Friday, 10 May 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Deasy: As regards the abolition and non-reformation of committees, I remember 20 years ago a certain Minister, who now happens to be Minister for Energy, touring the country as Minister for Local Government and promising massive reforms in that area.
Mr. Deasy: That same man had the audacity to come into the House yesterday and start accusing people for objecting to the undue haste with which this Bill is being put through the House. This is the man who promised even more sweeping reforms 20 years ago, the man who has been sitting on local authorities for the past four years, and two of them as Minister at the Cabinet table. He is sitting on two local authorities, one of which has abused the system most. I am referring to the planning regulations, particularly section 4 of the Planning Act. That council is a disgrace to the country because of their actions in flouting the law.
Mr. Deasy: It is not a case of people in glasshouses throwing stones but throwing bricks. If I object to the undue haste in introducing this Bill I probably have very good reason for doing so. We spent months debating Committee Stage of a Bill that had been a fait accompli for a some considerable time, that is, the Fisheries (Amendment) Act. That legislation dealt with the rod licence issue which was resolved prior to the last general election and which caused the Minister for Defence, Deputy Brendan Daly, much anguish and pain. Why should we waste months of Dáil time on something that is totally irrelevant, something that already had been decided, while legislation that is meaningful to most Members is being rushed through? I repeat what I said last night, I have no great objection to this Bill. It is at least a slight attempt at local government reform and we must appreciate that. It is only the time factor that causes any real problems for most of us.
I have said before, and I will say again, you cannot have local government reform unless you have central Government reform. Any attempt to reform local government without central Government reform will fail. It would be only scratching the surface. As long as the Department of Finance control the legislation and regulations that pass through this House we will never have a totally free, open form of local government. Now is the time when every member of every pressure group and every crank should be volunteering to stand for the local elections. If they would stop criticising the politicians and take part in the process themselves we would get them out of our hair. My message to people who criticise politicans is to stand for election — the date is 27 June. They could join a political party or stand as an Independent. Either shape up or ship  out, that is what Jack Charlton says to members of his team who are a bit squeamish about making a hard tackle.
Mr. Deasy: That is not for the former US Ambassador to this country, Mrs. Heckler, that is Mr. Heckler. We thought we had dispatched Deputy Cowen to the Limerick Port and Docks Board permanently but, apparently, he objected and did not go.
While I referred to people having an opportunity to stand for local and general elections — in this instance it is the local elections on 27 June — it is very difficult to get people who have a lot to offer to stand unless you give them considerable power or responsibility in the shaping of local government. That type of responsibility does not exist at present because of the heavy hand of the Department of Finance which restricts spending. I do not blame the Minister for the Environment as he is told what to do; anybody who has been in Government knows the restrictions. The county and city managers have more power than all the elected representatives put together. It is very difficult to get suitable people to stand while power is retained in executive areas within the Civil Service or local government. While the crackpots and cranks should still stand many people will not stand for the reasons I gave. If you cannot dictate changes and improvements you will not waste your time being involved with a council.
Any reform of local government should give the elected member more power and responsibility. However, power and responsibility are being taken away and I do not see any improvement in that regard in the legislation. I bitterly  resent the concept of unelected people serving on committees of any sort; anybody who serves on a committee should be prepared to stand before the public and this nonsense of having two thirds of certain committees consisting of non-elected people is not a runner. I have seen this on the health boards when 15 of the 31 members have not been elected. I have seen people being brought in to vocational and agricultural committees without having being elected. It is not acceptable; if you want to undermine democracy that is the way to do it. You must have people with responsibility who have been elected by popular vote; that is the only form of representation we should entertain.
I do not want to see sectional groups represented because they are only interested in their own petty little selves and their friends. I want people — as is the case in the Dáil and on local authorities — who will give everything they have and work very hard for the good of the country and the community. I have no time for pressure or sectional groups, I do not entertain them and all politicians should adopt that attitude. If they want to have a voice in what is going on, then they should stand for election, otherwise they should be cut out.
The regional bodies proposed in the Bill will not be a success, the health boards have not been a success and I dare anyone to contradict me in that regard. They are costing considerably more than the old health authorities and they do not achieve the job for which they were set up. It is about time there was an admission of the failure of such bodies; it is about time we went back to the county and city basis, in some cases there were county and city committees. Whether we like it or not Ireland has a very parochial society, things are based on county loyalties whether in relation to Gaelic games or any other form of social activity. County allegiances are extremely strong and any form of local government should be based on the county unit. Let us forget the regions as regions can overlap provinces. There is no generality of view, it is a mé féin attitude in the different local  authorities. All institutions of local government should be based on the county unit. That is my message to the Minister.
I applaud some sections of the Bill although I have two objections. One is the lack of time in which to debate it and the second is that you cannot reform local government until your reform central Government. It is about time Members of this House realised that reform of central Government is a basic necessity. Public cynicism is due to the fact that we are not the decision makers we pretend to be. We continually march through those lobbies and half the time people do not know for what they are voting. We must have a meaningful system which we understand and control and which will work for the betterment of the general public. At the moment our system is a shambles and is controlled by a small minority of senior civil servants and, if they are strong enough, maybe one or two senior politicians. We certainly do not have a truly democratic system.
Some of the committees to which I referred are still in existence although others have been abandoned. I see from the Bill that the Minister intends to set up new committees and that two-thirds of them will consist of non-elected members. What, in God's name, does he intend to do with those committees? Apparently, they will not have financial backing and they can only make recommendations. I can imagine that every pressure group in the country will be demanding seats on those committees. We did have a good system which has been eroded. The health committees should be reconstituted and the health authorities should also be reconstituted to replace the health boards as they were far more effective. We were told the health boards were the classic example although we also had them in relation to industry and tourism. We were told they were being set up in the interests of rationalisation, greater efficiency and less cost. What have we got? We have the most muddled system of all time, hugely increased costs and, probably, less  efficiency. We do not have the same loyalties we had within the old health authorities. Those are the authorities about which I feel most strongly.
The same argument applies to the county committees of agriculture. There is a need for those committees to be reconstituted. Those committees were abolished by the last Coalition Government. People will say to me, “You were a member of that Government”. I was a member of that Government but, as I illustrated at the outset, it is the Department of Finance who dictate whether these bodies should continue or be abolished. A Department's Estimate is cut and the Department do not have any option.
Mr. Deasy: I have just said that. It is a pity some of the members of the Deputy's party do not make admissions like that. I read an article on the back page of last Sunday's issue of The Sunday Tribune about the internal difficulties in The Workers' Party.
Mr. Deasy: I am advocating that those two committees should be reconstituted. We still have the vocational education committees, the library committees and harbour authorities. Those are the type of committees and authorities we need if we are to have local democracy. We should have more statutory committees instead of committees which have no powers and two-thirds of whose members are non-elected.
Mr. Deasy: I am referring to committees in general. I thought the Government would have availed of this excellent opportunity to experiment with a new electoral system. I cannot use vulgar words, but we are a bit cheesed off with our system of proportional representation, multi-seat constituencies and multi-seat county council electoral areas where the number of seats can vary from three to nine.
Mr. Deasy: If we want real local government reform we should have one seat district electoral divisions with a transferable vote. This system will have to be introduced some time so why not introduce it sooner rather than later? This is the logical system to operate here. I have no doubt that such a system would considerably improve the quality of representation. One of the most awful aspects of politics is the rivalry between constituency politicians of the same party.
Mr. Deasy: The catch-cry in County Waterford is: “Oh God, why did they not keep him in South-Tipperary”? The Ceann Comhairle has not stopped smiling since the individual in question left his constituency.
The Government should have availed of this excellent opportunity to introduce a new electoral system. While there are no local elections this year in respect of urban councils and town commissioners, may I suggest that this idea be adopted next year when the district councils are set up. It is unfortunate that these elections will not take place this year, but that is a minor point. I would be satisfied  if these district council elections were held next year. I have no great difficulty about that. It is not unusual for local elections to be postponed for a year or two but why not introduce a one seat element for districts, towns and smaller corporations like Wexford and Clonmel?
Mr. Deasy: The Workers' Party and the Labour Party are not getting any closer so there is very little hope of them forming one party. It would be an excellent idea to have one seat constituencies for district councils and, perhaps, seven or nine seats divided up into areas. The Government have the opportunity to rectify this issue. Our present system, whether in the case of Dáil elections or local elections, is not good. It would probably be better at the end of the day to have a single non-transferable vote system rather than the multi-seat system which is in operation at present. A single transferable vote system would probably be the best compromise.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Mr. Connolly): I welcome this Bill. We have been talking about the need for such a Bill since I became a Member of this House many years ago. Some Members on the opposite side of the House have difficulties with the Bill. They have been calling for local government reform and have been asking over a number of months when such a Bill would be introduced. However, now that the Government have brought this Bill before the House they have difficulties with it. The public will have an opportunity to decide on the performance of all parties in this House when they vote in the local elections in June.
Many members of local authorities have powers which they never use. They  can accept the estimate of their local authority or amend it if they so wish. They can also decide how their resources should be spent. Much has been said about the financing of local authorities. However, I am not going to go into this point as I would be straying away from the provisions in the Bill. Members of local authorities have been reluctant to get involved in this area and we know the reasons for this.
Mr. Connolly: I did not interruput any Member and I am not going to get into that. Any local authority member who wants to bring in measures in his area will be able to do so under this Bill. The Bill will enable the Minister to devolve more powers to the local authorities, which he could not do under the present arrangement. One of those powers — and I am now talking as a rural person — relates to speed limits. In my opinion, decisions on speed limits should never have been made by the Department of the Environment but should have been made between the gardaí of a county — such as County Offaly — and the elected members of that authority.
Mr. Connolly: Of course the Bill will enable that to be done; it gives the necessary authority. I should like many of the functions to be exercised at local authority level, with local authority members being left to decide what is best for their counties, corporations or other organisations.
Some Deputies have been honest enough to admit that the Bill is good. When all of the Opposition Deputies'  complaints are stripped away, even they have to admit that the Bill is a very worthwhile first step towards reform of local government.
Last evening in the House Deputy Fergus O'Brien implied that Fine Gael was according the Bill too much importance. I am very glad that Fine Gael now consider the Bill to be very important, although I am not saying that the other parties do not attach the same importance to it. Fine Gael had the opportunity to join an all-party committee to discuss the kind of reform that was needed. Instead of agreeing to that, Fine Gael wanted to bring the whole financial arena into the reform, and everybody knew that that was not on. The Labour Party and The Workers' Party were agreeable. That process has worked with other Bills that have gone through the House, such as the Adoption Bill, which was passed in the House the other day and on which very good work was done by all members. I am disappointed that Fine Gael did not see the light, did not understand the position, and did not come on the committee to put forward their views on reform. As far as I know Fine Gael Members now realise that they missed their opportunity, but they must put up with that now.
Mr. Connolly: It is too late now. Fine Gael had the chance but did not take the opportunity. The Government have introduced the Bill. I should point out that my party do not control all of the local authorities. If any local authority do not want to bring in expenditure of any kind that is all right, it is not mandatory on any of them to do so.
The Government have introduced several Bills to the Dáil since taking office. The Bill concerning the homeless was brought in by the Government and passed through the Dáil. The Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government brought in a Bill in that regard. They took two years trying to get it through but they did not succeed. Now Opposition Members  are complaining about that. They have to be fair. The Government have put many other Bills through the Dáil, but I am concerned about the time that it is taking to get legislation through, in that debates are very long.
Mr. Connolly: The Government said that a Bill would be put through the House in time for the local elections, and that is the situation. Deputy Creed should not get into that arena, because in 1985 when his party and the Labour Party brought in a Bill it received only seven hours' debate. That would be a bad road for the Deputy to go down now. As far as I am concerned, adequate time is being allowed to debate the Bill. My Department will have many more Bills before the House that I and the Minister will be very anxious to have put through.
Legislation concerning the Dublin area had to be brought in in order to enact provisions before the elections. That will go through now also. The Bill deals with many important matters for local authorities. Local authorities will have more opportunity to decide what they want to do in their own areas as a result of powers being devolved to them under the Bill. It is very important that elected members of a local authority should be able to decide on projects they want to undertake in their areas.
The Minister for the Environment made a change in the discretionary grants to local authorities. Road grants were very important. Members of local authorities can now decide how to spend that discretionary grant of finance. Some local authorities decide how to spend it and on which projects to spend it, while other local authorities do not, but it is most important that local authority members know that they have that right. They can also nominate places in their electoral areas for work to be carried out.
Some Members referred to changes in electoral boundary areas. The Minister of the day made the last boundary changes but no matter what way the boundaries are changed the people will decide  who will win an election on election day. I do not have any worries about boundary changes. No matter what commission redrew boundaries someone got hurt. When boundaries were redrawn by the Minister for Local Government many years ago it was hailed as the greatest gerrymander of all time. What happened? The people decided. I do not have any great concern about boundary areas and I welcome the provision in this Bill.
This Bill is only the first step in local government reform. There will be further Bills. In relation to section 4 motions, during my time on the local authority we never used them because the council members were able to negotiate with the manager, the planning officials and the engineers to work things out satisfactorily. The procedure in this Bill will do away with abuses that might have occurred in other parts of the country and the elected members will have more of a say in the implementation of section 4 motions. I do not favour the abolition of section 4 motions because elected representatives should reserve that function to use when necessary in a planning matter.
A sum of £2 million was allocated this year to improve local authority dwellings by providing bathrooms. I have special responsibility for urban renewal and this is an area where local authorities have a major role with regard to implementing decisions to get refurbishment work under way and in trying to build up major towns and local authority areas. I thank local authorities for their work and co-operation. They have been very positive in relation to refurbishment works. Local authorities have a major role to play in the overall development of areas. Without the commitment of local authorities it will be very difficult to get much of the work off the ground.
Many commentators have agreed that the financing arrangements for local authorities are quite good. However, other means of financing local authorities, such as the equalisation of the rates support grant, must be looked at. On the whole, I am satisfied with the  powers vested in local authorities. Under this Bill they will have additional powers. I will conclude now as I respect the wish of may other Members to speak. We will deal with the Bill in detail on Committee Stage.
Mr. Creed: I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The Bill, although it is a small step in the right direction, does not redress the fundamental problem with local government — the financing of it. Before any meaningful assessment of this Bill can be made we have to ask ourselves what exactly local government is and what it is capable of doing. It is an essential element of democracy in that it is the system of Government that maximises the potential of the individual and creates in him an awareness of the political system. It is a marriage between the sense of local community and administrative practicalities. It should have an in-built capacity to adapt to changing situations in its area of jurisdiction. It is essentially about local people solving local problems.
Given that yardstick, Irish local government fails abysmally. It is perceived by officialdom in centralised government as a thorn in their side, something attempting to wrest from them powers they hold sacred. The local sense of community is provided not with a marriage between it and administrative practicalities but a legal separation that alienates the individual at local level from the decision making process. This has a damaging effect on their confidence in the system.
The Minister referred to the fact that local communities cannot determine the location of speed limits in their own areas. The present system allows for consultation at local level but decisons are made at central level. Where in this Bill are there powers to change that? I can see none, and I cannot understand why some official in his Dublin office should decide on speed limits in towns and villages throughout the country. This is something that should be decided  between local representatives and the Garda Síochána rather than by central Government. That is a good example of the difficulty that confronts Irish local authorities. Their potential is stymied and their capacity to solve local problems is stifled.
An ideal system of local government would have an in-built capacity to adapt to change in this area of jurisdiction. There would be no thought of reform in that reform would be an on-going process. The present system has alienated the public. Because local authorities are financially dependent on central Government, local elected representatives are also alienated and unfairly pilloried by local people because of their inability to respond to problems in their communites.
