Wednesday, 15 May 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Taylor: I cannot say that the points the Minister made in reply to my comments on subsection (8) satisfy my reservations although I noted the points he made. The first point was that this format of words has been used before — he quoted a number of examples — but that is not the point. We are introducing new legislation today and the question is not whether it has been used before but whether it is an appropriate format or if it is entirely appropriate that the Minister should take the power to override the Bill. The fact that this format has been included in other legislation is neither here nor there and in no way validates its  use from here on if it is not right in the first place.
The next point was that it has not caused any difficulty to date. I do not know what kind of answer that is. Perhaps the reason it never caused any difficulty before was that the citizens' rights were overruled and taken away by the abstruse wording of such a subsection, but that is not necessarily a good or healthy thing. It is a serious matter when the Oireachtas devolves powers to a member of the Executive, that is to say a Minister. I concede that this is something that has to be done, but why should the Minister not be required to operate within the limits of the powers devolved to him by the the Oireachtas? Why does he seek to go beyond that?
What would be wrong with the subsection if it said “a person affected by a direction under the Bill shall comply therewith and it shall effect accordingly”? That would give the Minister freedom to operate as appropriate within the limits of the power devolved to him under the Bill. Why does he seek more than that? Why does he go on to say that if he exceeds his power it will not matter because it shall be deemed to have been done under the authority of the Bill? For the life of me I cannot see how the fact that it never caused any difficulty before can be an answer. It may well be that on a previous occasion a Minister exceeded his powers under an Act and did something which would have been ultra vires had it not been for this deeming provision.
It could be that when a person sought a remedy because the Minister had acted ultra vires, he was advised he could not proceed as this provision was in the legislation, and perhaps that is the reason it never caused any difficulty on any previous occasion. It just is not good enough at all to make such a provision. The Minister should be well satisfied and content with the powers given in this Bill and he should stay within them and not seek blanket power which in effect amounts to an over-riding of the powers devolved to him under this Bill.
To turn to a different point altogether — and I have asked the Minister to comment of this — the wording is a bit strange in another respect. “A person affected by a direction under this Act shall comply therewith...”—that is a rather strange way of putting it and I wonder what is the reason for that? It seems to be that the purport of that is to cast the net rather wide. One would have thought that the normal way of wording it would be something like this: “A person who is given a direction under this Act shall comply with it”, in other words when the Minister gives a direction to a person — although I accept the Minister's point that it could be a county council, a county manager or a corporate body — the person is obliged to comply with it. I would understand if it was worded like that. “Affected” is an odd word to use. When you think about it, that could apply to a person who was not given the direction and who was quite outside the procedures altogether. It could be that the Minister issues a direction to one person but it could affect five other people, to whom it was not addressed in the first place. It could affect them even though they were not given the direction. The way the section is worded, a third, or fourth party could find themselves in a strange position as a result of this. I wonder why that is so and what situation the Minister had in mind when he produced a section worded like that. Should he not simply say that a person who is given a direction under this Act shall comply with it? I would like to know the answer because I think it calls for an explanation.
Minister for the Environment (Mr. Flynn: Deputy Taylor made all those points previously and I responded to them. If a Minister does not reply by quoting precedents or similar situations that occur in other legislation, then he is pursued by Members of the House for not doing so. When the Minister goes to the trouble of searching out similar wording in previous legislation and uses it, then it seems to be found that it should not have been done in the first instance.
Mr. Flynn: It is important to say that in the drafting of these matters, the draftsman finds a certain formula of words that are suitable to deal with a particular set of circumstances, and I presume that over a continuing period of years, the draftsman recognises that if a certain formula of words achieves the results that were intended in the first instance, and if it has gone without challenge and no reason put forward for a challenge, then he obviously transmits it into further legislation.
Mr. Flynn: I think the Deputy is saying that even if it was right in previous legislation, now it is time to change it, but the converse of that is that if it was all right for 50 years or so, it is good enough to be transported into this legislation in a similar way.
I do not think it is legitimate to say that citizens' rights are being taken away; I do not think there is any evidence to substantiate or support that. The wording is used in aforementioned legislation and should anybody feel that a direction given to any person is not in order or that the Minister has acted improperly, then, as the Deputy knows, the options are open to the offended parties to take steps that are open to them, including, of course,  an application for a judicial review which can be made with the minimum of notice and the minimum of fuss.
In all the circumstances, this is required to enable what is proposed by way of reform to be put in place and it is also a direction that can only be given where there is that specific provision in a specific section of the Bill. It is narrowed down in that regard and it has to be for the purpose of the Act and not for other matters to which Deputies might wish to address themselves under other legislation. I think that is fair enough. Consequently I cannot accept the amendment. I think we have given fair and considerable time to it, and perhaps we could move on.
Mr. Taylor: What about my second point with regard to the wording of the section? Subsection (8) reads: “A person affected by a direction under this Act shall comply therewith....” What is the implication of the word “affected”?
Mr. Flynn: We have been considering this and I have asked that we might make a concession in that regard, I will put it to you in this fashion and if it satisfies the House and the House is agreeable, we could agree it; if not we will have to go in the other direction. I would be prepared to accept the following in lieu of subsection (8):
It might remove what seems to offend Deputy Taylor, although personally I do not think it will make that much difference, but if we can get agreement on that without the necessity of pursuing the amendment, I will be happy to do so, if the House is agreeable.
