin Corporation's tenant purchase scheme initiated in 1988 has been very successful. Approximately 9,000 units will be sold under that scheme. However, it needs to be pointed out that we will not be able to spend the moneys raised under that scheme to build new housing stock as, once again, the Minister for the Environment has issued a directive to local authorities on how to spend this money. Needless to say if the Minister wants a local authority to do something  without the need to issue a directive he can always turn to the members of his own party who control many of the councils, with the result that instead of those members representing the interests of their town or city they comply with the wishes of the Minister and act just like puppets on a string.
Dublin Corporation used to set aside a sum of £400,000 for the community grants scheme. That was an extremely valuable source of funding for communities in the huge housing estates in the outer suburbs and in the inner city flat complexes. When it was decided to slash the rates support grant one of the first victims of the cutbacks was the community who lost the sum of £400,000 which was used to finance the appointment of community development workers in deprived areas. The Minister for the Environment, with his surplus funds from the lottery, used to demand that people make their application to him for grant assistance for community and leisure facilities. Obviously, he discovered he was being bogged down with a huge number of applications. The Department seemed totally incapable of handling the applications for lottery funding and, at the stroke of a pen, approaching Christmas two years ago, he decided to pretend to be a democrat. He pretended to bring about what had been demanded, that the local authorities would have some say in how lottery money was spent. He instructed the local authorities to process each application for lottery money. Officials of the community section of Dublin Corporation had to work overtime almost through Christmas trying to comply with this directive. The net effect is that while we used have our own £400,000 to spent we are now like beggars pleading with the Minister to release some of the money which is available under the amenities and recreational facilities grant scheme.
This Bill is all about democracy. It refers to returning some power to local government and involving the people. If there is one power that should be returned to Dublin Corporation and local authorities it is that they by virtue of  being in receipt of a block grant from the Department out of lottery funding should be empowered to decide who is to benefit from this money. Let us consider the farcical, totally undemocratic, destructive position today. Last year the Minister had £6.5 million to spend nationally under the amenities and recreational facilities grant scheme and Dublin Corporation submitted projects totalling £4.5 million. We managed to get funding for projects to the tune of £897,067.
Local authorities know their areas well and their community development sections know every residents group, voluntary group, club and people seeking funding. It would be logical to enable local authorities to direct who is to be grant-aided as was the case previously. This year Dublin Corporation are presenting to the Minister for the Environment 264 applications for lottery funding, for genuine projects to the value of £7,222,651. Each of those 264 projects is deserving of some form of funding.
The Minister is playing the game of retaining the power to himself, of deciding whom he is going to grant-aid, informing his party members, TDs and councillors before the public get to know to whom he is going to allocate money. He will leak the information to selected TDs and councillors so they will put out the good word that the Minister is a marvellous man, that a project is to receive £10,000 or £15,000, that Fianna Fáil are a wonderful party and were it not for them they would not receive the grant. While that gimmickry continues local government will be seen as a farce. We will be merely reinforcing the gombeen, backwoodsman image of city and county councillors and town commissioners, the type of image we are trying to break away from. I appeal to the Minister to help us reverse this image of our councillors and, instead of playing this cat and mouse game for a few votes here and there, to realise, as some of his party members on Dublin City Council realised when they saw applications for funding from their areas, that they cannot all be grant aided. If there is only £4 million to be spent this  year and Dublin City Council are looking for £7 million it is inevitable that Fianna Fáil councillors on Dublin Corporation will lose out in this game.
An Ceann Comhairle: I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy but I would be grateful if he would come to deal with the Bill. The matters to which he was referring seem to me more appropriate to the Estimate for the Department of the Environment. I wish the Deputy would come to what is contained in the Bill before us.
Mr. Byrne: I appreciate that but I thought my comments were relevant because the Bill refers to giving back power down the line. I was giving the Minister a good example of where he might give block grants to local authorities so they can spend the money on deserving groups.
I question the powers that may be given to city and county councillors. The biggest agenda we have at local level is that for the meeting of the roads and traffic committee. That speaks volumes. Politicians at local level are being lobbied heavily by residents' groups, and individuals about traffic rat running, lack of pedestrian crossings, the need for traffic lights, double yellow lines and residential disc parking. At the same time we hear of local authorities working off plans conceived 40 years ago. I am speaking about local authority road building programmes. If people are to be involved in decision-making and given a say in how their city is developed it is not good enough that the power is transferred to public representatives. We must use sections of the Bill to involve in a structured way the same residents' groups who are for ever being led in by the hand by politicians to meet either Ministers or the city manager. Politicians should not have to act like a wet nurse for their constituents. Certain senior politicians, former Ministers and TDs feel a need to hold their constituent's hands——
Mr. Byrne: ——in Fishamble Street pretending their role is to get them a house. They bring in mothers and daughters to sit down before the housing advisers. That is an abuse of their position. That is not what democracy is about. Democracy is about empowering people to use the structures that exist and not requiring the intercession of councillors, former Ministers and so on. Too often there is a cliental approach to residents' organisations. There should be structures in legislation empowering them to play a role.
There is much use of the term “democratic centralism”. There is nothing as centralist as the current position where all power seems to lie in the hands of the Minister for the Environment and the city manager. There are no powers of real substance in the hands of elected representatives. We must stop the suffocation of local government and give a breath of fresh air to city and county councillors. Unless they are given responsibility there will be no improvement.