The Irish system of local government is unparalleled in the EC in the context of the centralisation of power. Paradoxically we are under-governed in comparison to other EC countries. Access to decision making is remote from the ordinary citizen and a whole bureaucracy has been built up in order to protect centralisation at the expense of local government. The reason we have too little, and ineffective, local government is the lack of finance. What we have here is not local government but local administration giving effect to decisions made at central level.
It would be helpful to look at the systems of local government in other countries in an effort to improve our own. Luxembourg, which is equivalent in size to one of the larger counties here, has 113 local authorities; France has 37,000 local authorities or a councillor for every 111 persons; we have 126 local authorities, that is, a councillor for every 13,000 people. I am not suggesting that we need to increase local representation to the extent it has been done in other countries. Involving more local people in local government maximises their potential, but what we have done here is to alienate that potential. According to statistics our Government systems are six  times more centralised than those in Denmark where two-thirds of all Government expenditure is expended by local authorities. Here local government is responsible for approximately 10 per cent of Government spending. We should be expanding the role of local authorities rather than eroding and restricting it as has been done in the past number of years.
I believe there is a direct relationship between the state of the country, the lack of confidence of its people, its economic, social and political state, and the method by which we attempt to govern ourselves. Our employment rates and our emigration rate are proof positive that the system we operate has failed. It is interesting to note what Senator Lee said:
When we got our independence we were one of the best countries in western Europe but, as a result of our own unaided efforts, we are now perched at the bottom of every international league table and we are the only country which has both failed to hold on to its people and has massive unemployment. There is one obvious truth; the place simple does not work.
This system does not work. It does not take into account the potential that is there to resolve the problems that exist. That is clearly indicated by the attitude of our student population who seem to cut themselves off from everything else but study extremely hard to get their exams. Unfortunately the aim of many of them then is to escape from this country which penalises them and does not recognise their potential to resolve the many problems we have. This Bill does not give local government and individuals a chance to resolve their own difficulties.
There is great potential in this House to come up with an improved form of local government. The view of every contributor to this debate is valuable. We have heard various contributions from Members, including Ministers, former Ministers and former civil servants with an indepth knowledge of the intricacies of local government and how it operates. Members of local authorities have  become TDs because they were frustrated with the way the system operated at local authority level. When a difficulty arose in their areas of jurisdiction — be it lighting, housing, roads, sewerage or water schemes — they could see no way out. Their knee-jerk reaction was understandable. They blamed the Minister because their powers were restricted by a lack of finance. Until that problem is tackled we can have no meaningful local government.
My perspective in this debate is that of someone who was elected to a local authority in 1985 and came into this House in the last general election. From 1985 to 1989 was a time of extremely frustrating experience in local authorities, admittedly a time of economic difficulty, but one always felt that any worthwhile proposal at local authority level, regardless of its merits, would not be listened to because of the chain of command and the access of local authority members to real decision making was so long and arduous that many did not bother to make the effort. That is a serious problem which will not be resolved by this Bill. That is not solely my perspective. I recall talking to my late colleague and former Member, John L. O'Sullivan, who said that in his long history of membership of local authorities this present period was the one of most difficulty. That underlines the difficulty that has plagued local authorities since 1977 when they lost their independence with the abolition of rates. At the risk of repeating myself, I say this Bill does nothing to restore that financial independence.
Critical though one might be of the Bill itself, one has to be even more critical of the manner in which the Government are attempting to railroad it through the Dáil. That shows a contempt for parliamentary democracy. It is, in essence, government almost by decree in the sense that no individual can carry out an indepth analysis of this Bill in the short time available. It is very similar to the manner in which the Broadcasting Bill was put through the House. Many of the difficulties arising in the broadcasting  sector are directly as a result of this House's inability, and the Government's unwillingness to allow us to tease out, consult and table amendments to that Bill when it was going through the House.
We had the very opposite with the Child Care Bill which the Minister mentioned, was put through this House very constructively. The Minister did not assume unto himself the sole responsibility for the right provisions in that Bill but rather accepted in good faith the contributions of all Members. The Bill we are debating will come back to haunt us. Next week we will take all remaining Stages and the Minister knows, as I know, we will not deal with many sections in an indepth way. We will not be able to table amendments.
Let me outline the difficulties. There are 55 sections in the Bill. In total 36 Acts are referred to in this legislation. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states that section 45 is consequential on section 44 and provides for the amendment of section 26 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1963, to provide that it shall be necessary for the passing of a resolution under subsection (3) of that section.
To railroad this Bill through in two weeks is a recipe for disaster. It is contemptuous of the democratic process and the parliamentary process to attempt to do that. Even at this late stage I ask the Government to reconsider their efforts to have this Bill railroaded through in such a short time. We need time to consult experts outside this House on its provisions. We need time to consider possible amendments to it. We need legal advice on it and that cannot be obtained in the short time available. The explanatory memorandum was issued only on Tuesday last and that is not adequate. I do not believe any Member or Minister can be familiar with the contents of this Bill without it being given the due process of parliamentary consideration.
I believe 1977 was a watershed in terms of Irish local government. I listened with some ire to Deputy Roche's contribution, which went on for two and a half hours,  eulogising the merits of local government when that Deputy was one of the architects of the 1977 Fianna Fáil manifesto which emasculated local government and sabotaged the economy. We were striding along in the mid-seventies with some degree of reality but at that stage we could not stop politicians making ludicrous promises, or convince an electorate that such promises were not really in the long term beneficial to their interests. I think the electorate have become more sophisticated since then. In the system which obtained then, imperfect though it was, the abolition of rates removed any degree of independence local authorities had. Any debate on local government must begin from that watershed.
Reform is necessary for a multiplicity of reasons, social, economic and political. It is necessary to members of local authorities to enable them to proceed with the duties they have been empowered to carry out. It is essential for us as Members of the Oireachtas to get off the medical card, council house, pothole merry-go-round which sees the public playing off one politican against another and stifles the bureaucratic process with letters being repeated to various public representatives on individual issues. If these matters were resolved at local level, if members of local authorities were given powers and had the status and capacity to resolve local issues there would be no fear for us as Members of Dáil Éireann, whose primary responsibility is as legislators, that any member of a local authority is all the time undermining our position and is an aspiring member of Dáil Éireann.
If we were assured that membership of local authorities was in itself a rewarding and challenging experience for its members we could proceed uninhibited with our primary duty, that of legislating. I concur with Deputy Deasy when he said reform of this institution as well as reform of local authorities is necessary. I am a backbench Deputy who has been a councillor since 1985 and I felt that because of the frustrations and inability of local authorities to resolve local difficulties one had to come to this establishment to have  an input into it. As a backbench Deputy one is very far removed from real decision-making. This Bill does very little to redress that. The failure of this House to reform itself in a meaningful manner means that we will continue to have very little input.
This Bill fails miserably when measured against any of the yardsticks I have mentioned. Its principal failure is that it fails to remove local authorities from their overdependence on central Government. Our independence as individuals begins when we become financially independent of our parents. It is similar with local authorities. Unless and until they are removed from their financial dependence on central Government they will not have any real powers to deal with local issues.
Our party have been vindicated in their refusal to participate in the all-party committee. This Bill does not tackle the fundamental problem of local authorities, namely their dependence on central Government. It enables county councillors, urban councillors, town commissioners and members of corporations to continue with the kneejerk reaction and to continue to reject central Government allocations as inadequate because this removes from them the obligation to raise money locally and spend it locally. It removes the accountability of local authorities to the people in their respective areas. They are simply local adminstrators of central government policies.
One of the things which amused me was the Governments setting up of an expert committee to consider the matter of local government reform. There were many worthy members of that committee but I fail to see how any resolution of local authority difficulties could be arrived at without the presence on that committee of members of local authorities. Nobody understands better the inadequacies of local authorities and the reforms which are necessary than local authority members. To attempt to reform local government without providing local authorities with the means to raise local funding is akin to trying to play hurling without a hurley. The local authorities  should be accountable to their electorate as to the manner in which they expend locally-raised moneys.
No party want to take it unto themselves to specify how local authorities should be funded. It is regrettable that the Government did not include within the terms of reference of the expert committee the funding of local authorities. VAT receipts are collected on a regional basis and some consideration might be given to the possibility of using some of this money for that purpose. I accept that local fundraising cannot take place outside the context of the present tax burden and I do not believe there is scope for an increase in that burden. Certainly there is scope for efficiencies in local authorities but this is being frustrated at present by over-interference and meddling by central Government.
Local government has powers in respect of housing, public lighting, sewerage schemes and roads and they have problems in those areas. The Minister may recall receiving some 12 months ago a deputation from Macroom Urban District Council. That the town council should have had to go to central Government to have public lighting provided in their streets is an indication of the inefficiency of the system. They are very disappointed that the Minister failed to resolve their difficulty, despite the warm welcome in his office. There is scope to enable local authorities to raise funds without increasing the overall tax burden on society.
Another question this Bill fails to address is the refusal of central Government to allow direct access by local authorities to the EC in respect of funding. All the submissions for Structural Funds made by the regional authorities went through the Department of the Environment, the Department of Finance and then to Brussels. The return journey is very similar. Approvals are granted to central Government who are accused, rightly or wrongly, of political interference in the distribution of those funds. This Bill presented a glorious opportunity to allow local authorities direct access to EC funding, rather than having to go  through the begging bowl process. There is undue meddling by central Government in local government affairs. We are aware that increasing powers are being given to the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Who will stand up for central Government when the cold winds of Brussels begin to blow? Central Government have alienated any friends they had in local government on account of their meddling.
I welcome the concept of a three-tier local authority system. There is a growing awareness of matters of common interest which transcend county boundaries and have a regional dimension. There was close co-operation in my area between local authorities regarding access routes for tourists in that region using the Cork-Swansea ferry. It is unfortunate that regional bodies will not be allowed direct access to the Commission in respect of funding.
I understand there is still difficulty regarding the third tier, the district councils, and the future of urban districts councils. I would favour the enlargement of UDCs to cover their natural catchment area, the rural hinterland. The influence of the medieval town wall must cease. Many citizens who would consider themselves to be resident in a town find that the town council does not have jurisdiction in their immediate area. In my own constituency that county council were contemplating the provision of a sewerage scheme on the outskirts, of which the urban council were unaware, although they had a difficulty in the adjacent area. Almost by fluke they learned that the scheme was going ahead and provision was made at the last minute to accommodate the urban council's difficulty. This type of problem is widespread. Any town which divorces itself from its hinterland is not facing up to reality. The third tier should encompass the country town, the market town and its wider environment. I understand the difficulty in proceeding at this stage with  urban district council and town commissioner elections. Is the Minister prepared to put a time scale on this difficulty, and when will a resolution be forthcoming?
The final point I would like to make relates to the third tier, specifically to difficulties which Gaeltacht areas are experiencing in survival, growth, development, protection of a way of life, a heritage, a language, all of which deserve recognition and protection from the powers that be. Earlier this week we had the publication of a report by Bord na Gaeilge which suggested that the number of native speakers in Ireland is now fewer than 10,000 and is declining rapidly. It is regrettable that this Government have not seen fit to continue with the procedure where a single Minister had responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs rather than the present unsatisfactory system where the Taoiseach operates as Minister for the Gaeltacht. Would the Minister consider, in the context of this Bill or in the context of subsequent legislation, giving effect to a third tier of local authorities to provide Gaeltacht areas with special recognition and special district authorities which can foster a culture and a way of life and heritage that is yearning for recognition, protection and attention? If something is not done about this in the immediate future, those districts will not survive.
Mr. Leonard: First, I compliment the Minister on this Bill. This is necessary legislation which everyone expected and hoped for over the years. I have to be critical of the main Opposition party's attitude when the Bill was introduced, and during the debate, because they had an opportunity to take part in an all-party committee but they refused. Now they come in here and are very critical of the Bill. The Government had no other option but to proceed and set up an expert advisory committee at ministerial level. The voluminous submissions submitted indicated an enormous interest. People said we could not have the local government elections in 1991 because there would not be sufficient time but the  Minister proceeded with haste to prepare the legislation. That is part of his approach to all matters in that Department and we pay tribute to him.
At present there is a new awareness regarding environmental protection and many community groups are willing to become involved. While the county councils primary functions will continue to be the provision of basic facilities — such as housing, roads, sanitary services, planning, libaries, parks etc. — there will be a greater demand for environmental control in the future.
We can utilise to better effect many of the various FÁS programmes for the benefit of the community and the environment. The Minister has the proper mix in this Bill and he has given more control to elected representatives. He is widening the scope of the activities of councils and setting up a regional structure. The vein running through the Minister's contribution is one of involvement by individuals and community groups. Many areas have an environmental base and the most critical are our waterways and water supplies.
Because of the cost of treatment, it would not be possible to bring the water supplied to our cities and towns — mostly from our lakes and rivers — up to EC standard. The emphasis now is on underground water sources. This brings us into a very expensive area. In areas of intensive production — such as poultry — it is imperative that we have underground water sources of supply.
No Minister has been more active than the present Minister in his short term of office. He has approached his job in a most positive way. At county council level when we had our estimates committee meetings it was attended by representatives of the county committee of agriculture — later Teagasc — the VECs, social welfare and the health boards. Even before today the Minister had begun restructuring local authorities. There is one area which has been of great concern to us down the years and the Minister referred to it in his speech: I compliment the Minister and his Department for taking responsibility for the loan  charges and maintenance of court houses.
In 1981 during the H Block campaign the court house in Monaghan town was burned down. Due to the low level of insurance because no allowance was made in the estimates for the walls, foundations etc., the compensation paid was very low. Then there was the demand of the Department of Justice for double the amount of court accommodation and accommodation for members of the Bar, etc. We then had to borrow well in excess of £1.25 million. When the Malicious Injuries Bill was going through the Dáil I asked that cognisance be taken of this anomaly. Since that the local authority, because they are the owners of the property, could not avail of the malicious injury funds for Border related incidents, we had to carry that burden since then. On 1 January 1990 the Minister and the Department of Finance took over that responsibility. That was a major breakthrough so far as I was concerned.
Regarding section 4 of the City and County Management Act, the Minister proposes to restrict section 4 motions regarding planning. In future three-quarters of the total membership of a local authority must vote in favour of the motion and the notice of motion must be signed by three-quarters of the members in the electoral area or areas concerned.
People may say this is restrictive but I do not think so, I believe it is not restrictive enough. Section 4 motions have been used to the disadvantage of areas and of proper planning procedures. In my 18 years as a member of a council we dealt with only two section 4 motions, one for planning which was withdrawn after discussion and the other related to a local government scheme proposed and seconded by a member of my party which I voted against — it was the only time I ever voted against my party. There is clear evidence that section 4 motions have been abused. It is not fair on councils or the management of councils if people act in an irresponsible manner and bring planning into disrepute. If I had the  opportunity I would have gone a little further than the Minister in this regard.
The Minister in his speech mentioned a study was conducted by the London Institute of Fiscal Studies, at the request of the advisory expert committee, regarding central funding for local authorities. He said:
Their report, which was published along with the advisory committee's own report, concludes that our system of funding and our range of grants stands up quite well by international comparison. The report does, however, see scope for greater equalisation, primarily in the distribution of the rates support grants. I have, therefore, commissioned the necessary follow-up study to examine precise options for achieving greater equalisation among local authorities.