Mr. J. Mitchell: May I ask the Minister  to go a little further and insert the following words before “he shall comply therewith”“provided it does not conflict with a valid direction by a local authority under section 4 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955.”
Mr. Flynn: I cannot do that because that stretches the meaning of what we are seeking to achieve and draws in other matters. Directions can only be given for a purpose of the Act. There is no hidden meaning in the existing version. As far as I am concerned I am happy to accept a simpler form now if the House is agreeable. I now ask Deputy Mitchell if he would consider it?
Browne, John (Wexford).
Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
de Valera, Síle.
Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
Hilliard, Colm. Wallace, Dan.
Wilson, John P.
Kitt, Michael P.
Noonan, Michael J.
O'Malley, Desmond J.
O'Toole, Martin Joe.
Tunney, Jim. Woods, Michael.
Belton, Louis J.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
Enright, Thomas W.
Farrelly, John V.
Higgins, Michael D.
Mac Giolla, Tomás.
Sheehan, Patrick J.
Question declared carried.
Question proposed: “That section 4 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Gilmore: I am disappointed that an amendment which I proposed to section 4 has been ruled out of order. Section 4 deals with the repeal and revocation of previous legislation. In the Schedule there are 22 Acts which are being repealed by the Bill. They range from the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act, 1840 to the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1967.
One thing that disappointed Members on this side of the House, and many commentators outside, was the extent to which the Bill completely ignored the question of local authority finance. There is no provision in the Bill in respect of local authority finance.
The one attempt I made to address the question of local authority finance was in the form of an amendment which would have repealed the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1983 which gave rise to water and service charges being made by local authorities. They are very controversial charges which have not been accepted by the public. They have been consistently resisted. An  active campaign of opposition to service charges continues throughout the country and in many parts it has led to great difficulties. In some cases it has led to householders having their water supply cut off. I recall the case of one householder in my constituency whose water supply was turned off in November 1988 and was not restored until last July when an order was obtained in the High Court to switch it back on.
In the course of the last couple of weeks four householders in Cork have been jailed for non-payment of water charges and in other parts of the country people have been brought to court and forced into paying water charges by various means taken by local authorities.
All but two local authorities, Dublin City Council and Dublin County Council, have water charges. It is fair to say that the public do not consider water charges to be a fair system of raising finance for local authorities. Householders who are paying water charges still consider them to be a form of double taxation and I suspect many councillors, including some of those who voted to impose water charges, are unhappy about them.
I was very surprised that section 4 did not contain a proposal to repeal the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1983 because a number of specific promises were made by the Minister, and by a number of other Ministers, that this legislation would be repealed. In 1985 the present Minister for Energy, then director of elections for the Fianna Fáil Party for the local elections, wrote to the Combined Residents Association and the National Association of Tenants Organisations. Fianna Fáil's manifesto stated that when returned to Government they would legislate to abolish water charges and would repeal the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act. 1983. There was no sign of that happening. In 1987 Fianna Fáil were elected to Government and there was still no sign of the repeal. In fact, at the 1987 general election Fianna Fáil repeated that promise in writing to the National Association of Tenants Organisations and a number of other bodies. It comes as a surprise to  me, therefore, that in this Bill there is no sign of a repeal of the 1983 Act and my attempt to have that Act repealed by way of amendment has been ruled out of order.
The Minister should explain to the House how section 4 can deal with the repeal of 23 different local government Acts when there is no repeal of the most controversial local government Act the country has seen in the past ten years. The Government promised they would repeal that legislation which is a source of controversy throughout the country. In the past three weeks alone people have been jailed under its provisions. The Government owe the House an explanation for that and I should like to hear the Minister's explanation. Will he go to the people in the 1991 local elections and say that although water charges were wrong in 1985, they are fine now because the Minister is in Government? The Minister, and his party colleagues, will certainly be asked many questions about that issue in the next six or seven weeks.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I call on Deputy Howlin.
Mr. J. Mitchell: This is unacceptable, it is happening all the time.
Mr. Howlin: My party have tabled amendments to section 4.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Mitchell, Deputy Howlin had already offered on this section; this is the first offer from the Deputy in this regard.
Mr. Howlin: I have amendments tabled. While it is probably true that this side of the House has enjoyed more of the time available, the fact that I have tabled 163 amendments to the Bill would account for that. The repeal section of the Bill is an important one. It tries to bring into order many ancillary pieces of legislation. The Labour Party sought to add to those enactments to be repealed the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1983. That was done  in the sure knowledge that the Minister would have no objection to such a proposal, given that his party made such firm and clear commitments in that regard, the commitments in writing being made under the signature of the previous Fianna Fáil spokesman on the Environment, Deputy Molloy, now Minister for Energy.
The 1985 manifesto Power Back to the People, the Fianna Fáil Alternative, states clearly that Fianna Fáil on return to Government would repeal that provision. More recently, a member of the European Parliament, Paddy Lalor, who was national director of elections for Fianna Fáil during the election campaign of February 1987, wrote to many organisations — and I have a copy of the letter to the general secretary of the National Association of Tenants Organisations — stating that Fianna Fáil were committed to the revocation of the 1983 legislation that gave power to levy local charges. The Minister's party have been very vociferous throughout the country in all those years — and 1987 is not so long ago.