I attack the decision of central Government to reduce Dublin city's rate support grant to £57.8 million. What democratic procedure created the situation where there is no money for housing or community grants? We have a very fine art gallery but there is no money to purchase works for it. The cutbacks which devastated local government resulted in job losses of 18 per cent in Dublin Corporation. We have lost 1,455 workers and the benefit of their services. Who are the victims? If one is unfortunate enough to live in the middle of a multi-storey block of flats and the tenant at the top has a burst pipe or blocked sewerage, one finds that the local authority do not have an emergency service at the weekend. That is the effect of the cutbacks on Dublin Corporation.
How are we to improve the position? The Bill does not touch on the question of funding. This is clearly the missing link. If we succeed in devising structures which will involve people in the democratic process but fail to provide adequate  funding, the whole thing will be a paper exercise.
Our vision of local government is that it will be a hive of democracy where at every level, in every street, housing estate, town, parish, county and region the people will be making decisions. They will be involved in the planning process and in the delivery of services. They will be in control of facilities such as parks, schools, libraries, the police and the shopping centres. No institutions, public or private, should be exempt from the democratic will of the people.
Groups of people often come together to make submissions on, say, the draft development plan. They go to tremendous lengths to engage architects or town planners. They collectively submit volumes of material which is given scant regard at local government level. It is a sad reflection on the existing system that nobody is interested in giving consideration to the representations made by citizens. It is too laborious a job for part-time or very busy politicians and would have to be done by full-time councillors. We abdicate our rights and responsibilities and leave the decision making to the planners and the city manager and hope they will come up with some fair representation of what constituents are looking for.
There is a semblance of democracy in regard to development plans. They go on display in public libraries and people make their submissions, but we must be honest and admit that their contributions are not given serious consideration. I do not know how to overcome this problem or if we should advocate a role for local councillors in a full-time capacity. That is certainly not envisaged in the Bill.
I am conscious that Dublin city and county comprise the one area which has reversed the incredible decision to impose service charges. I am not happy that there are various interpretations as to whether one should have such charges. It is disgraceful that people are being sent to jail because they refuse to pay. That element of compulsion, particularly with regard to service charges, must go and the Bill must address that issue. It is sad  that the scheme was initiated but even sadder that it was suggested to the electorate before the last election that Fianna Fáil would remove service charges if returned. They have not been removed but I am happy to say that where The Workers' Party have been strong in Dublin city and county we have been successful in having the charges removed, much to the pleasure of our constituents.
It is important to structure local government in such a way that people can make a contribution to the planning and development of their area. People in John Dillion Street may feel they have a contribution to make regarding the amount of traffic in their area. People in Oliver Bond flats may want to make a contribution to the management of their estate. People in other flat complexes might want to have a role in developing policy regarding the letting of flats. We must create the structures to involve people. We have nothing to fear from their involvement and those of us who are councillors should play a supportive role.
Earlier I mentioned NATO and ACRA. There is a group in Dublin South inner city called SICCDA, the South Inner City Community Development Association. If the Department of the Environment are interested, as they claim to be, in the creation of a greater social mix, community stability and selfmanagement of schemes and so on, why is the south inner city community development association not an integral part of the local government structure? These people know their area, they know the problems, they know the people, they have a tremendous input to make. We should have a structure whereby the local councillor would not be fearful of giving them some power. The more power we can afford to give the greater and stronger will be the democratic structures in operation in our cities.
It was interesting to see both yesterday and today and at other times during the year the number of school children who are brought here by politicians — and I, too, have brought some. It always amazes  me that you will find the Dáil chock-a-block with school children. The fundamental problem in Ireland — and I suppose the elected representatives are aware of it — is whether we have any democracy at local government level. When it comes to voting there is an average turn out of about 50 per cent at local government level; that low turn out speaks volumes. I think it suggests that people are saying: “What is the point of going out to vote in a local election when the people we are voting for have no power?” This Bill may go some way to correcting this by giving us more power.
The public perception of what a local authority does will have to be cleared up. I am delighted to see the children taking an interest in central Government politics, but why are the schools not teaching children about local government? There is an incredible level of ignorance in the minds of people, school teachers and children about what is local government as against what is central Government. They blend them all together as Government, saying there is no real difference, they are all the same, when in fact that is not the case. The educational system should have a very close look at the reason people do not understand the difference between central and local government. I would be happy to see the day when busloads of children would be accommodated in the Mansion House, in City Hall, in Fishamble Street, the headquarters of Dublin Corporation, and where people would appreciate that local government is all about the provision of services — for example, fire services, fresh water supply at the tap. I wish more politicians would take on board the exercise of educating the children of this country in regard to the differences between central and local government. Hopefully, when it comes to local elections these young people will be capable of deciding on whom to vote for and what they might obtain by way of properly functioning councils.
Much more could be said about local government and I have a lot of notes here which I will sacrifice because, unfortunately, I have to attend a citizens'  advice bureau at 7.30 p.m. and I would hate to have people queueing up outside it at this hour of the evening.
Mr. Byrne: I note that people on the other side are restless and want to make their contribution. Rather than deprive my parliamentary colleagues around the House of some of their time, I conclude by saying that I will be paying close attention to Part II of the Bill and particularly section 5 (3) which states:
Mr. Martin: The Deputy will probably do that tomorrow morning. I would like to take the opportunity to welcome this Bill. It is important that the House and people realise that this Bill is in many respects an enabling measure. It is a Bill which creates a legal framework for further reform to take place in the local government area. When introducing the Bill the Minister made it clear that local government reform is an evolving process, it is not something that can happen overnight or by one single Act. He has given himself powers in the Bill to take further action in future years to devolve powers to local authorities or to bring in further reforms.