I would ask the Minister to consider another matter, rates on business premises which may have suffered a severe fall-off in business due to circumstances outside their control. I have in mind particularly the businesses who were hard hit by the fall-off in cross-Border trade from 1983 onwards. Those premises had to continue to pay the full rates and many of them, particularly filling stations, had to close down. I have raised this matter often and asked that some system be devised whereby some allowance could be granted in rates related to the fall off in the volume of business compared to the previous year. That is something I have fought for over the years. I ask the Minister to consider such hardship cases in future where people try to remain in business despite very strong opposition.
In section 5 the Minister provides for the first time statutory recognition for the representational functions of local authorities. As he said, this is one of the essential purposes of local government. There is a provision in this section in relation to the role of the local authority in promoting the interests of the local  community, including the representation of views to other public authorities, facilitating and promoting involvement in local government affairs and carrying out research, surveys and studies. This is very desirable and something that I applaud.
As I said earlier local communities are thankfully taking a much greater interest in their environment. Some local organisations spend practically all their spare time preparing for tidy town competitions by planting trees, shrubs and so on. My local village has been very much to the forefront in this regard. Down the years they have turned a very decrepit place into a showpiece on a national secondary road, and it is talked about the length and breadth of the country. The old village has been greatly improved by a large group of people who planted thousands of shrubs and flower beds, painted and restructured the whole area and provided kerbings and play areas. I confess that I did not contribute to this work because I had not the time. On Monday evenings the school children in the area go to the outskirts of the village with plastic bags to collect the litter and this is also a very desirable aspect. Councils have been very helpful and provided the necessary materials. Our local authority have been very co-operative and appreciate the input of the people in the area. They have been very generous in providing the materials needed to improve the area. When that type of goodwill exists in areas it should be recognised.
The Minister also mentioned discretionary grants and said they would be increased from £23 million in 1986 to £68 million in the current year. That approach by the Minister is to be welcomed. For the first time ever we have a Minister who does not take the easy way out in relation to road maintenance. He is taking into account the level of usage of roads and is not allocating funds per mile of roadway. That is the practical approach to road maintenance. We should compare this to the approach of the Minister in 1986, Mr. John Boland, who made available £5 million for road strengthening but he related it to the yield, not the percentage, from water  charges. Most rural areas in County Monaghan operate private group water schemes and, therefore, the yield was very low and the county fared very poorly from that measure. As soon as the Minister, Deputy Flynn, took office I made representations to him about this matter. He examined the system and subsequently changed it, making it a fairer system.
Funding under the national development programme and EC schemes should be used to greater effect. Our road structure must be improved. The roads in many areas are in such bad repair that the money provided is not sufficient. Therefore, there should be a major transfer of funds, even on a once-off basis, for this purpose. In counties with heavy volumes of traffic attention should be given to the development of the national and primary roads because these roads were not built to carry such heavy traffic.
The Minister referred to urban renewal and the recently announced social housing plan. While the urban renewal scheme has been an outstanding success in some towns — I witnessed that recently in Limerick — the system of selection leaves a lot to be desired. I know I am being parochial in saying that areas in my constituency suffered because of their proximity to the Border but it is a fact and there is a clear need to take another look at the system of selection as towns near the Border have not benefited. However, in spite of my criticism, the scheme has improved the appearance of many towns by doing up buildings and providing good quality premises which would not be the case unless there was financial aid. The State also gains because, when buildings lie empty and derelict, taxes are foregone.
I compliment the Minister on the social housing plan as a new initiative. If the plan is properly applied it will greatly improve the quality of our housing stock through repairs and the provision of essential facilities. It also proposes shared ownership which I have been advocating over the last ten years at meetings of the county council of which I am a member. I always believed that there should be  some kind of shared ownership scheme for low income earners. I always discourage low income earners from entering a commitment to pay off a mortgage of £20,000 or £25,000. It would be a great advantage if the county council would help by providing half that amount as even the low income earner would be able to put up £10,000 or £12,000. This would give them an opportunity to own their own homes, and I applaud the Minister for introducing the scheme. There is also a scheme for providing additional payments to groups for building and to voluntary organisations. This incentive for voluntary organisations will certainly increase the take-up. Voluntary organisations deserve to be encouraged as they help to house people who would otherwise be homeless as well as elderly people. There is also provision for serviced sites.
Yesterday I listened to a speaker from the Opposition on the setting up of sheep dipping and library committees; he was critical of that. I would also be critical if that was the case in my county but we do not have a sheep dipping or library committee although we have a lot of sheep——
I welcome the reintroduction of the county committee of agriculture because I objected to it being withdrawn. I was a member of such a committee and it was the best platform to debate innovations. Indeed the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, introduced new initiatives in horticulture since he took office. If we had had a county committee of agriculture I have no doubt that there would have been much more development in horticulture. Indeed it could have been as successful as mushroom growing which is now one of the show-pieces in the agriculture area.  It was a great platform on which to promote ideas, it was a buffer between the Department and the producer. However, the county committee should not just deal with agriculture; in the context of the present schemes and thinking, rural development involves more than agriculture. Areas which do not benefit under the Common Agricultural Policy should be examined and in this regard a committee could be of great benefit.
The Department should keep a very close watch on areas of intensive production. At present funding is made available under the INTERREG programme and I had hoped that part of that funding would have gone towards antipollution measures. We have massive production of mushrooms and poultry in County Monaghan resulting in a substantial amount of surplus poultry litter and mushroom compost which will have to be utilised in some form in the years ahead. I discussed this matter with various Departments and there have been various proposals but it is very hard to get any co-ordination. The poultry litter may be viable as a fuel for generating stations and both may be used as compost or fertiliser. However, I did not make any headway in this regard.
Recently, in a submission by INTERREG to Brussels, under the antipollution measures they identified the main water sources in the area for financing. I do not have any technical knowledge but that does not seem right as they should be funded at source. When there is intensive production the time to get in is very early; it is like a referee at a football match, if he blows his whistle at the first sign of trouble that nips it in the bud. I ask the Minister to do something in that regard.
Mr. Quinn: Having listened with interest to the courteous contribution made by Deputy Jimmy Leonard on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I feel obliged to respond to one of the points he made in regard to the much vaunted programme of social housing which will  have to be implemented by local authorities. I would respectfully suggest to Deputy Leonard and all the other members of the Fianna Fáil Party that the social housing programme put forward by the Minister for the Environment is a shameless sham. The couples about whom Deputy Leonard is undoubtedly concerned would have their needs best met by a local authority housing programme which, in effect, is a shared ownership system. Such a couple can get a local authority for a differential rent which is related to their modest income and over time, as their income improves, they will be able to purchase their house and so take on full ownership. Because of the complexities involved in it I predict that we will never see an effective shared ownership system operating in this country until such time as the person who owns the external equity, that is not the tenant, is prepared to waive his rights or return on that equity. This is an issue for another time and another day but since Deputy Leonard raised the matter I felt obliged, out of courtesy, to give him my views on it.
There are two aspects to this reform legislation which must be dealt with. The first is the manner in which it has been introduced, which has been the subject of controversy, and the second is its content. I want to deal, dismiss and dispense very quickly with the matter of the precipitous manner in which this legislation was introduced. If, in the context of advance communication, the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, had done this House the normal courtesy, if the Government had done the Opposition parties the normal courtesy and if the Government Whip had done the Opposition Whips the normal courtesy, the row which has surrounded the introduction of this Bill could have been avoided. If the Government had said, for example, that the Bill would be substantially similar to the document published on 7 March — indeed it is substantially similar to that document — that it would be taken as early as possible and that there would be ample time for  debate between Second Stage and Committee Stage, the objections which were made legitimately by all of the Opposition parties to the manner in which the Bill was introduced and the manner in which we were told that all Stages would be taken this week, would not have arisen. It does the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Coalition Government no honour whatsoever to treat the Opposition in this manner. If the Government are bemused and wondering why a heap of abuse and criticism has been dumped, so to speak, on top of them, it is because of the discourteous way in which this legislation was introduced.
That said, I want to turn specifically to the contents of the Bill. It should be clearly understood that the genesis of this Bill is, in part, contained in the report of the advisory expert committee published in conjunction with the press statement issued by the Government on 7 March. In so far as it goes any distance at all the measures included in the Bill are, by and large, based exclusively on the recommendations of the advisory expert committee. They were indeed an expert committee, consisting of many people, perhaps the best known of whom, for his consistent advocacy of local government reform, was Dr. Barrington.
The history of attempts at local government reform has not been that successful but it would be wrong to suggest or to propose, as some Fianna Fáil backbenchers, including the Minister for the Environment who made rather verbose claims, understandably have done, that this is the first attempt at local government reform in over 20 years. That is patent nonsense. Deputy Creed in his excellent contribution referred to the massive change in the financing of local authorities introduced in 1977. In 1974 a former Member of this House and a Party colleague of mine, Mr. Jim Tully, introduced changes and reforms which allowed, for example, officials and employees of local authorities to become members of local authorities. In 1983 reforms were introduced in the financing of local authorities which provided for the introduction of services charges. This  has been the cause of much controversy. In 1985 there were reforms which conferred borough status on a number of cities, including Galway. This Bill is part of the process of piecemeal and rather unsatisfactory local government reform.
For as long as Fianna Fáil maintain the arrogance of power which tragically still seems to be with them, notwithstanding the fact that they have been forced into a most unhappy coalition with the Progressive Democrats, they will be confronted with, on many occasions, negative criticism. I want to deal with one specific point in this context. The invitation by the then Fianna Fáil minority Government and their Minister for the Environment to the Opposition parties to participate in an all-party committee on local authority finances was seen by all of us as a spider's web. The Labour Party were prepared to contemplate participating in such an exercise, as were The Workers' Party and, I think the Progressive Democrats. However, the Fine Gael Party, notwithstanding their commitment to the Tallaght Strategy, chose, as was their right, not to participate in such a committee. It would appear from the contribution made by the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment with responsibility for urban affairs that the offer of an all-party committee on local authority finances has been unilaterally withdrawn and is no longer on the table. The present coalition Government might live to regret that position.
The advisory expert committee made a series of recommendations. The Government in their substantial press statement which was issued on 7 March under the heading “The Need for Reorganisation and Reform” stated:
It is the Government's aim to strengthen local democracy, to devolve additional functions to local authorities, where practicable, and to secure the role of local authorities in the overall democratic process. In particular, local authorities must:—
I put it to the House and anyone listening to this debate that if there is any set of criteria against which this Bill must be measured and tested then these are the criteria. This is what the Government have set out to do. They claim that this is what re-organisation and reform should be about.
To that extent they have proceeded in section 6 of this legislation to give a general competence to local authorities. Section 6, the general competence provision, is probably the most significant component in the entire legislation but it will become meaningless if it is not combined with a block grant of moneys rather than the segregated and segmented allocation of moneys for different functions, which is the current system of accountancy within the Department of the Environment. I welcome the general competence provision in section 6. However, because of the curtailed period allocated for the Committee Stage debate  tragically it will not be possible to tease out in full the implications of this general competence provision.
I request that the Minister of State present and the officials of the Department of the Environment here, in the time the Minister has available in moving section 6 — and the House will certainly get to that on Committee Stage — give a clear elaboration of what is understood by the competence provisions and the way in which they will be matched in the method of administration of existing financial allocations to local authorities. The Bill as such does not deal with finance per se, but that is still a function of the local authorities and the Department of the Environment. When one attempts to understand the way in which the general competence provision will function it is essential to know whether there will be a general block allocation of moneys to the individual local authorities.
It is virtually impossible to consider local government reform without discussing finance, because finance is at the core of what a local authority can or cannot do. I wish to give an example of what a local authority could do before 1977 but cannot do now. The example relates to the general competence provision that I have just referred to. Although I am not sure of the exact date, sometime in 1975 the proscenium arch of the Olympia Theatre collapsed. The building was considered to be dangerous and probably incapable of further use as a theatre unless a substantial amount was spent on its repair and refurbishment. The tenants of the theatre, Olympia Productions Limited, held a full repairing lease and were responsible for repairing a substantial part of the theatre. The landlords had bought the property on a speculative basis, hoping to knock it down and build an office block. There was a stand-off, so to speak, between the tenants and the landlords of the property. The late Brendan Smith, who did so much for theatre in this city and this country, approached several other councillors and myself to find out whether Dublin Corporation could raise the sum of £100,000 to assist in the financing of the repair  of the Olympia Theatre. The company could get no money from anyone else and had no equity stake that would enable them to raise the money commercially. In 1975-76 Dublin Corporation, through various committees and by availing of legal expertise open to us, were able to put an extra three pence in the pound on the rates in general. By charging that extra three pence in the pound the corporation were able to raise £100,000, which played a part in the saving of the Olympia Theatre. If such a disaster happened this evening the Cathaoirleach in the Chamber now, Deputy John Stafford, being confronted with a similar request for moneys to save the Olympia Theatre, would legally be incapable of doing what was done by Dublin Corporation in 1975-1976 — despite the best will in the world, and I know that he would have such a commitment — because of the restriction in the autonomy of local authorities since 1977. Unless the Minister can say at the end of debate on the Bill that the position will have changed as a result of the passage of the Bill and that section 6, the general competence provision, will enable a local authority to undertake the actions that I have illustrated by way of anecdote, then the House is embarking on a “massive charade”, to quote the phrase used by the Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy, at the Progressive Democrats Conference in Cork a few weeks ago. That is the way he described the present system of local government. Local authorities must be able to carry out such actions when they consider them to be important for their locality, region or town. I make a formal parliamentary challenge to the Minister of State present by saying that it is up to senior Government members — the junior party members in Coalition have made one claim — to illustrate clearly that as a result of the enactment of the Bill local government will not be a charade. If as a result of the passage of section 6, the general competence provision, a local authority would still not be able to save the Olympia Theatre, for example, or undertake similar action  right across the country, then local government will remain a charade.
The second point I wish to make in relation to the operation of finance is the requirement of local authorities to be able to make decisions on their own without the Department of the Environment secondguessing those decisions and — as Deputy Deasy has said — the Department of Finance reaching over the shoulder of officials from the Department of the Environment to thirdguess their decisions.
One would probably find that most former Ministers from any Administration have a certain disdain for the Department of Finance and the way they have secretly and extensively prohibited, prevented, and handtied the decision-making of various Departments. I am sure that the Minister of State representing the Government could relate to some of the things I am now saying. I would not mind if the Department of Finance intervened excessively and extensively because they were imbued with a unique set of skills combined with an array of wisemen and women and a collective history of extraordinary wisdom that would justify them to secondguess, intrude, intervene, and prohibit the expenditure of small sums of money throughout the country. However, the people behind us in Merrion Street in the Department of Finance who are now telling local authorities to be responsible are the very same officials, in the main, who were there when this country, under the leadership of Jack Lynch, went on the fiscal binge of the century in the 1977 manifesto, the effects of which the country is still trying to recover from.
In part, if not fully, I share the concerns and sentiments expressed by Deputy Deasy in the House last night and earlier this morning. It is not sufficient for the provisions contained in section 6 to be conferred on local authorities and it is not sufficient for local authorities to have a block grant allocation and then be required to spend it on a certain array of functions and obligations prescribed by the Department of the Enviroment if by  the same token the Department of Finance are still capable of exercising vetoes and of intruding and intervening in a disruptive manner.