In relation to this matter Fianna Fáil have clear policy and written commitments. Frankly, the issue impacts on all of the commitments made by the Minister in the House. What store can be put on ministerial commitments when they really mean nothing? Was it in Alice in Wonderland that the Queen of Hearts said: “It means what I say it means, no more and no less?” There is a certain Alice in Wonderland attitude about the provision and about the serious and fundamental lack in the Bill, the issue of the funding of local authorities. If any councillor, or member of a local authority, was asked what was the most fundamental question relating to local authorities at present, without doubt he or she would answer that it was that of lack of resources.
Local authorities have some statutory powers but they have no funding to do even those things that they are obliged by statute to do. As a result, the roads are in a shocking state, housing programmes  have virtually ceased and only now has housing maintenance commenced, although in the past couple of years, since the commitment was made by the Minister's party, many of the workers who maintain the housing stock, many of the workers who maintain the county roads, and thousands of other local authority employees have been sacked.
The Minister has a case to answer. He and his party went to the electorate with that commitment in 1985 and again in 1987. It is now time that he was called to task on this fundamental issue, and there is no time better than the present. I voiced that view very forcibly and very trenchantly to the Minister. The House deserves a reply. If Opposition Members cannot move those amendments, why will the Minister not in all honour accept the inclusion of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1983 among those enactments to be repealed under the Bill?
I seek your guidance, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, at this stage. I am desperately anxious, as are other Members on this side of the House, to address this fundamental issue. It is clear that amendment No. 26 in my name is out of order because it puts a potential charge on the State. There are amendments to amendments on the floor of the House already. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, is it in order for me, or, indeed, Deputy Gilmore, to state in our amendments that, for example, the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act be repealed and that it to be resolved that a wealth tax be enacted to produce the same amount of money to nullify the negative effect in financial terms on the Exchequer? That could not be argued to put a potential charge on the State. Members on this side of the House do not want the State to lose any money. We want to knock down the insidious charge that the Minister and his party fought so valiantly against for many years until the Minister occupied the exalted position he now occupies. A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I seek your help and guidance on the way I could put the amendment, or some variation of it, in order. The Minister may  well, on mature reflection, want to be of assistance and follow through on a commitment that he and his party colleagues repeated for so many years.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sorry, Deputy Howlin. I do not like to make adjudications on propositions of that kind, but perhaps what the Deputy proposes to do would remove the responsibility from the State and put the charge on the people.
Mr. Gilmore: Some people.
Mr. Howlin: I seek your guidance on the matter, because I am sure that you are absolutely right, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. There is a charge on the people, and that is the problem, The water charge——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: What was suggested was to remove a charge from the State. However, that presupposes that it is imposed on the people. In the event, we can do neither. I leave it to the ingenuity of the Deputy that he could think of something that might be appropriate on Report Stage, but the formula that he seeks to establish is, in my opinion, not acceptable.
Mr. Taylor: May I try to be helpful without making a contribution? Perhaps I could suggest a way around this difficulty.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The difficulty is that of Deputy Howlin, it is not my difficulty. I suggest that the Deputy gives his help to Deputy Howlin. I am calling Deputy Mitchell.
Mr. Taylor: I am not making a contribution. The rule as I understand it, is that a provision that imposes a charge on the people is one that may be moved only by a Minister of the Government. Accordingly, and correct me if I am wrong, it would be open to the Minister to agree to move an amendment in the same terms. He, being a Minister of the Government, would be fully entitled to do that if he were of a mind to do so.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I find invitations to correct Deputies who suggest that they may be wrong a rather futile exercise for the Chair. I have given my adjudication on that matter.
Mr. Taylor: It might be a futile exercise to ask people to do it when they themselves have omitted to——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I have given the opinion of the Chair. You cannot give blank cheques to Ministers. I have given my adjudication. I am now calling Deputy Jim Mitchell.
Mr. J. Mitchell: I, too, am sorry the Bill before us does not deal with the question of local government funding. As I said earlier, no local government reform has any significant meaning unless local authorities have discretion as regards spending the money and raising it. The Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act, 1983, was supported by the Labour Party and ourselves. That is not to say it is not capable of amendment or withdrawal and improvement — it is. In fact, the principal concern people have, which Deputy Gilmore mentioned, is the element of double taxation. While the local charges give some local discretion to local councils to raise funds, the perception among many people is that when the domestic rates were abolished in 1978 they paid for it by very much increased levels of income tax and VAT; they more than paid for reductions in rates and car tax. Even if the Fianna Fáil party and Deputy Molloy, who was then in the Fianna Fáil Party and is now in the Progressive Democrats, had not so blatantly promised in 1985 to repeal the provisions of the 1983 Act and if Fianna Fáil had not so blatantly done so again in 1987 they might well ask what Labour are at because it was a Labour Minister who introduced this Act, but they had no case because on two occasions they went to the public saying they were going to repeal that decision. Certainly I wish to see that provision repealed in an Act which would amend considerably the arrangements in relation to funding for  local authorities and which would have as its principal feature that any local charges would be a direct claim against a person's income tax or a direct, equal and simultaneous reduction in the level of central taxation. Otherwise you would have the legitimate complaint that for many people service charges mean double taxation.