It is important also that we try to put the Bill and the debate into perspective. Having looked at many of the contributions to the debate I am struck by  the fact that most people did not concentrate on the subject matter of the Bill — namely, local government reform — but began to digress and go down various paths relating to housing and the particular problems in their own constituency. We have got a litany of problems and we have been given a grand tour of Ireland by many Deputies in respect of their constituencies.
The Bill aims to establish for the first time on a statutory basis the representational role of local authorities. It has been bandied about in this House that local authorities do not have power and that they are basically a talking shop and a waste of time. I question that viewpoint because, while undoubtedly we do have a considerable degree of centralisation in Ireland, it must be put on the record that local authorities do have powers and that councillors under the present arrangements have powers. But I question whether councillors want to exercise those powers or whether they want to be put in a position where they have more powers and be in a position to exercise them.
I know from my own experience in Cork that one of the major reserved functions of any council is to prepare the annual book of estimates — in other words, to determine the level of expenditure which any council may engage in from year to year, to determine current revenue, receipts and so on. Invariably what happens is that the city manager produces a draft book of estimates which to all intents and purposes becomes the real book of estimates at the end of a week, with minor adjustments made by the councillors.
The reality is that under existing arrangements the councillors have the power to form an estimates committee, to prepare their own estimates, to put them to the manager for ratification and to play a much more involved role in the preparation and compilation of those estimates. The estimates must be passed by a vote of the majority of the councillors. During my six years in Cork Corporation I have witnessed the manager's estimates emerging, not the council's  estimates. Deputies have argued that councillors do not have power. I argue that they have certain powers but they are not prepared to exercise them. It may be that the dice is loaded against councillors in many respects — and we must be fair to them — in the sense that the manager has all the aces in terms of a full-time staff behind him and expert advice and that councillors may not have access to independent advice or have the same amount of time to give to the preparation of estimates. However, there is room for greater involvement of councillors in the preparation of estimates.
Let us take another reserved function, which is very important, the preparation of a city or county development plan. My experience has shown that, even though councillors have the overriding power to prepare, produce and pass that plan, invariably they leave the bulk of the work to the management staff or the planning department of their respective local authorities. In our own case in the preparation of our five year plan we received draft chapters from the planning department which were produced at seminars. We attended lectures, we had question and answer sessions and we gave our opinions as to what we thought of the draft chapters; but there was no commitment by the manager or his staff that they would take on board those sentiments.
Essentially what happens is that the draft chapters become the actual chapters of the city development plan and go on public display. The point I am making is that preparing the development plan is a very powerful right which councillors have. The five year plan determines the zoning of a city, where development may take place and the type of development that may take place in a certain area. It also determines the road policy for an area, the housing and amenity policies, the waste disposal policy and so on. The plan determines the very issues that should be on the agenda during the local elections but are not. Yet, we find that councillors refrain from getting involved in the nitty gritty of producing the five year plan and leave it to the manager and  the planners to come up with the plan. There is little point in Members talking about providing extra powers for councillors if councillors are not prepared to use the powers they already have. They have powers, and it is important that I put that point on the record.
This Bill deals with the use of section 4 motions. While I agree with the Minister's provision in regard to section 4, particularly in regard to planning matters, councils under the old legislation will still be able to invoke section 4 for non-planning issues. Some councils have never used a section motion 4. When a councillor in such a council has the temerity to invoke this provision some of the more senior members gasp in horror that a councillor could do such a dreadful thing. It is not a dreadful thing to do; it is a power that councillors have under the Act. There should be a healthy tension between the manager and the elected representatives. If the relationship is too cosy I suspect that people are losing out somehow. What amazes me is that at times councillors seem afraid to use the powers they already have or they pull back from using their powers. Section 4 motions are a case in point. Only three or four councils use section 4 motions in planning decisions; and I do not approve of the extent to which it has been used in planning decisions in those counties. The measure introduced in the Bill is quite correct in that respect. However, I make this point to support my overall view that councillors have had powers for the past ten to 30 years which, for varying reasons, they have not used.
My fourth point is that councillors should have access to independent expert advice and I ask the Minister to consider this. They also need access to independent sources of information because too often in a range of policy areas councillors have access only to expert inhouse advice. They are advised by the management team, either in the planning section, the engineering section, the housing section, the architect section or whatever. Councillors have to question this advice on the basis of their own experience. I believe that too often they  lack independent expert advice — for example, in the formulation of a transport policy for a city or county.
When listening to a discussion on transport policy on “Morning Ireland” the other morning I was struck by the fact that the two lecturers — one from Trinity College and the other from UCD — had views on a transport policy for Dublin city markedly different from the views emanating from Dublin Corporation management. It was well worth listening to their views. They were very informative because they had a European perspective on the issue. I suggest that if the councillors in Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council had been exposed to that type of alternative thinking on transport policy they might have come to different conclusions whenever the decisions were made to do what they are now doing. We might have had a healthier approach to the formulation of local government policy. I think the Minister should consider this point. I have spoken to him already about it. I think we could make greater use of the existing third level colleges in pursuing this objective and I recommend that strongly indeed.