Throughout this very good document there is a recognition of the need for local authorities to get involved and to take responsibility at local level. There is an extraordinary dichotomy in Irish society. On the one hand, the country is full of voluntary organisations. In any medium sized town — take, for example, Carlow town, represented in the Dáil by Deputy John Browne, or the Minister's town of Dundallk — one finds an array of voluntary organisations in which people give of their time. There are voluntary organisations to cover work with youth, looking after the elderly, amateur dramatics, local archaeolgoical societies, and all other kinds of activities. Deputy Stafford will recall that in the area of East Wall there are at least three or four different clubs. The organisations are made up of very committed people who are involved in local activity for no reward whatsoever, certainly no financial reward. Many of those who belong to voluntary organisations are completely non-political while many of them are very political — indeed some of them are so political that they will play one party off against another in order to advance the interests of their club. We are not a people who have abandoned social responsibility. Right across the country — I make no distinction between any parts of the country — we are not a people who have sat at home and refused to become involved in local affairs. With all that manifest evidence about us, why is it then that successive Governments and the current Administration are reluctant every time the question of giving powers and possibilities to authorities to run their own affairs, to trust the people and believe that the powers that be in Dublin can make wiser decisions? Unless this House and Government Departments rid themselves of that attitude local democracy will not flourish and the aims set by the  Government on March 7 will not be reached.
Deputy Deasy may have put his finger on an essential point, the political willingness of this establishment to consciously devolve power, political and administrative. It is not just the Civil Service who must devolve power to local authorities. This assembly must also devolve powers. This is as traumatic as giving a son or daughter the car for the first time and watching him or her drive out of sight, not knowing whether to worry about the son or daughter or about whether the car will come back in the same shape. Devolving power means giving people the opportunity to make mistakes or decisions that may not be as wise as the decisions one would make. That willingness is not yet in the Irish republican political establishment and that has contributed to the failure of the Irish State to develop to its full potential as it was capable of doing following independence in 1922. Professor Lee, as Deputy Creed said, has analysed and described that very coherently.
The report recognises the possibility of a three tiered system of local government here. It makes specific proposals for the operation of the middle tier, the county-based system with some concise changes in the Dublin area. It makes proposals about an indirectly elected set of regional authorities and it leaves open the prospect of reform at the lower level. We have a potential for five tiers of representative Government and representative democracy. We could start with an urban district council, to a county council, and move to regional authorities, Dáil Éireann and, ultimately, the European Parliament.
While some good points were made in relation to the standardisation, on a statutory basis, of regions for local government and other administrative purposes, these regions should reflect the constituency that represent us in the European Parliament. We are about to receive the reports of two intergovernmental conferences in the next few months which will make specific recommendations or at least will consider giving more power from this Assembly to the  European Parliament. We have frequently called for more resources from the European Community to the peripheral regions. It is remiss of the Government that in this document there is not some reference to the representative nature of the European Parliament as reflected in the regional structures on this island. The Minister should refer to this at some stage during the passage of this Bill through the Houses.
I must criticise the report of the export advisory committee for treating Dublin as the same as the rest of the country, and the consequential recommendation for a regional body in Dublin. I was a member of the Government who produced proposals for four authorities in Dublin in 1985. I was not happy with the proposal but I accepted it and take responsibility for it as a collective decision. On the basis of experience over the last four years, during which Dublin County Council have been virtually paralysed in many respects, we should look at what is happening in Dublin. The meetings of Dublin County Council degenerated into a local farce.
The sections in the Bill which deal with Dublin should be looked at again. I do not see how a person living in Dundrum, can accept that he will now live in a new area, called Dublin South, with headquarters for that area in Tallaght Town Centre, a place to which he will find it impossible to get, certainly on public transport. Whether one likes it or not the county divisions of Ireland are firmly imprinted in the loyalty and emotional make-up of people because of all sorts of cultural, sporting and traditional ties. Yet we are purporting to make Dublin into four counties in effect. For local authority purposes, it will be four counties with an unspecified regional integration between them. That region will include parts of Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. It will be an unsavoury mess. I urge the Minister, and the Department, to think again. A range of alternatives could be looked at. What is proposed will not work and is a recipe for disaster.
We have one city and county manager  at present and when the Bill is passed we will have three ad hoc local authorities and three acting managers. If any person seriously thinks that the city manager of Dublin will reduce his office to be equal to three other county managers in the Dublin region, he is not in touch with political reality. No manager in the country would allow his territory to be divided in such a way.
We should have a clearly recognised chief executive for the entire county of Dublin because whatever name one puts on Fingal, footballers from that part of the county will play for Dublin, and whatever name one puts on South Dublin, they will still play for Dublin. The system proposed for Dublin will not work politically or managerially. As Deputy Ryan will propose, if he gets an opportunity either on Second Stage or Committee Stage, it will not work financially. The tax base for the proposed Dublin north county, to be known as Fingal, running effectively from a line north of the River Liffey along the county boundary up to Balbriggan, contains 60 per cent of the area of Dublin county as currently constituted with about 25 per cent of its tax base, taking the commercial rate and the residential rate. Unless this is addressed and there is some major reallocation of money, then a bad composition in terms of Dublin city and county will be compounded. I would urge the Minister of State and those who are monitoring this debate to take my comments on board. I do not believe the advisory committee gave sufficient attention to Dublin.
The reservations in the name of one of the committee members, Mary Doyle, are well made. There is a range of options open to Dublin. First and foremost there must be a recognition that Dublin must have a different system of local government because of its size and nature. That is not to say that because Dublin is different it is superior to the rest of the country. It is different because it is different and should therefore be treated differently, just as Deputy Creed wanted Gaeltacht areas to be treated differently because they are different. In a city of about one million citizens we should have between  eight and ten local authorities equivalent to urban district councils and with similar powers, in places like Swords, Tallaght, Clondalkin, Lucan, Dundrum, Dún Laoghaire, Ballyfermot, etc. The people have names on these places anyway. They know where the centre of Rathmines is, where the centre of Swords is, where the centre of Clontarf is. They know where these places are. Why can they not be formalised in a proper local government sense? It is a big and complex area and it is not being dealt with in this Bill. If we proceed with this Bill we will be making a bad situation worse.
There are other speakers who wish to contribute to this debate so I do not want to hog the time. I want to put down a strong mark in relation to Dublin. I have already commented on the general competence which I welcome.
As the Taoiseach, Deputy Haughey, said in reply to a question on the Order of Business, this is a very modest little proposal. It certainly does not merit the description of a major, dramatic local government reform that the Minister for the Environment has given to it. It is a modest proposal, badly and discourteously introduced in this House. It does, however, attempt to deal with the section 4 provision and the abuse of same. When we brought in reforming local government planning an development legislation, the abuse of section 4 motions prior to 1985 was confined to three or four local authorities, mostly on the west coast — Mayo, Galway, parts of Donegal and one or two other areas, and it was a minor kind of abuse. The majority of local authorities had used there powers responsibly and had not abused them. At that time I did not see that this power should be taken from all local authorities simply because some had abused them. I did not anticipate that the majority control of Dublin County Council by Fianna Fáil would lead to such a degenerate array of outrageous decisions as has flowed from that democratic decision of the people in 1985. I think the way to  change that is to change the representation and not the power of the local authority.
However, I am torn between wanting to keep the powers for local authorities and the realisation of the enormous pressures on members, particularly in the Dublin area where the force of financial pressures put on councillors by developers is enormous. It is totally unprovable but the anecdotal statements I hear from members of my own party indicate that the blandishments being offered for support of section 4 motions or material contravention are enormous. Perhaps there is an argument for totally abolishing the section 4 provision in relation to planning permissions and in relation to material contraventions in individual cases. The point is perhaps made in the minority comment of Dr. Donal de Búitléir of the advisory expert committee that we will end up with the worst of all worlds by this modification of the section 4 provision. Deputy Harte from Donegal also referred to this.
This proposal has all the characteristics of a deal worked out between a very reluctant Minister, Deputy Flynn, and a very strident Minister of State, Deputy Harney, somewhere between the Cabinet table and the Custom House. I am not so sure that at the end of the day that compromise will work. I would recommend that people look long and hard at Deputy Harte's reference to Donegal, where section 4 motions are regularly used. He made the point that previously section 4 motions in Donegal required support on an all party basis. The operation of this provision could make them an exclusive Fianna Fáil gift with all the potential for corruption and abuse that that in itself contains.
The last point I want to address is the possibility of the suspension of elections for urban district councils, town commissioners and other such bodies and the consequential effect on organisations such as the VECs and the health boards. It would be a disaster if the Government were to lose their nerve and fail to proceed with the subsidiary local elections next year after the defeat Fianna Fáil will  suffer in the forthcoming election in some areas. There will be a demand in Fianna Fáil to postpone indefinitely the local elections for district councils and urban district councils. All it needs is for two or three seats to be lost in two or three local authorities and headlines announcing the loss of control by Fianna Fáil of certain local authorities. I can already hear the screams and shouts of panic in Mount Street and the demands of people in the party rooms to postpone these elections and put a freeze on that aspect of the reform.
There is a clear conflict of views in the report as to what might happen if the Minister, Deputy Molloy, is as consistent as to his intentions for local authorities as he was in 1971 — that he will be in favour of abolishing all the urban district councils, town commissioners and the minor urban authorities. That is not the case in relation to other members of the committee and the Government, although the committee want either directly elected district councils, which I would support, while others want appointed committees which, as Deputy Deasy said earlier, would be the worst of all worlds — that would be representation without responsibility and without power.
If we are to have such councils the people who serve on them should be directly elected, and we are not short of people who want to give their time to local community associations. I would, therefore, urge the Government to commit themselves to having district elections for these bodies, whatever their ultimate composition, and to do this in advance of the cries and screams that will come from some of their own backbenchers after 27 June. They will then be able to say that the holding of these elections was not influenced by the results of the June elections. There is political cover there and there is also some certainty from the point of view of maintaining the momentum. Otherwise we are going to have local authorities some of whose members will have been on them for seven years, and that is too long in  terms of representative democracy at a local level.
This Government were extremely discourteous in the way they introduced the legislation. The abuse and criticism they have received has been well earned. I hope they will learn their lesson from it. The thorny time bomb of financial reform of local authorities is not being grasped. A statutory block allocation by way of legal entitlement to each local authority with a provision for some form of tax collection at the discretion of local members who would be responsible for it is, in the light of our domestic experience and the domestic experience in Britain, probably the best, safest and, therefore, most practical, political route down which we should travel but we should travel it together very fast. Otherwise the operation of local democracy is going to be seriously impaired to the detriment of all of us. That is not in the interests of anyone in this establishment or of any citizen in this Republic.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): Nuair a bhí an tAire Fuinnimh ag caint anseo inné dúirt sé go raibh an sean-fhocal “Tús maith leath na hoibre” an-oiriúnach don Bhille seo, go mór mhór an chéad chuid de, “Tús maith”. Déarfainn féin go bhfuil an dara leath den abairt, “leath na hoibre”, níos oiriúnaí, mar níl ach leath na hoibre déanta sa Bhille seo. Tá a lán cumhachta á fháil ag an Aire, agus b'fhéidir nuair a bheidh an Bille seo i bhfeidhm go mbeidh an dara leath de níos fearr agus go ndéanfaidh sé Bille maith as. Tá súil agam, pé scéal é, go dtiocfaidh feabhas ar an chóras atá ann faoi láthair mar caithfidh mé a admháil nach bhfuil sé go maith.
I realise at this stage that most of my colleagues will not get in to discuss this Bill. On Tuesday when I got the list of speakers I found I was No. 10 on that list. At that stage there were 27 Fine Gael speakers and I am sure that at this stage that number could be up to 40. I would like to use some of my time to say we must have neck in this Chamber to go reforming local government when we  cannot tackle the outrage that Second Stage speeches allow when time is unlimited in respect of any contribution. It is time we faced the reality that this is 1991 and that if people have an attack of verbal diarrhoea they should be directed to some physician who can take them in hand and convince them that they do not have a monopoly on all the information that is available on any subject. Indeed, of all topics reform of local government is something nearly every TD can be expert on because most of them can talk from experience about the reality of local government. When someone goes on for two and a half hours speaking on a Bill like this my charity runs out. I would not like to suggest in public what should be done with him, but he should be spoken to by somebody in authority.
Over your Chair, a Chathaoirligh, and across from you as well should be written the words, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” These words could be illuminated by the press of a button after a Member has been speaking for, say, 20 minutes at which point he or she should be asked to sit down. Brevity is way overdue in this House. In saying that I am going to make sure I am not caught.
Mr. Browne: (Carlow-Kilkenny): The Deputy has reminded me of something. I think some TDs are caught here by the fact that a small group of journalists decide who are the top TDs and then take the lazy way out. They count the words spoken and then you see the names of the top TDs across the page. Those journalists adopt the motto “Never mind  the quality, count the quantity.” It is dreadful that quantity can earn a person a place in the top echelons of this Dáil. The sooner that is remedied the better. I would not like to be checked out for the quality of my speeches but at least I can stand up and say I gave a chance to somebody else to speak.
So much has been said already about the Bill that I will be brief. I cannot accept the idea that we can have any reform of local government without finance. I am a member of a county council for 12 years and let me say that to state, as the Minister did, that dealing with finance first is putting the cart before the horse is a complete contradiction. The Minister said there was a cliché that county councils were powerless. Unfortunately, it is not a cliché, it happens to be true. We have not got the power and if we have not the power we are like a pub with no beer. Grown men have been known to cry on going into a pub with no beer, genuine councillors are fit to cry at the moment. In encouraging newcomers to stand for local elections in my area I assured them reform of local government was coming and that they would be able to play a role in local government. I will be dreadfully embarrassed if this Bill does not transfer something that I cannot see being transferred at the moment. I want to protect myself because the Minister has powers and I hear speakers on the Government side saying things are going to happen that are not provided for in this Bill. Maybe the Minister has briefed them as to what he plans, but as I read the Bill I cannot see what power we are going to get back so long as we do not have the money. There is no problem in going into Carlow County Council and agreeing the European funds of £1.2 million for a national primary bridge being built on the River Barrow as was done a couple of years ago. You would not need to be highly intelligent to say you agree with that but if we have no powers of raising money what can it be but a talking shop, a place where we are powerless?
In the brief time I am going to take I cannot resist replying to the Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy, who made such  an unwarranted attack on my party yesterday. I know Deputy Deasy in his very gentle and charitable way dealt effectively with him, but the Minister used terms such as “hypocrisy” and “humbug”. Considering his record, which I checked, he got the only section 4 motion ever passed in Galway Corporation through and then he refers to Fine Gael as hypocrites. Maybe when you become a Minister you lose your sense of judgment. He said that if the Progressive Democrats had their way they would get rid of TDs on the county councils. I might not have any great objection as a TD if I was told that as such I could not stand for county council election, but the Minister has remained a member of both Galway Corporation and Galway County Council. Therefore, I find it incredible then that in his position he is prepared to say that the Progressive Democrats would not have TDs on local authorities.
County councils are abused in regard to handling the lottery funds. All the applications come through them but what power have they in regard to the funds? They have none except to agree that the applications go on to the Minister. The Minister then will take the credit for the grants that are made while county councillors will get the blame from people whose applications are not successful. Perhaps “hypocrisy” and “humbug” are very good words at times.
I read one part of the Bill very carefully and I cannot see anything in it about the problem of expenses for councillors being considered. There may be a clause that “The Minister may”. We have a few clown princes who were elected in 1985 on the basis that they told everyone not to pay local charges, that they would get rid of them when elected. I will not go over that ground though it is a sore point with me.
There are so many genuine county councillors who go way beyond the call of duty to help their supporters in their area and they amaze me at times by the amount of research they do in an effort to help out. It is long past the time when telephone costs and genuine expenses should be paid to them. This is something  that should come within the ambit of the powers of the Minister.