The other side of that coin is that many people who used to pay some form of tax when they paid domestic or agricultural rates and who have been relieved of those rates and pay no other tax have now been relieved from contributing altogether and that contribution has been loaded on to the PAYE sector. Frequently we come across cases, we get letters and we know instances of a small shopkeeper who pays rates. He has merely a small shop along a road where the vast bulk of the premises are owned by a landlord who has those dwellings in flats, earns a considerable income from them and makes no contribution. The abolition of rates should never have been extended to other than the principal private residences of the people concerned. It should not have been extended to cover houses that were yielding an income or second or holiday homes.
The one big gap in this Bill is its failure to address the question of local government funding which is a very central need in local government reform. The omission of that point led my party to refuse to participate in what we saw as a charade, an all-party committee on local government reform whose terms of reference would have excluded the question of local government funding, yet my colleagues in the Labour Party and The Workers' Party who had these amendments down were willing to participate in that committee which we see as a charade. I think that view is borne out now by the fact that in the absence of a committee the Government appointed what they call a committee of experts who themselves were excluded by their terms of reference from looking at the question of funding but because of the weight of representations to them on the subject  managed to include a little chapter dabbling in the funding question and have now sought some expert papers in this general area. As I said on Second Stage or in my first contribution on Committee Stage——
A Deputy: On Second Stage.
Mr. J. Mitchell: ——we all know that he who pays the piper calls the tune. After the passage of this Bill the Minister will have more extensive power to direct particular elements of expenditure in certain parts of a local authority. We know the Minister is going to call the tune even more precisely than he has ever been able to call it in the past. I would have loved to see section 4 of the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act repealed and in the Bill before us the central question of local government funding addressed, and no serious local government reform is possible without that. I repeat that until the charges on the principal private residences of individuals are claimable or offsetable against central taxation and particularly against income tax, there will be a just case to answer for those individuals who feel they are being doubly taxed. To what extent I would have supported the amendments tabled by Deputy Howlin and Deputy Gilmore.
Mr. Ryan: This Government and this House have lost a unique opportunity to deal with the question of funding and the whole reform of local government. It is galling to hear Deputy Mitchell here tonight somehow or other putting the responsibility on and pointing the finger at the Labour Party and The Workers' Party. His party, with all their experience of representation under various councils, have seen the problems. They had 30 per cent or 40 per cent of the vote in their areas and know the difficulties involved in the running of local authorities. Like all the other parties in this House they had a unique opportunity to look at all aspects of it. I regret to say they washed their hands of their responsibility to bring meaningful local government to the  people. They took the easy option and the people are aware of that.
A mechanism will have to be introduced to repeal this section on the basis of the commitments given by Fianna Fáil and by various Ministers throughout the years that adequate funding will be made available to the local authorities to ensure they can function to the people's satisfaction. The county councils throughout the country have a majority of Fianna Fáil councillors on the basis of that commitment. I regret that when the opportunity was afforded to the Minister and the Government to put into effect what they are saying they did not avail of it. The ordinary people ask how they can trust politicians when they say one thing and do something else. As we have seen tonight, letter after letter is sent to representative organisations; promises are made: “Vote for us and we will deliver.” They did not deliver. We have seen local authorities fall asunder because of the lack of commitment. We are saying that now is an ideal opportunity to do something about it. We in Opposition do not have the opportunity to do anything but the Minister has and we ask him to give a commitment.
I am very concerned about this legislation because we will not have an opportunity to discuss the relevant sections. I hope that on 27 June I will be re-elected to a new Fingal County Council — I will have an identity crisis when I am elected to the Fingal County Council or whatever it is — and many more Labour councillors too.
Mr. Flynn: You, anyway.
Mr. Ferris: He will.
Mr. Ryan: I am very concerned because this legislation, and this section in particular, will have a devastating effect on the ordinary people in that part of the county. Apart from the rates support grant which has been reduced significantly over the last few years, 25 per cent of the revenue from the new Fingal area is secured from the commercial sector, and that is the maximum amount  of revenue we can get. The new Fingal area will consist of 55 per cent of the existing council area, but we will have only 25 per cent of the revenue. This will create a major problem for the ordinary people of the new Fingal council. How do we come up with that finance given that the area extends in the north from Balbriggan, Skerries, Lusk, Rush, Donabate, Swords, Mulhuddart, Howth, Portmarnock, Malahide and out to Lucan. The Minister does not want to repeal that section because of funding. He has given no commitment in this Bill that extra funding would be made available to offset the problems I have identified here this evening.
This is a major problem. How will it be resolved? If the rate support grant is not to be changed substantially, the mechanism is there for the local councillors to impose service charges and water charges. That is the reason the Minister does not want to deal with it, notwithstanding his commitment.
We are talking about equity and justice here. The people of County Dublin and of the corporation area do not pay water charges because the Labour Party and The Workers' Party were to the forefront in making that a political issue. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors supported us, but that mechanism is still there. That is the reason we in the Labour Party, and The Workers' Party, want to see that section repealed.