As I mentioned earlier, there should be a tension between the city manager and his staff and the elected councillors. I was amazed when Deputy Byrne said the Minister has all power in the local government system. He really does not have this power. I think the most powerful man or woman — although there are very few women county managers, but that will probably change — in the local government system is the city or county manager. There is no question about that. The city manager has incredible power. Indeed, he has far more power than individual Members of the Legislature. That is worth looking at. The city manager is the final planning officer in any city or county and has tremendous power of leverage. If a manager and council are not enjoying a harmonious relationship we tend to get a difficult situation emerging. The present system  depends on a relationship between the manager and the councillors. There must be a meeting of minds but under the present system the manager has the majority of powers and this should be looked at. I welcome the provision which sets a time limit on the term of office of a city or county manager.
People tend to have a negative perception of local authorities. I think this results from the conflict between councillors and management. The councillors are in constant contact with the people. They are out at resident association meetings, meet various deputations and so on. They hear the perspective of people on the ground. The city manager and his staff are that little bit more removed from the reality and very often tend to override the opposition from community groups. I think that is unhealthy. Many of the difficulties in Cork Corporation over the marsh plan, the car park and the city dump, arose because the full-time officials who have the greater power are removed from the people. Because they do not have to depend on the people to hold their positions they tend to ignore their views or fob them off. That is an unhealthy aspect of our present local government system.
The Minister has attempted to address this in the Bill and the enabling powers which he has given himself should enable him in future legislation to take power from the manager and give it back to the elected councillors. In his speech the Minister stressed that he wanted local authorities to be the voice of the people and that he did not want councils to be alienated from the people. There must be something wrong at council meetings when the galleries are full of people from a given area who are very strongly opposed to a plan emanating from City Hall. There is a breakdown in the system. This is happening in too many councils throughout the country and it illustrates the reason that councils and corporations have generated this negative perception of themselves. As the Minister has said, local authorities are doing tremendous work in many areas — for example, in regard to urban renewal, providing  amenities, playing pitches and so on. Yet the overriding public perception of local authorities is negative and I think this is due to the situation I outlined earlier in my speech.
The question of funding local government is not a primary issue in this Bill. The Minister made a valid point in his speech that there is very little point in dealing with a fundamental review of the financial provisions for local authorities if the structures are not in place. In other words, we must reform the structure and put new structures in place before we begin to look at the financing of those structures. Studies have been carried out and, indeed, the London School of Economics have prepared a report. One report comes to the conclusion that our existing system is not that terribly bad and that it stands up quite well in the European context.
Many misleading and insincere comments have been made in the House and elsewhere about the system of funding local government. Everyone is agreed that some system of local taxation is needed, but no one will actually specify what they mean. People have attacked service charges and so on, but service charges have been in place since 1983. They were brought in by the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government of the time — Deputy Spring was then Minister. No party — not the Labour Party, Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats or Fianna Fáil — have committed themselves to repeal or abolish service charges. They may have done so for earlier elections, and were probably wrong in doing so but the bottom line is that the consensus emerging is that service charges are better than any other system.
Moves were made to set up an all-party committee on local government financing but Fine Gael did not want to participate, because, I suggest, they did not want to be involved in the reintroduction of rates. A common view held at the time was that rates would have to come back in order to fund local government. In my view it is not politically palatable to bring back  rates. People looking at what happened in England with the poll tax suddenly began to realise that any attempt to bring back a property tax, rates, or a tax on houses, would be opposed very strongly by the people. Service charges probably represent the lowest form of local taxation. Anyone who really wants to abolish service charges is talking about a form of local taxation that would have people paying more than they are paying at present; it is worth bearing that thought in mind. No one on the Opposition benches has yet come up with an alternative system of funding local government. The Workers' Party talked a while ago about a marvellous vision, in which literally everybody was involved in local government. Again it was not specified where the money would come from.
In the past three years the lower band of income tax has come down to 29 per cent. In 1983 people argued that service charges were wrong because they represented a dual form of taxation, double taxation. I ask a question — I asked it before but I have not had an answer — to what level must income tax be reduced before service charges become acceptable? Should the Government bring income tax down to 25 per cent or 20 per cent? The Government have significantly increased the yield from corporation tax; we intend to continue to reduce PAYE tax down to 25 per cent and down to 50 per cent at the higher rate; the farmers have been put on their own system of taxation to which they object strongly; the self-employed have also been put on their own system of taxation; a sum of £500 million was taken in in the amnesty. I mention those points to illustrate the overall picture that significant movements have been made on the tax front since 1987. The reason for opposing service charges in 1983 are not as strong today as they might have been then because of the reforms that have taken place in the taxation system, not to mention the reduction in VAT of four points in the past two years. It is up to those who want to abolish service charges to put forward specific proposals for funding  local government. They have not done so to date and do not seem likely to do so.
I was somewhat taken aback yesterday when listening to a colleague from Cork, Deputy Allen, speak about the Bill. He spoke about the service charges. His was an incredible speech that was more designed to get headlines in The Cork Examiner than it was designed to make any worthwhile contribution to the Bill. About five times he called on the Minister to resign. All I can add is that I am thankful the Minister's tenure of office will be much longer than was Deputy Allen's on the Fine Gael Front Bench. The Deputy went over the top in the comments he made about the Minister, particularly those in relation to service charges. He accused the Minister of jailing people, although he knew that was not quite the position. He himself voted for service charges, and his own party at the moment believe in service charges and have not put forward any opposing views on them.