Mention has been made of paying travelling expenses for attendance at committee meetings and so on and that has always been the case. There is reference to the chairman of the county council getting expenses and that has been the case. Councillors are definitely out of pocket in other respects. While there has been a lot of criticisn of junkets and there may be some abuse of them but some members have to attend these conferences to get some money. There is no point in over emphasising the weak links on the county councils. There are so many good links there.
The Minister, in his speech, explained the rush regarding the local elections. The local election issues have not arisen overnight. They are not a fás aon oíche. They have been coming for the past seven years. It is not an excuse to say that these have to be rushed in order to have the local elections.
The Minister in his speech said that the decisions already taken by the Government make it clear that there is to be no more long fingering of local government reform and no seeking a pretext on which to dodge decisions. If finance is not tackled, what is that but long fingering? People can be told they have the power to change speed limits. It takes about two to three years at present before speed limits can be changed, but that is only a minor detail.
The Minister said that while further legislation will be necessary to complete the programme and deal with all consequantial matters, the Bill before the House provides a broad framework for reform within which implementation can proceed in an ordered progressive fashion. The Bill hangs on that. If the legisaltion deals in reality with the problems of local government, that is fine. If it does not, then this Bill is a complete waste of time.
Further on in the Bill the cliché about being powerless is mentioned. Bills dealing with air pollution, water pollution, housing, roads, planning, urban renewal  and so on have been introduced to show how much power we have.
Deputy Quinn dealt with the document on social housing. The Minister said it was received by every county council. I can tell the Minister that there is one county council which did not agree with the policy document. The heading in the local paper was that the council “slams” it and that includes his own party members. It is a farce. There are 201 people on the housing list in Carlow and 12 houses are being built for them. There are 165 people on the urban council housing list and 16 houses are being built for them. If we are to make progress in housing, we will want much more than pious platitudes about shared ownership and a whole rigmarole that cannot and will not work.
I have put a question to the Minister in relation to the abattoirs' Act and I also raised it on the Adjournment. Why have the regulations not been introduced? Carlow County Council paid out £30,000 last year to a vet they had to appoint under the that Act, yet the Government refuse to bring in the regulations. We have the power to appoint vets but the Government just funk. I received all kinds of complimentary comments about my efforts in this matter but nothing has happened.
The Minister said local authorities must be prepared to operate in a mature, responsible and effective manner and be willing to make choices and, where necessary, take difficult decisions. I agree completely with that. One is either a man or a mouse in politics and if one is a mouse  then he or she should be eating cheese in some corner of a council chamber.
Some of the Minister's colleagues who carried on in a certain manner in 1985 about water charges have the neck to stand for election again, even though they have increased the charges every year since 1985. The Minister should circulate his speech to his colleagues in question. The Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy, who was very scathing in his comments about my party yesterday, produced the 1987 manifesto which stated that Fianna Fáil would abolish the local charges. I would apply the word “hyprocrisy” to his comments on that issue.
I have shortened my speech in order to live within the maxim that brevity is the soul of wit and in order to let many more of my colleagues participate. I hope what I have said — although slightly out of order in the beginning — might be taken note of.
Mr. Nealon: I will endeavour to take Deputy Browne's exhortation and be as brief as possible. I am one of the people  in favour of the American system under which one types out one's script and has it written into the record. I would be all in favour of that on occasions like this.
Already the Fine Gael spkesman on the Environment, Deputy Jim Mitchell, has very thoroughly and very clearly outlined to the Dáil our party's objections to the Bill and why we regard the Bill as a whole as unsafe and unsatisfactory. I will confine my contribution to a much narrower band, concentrating on how it fails to meet the specific needs of my own area and the west in general.
The implications of this Bill for Sligo town are very serious. Sligo is and, of course, will continue to be the county town, but it is also a borough, with a mayor, established by royal charter in 1612. It is by size, location and common consent the capital of the north west, a major growth centre and health generator.
The historic standing of the borough of Sligo and that of the mayor is under direct threat from the provisions, and the implications, of this Bill. We are here making provision for elections in June for county councils and county borough councils, but none for borough councils like Sligo Corporation. So we must ask then, what is the future for such a corporation? We are not specifically told. We must look beyond this Bill for some guidance to the advisory expert committee on Local Government Reorganisation and Reform, the Barrington committee, on which the Bill is selectively based.
There we find two suggestions for the sub-county level of administration. One is that an area such as Sligo town, with the hinterland thrown in, would be administered by a sub-committee of the county council with whatever limited powers that sub-committee would be given. This would mean the end of the borough established in 1612, the abolition of the office of Mayor of Sligo and the standing and prestige and historic connotations that go with it. PR was first introduced to this country in Sligo Corporation. Whatever one thinks of PR, it was a significant development in our democratic system.
 The other suggestion is that a district council would be elected at some future unspecified date, one of three such district councils in County Sligo and one of about 150 all over the country, each with its own Mickey Mouse mayor.
Whatever option is chosen, it would clearly imply a diminution in the status of the local administration, limited and all as that is, in Sligo borough which has a population of 17,232, or 29,000 if one takes in the built-up areas and the immediate hinterland. It may very well be argued that the office of mayor is largely ceremonial; it is, however, also symbolic. It gives a sense of history, it sets a city apart and it gives status. It is of real importance in the promotion of industry and of tourism as I have witnessed on many occasions.
Sligo survived a number of sieges in its long history and it is now determined that it will not be finally sacked by a general from Castlebar. The message I have been asked to convey from Sligo is: hands off our mayor and our corporation.
Mr. Nealon: The essence of any local government reform is, in my opinion, the extent to which it returns to local people power and influence over local matters. This Bill, however, in many of its provisions does just the opposite. Deputy Jim Mitchell has outlined the position that in 29 of its 52 sections, the Minister or the Government take on extra powers over local authorities, some of these may only be reserved powers but we have witnessed that kind of creeping encroachment before and we will again.
One can look in vain through the sections of the Bill to see where there is significant return of power to councils. If this Bill is bulldozed through, as it inevitably will with the Government majority, where will the new councils elected under it be significantly different from the outgoing councils? What significant power now held by a county manager will devolve to his councillors? I believe a great opportunity has been  missed for real substantial reform and I fear that a grossly inadequate and defective Bill will remain so — grossly inadequate and defective, because of the unnecessary haste with which it was brought before the House and with which it is being rushed through the House under guillotine.
If ever there was a Bill that should not be guillotined, this is it. If this House were debating, say, a justice Bill or a health Bill, there would be very few experts around who could speak from their own practical knowledge as distinct from the research work they would have to do. Here, practically everyone is an expert on local government, expertise gained in the best possible way through practical experience. If the Minister adopted a different approach there could be extensive and extremely valuable amendments made that would transform this Bill of missed opportunities into something meaningful and valuable. I believe also quite a number of those amendments would come to him from the members of his own parliamentary party who have that practical experience.
The Bill does nothing about the reform of local government financing. While lacking this basic core element, then any kind of reform is not much more than fancy fretwork. Financing of local authorities is, without question, a difficult area. It is a politically hazardous area, as I heard Deputy Fitzpatrick say in his earlier contribution, but it is one that cannot be dodged by anyone like the Minister if he wants to seek real meaningful reform and a restoration of real local democracy. While finance continues to come from a central source, so will the orders.
The Bill lacks imagination and innovation. It fails in what should be the objective of handing back power to the councils. This will be felt particularly in the west where, at this critical time, there is a need for councils to take the initiatives, to become dynamic forces counteracting the unfavourable economic climate which is on the horizon for farmers.
 As we all know, the small farmers in the west are in difficulty already with further threats from the current Brussels negotiations, from the reform of CAP and from GATT. There may be some compensation for them but, I am afraid, if there is, this will be little more than a redundancy package for the last generation of small farmers as we know them. The massive emigration over the past few years, particularly of young people, has created new problems in the whole western area for which the councils, with their present lack of power are singularly ill-equipped to handle. A good example is the number of excellent houses in rural and remote areas, with all the infrastructure in place, going into decay because the previous occupants have emigrated while, at the same time there is a huge shortage of housing in some of the towns and travelling is easy because there are no traffic jams. Surely some new powers should be available to the councils to seek to rationalise this position.
I have always believed there are many useful ways of counteracting the problems of the west not now being exploited. They are not being exploited because there is no single body there with authority and with finance available — or to borrow — to take the initiative, in other words, to put the package together. I was looking forward to seeing some dramatic moves in the Bill to give the new councils further freedom to do this kind of thing, to become the driving force for renewal. I heard the Minister of State speak on a number of occasions on broadly those lines, where the councils could be dynamic forces to take initiatives in areas.
I would like them to have direct access to Brussels and not to have to go through what was unquestionably the humiliating experience of advisory bodies looking for the Structural Funds, having slogged it out in months of meetings only to find their recommendations ignored — if they were looked at at all — when decision making time arrived.
On a number of specific points, I welcome the tightening up of section 4  activity but I still wonder how it will work out in practice. As we all know, section 4 processing is an art form in itself. I believe there will be some new way of getting around the present situation. I am worried also — and I think it is worth looking at — at the pressures that may be put on councillors in very small district electoral areas of, perhaps, four councillors arising out of the three-fourth majority requirement on section 4 motions. I believe it is very much a retrograde step to include provisions which apparently permit a return to the situation whereby a party with a simple majority on a council could appoint to any committee set up under the Bill only its own members and exclude members of other political parties: Unfortunately, this would permit Fianna Fáil, or Fine Gael for that matter, if they had a simple majority, to exclude other parties from representations on boards and committees. It is rather ironic that after going through the process of proportional representation in the electoral system that the councillors would then indulge in the direct opposite of proportionality. Also, I believe changes in boundaries should not be in any way the function of the Minister of the day at any stage but should rest solely with the independent boundary committee.
I am not a great believer in the county as the basic unit of local government. This is solely a personal view. We have our county allegiances and this is a very important part of our entire culture. It is the basis of our national game and we have allegiances in that respect and long may it continue, but it you glance at a coloured map showing the counties you will see how totally unsuited county areas are for administrative purposes. For instance, within three miles of Sligo town — the county town in County Sligo — there is another administrative area, County Leitrim, part of Carrick-on-Shannon — the county town of Leitrim — is in County Roscommon, and if you look at a map showing Cavan you will see how remote is the area of Glangevlin from the real base of Cavan. In Northern Ireland when they were working on the local  authority system they chose large cohesive areas, broadly square areas, based on a major growth town. I believe that somewhere down the line, perhaps through the regional policy, that will happen some day so far as our authorities are concerned.
The Bill provided an excellent opportunity for a return to real local democracy. It fails to make any significant strides in that direction. The time constraint and the guillotine will ensure that the amendments will be negligible, even though I suspect that on the Government side there are many Deputies with experience of local government, very dissatisfied with what they will vote through this evening.
I have always been a great believer in local government, with all its defects and all its faults. The administration is close to the people, it can identify the needs and the priorities of the people and generally it can deliver the services more economically than central Government. The councils fear being fobbed off with the pretence of power with some minor fringe adjustments. I know the Minister of State has a big interest in the changes in local government and restoring more power to the councils. The circumstances by which this was brought in too quickly, due to the necessity of fixing the date for the next local elections, have forced the hand of the Minister. When all this is over and we are finished with this Bill I regret that the real power will still reside elsewhere than in the councils. Sadly, a genuine opportunity for reform of local government must wait for another day.
Proinsias De Rossa: The way in which this important issue of local government reform is being handled is unfortunately typical of the contemptuous way in which the Dáil has been treated by the current Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government. More and more the publication of important legislation is delayed by the Government until the latest possible moment. Deputies are then given little time to research and examine the Bills which are brought before them and guillotines are applied.
Second Stage debate on this Bill has been reasonable. Many important issues have been raised by Deputies in Opposition, and indeed Deputies on the back-benches of Fianna Fáil, but we are only going to be given two days next week to address those issues by way of amendments and try to convince the Minister that he should change his mind on some of the issues in the Bill. We will then have a day for Report Stage. Let us compare this Bill with the Child Care Bill. That Bill was first introduced in 1985 and almost seven years later still has not been passed into law while the issue of local government reform which is also important and which parties on all sides of the House have said they support and have been demanding over many years is being rushed through the House in a matter of less than seven sitting days. There is clearly an anomaly in the way we deal with our business in this House. It should not take seven years to have a Child Care Bill processed through the Houses of the Oireachtas and it should not be possible for a Government to run through a half-baked approach to local government reform in less than seven sitting days.
When the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, announced the postponement of the local elections last year he outlined what he promised would be the Government's timetable for local government. Under that timetable the special Government committee were to report by September, a Bill was to be introduced by the end of 1990, and the legislation enacted by February of this year, but in reality it turned out, as many of us expected, to be quite different. The committee did not report until December, the Minister did not announce his intentions until March and then he sat on the Bill, only publishing it last Friday, 3 May. Most Deputies received their copies of the Bill only last Monday and the explanatory memorandum was not available until Tuesday. Nevertheless the  Government, as I have said, want to push through the entire legislative process in less than seven sitting days.
The question has to be asked: what about the Progressive Democrats in this matter? Where are the party who promised to bring new standards to public life? Is this what the Progressive Democrats mean when they promise to clean up local government? Of course we should not be surprised because the Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy, who put up such a vigorous defence of this Bill yesterday is the same Deputy who in 1985 signed the solemn commitment on behalf of Fianna Fáil to abolish service charges and repeal the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1983, under which those charges were introduced. That pledge has been proven to be as worthless as most of the other political promises that the Minister has made. This Bill would seem to mark the total reversion of the Progressive Democrats to Fianna Fáil standards. It would seem that the prodigal son is on his way home.
The basis on which people were denied the opportunity to vote for their local representatives last year, we were told by the Government, was to allow time for local government reform, but this Bill does not represent local government reform. It represents an attempt by the Minister to extend his dead hand over further areas of local government. The committee of experts headed by Dr. T. J. Barrington recommended the devolution of the greatest possible number of powers to local authorities. What we have in this Bill is a greater concentration of powers in the hands of central Government.
To give one example, the Minister has made much of the fact that the Bill establishes a boundary commission to make recommendations on the boundaries of local authorities. However, the members of the boundary commission will be appointed by the Minister and the Minister will make the ultimate decision on the boundary changes. The constant thread running through the Bill is repeated references to the Minister's right to make regulations, to give orders, to withdraw functions, and so on. When  you take this Bill in the context of the National Roads Authority Bill and the Environmental Protection Agency Bill which also seriously diminish the powers of the democratically elected local authorities, it is very clear that there is a pattern of movement away from local democracy. We must now be the only country in Europe that is taking away local democracy rather than trying to enhance it.
I would draw attention to a charter for local government adopted in 1981 by the European Conference of Local and Regional Authorities. It laid heavy stress on the need for greater powers for local authorities. Indeed the Association of Municipal Authorities in Ireland fully endorse this charter. As I said, the charter was adopted in 1981. It covers areas such as the safeguarding and reinforcement of local autonomy in various European countries as a prerequisite for the construction of a Europe based on the principles of democracy and the decentralisation of power. It urges the constitutional foundation for local self-government. It outlines what it believes to be the basic concept of local self-government and the scope of it. It deals with the protection of existing local authorities; adequate administrative structures; guarantees for the exercise of responsibility at local level; control of local authorities — it argues that the control of local authorities shall normally aim only at ensuring compliance with the law; the resources of local authorities; local authorities' right to associate and the legal protection of local authorities and their autonomy. It is a fairly precise and worthwhile charter for local self-government which this Bill totally ignores, despite the fact that the Association of Municipal Authorities in Ireland have given that charter their full support and despite the fact that it was drawn up and approved by the European Conference of Local and Regional Authorities ten years ago.