When it comes to funding local authorities this section will have major implications. I would ask the Minister to take on board what I have said. I am deeply concerned, and I am surprised, that my colleague the Minister for Justice, Deputy Burke, who is well aware of the needs of the people of Fingal could sit at the Cabinet table and allow this legislation to go through when he knows the effect it is having on the ordinary people. I attended a meeting with him only a fortnight ago where the business people of Swords, Skerries, Howth and Malahide said they were going to take the legislation to the Supreme Court because of increases of 100 per cent to 400 per  cent in the commercial rate. On the basis of the figures I have given——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I think Deputy Ryan is getting very near an after Mass meeting.
Mr. Ryan: On the basis of the figures the people in the new Fingal area are entitled to the basic services of roads, public lighting, sewerage etc., but on the figures I have given, we will be the poor relations in this country. I am asking the Minister to take on board what I have said and to amend the section.
Mr. Howlin: Hear, hear.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I now call Deputy Ferris.
Mr. Howlin: We are now moving to South Tipperary.
Mr. Ferris: The Deputy's contribution reflects the frustration felt by elected councillors, particularly when promises given by a Government when in Opposition are not fulfilled when they get into office — I am referring to the promise given in 1985 and the person who gave that commitment in 1985 is now a Minister in another political party, but is part of the present Government — and there is complete and utter disregard for the truth, for the promises to the electorate and for the justification of political parties and what they stand for. This is travesty of justice. Those of us who were involved in the legislation originally foolishly accepted it as a temporary measure, and the Minister agrees that it was foolish of us in Government to accept that.
Mr. Flynn: Just because Deputy Spring is away at the moment the Deputy should not take liberties like that in his absence.
Mr. Ferris: We were foolish to believe that it would be temporary because when people like the Minister come along temporaries become permanents, except in the area of staffing where temporaries  remain temporaries forever. The reality is that if the Minister accepted Deputy Taylor's suggestion on Report Stage he could put down an amendment to repeal the 1983 Act.
The problem I see is slightly different from that outlined by my colleague from the new Fingal council. In South Tipperary we have corporations, three urban councils and a county council. People in the county council area, in county areas, shopkeepers in country areas and shopkeepers in towns which are not part of urban councils, were all paying service charges and people living in urban authority areas or corporations were exempt because up to then their rating structure included an element of funding for sanitary services. Obviously there were good, justifiable reasons for introducing an element of justice throughout the charging system for sanitary services, water and sewerage.
One could accept that the 1983 legislation was temporary on the understanding that there would be proper and adequate funding for local authorities, but as I have said, we were foolish to accept that. We have since been promised by all and sundry, particularly from the Government side, that they would repeal that legislation. The amendments ruled out of order tonight would have facilitated the Government in honouring their commitments.
A further problem I have identified in this area is that many changes have been made by county managers at Estimates time. These people have availed of the 1983 legislation to increase charges and bring in major and irrevocable changes in the system. We had originally identified in the 1983 legislation that certain sectors would be exempt from these charges on the basis that they belonged to the social welfare category, and we had taken into account inability to pay. Since then managers in many counties, including my own, have brought in a further change, identifying the income of a family. I mentioned this in my Second Stage contribution to this Bill. Even if a person is on the lowest possible income such as supplementary welfare and their total  income is more than £100 irrespective of the demands on that money, they would be excluded from the waiver scheme that was put into operation as a softening effect for the 1983 measure. There are now different categories of people paying different charges for the same product.
Everybody accepts that some charge should be imposed but because there is an anomaly in the legislation and various county managers, assistant managers and town clerks throughout the country interpret the measure in a different way, some people in the same county pay more for the same supply of water from the same mountain. For example, the residents in the Tipperary Urban Council area pay a different charge for the water from the Galtee mountains than their colleagues living half a mile away in Bansha who receive the same supply of water from the same mountain. That is anomalous legislation, no matter who brought it in, and we should go home and recap on what we are saying to the electorate.
Let us be honest, this is an unpopular system of revenue collection by local authorities. It would be possible for a person to take a council to court, by way of a Supreme Court or a High Court test case, because some areas do not pay these charges and in some counties different areas pay different charges. Obviously this legislation is not in accordance with the Constitution because it is unfair and its administration is unfair. People find there is a double taxation system. Some people are forced to stand up for justice and find themselves imprisoned while others secretly want to pay their fines because politically it is embarrassing for the Government. Perhaps the Minister would accept the suggestion of Deputy Mervyn Taylor who gave his advice from a good legal background. We want to be helpful to the Minister.
I am sorry that the Minister's colleague, Deputy Molloy, the Minister for Energy, and also one of the Ministers who promised to abolish this measure, is not in the House. We want to facilitate the Government in abolishing the measure and then we can all stand up on the hustings outside the chapel gates and tell  the people the truth, that we urged the Minister to live up to the promise he made when in Opposition. That is a legitimate request, and I can see no other reason for debating the legislation at this hour of the night. We will certainly assist the Minister and will participate in any committee that will address the problem of how local authorities should be financed. We should not have to depend on the rates from small shopkeepers throughout the country to fund local authorities or to come with cap in hand to the Minister for money. Half the time we go home with our cap empty because the Minister pleads inability to provide funds. Therefore I suggest that he seriously take on board the suggestions we are making on this side of the House.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: An Teachta Jim Mitchell.