Deputy Allen made nonsense of the social housing plan announced by the Minister for the Environment. That plan does deserve consideration. It will have an impact. For the first time in many years a multipurpose approach to the provision of housing has been offered. Gone are the days of building huge green field housing estates. The building of such huge housing estates brought in its train many social problems, and it should never be repeated. The Minister is giving people options. We have come down in favour of the view that as many people as possible should own their own homes and that the shared ownership concept is worth pursuing. Likewise, the incentive of £3,300 for people to leave local authority houses and purchase a private house is a good one. The proposal that if people on the housing list bring a house up to a certain standard they can come off the housing list will also help. We are not getting rid of our building programme, we are building houses in a more select and planned way, particularly in inner cities. There should be more concentration on building up the inner cities. There are several schemes on hold in  particular areas of inner cities that should be accelerated.
Some local authorities are a little reluctant to send up schemes from the inner city areas because of their higher cost, because of their infill nature, and because the authorities would prefer to get a little more money for green field sites. Ministers should note that; they should actively persuade local authorities to send up schemes in relation to the inner city areas — maybe 20 or 25 houses in designated areas to try to complete the work achieved under the designated area schemes.
It makes me sick to hear people toss aside the Government housing policy in one sentence and say it is a load of rubbish, particularly when those people were at a meeting with the Minister for the Environment held some months ago in Cork and welcomed his proposals. Fine Gael people, Labour Party people and Fianna Fáil people all said that the proposals were excellent, a great idea, and congratulated the Minister.
Mr. Martin: It is very true. This must be the most anticlimactic debate in the House for a long time. The run up to the debate was incredible. Allegations were made that the Minister was giving himself draconian powers and that the Bill would mean increased centralisation of local government. Deputy Allen and other Deputies argued that they did not have enough time to prepare their contributions on the Bill. Local government reform has been heralded for many a year, and the Government made their intentions known well in advance. Indeed, the expert committee published their report which is there for everybody to peruse. The financial report that had been asked for was also published.
In March the Government made known their intentions that they would introduce the Bill and indicated broad outlines. It is absolutely ridiculous for people to suggest that they did not have  enough time to prepare informed comment on the Bill. In my view, this was political posturing, more to do with local elections or a personal vendetta against the Minister than with any substantive reason.
An important issue dealt with in the Bill is the establishment of boundary committees to deal with extensions of city boundaries. In the Bill the Minister has made it clear that where there is disagreement between two local authorities a boundary committee will be formed, which will make recommendations and have a determining influence on the way the matter evolves. Such a measure is long overdue. It is about time that the boundary of my own city, Cork, was extended. The city has expanded substantially in recent years, with huge sprawling housing estates down to Rochestown, Douglas, Grange and Frankfield, back down towards Togher, and the surrounding areas of Ballyvolane, etc.
There is a case to be made, from the point of view of the logical management of affairs, for extending the city boundary in that direction, and the Bill will permit councils to make such submissions. The Minister should address that. I am not talking about electoral boundaries but administrative boundaries and about the proper management of our affairs. County Cork is a huge county and the county council cover a wide area. Very often the interests of Bantry or Schull are not the same as those of Douglas.
Mr. Martin: It would mean that Deputy Sheehan would have more resources if we brought Douglas or Rochestown into an enlarged city boundary. Deputy Sheehan would not object to such a move. The Minister should address that matter. It is one in which I am particularly interested. The central objective of the Bill is to promote the democratic representational role of members to the forefront in future local authorities. In other  words, councils, as opposed to city managers or officials, would be seen as the real local authority. It is amazing that for the first time we are giving statutory recognition to that and that previous legislation did not allow for it.
Under the Bill the Minister proposes setting up regional authorities and these authorities will be formed from members of the existing local authorities. There was some criticism during the week about the designation of regions by the Minister in his speech, but we are quite happy with the south-west region. The only difficulty I have is that the function and role of that regional authority is not properly spelled out. It is important that we have regional authorities to co-ordinate the role of the various county councils and local authorities in a given region. For example, if we look at the major economic issues which affect the south-west tourism is a principal factor and, therefore, access transport to the region is vitally important. It is important to have a regional authority that will concentrate on those macro issues. That section is somewhat vague. The role of the regional authorities should be spelled out. I know this is a process that will evolve over time but the regional authorities could very quickly become talking shops if they are not given a specific role. I suggest that they should take a more regional approach to transport, tourism, infrastructure and so on.
The counties of Meath, Kildare, and other counties, have been included with Dublin as one region and that has generated some heat. A number of Dublin Deputies were upset at the fact that Dublin is being included with other counties. The geographical position is not the primary issue but rather the role of the various authorities.
I should like to deal with the distinction between local government and local administration. Local authorities could do much more about the way they present themselves to the people. For example, most local authorities have no public relations officers working for them. The Minister, in his speech, dwelt on the negative perception which people have  of councils, and that could be overcome if there was a greater use of public relations officers. The Bill deals with the role and functions of local authorities. Unfortunately, local authorities in the past have been seen as providers of services such as water, waste disposal and refuse services, but in the changing economic climate and changing trends in the world local authorities and councils must become much more developmental as regards tourism and so on. They must become more than just builders of roads and providers of sewerage works.
Tourism policy should come under local authorities. There is too much duplication in this area. I would argue that Cork Corporation have done more in many respects than the local tourist body as regards tourist promotion and the improvement and enhancement of the city. Local regional tourism bodies should be subsumed into local authorities. In that way there would be better co-ordination and better promotion of a city or county. There would be better integration in relation to sign posting, the planning of hotels or whatever and the promotion of cities abroad. Local authorities should be given a greater role in those areas.