There is clearly no commitment by the Government to local authority reform. As we move towards European political union, there is a need for genuine local  democracy which becomes even more apparent and urgent in view of the fact that, within a fairly short time, we will see the shifting of more and more powers from national parliaments to European level. There is a constant debate at European level with regard to what is referred to as the democratic deficit. That is a very nice phrase to avoid using the concept or idea of undemocratic institutions because, clearly, at European level the important decisions are made by the European Council Heads of State and Ministers and they are not directly answerable to the proper of Europe; the Commission is not directly answerable to the people of Europe and the powers of the European Parliament are exceedingly limited in relation to their control and influence over the European Council and the Commission.
There is obviously an urgent need to address that issue but cannot be done without also addressing the question of the democratic deficit at national and local levels. One would have thought, given the times in which we live, that the Government would have seriously addressed the issue of giving real power to people at local level. Indeed, a conference is being organised for November by the European Parliament Commission on Regional Political Affairs which will set a headline for what is regarded as urgent in terms of reform at local government level in all European countries. It will clearly highlight the degree to which Ireland lags behind other countries in regard to giving power at local level.
There is an urgent need, regardless of what happens to the Bill, to look at the issue of local democracy and how it can be applied more effectively. We are still operating a system of local government inherited from colonial times. Massive social, economic, political and demographic changes have taken place in the past 70 years but local government structures have changed very little. Around 60 per cent of the population now live in urban area and it is predicted that that figure will rise to 75 per cent by the year 2001. However, local government structures do not reflect this. Our newest  urban district councils were established in 1889 and, since then, the boundaries of the UDCs have been altered in only five cases. There is clearly a need to look at that matter. The most recent town council was established in Leixlip about two years ago. It has a population of about 14,000 people and only after many years of campaigning for some say in their area did the town achieve that status.
I want to address the question of reform on the basis of experience in my own constitutency of Dublin North West, which consists of the Finglas and Ballymun areas with sections of Drumcondra and Glasnevin tagged on as a means of fulfilling the population requirements for a Dáil constituency. There are two clearly defined homogeneous areas. Finglas is one with a population of about 60,000 people which elects four councillors to Dublin Corporation, although only two of them live in the Finglas area. All four councillors are elected to represent the interest of Finglas; I am not criticising their quality of representation but it is fairly obvious to anyone living in the area that Finglas really needs a local council of their own to address local issues. People living locally should be elected to deal with local issues. This is what happens, for instance, in relation to Dún Laoghaire, Ballybay or Limerick. I understand that the population of Limerick city is around 60,000, roughly the same as Finglas, but when the local representation of both areas is compared there is clearly a major discrepancy.
Ballybay, with a population of around 1,000 people, has a local town commission. It is important for the town to have such a body, I am not arguing against local representation but areas in Dublin require local representation as much as the smaller town. I understand that you could fit the population of Leitrim twice over in the Finglas area and yet Leitrim has a county council. Again, I am not arguing that they should not have a council but there is a grave discrepancy when the people of Leitrim can have their own local council and the people of Finglas cannot. There is an  urgent need to rectify that situation in the context of local government reform, but this Bill does not address the issue.
My experience in Finglas, as a councillor and TD, is that the problems of the area — and there are many just as there are advantages in living there — cannot be adequately dealt with by Dublin Corporation based on the representation of four councillors in accordance with the current procedure. They are in competition and conflict all the time for resources, attention and so on. There is a need for local people to have some control over the provision of services in their area how decisions are made, but that is not the case at present. Indeed, it is interesting to note the extent to which TDs and councillors are confused as being one and the same thing in many of our larger urban areas. Very little distinction is drawn between what a councillor and a TD can and cannot do.
The other example to which I wish to draw attention is Ballymun. It is regarded as a new town although it was built 21 year ago. It consists of seven tower blocks which rise to 15 storeys, plus a series of spine blocks eight storeys high; there is also ordinary two-storey housing built around it. It has a population of about 20,000 people but it does not have any local representation. The councillors and the administration in Dublin Corporation recognised that Ballymun needed special attention and, at a very early stage, established a special committee on Ballymun. The extraordinary thing about the committee is that it has representatives from Cabra, Finglas and Drumcondra. The Drumcondra area includes Ballymun. Only one of the members of that special committee who deals with the problems and needs of the people in Ballymun lives in that estate. He happens to be a member of The Workers' Party, councillor Eamon O'Brien. He does an excellent job in difficult circumstances but it is not an adequate representation of the views, needs and requirements of the people in Ballymun.
This is also highlighted by another factor. About there years ago the people of Ballymun decided to establish a task  force to improve their area. They brought together community representatives, the TDs for Dublin North West, plus representatives from the corporations adminsitration and the Eastern Health Board. The first issue they decided to tackle was the refurbishment of the flats in Ballymun. Within six months they had drawn up a report about what was needed and why it was needed. They received excellent co-operation from the statutory bodies, the public representatives and community representatives. As I said, within six months they had submitted a report to the Minister for the Environment outlining what was needed.
The task force had a meeting with the Minister for the Environment within a very short period and he gave a commitment to provide money so that necessary work could be carried out. However, it has taken almost three years for that work to get under way and for the Minister to actually make the money available. The degree of foot dragging in regard to the implementation of the programme of refurbishment has at various stages made the local community representatives depressed, angry or cynical. It is appalling that an area like Ballymun which has pulled itself together and has made a superhuman effort to address its problems is beign effectively pushed onto the long finger simply because it does not have the clout other areas have in terms of local representation. If the people in any other town with a population of 20,000 had done the same work, presented the case the people of Ballymun presented and had received agreement in principle for this work at such an early date, I have no doubt that the work would have started years ago and not just a few months ago. I am not making a case for my own backyard. I am making the case for all our major urban towns and cities where people are crying out for the right to participate in the running of their areas. We will be doing a disservice to them and to democratic structures if we do not respond to this very real need.
The other point I want to make in this regard is that in many cases the people on that task force, particularly the local  community representatives, felt that they were arguing for concessions and had to plead with the bureaucracy or the Department for what were essentially their rights in terms of the area in which they lived and the conditions they had to endure. I believe that that attitude would change dramatically if Ballymun had a local council. The debate about whether it should be called a town council or urban district council and the powers they should have is a matter for another day. If they had such a council the people having been democratically elected by the people of the area, would be dealing with those who ultimately control the purse strings. One of the questions the Minister constantly asked us when we were making our representations to him was whether this task force were representative of the people in the area. We have to go to great lengths to prove that the task force were representative of the people and what they wanted and that they supported the efforts being made.
I want to refer to another pet hobbyhorse of mine, the library services. The Bill does not deal specifically with library services, but local government structures have been responsible for many years for the administration of these services and it would be a mistake to stand up here and talk about local government without referring to the library services. Most people in Dublin — I am sure this is the same in most cities and towns — regard the library services as the heart of the community. It is the service which is most obviously provided by local government. Once they have the resources local government have very real control of the library services in their area. People appreciate this service very much. Looking at the way in which the library services have been run down in recent years I am constantly reminded of Thomas Davis's dictum: “You must educate in order to be free”. There is no doubt that our library services have traditionally provided an outlet for thousands of people to improve and educate themselves. About 200 years ago, when Thomas Paine published his book The Rights of Man it had its highest circulation  in Ireland, running to two or three editions. Irish people rightly have the reputation of having a high regard for reading, books and education. The attitude of the Government to our library services is an indication of how little they respect both that reputation and the right of people to be free from the mystifications to which they are subject in our modern society.
Library services have been cut back. Some libraries are closed during summer months and on Saturdays, presumably when most children can visit them with their parents, and they are often closed without warning. Children who do their home work in libraries because of pressure of space at home are being deprived of this facility. The great development of our library services which occurred in recent years as community facilitators of exhibitions, music recitals and discussion groups of one kind or another has been cutback as a result of the reduction in funding for the library services. Some libraries have been unable to renew their book stocks for years. Charges have been introduced in some libraries which has resulted in a massive drop in the number of people using libraries. I want to give some statistics in this regard.
In Offaly, for instance, the usage of the library service decreased by 73 per cent, in Carlow there was a 29 per cent decrease, in Galway there was a 30 per cent decrease, in Kerry there was a 33 per cent decrease, and Roscommon had a 55 per cent decrease. Those decreases occurred as a result of the introduction of charges that local authorities were obliged to make because of Government cutbacks in the allocation of funding. There is no excuse for that. I cannot understand how a Government who must know that about 400,000 people in this country have reading difficulties, 160,000 of whom are virtually unable to read at all, would virtually cripple the library service. The library service also provides literacy schemes and facilities for writers' groups and play groups — whatever one  cares to name, the library service provides it. The library service was the heart of many communities, particularly in working class areas, where there was very little else for people to base their community life on. That is an area where local control, local democracy, would have a very real impact.
My final point concerns the funding of local authorities. I do not propose to speak about this at length, but to say that in considering this issue we have to have regard to the size of the population and of the plethora of tax systems that already exist here. It would be completely inequitable for this Government or any other Government to impose yet another layer at second level. Given the factors I have mentioned, the only practical way forward in relation to the funding of local government is for a specific proportion of national taxation to be allocated by law to local authorities, which funding would be allocated on the basis of the size of an area, the population of an area, the age structure, the infrastructural conditions and a range of other factors that would have to be taken into account. I do not see any other practical way of dealing with the issue of funding, which seems to be a nettle this Government have failed to grasp. The Government have effectively decided that service charges, which are, in effect, double taxation, must be maintained. The electorate will give their verdict in the local elections come 27 June.
Mr. Dukes: It is the general view on this side of the House that the Government have made an absolute mess of bringing this Bill before the Oireachtas. A Bill with 55 sections that refers to 36 Acts and wholly or partially repeals 22 Acts has been brought before the House 22 months into the Government's term of office, 22 months after a promise for reform of local government. The Bill has been brought into the House barely seven weeks before the local elections, which were foreseeable a long time ago and which were postponed by a year because the Government wanted to introduce reform. The local elections themselves  are truncated by the fact that so far the Government have been unable to make any decisions about the future fate of urban councils and town commissioners. The Government now want the Bill passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas next week. They gave the Houses of the Oireachtas two weeks to consider it — two weeks to consider what the Government claim to be a major reform of local government. When the Bill was finally published such was the mess the Government made of it that it did not have with it an explanatory memorandum. The House had to wait another day before getting the Government's explanatory memorandum.
I confess to going back to a previous preoccupation of mine when I say that it is absolutely scandalous that nowhere in the Bill or in the explanatory memorandum is there any reference — good, bad or indifferent — to any assessment of the financial implications of what is proposed in this Bill. That is not satisfactory. I wonder why that would be. Are the Government admitting in that omission that the Bill will do nothing fundamental about local government and that there is therefore no need to look at the financial implications that might arise from the Bill because there will be none as the Bill is making no real change in the autonomy of local authorities? Members would also have to ask themselves whether the delay in introducing the Bill and the Government's rather confused signals about it, including some very interesting statements about local government reform made in the House last evening by the Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy. Does all of that indicate disagreement within the Government, or, perhaps, another bout of disagreement between the Minister for the Environment and his megaphonic Minister of State?
During the 22 months that have passed since then, the Government proposed the setting up of an all-party committee to examine everything except the funding of local authorities. The all-party committee were to have terms of reference that would allow them to consider the functions, the structures, the duties, and the membership of local authorities — everything except the funding of local authorities. We in Fine Gael refused to participate in that committee. I am quite happy to put on the record that I felt it was our bounden duty to refuse to become involved in such a sham. To talk about local government reform without examining the methods of funding local authorities and the financial autonomy of local authorities is nothing more nor less than a sham. The Bill before the House is a sham. The alleged reform of local government for which the Bill provides is a sham. The whole exercise is a sham because it contains not a single provision of any substance in relation to the funding of local authorities.
When the Government could not get their own way and set up that nonsensical, limited, all-party committee, in which, to their discredit, I must say, the parties of the left seemed to be prepared to get involved, the Government set up an advisory expert committee on local government reorganisation and reform. That committee's terms of reference gave them a very circumscribed mandate in relation to local authority finances. It was, “to make recommendations on the criteria on which the contribution from Central Funds to local authorities should be made on a statutory basis”. That was the only function that the committee were given in relation to local authority funding. In other words, the Government told the expert advisory committee to look not at the financing of local authorities or financial autonomy but at the way in which the Government could continue to keep local authorities fettered,  with their hands tied; and they were to make recommendations on the kind of golden chains that should be used to bind the local authorities hand and foot to the dictates of the Minister and the Department of the Environment. There is no reference in the Bill to financial autonomy for local authorities, and without financial autonomy there can be no real local democracy.
I recognise — and I do it gladly — that the expert committee did their job very well and must be warmly commended for the excellence of their work within the limits of their terms of reference. The committee produced a very valuable and coherent set of recommendations. However, they were unable to reach conclusions in relation to local authorities with a remit below those of county councils or county borough councils. That inability to reach such a conclusion was very honest and to the committee's credit they included in their report a minority report on that issue, which was cogent and well argued and which raised clearly several issues that should be examined when we look at that level of local government. They made a number of pertinent points which showed a real concern with the substance of local democracy and which should be a guideline for any future debate in Government or in this House on that other level of local democracy. That honest inability to come to a conclusion on the part of the committee, who went on then to include a minority report in their final report, has been seized upon by the Government as an excuse for kicking off a potentially controversial subject until after the partial local elections on 27 June.
Following the publication of that advisory expert committee report the Government issued a statement on local government reform on 7 March. That statement is notable in that it is a statement of remarkable blandness. It rarely enters into any issue of controversy. The statement does not refer to the funding of local authorities and avoids the issue of sub-county or sub-city structures. The Minister for Energy spoke last evening  about a few of the areas on which the Government are moving to some degree on the recommendations of the committee, but he said nothing about the recommendations in respect of which the Government do not make any proposals in the Bill.
The committee's point enunciates an extremely good principle. I do not understand how the Minister for the Environment, and his Ministers of State, on the rare occasions when they seem to talk to each other without megaphones, and members of the Government, some of whom have continued to be members of local authorities in spite of their posturings about principles, can produce a Bill which totally ignores that principle when every member of a local authority will say that since 1977 part of their democratic legitimacy has been cut off. Even in their good days before 1985, as the Minister for Energy said in the spurious comment he made, when local authorities had money, councillors knew well that if they wanted to spend money on any of the services they wanted to provide, they had to be responsible for raising if not all of the money, at least a substantial portion of it. They were subjected to the kind of discipline required when they had to go out and defend expenditure on the basis of taxation needed to finance it, and when au contraire they had to defend taxation policy on the basis of expenditure that it needed  to fund. That essential control, that essential discipline was taken away from local authorities in 1977. This Bill does nothing to restore it and the Government have flagrantly ignored the recommendation of the committee they set up, even with those circumscribed terms of reference. The committee went on to make a further point. They said:
In recommendation 5 there is a worthwhile basis for a debate on how we fund local authorities, and on how we give them autonomy and responsibility for what they will do. All of that has been ignored by the Government. That part of the report might just as well have never been written as far as this Bill is concerned.
The committee went on to set out a number of principles which should underpin the distribution of central funds to local authorities, and local authority funding generally. They made points such as, for example:
5. Specific purpose grants should, insofar as practicable, be confined to situations where the benefits flowing from the expenditure accrue substantially to people outside of the area of the local authority.