Mr. Taylor: Deputy Mitchell has already spoken on this section but I have not spoken yet.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is no limit to the number of times a Deputy may speak on this Stage.
Mr. Taylor: I have not spoken once.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We have had two contributions from the Labour Party immediately preceding my calling Deputy Mitchell. The Chair has to assume that no one party has the monopoly on contributions. Two speakers from the Deputy's party have spoken, Deputy Ryan and Deputy Ferris. Deputy Mitchell has been waiting patiently and I will have to call him now.
Mr. Taylor: He has already spoken on this matter but I have not.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: There is no provision in Standing Orders which inhibits the Chair from using his discretion as to what is equitable in the matter of party representation and as to which Deputies I call. I am calling  Deputy Mitchell and I will then call Deputy Mervyn Taylor.
Mr. J. Mitchell: I very much enjoyed Deputy Ryan's speech. It is very clear that, like the Minister, he has gone to the Bunny Carr school of patent sincerity. The only part of his speech I did not enjoy was the opening part. I found the remarks about me and my party very hurtful, although I am sure that was not intended. I want to ask Deputy Ryan one or two questions.
Mr. Ryan: The Minister has the answers.
Mr. J. Mitchell: Deputy Ryan spoiled a rather good case by attacking Fine Gael — this is a serious point amidst the humour, but it is no harm to have a little humour even at this late hour — and saying they were wrong not to take part in the all-party committee on local government reform suggested by the Government. The reason we did not take part in that committee was that the question of funding was not to be included in the terms of reference. I do not expect them to admit this on the record but I believe that the Labour Party and The Workers' Party made a mistake.
Mr. Howlin: That is not true. The Deputy knows he is wrong.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Each Deputy is entitled to establish his own credo. Deputy Mitchell is entitled to tell the House what he believes.
Mr. Flynn: I wish he would do so in Latin.
Mr. Howlin: We have had a good rapport——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Mitchell without interruption. The Deputy is entitled to say what he believes  and not what other people would like him to believe.
Mr. Howlin: Does he really believe it?
Mr. J. Mitchell: The committee on local government reform would not have been permitted by the terms of reference to address the question of funding, and I think even Deputy Howlin would admit that. Consequently what Deputy Ryan has said about Fine Gael missing an opportunity to take part in the all-party committee does not stand up because the question of funding was not included in the terms of reference. I believe — this is only a matter of judgment — that had the Labour Party and The Workers' Party adopted the same approach as Fine Gael we would have had an all-party committee on local government reform, the question of funding would be on the table and we would not have this draconian Bill before us. Deputy Ferris at least made a plausible case. He said that these provisions were to be temporary provisions, and that is credible.
Mr. Ferris: The Minister does not believe that.
Mr. J. Mitchell: To come to the serious point, I still believe that local government funding is crucial to returning local power to local people, otherwise the whole system will be clogged up and in an even more advanced state of lethargy than it is at present unless there is local initiative, local vigour and local discretion. Funding is a major question which needs to be addressed and I do not know if, even at this late stage, an all-party committee could debate the question.
Mr. Gilmore: They could debate it for 20 minutes.
Mr. J. Mitchell: I do not mean tonight.
Mr. Ryan: Does Deputy Mitchell have the support of his Leader?
Mr. J. Mitchell: If people are serious about consistency, the Labour Party have  a little bit of neck in tabling this amendment.
Mr. Taylor: Deputy Jim Mitchell is getting rather carried away, because the question of whether Fine Gael go into committee is not the determining issue this evening; we must look to the Government and what they do.
Mr. J. Mitchell: I agree.
Mr. Taylor: Deputy Ryan made the point, which has to be faced up to by all of us, including you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that the status of politicians is at a very low ebb; tragically — and unfortunately — we are regarded as a lesser form of life and when one analyses that one has to come to the conclusion that we have only ourselves to blame for having that low reputation. It is what we do and the way we go about things; this is a very good example. The commitments given by Fianna Fáil have already been referred to, but they warrant mentioning again. I have this document — Fianna Fáil, Paddy Lalor, MEP——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Taylor should remember that if he intends to quote from that document it will be about the 12th time it will have been placed on the record.
Mr. J. Mitchell: Could we photocopy it?
Mr. Taylor: It is no laughing matter, I will read only one sentence from it: “In relation to local changes Fianna Fáil are committed to the revocation of the 1983 legislation”. How can the Minister sit there? Is he not squirming in his seat? I am sure that the Minister is a man of his word but would he like it to be said of him that his word it not his bond? The Minister should do what he said he would do all those years ago. He should stand up proudly in this House and say that his word is his bond and that even though he is late, at least he will do it now. This is the sort of thing that brings the whole profession of politician into disrepute, it  is why we are regarded the way we are. Nobody believes anything that a politician says anymore. Can you blame them? People are not that stupid, they know how to assess an honest decision. We have laughed and joked in the House but it is sad to reflect on it. The Minister brought in a Local Government Reform Bill which, quite frankly, is pathetic. Moneys are needed to repair corporation and council houses and indeed to build new ones but what is in the Bill? Platitudes about consulting the local community, about promoting interest and involvement in local government affairs and platitudes about promoting surveys and studies in relation to the local community. If he came to my constituency — any constituency — and saw how people live in local authority estates he might change his mind. Fianna Fáil say that the Bill will promote interest and involvement in local government affairs but I would give a lot to bring the Minister round some of the corporation estates in Tallaght and remind him of what was said in 1983. It would be a very interesting and worthwhile exercise.