In recent years Cork Corporation gave grants to various groups and bodies to promote tourism and I wondered why they did not take on this task themselves. We have been particularly strong in our support of the Arts. The Arts represent a very important economic dimension of any city. In Cork we are now becoming involved in the purchase of an opera house, acquiring almost two-thirds interest in it and spending £1.2 million over six years. In addition, we spend over £100,000 a year on other artistic activities in the city. It is not just Arts for Arts sake. The Arts help to retain a living, vibrant city. They bring people into the city centre at night and help to keep inner city areas from going into decay. It is extremely important that such areas are developed more and that councils have a greater role in them.
Mr. Deasy: We may have a beauty contest this week to decide which of the Cork city Deputies should be promoted as the next Cabinet Minister. They will all have their own backing groups, not as in musical backing groups for the pop stars but financiers, “tacateers” and so on. It is extraordinary that Cork is the best at virtually everything, be it hurling, football, rugby or soccer, but when it comes to Fianna Fáil politicians they fall flat. However, I do not wish to be unkind because Deputy Martin's contribution was constructive. Neither do I wish to be over-critical of the Bill because Bills generally are disappointing, irrespective of Governments or Ministers.
I have been a member of a local authority, a county council or an urban council for 15 years and I have been a member of either the Dáil or Seanad for the past 18 years. I have also been in Government. This legislation is really upside down. It is supposed to be about local government reform but neither local government nor any other system lower down on the scale of priorities can be reformed unless central Government is reformed. To talk about local or regional committees is a bit nonsensical until government is reformed at the top.
We inherited our system from the British in 1922 and while they have changed their system, which was suited to an industrialised, heavily populated country, we have slavishly held on to the system which is antiquated and totally unsuitable for a rural, agricultural and very thinly populated country with very little industrialisation. The frustration of being in here day in, day out, year in,  year out, is awful and it is time we started at the top. We should reform the Dáil and Seanad before we tinker with lesser bodies. I do not mean any disrespect to the people who serve on these bodies, as the vast majority are genuine, hardworking people. However, they are handicapped from the very first day because the heavy hand of central Government hangs over all those bodies which are starved of cash and, as a result, of power. You must give power and responsibility to people to get the best type of public representative. My experience over the last ten or 15 years is that local authorities, instead of being given a realistic amount of power, are having their powers diminished daily. It is a very regrettable state of affairs.
I want to make an accusation which is well founded and well known to people who have worked in the system at all levels. It is that the Department of Finance go out of their way to stifle any extension of the powers of local representatives or, for that matter, of representatives at national level. It is all about money and power vested in the hands of a few people, mainly in the Civil Service, although some of them are at a higher political level. That is frustrating to people who have to work the system down the line. I am not blaming the Minister for the Environment — or the junior Minister — for an inadequate Bill; I blame politicians for not starting at the top and doing a job which we all know needs to be done.
I would like to have seen a little imagination and inventiveness in this Bill. There was a lot of scope for that but it did not materialise. I do not know what Committee Stage will yield, probably nothing because there will be a series of votes and anything constructive which we propose will be defeated. Because of time constrictions half the Bill will be debated and the other half will be guillotined. That is the way political life operates and we may well have done the same when we were in Government.
The people at the top have been seriously negligent, not just in the last  year or two but over many years. We do not have a political system, nationally and locally, which is relevant to the people's needs. The Bill provides that local authorities be accountable to the people for how they perform on their behalf. They should be accountable but I do not think they are. In my experience, a county or city manager has infinitely more power than all the councillors put together on any body. These reserved functions, which members are supposed to have, have been so eroded that they are virtually irrelevant. The functions which the senior officials, particularly city and county managers, have are so immense that they have tremendous power. However, they are not elected, so you cannot talk about accountability where local representatives are concerned if they do not have power.
Instead of reducing the powers of senior officials and giving it to the elected representatives, the reverse is the case and legislation like this does not help the situation. There is a type of “lackeyism” in this country whereby people, instead of fighting for rights and standing up for people's rights, grovel to senior officials for favours who, in turn, will be reelected at the next election. That appertains not just to local politicians but also to national politicians. Deputy Byrne alluded to it earlier. This country is too exposed to the influence of individuals and pressure groups who do not represent anybody except themselves. The politicians do not have the type of power which would give them the courage to tell those pressure groups and individuals to hump off, that politicians will run the country as they see fit. There is a system of patronage which lends itself to abuse of politicians instead of respect for them. We will never have a proper system until we get rid of that type of system, locally and nationally.
The Department of Finance are only interested to see that as little money as possible is spent at the discretion of local or national representatives. The Department of Finance want to have complete control over the spending of every single penny. This defeats the very basis of  democracy. It is an issue that will have to be faced up to and changed. In the time that I have been a member of this House and, earlier, of the Seanad I have not seen anyone who was willing to face up to this issue. We talk about it but we do nothing to change it.
Local government is, after all, the level of government which relates most clearly to the day to day lives of the people. If we allow flaws in the system to create a sense of alienation between communities and the representative authorities, a great disservice will be done to our whole democratic system.
I do not know whether it was the Minister or one of his civil servants who phrased that statement but little did he know that what he said is correct in an inverse way. We are undermining democracy because we are not allowing the decision to be taken by elected representatives. No official in the Department of Finance nor no city or county manager should be able to over-rule or dictate to elected representatives. However, this is what they are doing and it is undermining our democratic system. Unless we change that system, it will blow up in our faces one of these days. The extreme Left, the agitators and pressure groups, are all out to cause as much trouble as possible.