That last recommendation is one which every member of every local authority will immediately relate to. It is a very  important principle of local financing and local expenditure. In this Bill to reform local government none of this has been dealt with. It has been left totally out of the reckoning.
We will look now at the recommendations made by the committee at No. 9 —Operational Aspects of Local Authorities and Miscellaneous. I will deal with only one small part of that which has been ignored in this Bill. The committee proposed:
A couple of considerations are of vital importance if we are to serve the people who after all elect the members of local authorities. Without the responsibility that comes from having to raise some of the moneys to be spent, we will be hampered in ensuring that, however they are funded, we get value for money from local authorities and be confident that some set of clear priorities related to the needs of the areas they serve are set by local authorities who should have as their concern, a concern to match resources they have with the needs of the communities they represent.
That we have not got. None of the speeches made by Government Ministers or Deputies has given us a clear view of where the Government are going. Members on the Government side have said time and time again in this debate that this Bill is just the beginning of a reform process but they did not give any indication of what the rest of it may be,  or of where we are going after this Bill becomes law, if it ever does become law. The committee went on and said:
An ongoing phased programme of devolution and widening of the role of local government should be got underway. A special Implementation Commission should be established part of whose brief would be to oversee devolution. It should be headed by a person of proven ability and statute — possibly a High Court judge (shades of the Progressive Democrats there) and include representatives from central and local government and independent members and it should report annually to the Oireachtas. Responsibility for the devolution programme should be under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach to highlight the priority attached to the task.
That is a perfectly logical follow-on to the requirement for a policy statement as to what the future of local government will be. Again, there is nothing of that kind in the Bill. Not only is it not in this Bill but it is nowhere to be found in the Government statement of 7 March or in any of the statements made in the House in the course of this debate.
We are being asked to pass this Bill without having any clear idea of where the Government are heading or what the future is for local government in the mind of the Government, or any idea of just what element of local democracy we are being invited to begin to set up in this Bill. Frankly, I have no confidence whatever that the Government have any clear idea of what kind of local democratic structure of local democracy, they want to bring about or embark upon in putting this Bill before the House.
There is nothing in this Bill that allows me to conclude that the Government have any real intention to make substantial changes in local government structures of a kind that will expand local democracy or give it back any reality. The proposals in that statement of 7 March are only a pale shadow of the proposals made by the expert advisory  committee. Indeed, it is hard to see why the Government needed that report unless it were simply to give the impression that a great deal of study and preparation had gone into the drawing up of the Government proposals.
In that statement the Government included an appendix entitled “Matters to be provided for in initial Bill”. Indeed we find that a number of those matters are included in the Bill. I find at No. 6 in that appendix: “Enabling powers for removal of outdated controls and procedures and consequential matters”. When I read this last March I thought that was interesting and looked forward to seeing what the Government proposal was. I real the Bill and found that, far from removing outdated controls, procedures and consequential matters, what this Bill provides for is a whole series of new controls, new interference, new procedures and new consequential provisions being put into the hands of the Minister for Environment. We are not seeking a removal of outdated controls. We are seeing the imposition of a whole series of new, very heavy and constraining controls on local authorities.
I find then at No. 9 of this appendix: “New flexible provisions for creation of local authority committees”. We find provisions in the Bill about these committees which keep the committees within a very narrow frame of reference. What do we find in addition? Instead of having flexible provisions for the creation of local authority committees we find a provision in the Bill which allows the Minister to direct local authorities to set up committees. If that is flexibility then the English language has acquired a totally new meaning in the mouths of the Government.
We find at No. 10 in this appendix: “Statutory provision for town twinning, civic honours and local authority annual reports”. To read this one would think that local authorities were to be given powers, statutory powers, in relation to town twinning, civil honours and local authority annual reports. What we find in the Bill is something completely different. Instead of statutory powers for local  authorities in these areas what we find are statutory provisions for ministerial interference over the heads of local authorities in these matters so that even though the Government statement of 7 March was far less ambitious, far less understanding in its scope than the advisory expert committee's report, the Bill is even more constraining, even more constricting than what we were led to believe would be the case when we read that statement of 7 March.
I turn to the governance, if I may call it that, of local authority areas. The Bill does nothing that is other than superficial and cosmetic. It does not bring in a new era of vibrancy in local democracy. It does not give local authorities new powers to serve their people. It does nothing to create structures in which people anywhere here can feel that they are involved in making decisions or even in electing people to make decisions for their communities. What it does, in area after area, is to give the Minister for the Environment new powers to interfere, to direct and to preempt the decisions of democratically elected representatives.
The explanatory memorandum, late as it was in appearing, makes a series of what I have to say are outrageous and extravagent claims for this Bill. It is, we are told, “designed primarily to strengthen local democracy”. It is designed to improve the system of local government. It is designed to increase its role and it is designed “to give local authorities the capacity to serve the interests of their community more effectively”.
The reality of this Bill is very different. There is nothing in this Bill that will reverse the destruction of local democracy begun by Fianna Fáil in 1977. There is nothing here that will give local authorities any more autonomy or independence than they have now. There is nothing here that will do anything to allay the frustration of members of local authorities who typically find that 90 per cent of their capital expenditure and two-thirds of their current expenditure are pre-empted, pre-determined for them by the Department of the Environment with the money having a label attached to it  the minute it arrives, sometimes late, in the local authority's bank account. There is nothing that will change the situation under which those same local authority members find that even the 10 per cent of their capital expenditure over which they notionally have discretion, or the one-third of their current expenditure over which they notionally have discretion, is unavoidably directed along certain lines because of the sheer weight of the policies imposed on them by the Department of the Environment. The two-thirds of current expenditure local authorities incur, for example, is followed on then by the one-third over which they have discretion; but that one-third over which they have discretion is largely pay, and what they spend their pay money on is largely determined by the kind of programmes the Department of the Environment have agreed to fund. Even though they notionally can decide what to do with one-third of their current spending, in practice their ability to decide, in the interests of their own local community, on how to spend that money is very limited indeed.
There is nothing in this Bill that will allow a local authority anywhere in the country to make a sovereign, rational, responsive and well-informed decision in the interests of the people who live within their jurisdiction. There is no reform in this Bill. That, indeed, may be the reason why even the Government, even the Minister for the Environment, full of hubris as he is, and given to exaggeration, did not dare to claim, balked at calling this Bill a local government reform Bill. Local government structures without financial autonomy are simply futile and any claim to reform local government without a reform of local government financing is futile also. Time and again the Government, and the Minister for the Environment, have funked the issue of autonomous local financing.
There was a time, and I am sure other Members will remember it very well, when there were regular rumours — they came out almost on a weekly basis — that the Minister for the Environment was trying to get agreement in Cabinet on a  new system of funding local authorities, but every time, those rumours were followed by more rumours of a showdown in Cabinet and a refusal to contemplate any radical reform of local government financing. That, I suppose, should not surprise us. Ever since limited legislation to allow a small measure of autonomy in funding for local authorities was brought before this House in 1983, members of the Government, including members of the Progressive Democrats who were then members of Fianna Fáil, have opposed the very principle of giving any autonomy to the local authorities in raising funds to finance their activities. The Minister of State is in the House today, and I well remember him claiming that this question of local charges was not just rates by the back door, it was rates by the side door and coming in the windows as well, and he said he was determined to oppose to the bitter end any idea of giving any financial autonomy to any local authority.
Mr. Dukes: He was in Opposition of course. He did not get away with it. Fianna Fáil continued to oppose these local charges in 1987. They promised in 1987 that they were going to abolish them and dined out politically on that promise. The Progressive Democrats, true to form at that time, played hard to get on the issue and did not enunciate policy. The Labour Party, unhappily true to their more recent form, ran away from what they did in Government and opposed local charges. The Workers' Party, despite their protestations of being in favour of local democracy and tax reform, opposed the only measures then in force which gave discretionary funding on any level to local authorities, insufficient as they are. Now, true to form, the Fianna Fáil wheel has come full circle. Only a few days ago the Minister for the Environment announced that local charges will not be abolished, they will be a feature of local financing for some time to come, thus confirming what we  in Fine Gael have known since 1983 — that Fianna Fáil have spent the greater part of eight years obstructing anything that would help in the emergency or the rebirth of local democracy, aided and abetted since 1987 by, to their dying shame, the Labour Party and The Workers' Party. It is no surprise that this Bill has no substance since the Government who produced it have no guts when it comes to local authority funding. The mountain has laboured mightily and brought forth a mouse.
Here I want to take up a point made by Deputy De Rossa whose proposal a short while ago in this House was that the reform of local authority financing should consist of the allocation of a specific proportion of local taxation to local authorities by law. That is a very dangerous proposal. Above anything else it maintains a situation where local authorities are manacled, bound hand and foot to the wishes of the Minister and the Department of the Environment and cannot budge, can make no decision without that having first been made by the Minister and his Department. It is the very antithesis of any kind of discretion, of freedom for local authorities to act creatively in the interests of the people they serve.
As I said, in producing this Bill the Government mountain has laboured and brought forth a mouse, but this is like one of those laboratory mice that are infected with all kinds of nasty bugs. The bugs in this Bill are lethal for local democracy. They will kill it stone dead. In every place where this Bill seems to give powers to local authorities on the one hand it takes them back with the other by putting the Minister for the Environment into the middle of the act. It is littered with provisions that give the Minister for the Environment powers to make regulations or orders and involving him in all sorts of ways in what should be the proper and independent domain of local authorities.
In all except two cases in this Bill, the provisions under which the Minister may make regulations or orders are of the most unsatisfactory kind. They provide that the regulations or orders shall be laid  before the Houses of the Oireachtas and shall have effect unless within a period of 12 sitting days of their laying before the Houses of the Oireachtas they are annulled. There have been arguments in this House about that formula, and I find it totally prejudicial to the proper conduct and democratic conduct of business. We will hear more about that.
It seems to me that in the cases that arise in this Bill that kind of passive order or regulation is totally inappropriate. The orders or regulations in question allow the Minister for the Environment to interfere directly in the policy-making and administrative functions of local authorities composed of people who are directly elected by the people. The formula is doubly unsatisfactory because it poses the Houses of the Oireachtas only two choices — Hobson's choice really. They can either accept or reject the proposed regulation or order. The Houses of the Oireachtas cannot change a proposed order or vary it in any way. I submit that where the Government are interfering directly in the functions of local authorities the Houses of the Oireachtas should have latitude to amend the provisions in question because that is the only way the Houses can exercise their political judgment.
I find it quite conceiveable when we are talking about local authorities that the Minister may want to propose a certain line of action with which the Houses of the Oireachtas might broadly agree but the specific provisions of which they might want to vary. Under the scheme proposed in this Bill that option is not open to the Houses of the Oireachtas whether it is a passive order of the kind I have been talking about or the more active type of order which is provided for in only two cases in this Bill. In matters of this kind the Houses of the Oireachtas should have the latitude to exercise political judgment. The catalogue of interference by the Minister in this Bill is incredibly long, even for a Bill of 55 sections. I have counted 25 different connections in which the Minister can make orders or regulations, and that is not even  the whole list. I will list the major ones although it may be tedious to do so.
The Minister can amend or revoke any order made or proposed to be made under this Bill. He can transfer functions to or take functions from local authorities. He can divide a county or a county borough into local electoral areas. He can fix the number of members for each such area and he can decide how many of them shall be aldermen. He can amend any one of those provisions. He can decide what are excluded matters for county councils or borough corporations. He can specify what shall be included in the reorganisation reports provided for in this Bill. He has the final say in the reorganisation and the establishment of the proposed new Dublin councils. He can give directions as to the establishment of these councils. He can establish boundary committees. He can appoint or remove the members of boundary committees. He can prescribe procedures for the making of applications for the alterations of boundaries. He can make the final decisions on boundary alterations. He can request reports on boundary alterations. He can direct local authorities to set up committees or joint committees. He can make regulations about jurisdiction, dissolution, delegation of functions, revocation of functions, procedures, general administration and finances of committees and joint committees, and he can make regulations about “such other matters relating to committees and joint committees as the Minister considers appropriate”, that is, if he can still find bits of the pie to put his finger into after the exhaustive list set out in the section in question.
He can specify reserve functions for local authorities. He can issue directions about allowances for chairmen of local authorities. He can make provisions for regional authorities. He can specify the functions of regional authorities. He can give directions to regional authorities. He can make directions as to expenses for entertainment, receptions and presentations to prominent persons. He can get involved in twinning arrangements. He can make regulations about the  attendance of local authority members at conferences and for the payment of expenses to them in relation to such attendance. Finally, in case that were not enough and the Minister has some mental energy left for regulating something else, he can make regulations about dispensing with the regulations made under this proposed legislation. If the Minister for the Environment, who acts a lot of the time as if he believes he is God, gets all these powers under his belt, the rest of us might begin to believe that he is God and his Minister of State will need more than her misfortunate megaphone to get any chance of talking to him.
What will local authorities get in return for all this heavy ministerial interference? The answer is nothing worthwhile but a lot of pain. If the Government get away with this Bill, we will be in for a period of about six weeks during which Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats Ministers, Deputies, Senators, councillors and aspiring councillors, will travel the highways and byways of this country, blithely leaping over the potholes and ignoring all the unfortunate people living in misery in caravans, mobile homes and demountables, knowing that they will be there for the next ten years because no houses are being built. Those aspiring, budding politicians will proclaim the advent of a new dawn for local authorities and there will be people gullible enough to believe them. There will be credulous people who will believe that the local authorities elected next month will actually have some real power, some real influence and some real capacity to do real and good things for those unfortunate, gullible, credulous people. The Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats election machine will hype up expectations that are doomed to be dashed. The Government are now engaged in a spurious exercise which I suppose we could live with if it were not so serious, but it contains the seeds of even greater disillusionment with local authorities and even greater frustration for members of local authorities. If the Government persist and get away with it,  the result can only be that more damage will be done to local authorities and to ideas of local democracy.
The first fiction is to be found in Part II of the Bill where it deals with the functions of local authorities. It refers to the representational functions of local authorities. We are told that a local authority may represent the interests of the local community “in such manner as it thinks appropriate”. It appears that authorities at least are to have some freedom to represent their people in the way they think people want. But then we are told that nothing in section 5 shall be construed as imposing on a local authority, either directly or indirectly, any form of duty or liability enforceable by proceedings before any court to which it would not otherwise be subject. That wording in the Bill shows that this apparent expansion of the representational functions of local authorities is a purely cosmetic exercise. Although local authorities will notionally have wider representational functions, nobody will be able to oblige anyone of the local authorities to carry out those functions. Nobody will be able to get the local authority into a corner and say — you are not carrying out this representational function for me — and if you do not do it, I will injunct you. The Bill itself provides that nothing shall be construed as imposing a duty on a local authority enforceable by proceedings before any court to which it would not otherwise be subject. With one stroke the Bill takes all the reality away from this apparent widening of these representational functions.
Section 6 of the Bill deals with the general competence of local authorities. Local authorities are now to be allowed, it seems, to go even so far as incurring expenditure to do things that they consider necessary or desirable in the interests of their local community. Section 6 sets out an apparently wide range of functions, but then the limitations come in. Section 6 (6) prevents the local authority from getting involved in anything where other persons or authorities already have responsibility. Where then is the Government's alleged  concern with the devolution of functions to local authorities? They are now being told they can do an awful lot more than they now have powers to do, and then they are told to make sure they do not try to do anything in any area where any other authority or person can claim to have a function because that is a “no go” area as far as they are concerned.