I remember Fianna Fáil and the Minister in Opposition ranting and raving and banging on the table, talking at great length about the £5 gin and tonic in the bar. Deputy Flynn exercised the full flow of his oratory, I remember all that. Where is it now when it counts? He is sitting there now where the power rests. The question of financing local authorities is a very simple issue which boils down to a simple question. I see these things in simple terms; it is not a question of the form in which we pass the Bill, it is whether they will keep their word and do what they promised to do in writing.
I am sorry that the Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy, is not here; the people in the Progressive Democrats are highminded, the breath of fresh air in politics which will change everything and set new high-minded standards. The Ministers, Deputies Molloy and O'Malley proved that they can get things done; they certainly proved it today as they were the tail wagging the dog in relation to the  judicial inquiry. We know where that came from——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Taylor, I think you are capable of applying yourself to the section and I ask you to demonstrate that.
Mr. Taylor: Indeed I am addressing the section. The Minister, Deputy Molloy, gave a commitment that he would repeal the Act. Maybe he did not have the power to do that, but I am illustrating the point that he and his PD colleague have power, which was proved today when they told the Taoiseach to set up a judicial inquiry or that they would not support the motion. In the same way they could ask for the 1983 Act to be repealed or the present Bill would not go through but maybe they would not get the same kind of kudos as they will get from the judicial inquiry, out of which they will do very well in publicity——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Taylor, will you apply yourself to what is appropriate on Committee Stage? We have been here all day and are a little jaded and become a little irritable.
Mr. Taylor: We can all become irritable especially when we see written commitments which were given by your party, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle——
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Deputy must withdraw that. When I am in the Chair I do not belong to any party.
Mr. Taylor: I withdraw the remark
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Thank you.
Mr. Taylor: We are irritated by the Fianna Fáil Party when we see that they did not keep their promises. The Minister will reply and when he does, will he say whether the Government will act in relation to written commitments which they gave regarding the 1983 legislation?
Mr. Gilmore: I intend to be brief because I would like to hear what the Minister has to say on this matter. It seems that everyone in the House agrees that the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act, 1983, which introduced water charges should be repealed. The Fianna Fáil Party suggested this as far back as 1985 and repeated it in 1987. Indeed, the Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy, when director of elections for Fianna Fáil is on record as suggesting this and he is a man who, when he puts his foot down, tends to get his way. It would be very welcome if he got his way on this. I hope I do not disrupt our good relations with the Labour Party when I say they were in Government when that legislation was introduced. They are now in favour of repealing that Act. I understand from what Deputy Ferris said that at the time they thought it was going to be a temporary measure.
Mr. J. Mitchell: A temporary little arrangement.
Mr. Gilmore: Deputy Mitchell and Deputy Shatter, who reviled me at a meeting of Dublin County Council when we proposed the abolition of water charges——
Mr. Flynn: Reviled or regaled?
Mr. Gilmore: ——reviled — have come round to the view that it is a form of double taxation. My party are also opposed to them.
Mr. Howlin: So are the Green Party.
Mr. Gilmore: There is agreement that service charges should be abolished and I would like to know whether the Minister proposes to do this and meet the promise made repeatedly by his party since 1985. In an effort to facilitate him, if he would lke to sleep on the matter overnight, I propose, since my amendment has been ruled out of order, to try to table a new amendment tomorrow on Report Stage which would have the same effect. It has been said that the amendment would  have imposed a charge on the Exchequer but the Minister now has an opportunity to come clean. He has gradually been slipping under the desk since the debate began. I would like to see him rise now to tell us——
Mr. J. Mitchell: A shrinking violet.
Mr. Gilmore: ——if he is going to introduce legislation to abolish water charges.
Mr. Doyle: I have said on a number of occasions that the abolition of water charges was only one of the promises in the manifesto to which Deputy Taylor referred. The major promise in that document was that they would put local authority finances on a sound basis, but we are all aware of the present position. The Minister has starved the local authorities of funding and has almost made them redundant. Would the Minister address that point?
Mr. Howlin: Let us hear it now.
Mr. Durkan: The Minister bares all.
Mr. Flynn: I have listened with interest to the debate on this issue and it is a matter of regret that Deputy Taylor suggested that politicians are now regarded as a lesser form of life.
Mr. J. Mitchell: They are because of the behaviour of the Minister's party.
Mr. Howlin: That is a fact.
Mr. Flynn: It is a matter of regret because that is the kind of comment——
Mr. Howlin: The Minister would like to hide from.
Mr. Flynn: ——that does a disservice to all Members of the House.
Mr. Taylor: Regrettably is a fact.
Mr. Flynn: It is very difficult to expect people who hear that kind of comment  from the Deputy to think highly of their elected Members. We have to remember that each of us has been sent here by a considerable number of citizens. If one speaks ill of oneself it is very hard to expect those who collectively sent us here to think any differently.