There is a degree of cynicism among members of the public towards politicians which is decidedly unhealthy. We have no one to blame for this but ourselves. The sooner we come to realise that instead of strengthening, enforcing and helping democracy, we are undermining it by our ineptitude and lack of courage, the better. Social unrest and upheaval occur when people sit back and allow faceless people to make the decisions. Elected representatives, whether they are members of urban councils, county councils, corporations or Dáil Éireann should be the people who make the decisions. Day in, day out we walk through the lobbies rubber stamping highly technical legislation about which  many of us know virtually nothing at times. It is time we set about making this House more meaningful to the general public.
Talking about local government reform is almost pointless — I would not say totally pointless — if we do not change the system of central Government and the system of financing local government. I would love to see an indepth debate taking place in this House on the structures of the Houses of the Oireachtas, with a series of proposals emanating from Members. I do not know why everyone got hot and bothered about this Bill as it is pretty minor and irrelevant. A few innovative proposals could have been included in the Bill. One simple one would be the proposal that county councils be elected on the basis of a one seat electoral division, based on a single transferable vote? We have spoken about this in the context of Dáil elections, but why should we not start at local level? One of the things which tears the heart and soul out of good men and women is when they go into elections with the sole objective of beating their running mate from their own party, not the opposition party. I suppose there is a word for this. If you kill your brother it is called fratricide and what Saddam Hussein did is called genocide. There should be another word with “cide” at the end of it which describes this political infighting.
Mr. Deasy: It would have to be a little stronger than that. There is a need for us to make a start in this area. It would have been a good idea if the Bill had dealt with this issue. I do not have any such problem in my constituency because they have all melted away. I do not know what has happened to them but I did nothing to them.
It is a pity that the reform, if one can call it such, did not extend to urban councils and town commissioners. I am not saying that the Minister was wrong in not having considered changing the format of local councils. There is much to be said for a district council rather than an urban council or a town commission. The suburbs and environs of a town are part of a town and they should be considered when it comes to representation and dealing with their problems. There are local district councils in Britain. This is not a bad concept and I believe it is what the Minister has in mind. It is not always possible to frame these types of proposals at relatively short notice. I presume those elections will take place next year. It will be interesting to see what form these district councils will take.
Urban councils have an element of autonomy. When I say “autonomy” I mean relative autonomy because no body, whether it is the Dáil, Seanad, county councils, corporations or urban councils have any real autonomy. They are hamstrung — officials, Ministers and the senior officials in the Department of Finance tell them what to do. In the context of autonomy as we know it, urban councils have some powers — they can spend a few pounds on lights, road repairs, water schemes, house repairs and other items which affect people's every day lives.
The greatest nonsense of all time are town commissioners. I hope that in the forthcoming reform of local councils and local district councils a new format will replace town commissioners. Hopefully some of the larger town commissioners will be upgraded to the status of urban councils or urban district councils. Perhaps the small town commissioners will be integrated into a district council, as they are called in Britain. As they are presently constituted, town commissioners do not have any reason for  existing, they do not have any powers. The others have little enough, but for God's sake give people in those small towns presently controlled by town commissioners some sort of representation and some powers that are meaningful.
I compliment the Minister on the section of the Bill which advocates the setting up of a boundary commission. That is covered in sections 27 to 35. It is very desirable because the present system of getting a boundary extension is so drawn out and so difficult and gives rise to such aggravation between adjoining local authorities. I look forward with pleasure to seeing this section coming into force. As things stand, the last extension of a boundary related to Drogheda back in the seventies.
Mr. Deasy: Yes, that was more recent, but it was by agreement. There was another one in Waterford, but the last one which gave rise to aggravation was when Drogheda extended its boundary area into County Meath. The then Minister for Local Government, the former Deputy Tully, was caused some pain by this because he had to take a chunk of County Meath out and give it to Drogheda Corporation.
If the adjoining local authorities do not agree on the changes the procedures involved are pretty awful. They are so drawn out that it can take from ten to 15 years to get the change. There may be a public inquiry and they may have to go to the courts. It was messy and difficult. It is a very good idea to put this proposal for a boundary commission into the Bill. There has been a problem in Cork for 20 or 30 years because the city has been unable to expand into the county. There has been a problem in Limerick where the corporation cannot extend into County Clare which is their natural hinterland. There is a problem in Waterford city where the uniform development of the city cannot take place. The Waterford  County Council agreed ten years ago to give the corporation a huge hunk of the county, about three times the size of the city at the time, and they can expand readily into County Waterford. However, they cannot get any concession from County Kilkenny. Half of the development should go into the Waterford county area and the other half should go north into County Kilkenny, but they cannot get the extension because Kilkenny County Council will not agree. In that type of situation a boundary commission with the right to make a binding decision is extremely desirable.
Parts of the Bill are a bit mealy mouthed — for instance, in relation to setting up committees. The Minister might not be aware, but in recent years two of the statutory committees of county councils have been abolished — county committees of agriculture and health advisory committees. Here is an interesting story which perhaps does not reflect well on me, but confession is good for the soul. I was the Minister who ostensibly abolished county committees of agriculture. That sounds contradictory with regard to what I am saying now; but the fact is that the Department of Finance decided to do that and it was at their behest that I did it. This sort of legislation tackles the problem from the wrong end. There should be reform in central Government not in local government. There cannot be proper reform of local government while we are hamstrung and controlled by central Government, particularly the Department of Finance.