To put the tin hat on it, along comes the Minister, who may prescribe matters in respect of which a local authority shall not exercise the powers conferred by this section. Having given the local authority powers, they are warned first not to trespass on anybody else's patch and second, the Minister may direct them not to exercise some or all of the powers that this section confers upon them. There the local authorities find themselves, all of a sudden, hopes raised and wings clipped. There is no reality in the Bill. If that hapless local authority incur expenditure, as they are apparently allowed to do under section 6, what happens? We are told that that expenditure “shall not exceed such amount as may be prescribed”. We are told who does the prescribing. This seems to be a little lack in the Bill. We are not told who prescribes such amounts as may not be exceeded. I suspect that the prescriber will be none other than the Minister.
Section 7 of the Bill provides for things to which local authorities must have regard in performing their functions. This section provides, in essence, that the local authorities are to have the appearance of more powers, but they are to get no more money. Not only are their wings clipped, they are amputated. You can give all the powers in creation to the local authorities, but if they do not have the resources they cannot exercise their powers. Under they provisions of this Bill, if they even look like exercising those powers the Minister can come along and say, “No, thou shalt not”.
Section 9 deals with the transfer of certain functions to local authorities. We are told here that functions may be transferred to local authorities by the Government by provisional order. As far as I can ascertain, this is the only case in the Bill  where an order is provisional. I wonder why that is so. It may be that the Government might want to change their mind and they will feel happier about changing their mind if the original order is only provisional. It might be a bit more embarrassing to change their mind about a permanent order.
In section 9 we begin to see the truly undemocratic nature of this Bill. These provisional orders concern the transfer of a function of a Minister of the Government, other than a function that is required by the Constitution to be performed by a Minister of the Government, to a local authority. We then find that, contrary to the practice in the rest of the Bill, a provisional order carrying out such a transfer shall not have effect unless or until it is confirmed by an Act of the Oireachtas. Instead of having these weak, passive orders that are everywhere else in the Bill, we have to have what I call an active order which must be confirmed by an Act of the Oireachtas. For the Government, concerns of democracy in making decisions in this House apply only when there is a suggestion that the powers of the Government may be curtailed. Any other order made under this Bill does not require an Act of the Oireachtas; it just requires the Houses of the Oireachtas to sit on their hands for 21 sitting days and do nothing about the order.
Under section 12 the Minister may, by order, divide a county borough into local electoral areas and fix for each electoral area the number of members of the council of the county borough to be elected and the number of those members who are to be aldermen. I am not sure how local authorities who have aldermen will take to that provision. I suspect not too kindly. This is to be done by one of the passive orders to which I referred. The Minister may also by order amend or modify any division made by an order under this section. Again, there is the passive type of order and again the Houses of the Oireachtas have two options: they can accept or reject the Minister's proposal but they may not take  a different view as to the division of boroughs or the number of members to be elected, or the number of members who are to be aldermen, or even alderpersons. They may not make any different decision from that put before them by the Minister unless they want to say “no”. That is not a satisfactory way of going about a democratic reform of democratic structures.
Part IV deals with the reorganisation of local government in the county of Dublin. Here again we find that the Bill proposes to give extensive powers to the Minister in relation to the structures and that the functions of the new local councils — surprise, surprise — are to be very seriously circumscribed. For example, the Minister will be able to decide what is or is not an excluded matter under the terms of the Bill, a very important decision for councillors. The elected councillors have to say whatever in that decision. These provisions will require very detailed examination on Committee Stage. As, my colleague, Deputy O'Brien pointed out yesterday, this is not a new reform, this reform of the Dublin councils has been available to Fianna Fáil since they came back into office in 1987 and part of the structure was already set in place under reforms voted in by this House in 1985. Again, we find in this reform of the Dublin area councils, the Government are taking a much narrower and more restrictive view than we took when the reform was initiated in 1985.
The section dealing with the preparations for the establishment of these councils shows very clearly that the Government intend to ride shotgun on this whole process in a very intimate and constraining way. The three new councils will have very little leeway to act. I note in the Bill that there is a concern with the co-ordination of their activities and I wonder, although I doubt it, whether this means we will see a resolution of that confusion in housing policy that now exists between Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council, entailing very considerable difficulty and problems for tenants of Dublin Corporation who  happen to live in the Dublin County Council area.
Mr. Dukes: The Deputy should not get excited yet. We will not see a resolution of that problem. The only steps of any value that have been taken in that regard have been taken finally because there have been discussions, inspired by directly elected representatives of many parties, between the corporation and the county council to find reasonable and effective ways of working together. This Bill will do nothing to sort out that problem although it pays lip-service to the co-ordination of the activities of the new three Dublin councils.
The Minister is given powers, in relation to these three councils, to specify matters which he considers appropriate. We do not know what the Minister may consider appropriate; we do not even know what kind of areas he has to think of to come to the conclusion that something is appropriate but the Minister can specify these areas to those three councils. We see also that the Minister has the final say in relation to decisions on reorganisation drawn up under section 24. The councils have no say in decisions on these reports.
Section 25 gives the Minister the power to make directions in respect of every conceivable aspect of the preparation for the establishment of these proposed councils. It includes — what must be a gem — something that parliamentary draftsmen or draftspersons and lawyers — and I hope politicians — love to read as an object lesson in how to make sure that nothing escapes notice. The Minister is given power to make directions and so on in section 25 which states:
... directions that specified steps be taken or not taken, or be taken subject to specified conditions, or specified things be done or not done or be done subject to specified conditions, by the persons aforesaid or any of them ...
Part V deals with local authority boundary alterations which will be handled by committees. These committees can be set up, removed and have members appointed or removed by the Minister. Inevitably we find that the Minister has power to alter boundaries by order. The only saver in this case is that the orders made under section 31 shall not be made until a resolution approving of the draft has been passed by each House of the Oireachtas. That is a slightly more democratic approach. Here again, the Oireachtas has only two choices, it can accept the order or it can reject it.
Mr. Dukes: Even this procedure is not straightforward. Section 31 (1) (b) allows the Minister to decide a boundary alteration that is totally different from any proposal put before him whether by one of the boundary committees or a request made by a local authority for an alteration, agreed or not, between all the affected local authorities. Subsection (2) of that section makes it even clearer that the Minister is not bound in any way by the report of the boundary committee. I have to ask what in God's name is the point of setting up boundary committees if we have a provision in the Bill that allows the Minister to do something totally unrelated to any report of a boundary committee or to any request made of him by local authorities.
Section 34 which deals with provisions consequential on boundary alterations is most extraordinary. That provides for another new animal — the first one was a provisional order — a supplementary order which means an order made by the Minister, or any other Minister of the Government, with the consent of the Minister, in respect of matters arising from the boundary alteration. This new animal, this supplementary order, may have retrospective effect as provided for in the Bill. Section 34 (5) provides for 15 different matters in respect of which the  supplementary orders may make provision. In case anything might escape, even momentarily, the ubiquitous attentions of this Minister, or any other Minister of the Government, there is provision for the supplementary orders to have retrospective effect. I wonder why? I would like to hear why.
The 15 matters covered include a very wide range of areas and sub areas, including financial and planning matters, reaching down into the most intimate details of each authority's relations with other bodies, persons, authorities, companies and so on. I would be very interested to hear the Minister explain why it was thought necessary to give potential retrospective effect to action in these areas.
Section 34 (9), so far as I can determine, is the first part in this Bill in which any reference is made to urban districts or towns which currently have town commissioners. I can understand why, for legal and legislative reasons, reference is made to these bodies in the Bill but, in the light of the fact that the Government have been unable to come to any conclusions about the future fate of urban district councils or town commissioners, the politics of the reference to the UDCs and town commissioners is nothing more than cosmetic.
Part VI deals with committees and joint committees of local authorities. The first thing that springs to mind, in this connection, is the promise made in Athlone last Saturday by the Minister for Agriculture and Food to Fianna Fáil councillors — apparently the Taoiseach believes that some of them will not be reelected or, perhaps, not run again — that he intends to reinstate the committees of agriculture. So far as I can see — and I have examined the Bill very closely — there is nothing in sections 36 to 40, inclusive, that allows that to be done. So far as I know the Minister for the Environment was allowed to attend that session last Saturday, and even though he was in Athlone he was not invited, incited or otherwise urged by any of his colleagues to go to the other side of the Shannon.
Mr. Dukes: I am not sure whether the Minister for Education was there. We might ask her because it would be interesting to know, or maybe Deputy Lenihan would write another chapter for his book and tell us about that. The Minister for the Environment was present when the Minister for Agriculture and Food made his promise to reinstate, reinstitute or recreate — whatever is the appropriate word — the committees of agriculture, but he has not provided for it in this Bill. Therefore I wonder if the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Flynn, knew that the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy, was going to make this proposal and if regardless of whether he knew, he intends to do anything about it. For example, will he bring in an appropriate amendment to this Bill on Committee Stage? If not, what will the Minister for Agriculture and Food do? He has no powers to set up these committees, so far as I know. It will be interesting to see what will happen to that promise. The rest of us in this House, as we talk to the electorate between now and 27 June should invite them to ask the Minister in their area or their local Fianna Fáil Deputy or councillor just what this promise means. Will something be done about it before 27 June or is this just another one of the increasing list of things now being postponed ostensibly for various cosmetic reasons until after 27 June but which we all know are being postponed because this Government do not like political hot potatoes.
Mr. Dukes: I regret very much that the time available to Deputies to participate in this debate has been seriously curtailed  by the guillotine motion that this Government brought in, motivated only by the fact that it took them so long to get their act together on this Bill that there are only six or seven weeks left before the local elections.
In this Bill the Minister is to be given powers to direct local authorities to establish with one or more authorities a joint committee, and he has the power to specify such terms and conditions and such functions as he may see fit. Needless to say the members of the local authorities in question will have no say at all in this matter. It is intended, apparently, that these committees and joint committees will have members on them other than members of local authorities, but these members will have no right to vote. Their role apparently is to be at best advisory and at worst ornamental. The Minister is to be given the power to make a whole series of regulations about the jurisdiction, dissolution and delegation of functions to or about the revocation of a delegation of functions to the procedures, general administration, general finances of committees and joint committees and, just be sure, the inevitable, such other matters as the Minister considers appropriate. So much for local autonomy. The Minister's heavy hand will again apply in relation to allowances for chairmen of local authorities and provision for entertainment and associated expenses of local authorities.
The Minister will also be deeply involved in the establishment of regional authorities. Calling these bodies authorities is a misnomer. The Minister will decide their functions by order. Nowhere in the provisions in this Bill relating to these regional authorities is there provision giving them even the slightest role in the planning or provision of infrastructure, regional development or drawing up regional development plans. Indeed each of these authorities will find that the Minister has a direct function “in the giving of directions to the authority in relation to the performance of its functions”. Therefore we can forget about any notion of regional autonomy, just as  we can forget about any notion of local autonomy, under the terms of this Bill.
The Minister is to be given a very definitive role in deciding how many members of local authorities attend conferences here or abroad, which conferences they may attend and what provisions are to be made for their expenses. When you look at all this it is tempting to come to the conclusion that our county councils might just as well do away with the idea of having monthly meetings and instead allow the Minister to run their lives by diktat, by fiat from the Custom House.
The final insult is that the Minister is now to be involved in twinning arrangements entered into by local authorities with local authorities elsewhere. Like many other Members of this House, I have been involved with twinning arrangements that have turned out to be to the mutual benefit of the local authorities concerned. The local authorities are quite capable of making up their own minds whether the benefits lie in twinning and what objectives they want to achieve by twinning. The last thing they need is the big clod-hopping feet of the Minister for the Environment getting involved in the act. He will not have the slightest notion what the potential benefits are, and even if he has any such notion he should not be involved at all; he should mind his own business. He has far more important things to do and far more constraints on his time than to be getting involved in these matters. For example, recently the county town in my constituency, Naas, twinned with a town called Casalattico, south of Rome in Italy, and for very good reasons. There is no advice that any Minister for the Environment could offer the Urban District Council of Naas in that connection and there is absolutely no reason whatever the Minister for the Environment should be sticking his fingers into that.
This Bill has nothing to do with local democracy. As I have pointed out, it will give rise to expectations that are doomed to be dashed. That process will damage local democracy. This is a centralising Bill in that it gives the Minister for the  Environment a whole series of new powers to interfere, intervene and prescribe powers that he does not now possess. This Bill is the very antithesis of the provision for local democracy.
The feeling of unease I have about this Bill occurs time after time in reading its provisions. I know it is not the custom of this House — and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle has pulled me up on this before — to go into the detail of sections on Second Stage, but since we are talking about the principles of this legislation we have to have regard to the way in which the principles underlying the Bill show through the sections.
Mr. Dukes: ——I have totally different concerns. I am in this House this afternoon to make sure that Deputy Briscoe, as a constituent of mine in County Kildare, is well served by Kildare County Council. I am here to protect him from the effects of what this Bill is going to do to Kildare County Council.
Mr. Dukes: If Deputy Briscoe thinks that Kildare County Council will be in a better position to mend the potholes around Celbridge, to straighten the crooked bridge there, to widen Abbey Road or to install a decent sewerage system in the Ballinagappa Road in Clane, he should think again because nothing like that can be done.
Mr. Dukes: The Government have only themselves to blame if I tell Deputy Briscoe what my tender concerns for him are as a constituent of mine. I am here to point out that this Bill is going to make it more rather than less difficult for Kildare County Council to meet the needs of Deputy Briscoe, those of his neighbours and all the other people in our county who now have to buy jeeps and four-wheel drive vehicles to travel on the county roads. This Bill will ensure that no pothole can be filled unless the Minister for the Environment in his omniscience and ubiquitous wisdom decides that it will be done because the county council will not have a say in the spending of one single penny.
This Bill is being produced by Deputy Briscoe's party with the appearance and pretence that it will do something for local democracy. However, in section after section it allows the Minister for the Environment to prescribe, to interfere, to decide and to provide in ways in which the present Minister — although he has sticky fingers in relation to power and even though he thinks he is God — would not dream of. I will not allow this House to pass on blithely to the end of Second Stage without saying that. I will not stand by and have the House fooled by the Government.
Deputy Molloy pretended yesterday that the Government are concerned with reform, but they have done the very minimum in relation to it. They produced a Bill which is nothing more than a rag to cover their nakedness because they do not have the slightest idea of how they will reform local government. It annoyed Deputy Molloy yesterday to find that  Members on this side of the House spoke about things which are not in the Bill. We should speak about some of the things which are not in the Bill, I will speak about financing local authorities, a matter not in the Bill. I have already pointed out that the Government have blithely ignored all the recommendations in that connection made by the advisory expert committee set up by the Government to deal with finance.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. V. Brady): On a point of order, I call for the indulgence of the House to put forward a very brief proposal which has been agreed by the Whips. Subject to the agreement of the House, it is proposed that the Minister for the Environment shall be called on not later than 3.35 p.m. today to reply to the debate on Second Stage.
Mr. McCartan: This matter has not been agreed with the Whips. There has been no agreement from The Workers' Party to it and we do not propose to agree. There are three speakers remaining from The Workers' Party group who want to contribute to this debate and I am sure the same applies to many other Deputies. In the circumstances, we certainly are not agreeable to it; it was not raised at any of the Whips' meetings and it was not ordered this morning when the business for the day was being taken.
Mr. V. Brady: On a point of order, we have been looking for Deputy McCartan since 12.30 p.m. today and he only arrived in the House a short time ago. However, we notified his office and my understanding was, in the absence of any comment from The Workers' Party, that there was agreement. I have already had agreement from the Fine Gael and Labour Whips, the whole purpose of this is to enable the Minister to respond to  some of the points made in this very long debate. I hope the Opposition parties will——
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