I have a high regard for all Members on all sides of the House, and it is a matter of personal choice whether one wants to follow a particular philosophy or ideology. I do not want to be derogatory to Deputy Taylor; I respect him as a very credible Member of the House who has given very good service to his party. I have been watching him very closely for a long number of years.
Mr. J. Mitchell: The Deputy will be in the Minister's Cabinet.
Mr. Howlin: A ministerial position.
Mr. Flynn: He is one of the better members of his party. What is unfortunate is that he follows the wrong philosophy. We should not talk about each other in that fashion inside the House because it does nothing for those listening to the debate, and we cannot expect them to respond any differently if we do not hold ourselves in high standing.
Mr. Ferris: What about the water charges?
Mr. Howlin: The Minister has only three minutes left.
Mr. Flynn: The Labour Party do not want this reform. I am disappointed but that is the implication of what Deputy Taylor said. He did not seem to think it was a good idea to consult with the local community.
Mr. Taylor: It is good as far as it goes.
Mr. Flynn: Neither did he think that we should pursue the question of local community involvement.
Mr. Howlin: The Minister can do better than that.
Mr. Flynn: I take a different view.
Mr. Howlin: What about the water charges?
Mr. Flynn: We now know what the Labour Party want in this regard.
Mr. Taylor: Is the Minister going to repeal them?
Mr. Gilmore: The Minister is playing for time.
Mr. Flynn: All they want is more money. I am responding to remarks made by Deputy Taylor.
Mr. Howlin: The Minister has only three minutes left.
Mr. Flynn: He said that as far as reform of local government is concerned local community involvement was not a matter of concern for him and that all that was required was a bag of money irrespective of where it came from or what the consequences would be for the economy. That did not seem to matter to the Labour Party.
Mr. Howlin: Not so.
Mr. Flynn: We got a brief insight into the thinking of the Labour Party in that interjection by Deputy Taylor.
Mr. Ferris: What about the promises made in 1985?
Mr. Howlin: Enough of the waffle.
Mr. Gilmore: He is acting as goalkeeper.
Mr. Flynn: I take it amendments Nos. 25 and 26 were ruled out of order because, as Deputy Howlin said, they would have imposed a charge on the Exchequer and they were outside the  scope of the Bill. It was, therefore, futile to put them down.
Mr. Ferris: Will the Minister put them down for us?
Mr. Flynn: We could have saved a lot of time if they had not been put down. We could have gone on to deal with other matters.
Mr. Howlin: What is the Minister's view on water charges?
Mr. Flynn: In my Second Stage contribution, I explained why the question of local authority finances was not addressed in the Bill. The amendments put down by the Deputies opposite to the 1983 Act, which was brought in, as Deputy Mitchell quite rightly said, by a Labour Minister, were ruled out of order.
Mr. Gilmore: The Minister is avoiding the issue.
Mr. Flynn: I do not intend to be drawn into a debate on a matter which has nothing to do with the contents of this Bill.
Mr. Gilmore: The Minister is playing for time. He only has a minute to go.
Mr. Flynn: I will be happy at the right time——
Mr. Howlin: On 28 June?
Mr. Flynn: ——perhaps this is the right place——
Mr. Taylor: 1999.
Mr. Flynn: ——to defend my record on local authority finance and to put on the record if it is not yet on it, the details of the mess in which the local authority system found itself in 1987.
Mr. Howlin: The Minister sacked 4,000——
Mr. J. Mitchell: That is rubbish.
Mr. Durkan: The Minister should have the problem solved four years on.
Mr. Flynn: I would like to quote one clear statistic this evening and that is the accumulated deficits of local authorities——
Mr. J. Mitchell: The accumulated waiting lists.
Mr. Flynn: ——at that time they were in excess of £80 million. We would not be here talking about local government or local authorities at all if those accumulated deficits that had been allowed to grow under the mismanagement of the Deputy and his friends had been allowed to continue.
Mr. Howlin: Housing the homeless.
Mr. Flynn: The Fianna Fáil Government decided at that time that there was  a drastic situation to be met in so far as the accumulated deficits were concerned.
Mr. Connaughton: Did you build a lot of houses?
Mr. Flynn: We have brought solvency back to the local authorities and the record will show that.
Mr. G. Mitchell: The country is full of potholes but no new houses.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: It is 11 o'clock and the question must be put.
Question put: “That the amendments set down by the Minister for the Environment and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill; in respect of each of the sections undisposed of other than section 54, that the section or as appropriate the section, as amended, is hereby agreed to; that the Schedule and the Title are hereby agreed to; that the Bill, as amended, is hereby reported to the House.”
The Committee divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 70.
Browne, John (Wexford).
Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
de Valera, Síle.
Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
Flynn, Pádraig. O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Malley, Desmond J.
O'Toole, Martin Joe.
|Gallagher, Pat the Cope
Kitt, Michael P.
Morley, P. J.
Nolan, M. J.
Noonan, Michael J.
O'Donoghue, John. Smith, Michael.
Wilson, John P.
Belton, Louis J.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
Enright, Thomas W.
Farrelly, John V.
Higgins, Michael D.
Mac Giolla, Tomás.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies V. Brady and Clohessy; Níl, Deputies Flanagan and Howlin.
Question declared carried.
An Ceann Comhairle: In accordance with the order of the House of 14 May, Report Stage of this Bill will be taken tomorrow.
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