The question arises as to how many committees should be set up. Can the local authorities, under section 37, form an infinite number of committees and what form should they take? Perhaps the Minister will answer that when replying, because we might never get to it on Committee Stage.
The biggest thing going for county councillors at the moment are sheep  dipping committees. The statutory committees have been abolished and committees which were never heard of before, such as sheep dipping committees, have assumed a new importance. There are sensitive and serious talks going on about the North, which were referred to as “tripartheid talks” at one stage. If councillors really want to get a trip around the country they will have tripartite talks with their fellow sheep dipping committee members in Donegal and Kerry and they will have reciprocal visits every now and again. We have the greatest nonsense of all time. I will not go into the background of it and I will not mention anybody by name.
Mr. Deasy: We will never defeat the ingenuity of the Irishman. One may think one has plugged a hole by getting rid of committees of agriculture and health advisory committees, but they will find other ways of getting their hands into the can of cookies. We have had an evolution of new committees. We find all kinds of ways of circumventing the system.
Mr. Deasy: Yes, that is one of the committees that should be reconstituted along with the health advisory committees. There are still some statutory committees left. I do not know why the Department of Finance could not destroy them. If they could they would. The ones which have remained are vocational education committees and library committees, which have suddenly assumed a new importance for the same reason as the sheep dipping committees. We also have harbour authorities.
Mr. Deasy: I have no doubt that Deputy Sheehan is right. He is an authority on matters like that. There are those three committees — vocational education committees, library committees and harbour authorities — which still exist.
I would like to know what other committees are envisaged under section 37 of this Bill. There could be an infinite number of committees. A peculiar structure is proposed. It is that two-thirds of the members of those committees, a majority, can be non-elected members without voting rights. That seems extraordinary. I am not in favour of any members of any committee who are not elected. If the Minister had given power to local authorities people would go forward and fight for positions as they never fought before, because they would be determined to have a say in what was happening. They would not be willing to look on from outside. This is all about responsibility. What is happening, however, is that there is no power and no responsibility as things stand, and this Bill does nothing to change that. That is my primary objection to the legislation. Whether we bring in this legislation or not, my primary objection to the system is that I do not subscribe to the theory that people should be put on committees without having to face the public. Non-elected people should not be entertained.
That brings me to section 43, which deals with the establishment of regional authorities. I was a member of a regional authority in the form of a health board, the South Eastern Health Board, for three or four years. The Minister may or  may not know that health boards consist of 31 members, 16 of whom are elected representatives from the constituent local authorities in the region and the other 15 of whom are non-elected members who represent various interest groups within the medical profession. Nobody will convince me other than that that was a serious mistake initially. My experience has been that quite a number of the non-elected representatives have no interest in the general working of such a board or authority. They have a purely sectional interest. If something happens that affects their own small grouping then they will get involved. Possibly I just had a bad experience which might not be typical, but I found that they were not concerned. I do not care whom I offend, and I may offend some very good people who are non-elected representatives, when I say that the majority are not interested. Such people will say they were elected from within their own organisation, but the people who elected them might only amount to half a dozen people.
People running the affairs of this country should be elected by the public. That is democracy and anything else is an undermining of democracy. We are being attacked from both ends of the scale. We are being dictated to by the Department of Finance and we are having to suffer non-elected members from various bodies and committees. That is not the way it should be. Everybody should have to stand before the public. This very system which we are tolerating, encouraging and expanding is contrary to the public good and to the democratic system. The sooner we face up to that the better. If I had my way I would disband all the health boards in the country, whatever about the other regional councils — I was not a member of any of them. Maybe some of them are better, but my experience of that particular one was awful. I would not want to see it done ever again. I am therefore very much against section 43 of this Bill.
 Section 38 refers to joint committees and that can be quite desirable. Joint committees of different local authorities can be helpful. They need not consist of all the local authorities but could consist of one electoral division in a county meeting with the adjacent electoral division in another county to discuss matters of mutual interest, particularly where water schemes, sewerage schemes and road networks are concerned. This could be particularly advantageous and there is a necessity for it. Such meetings have been held informally over the years and it is a good thing that they are being put on a formal footing. Again, if care is not taken one could have ridiculous situations. There could be joint committees of a number of local authorities. For example a county like Tipperary, which is surrounded by seven counties, could theoretically have seven joint committees with the seven adjacent county councils. However, the local joint committee idea is commonsense and should have been done long ago because it is a good idea. It is one of the points in the Bill that I certainly would find favourable. Overall I am not diametrically opposed to the Bill. There are some good things in it.
Mr. Deasy: There are some good things in it, but the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, will have to appreciate that I have an overriding objection to the lack of power vested in members of local authorities and, for that matter, Members of the Dáil. Until such time as we get rid of the dominance of the Department of Finance we will have problems and we will never be the masters of our own destiny in this House or in the county or urban councils. We will always be hamstrung and starved of money. We will always be powerless and that is not the way it should be.
The Minister contradicted that. He said: “Another popular cliché in recent  times has been the claim that local authorities have become powerless; the facts, however, do not support this“. That is totally incorrect. I served as a member of two local authorities for 15 years and people who have been serving on the local authorities since I left them in 1982 tell me that things have got far worse. They are getting less money and their meetings are quite often just a farce. So, I say to the Minister, that statement is incorrect. Local authorities are very close to being powerless. The only thing which has changed in the Department of the Environment in recent times is the name.
|Last Updated: 23/05/2011 03:53:32||Page of 88|